Nullsec Development: Design Goals
Where were we?
In the LAST BLOG, we explained the background for our current nullsec design efforts, and the high-level rules for all of nullsec. I'd recommend going back and reading that one first if you haven't already, as it lays the groundwork for this blog too.
The bulk of that blog was about defining things that should be true - in an ideal world - for everything that goes on in nullsec. That gives us a general framework to work within, but doesn't do a lot to explain where we're going with the different parts that make up nullsec today, and the things we'll be adding in the near future.
For this next bit, we had several brainstorming sessions, both internally and with the CSM, to define both what major areas of gameplay should exist in nullsec, and what the guiding principles for those individual areas or features should be. Again, we harvested the results, analyzed them, broke them down, built them up, and tried to pull them together into a unified vision of where we want to go. This all coalesced into a whiteboard covered in text, which I have reproduced below for your viewing pleasure.
Click image to enlarge.
(You will note here that my handwriting is in fact not very good. Also, the "money chart" is a future thing we'd like to look at where we map out how much money you should be making in different areas of the game - that's just a reminder to make a note about it. You may also find that some stuff was changed/dropped/added/condensed in the post-whiteboard refinement stages. Also also, "U I HAVE" is in permanent marker and we haven't got round to cleaning it off yet. Also also also, the Planets stuff still needs finalizing so it's blanked out for now, sorry.)
We then moved this over to our internal wiki, fleshed out the various areas, and then tweaked and refined for a while to get it into a position where we were pretty comfortable with it.
Spill the beans!
Rather than trying to talk about this further, I'm just going to copypasta it in here so you can have a gander. Once again, please be very clear in your mind that this is where we want to go in the long term, and the caveats about how much we're likely to get done in five years etc still apply. Hopefully the amount of stuff in here will also make it clearer why we're saying "more than five years": for example, those few bullet points under "exploration" mean replacing all of the exploration content that's been developed in the past five years.
We are creating a separate feedback thread in the Feature and Ideas forum for each of these sections, which are linked from the headers here and again at the bottom of the page. Please take specific feedback for each section there - one comments thread can't carry twelve separate conversations like this!
- Mining in nullsec should make you a "good" amount of money, ie trending slightly above the average for nullsec professions. A good supply of minerals is necessary for our industrial goals, and ensuring payouts are good is one tool to encourage this.
- Mining should be something that you do because you know you're achieving something, not just because it makes you money - the minerals created should be contributing towards larger goals.
- Sole source of ice and high-end minerals
- For further discussion. Nullsec should be the only place we're injecting (at least some of the) ices, zydrine, megacyte and morphite into the game. This ensures that nullsec mining retains a unique value proposition, and guarantees that mining time for these types is priced according the risk and effort involved in nullsec extraction.
- It should be possible (at most if not all levels of power) and desirable to invest directly in mining activities in a given area. We want mining to be something that requires settling down and investing in space if you want to maximize efficiency. (Ninja mining is still desirable and should also be supported.)
- 99% self-sufficient by volume
- For further discussion. People building things in nullsec should only need to travel to empire (or more than a couple of regions across nullsec) for low-volume supplies. This requires that industrialists have a ready supply of low-end minerals available nearby in nullsec, without breaking other systems or goals. (Likely means some way of mining low-ends in a massively more rapid manner compared to current tools.)
- Geared towards T2
- Our current proposal is that hisec is for volume T1 goods, lowsec will be for meta/faction gear eventually, nullsec is for T2, and wormholes are for T3
- Building T2 modules/ships in nullsec should be a good way to make a lot of money. There are many inherent drawbacks in doing industry in nullsec and we need to balance out these hidden costs.
- Requires investment
- Again, we want the real wealth-generation machines to require people to settle down and spend some money, because it encourages concentration of effort and makes for interesting targets to attack or defend.
- Accessible to all in small volumes
- Anyone should be able to build enough bits and bobs to support a reasonably frugal lifestyle, anywhere in nullsec. This allows small groups to feel self-sufficient provided they're all prepared to work for it, while still encouraging specialization efficiency for larger groups.
- Weak spot for big groups
- Logistics should be a weakness for larger organizations of players. It should avoid being tedious, but it should remain a major point of concern as size increases, and be one of the primary drawbacks of growing beyond a certain size.
- Bigger ships/fleets travel slower
- As the amount of power your fleet can deploy increases, its mobility should decrease. Small, flimsy fleets should always maintain a mobility advantage over big, dangerous ones. This ensures that a wider range of fleet compositions and sizes remain valuable, catering to more preferences and playstyles. It also makes fleet composition more a case of selecting the right tools, and less of just dumping the whole toolbox onto the floor, encouraging players to innovate tactically and strategically.
- Good reasons to trade
- Any investable activity (ie, one where we want people to consider settling down and developing some space to do it) should have clear reasons and opportunities to trade with nearby nullsec regions to increase efficiency. This needs to be balanced with other mechanics such that simply conquering five regions is not the clearly optimal solution, while remaining a viable option.
- Should be easier with investment
- It should be possible to ease the logistical burden within a given area of space by investing in that area. This again encourages investment and settling down, and reduces logistical load in safe areas where it adds little gameplay value without reducing it outside safe areas where the value is more apparent.
- Moving large volumes should be a group effort
- High-volume shipments should be a special occasion, and as much as possible we should encourage them to be a group activity. These tend to be high-value shipments also, and bringing players together to appreciate and protect the value created, and put them in a position where they're likely to interact with other groups, is a positive thing.
- Exploration needs to give a strong sense of mystery, exploring unknown areas and so on, without completely negating its other key role as a steady source of income for many players.
- For further discussion. "Deep space" exploration (ie, more than 10AU from celestials) should be geared towards mystery, problem-solving and the unknown, while "near space" exploration (less than 5AU from celestials) focuses more on delivering reliable content.
- Not just combat
- There should be the option to be engaged in exploration in smaller, more agile (or even non-combat) ships and achieve something. You should not need a battleship or similar on hand to get something out of exploration.
- Nomadic option
- Exploration should cater towards (among others) those wishing to live in nullsec on a more nomadic basis. Players should be able to feel like they're getting value out of exploration without committing to a fixed base of operation.
- Chance-based income
- Particularly for more mystery-oriented exploration, but to a lesser extent for the other sort as well, income should be more hit-and-miss - large periods of relatively low income can be balanced out with the occasional jackpot. This provides more possible variations in gameplay motivation without ruining exploration's financial competitiveness, and works thematically and in terms of the sort of players we want to attract with "exploration."
- Dynamic and challenging
- Even more so than other PvE, exploration content should provide a new experience every time, and should offer up all kinds of challenge (thinking as well as shooting). "Exploration" is meant to evoke ideas of freshness, unexpected events and the danger of the unknown.
- Solo support
- It is critical that some low-effort, decent-reward solo activities are available to players in nullsec. This class of content gives players a reason to stay online if nobody else is around, and it's only by getting people to stay logged on that it stops being the case that nobody else is around.
- Challenge and reward
- Nullsec PvE should offer increased challenge compared to empire, and the rewards should be commensurably greater. This should be one of the lures that entices players to leave empire and move to nullsec.
- Best loot
- The best loot in the game should come from nullsec. High-end loot's enforced rarity gives a strong "jackpot" moment and tends towards extremely high values, and nullsec should be where you go to get high-value payouts.
- Many ship classes
- PvE in nullsec should cater to as many classes of ship as we can think up interesting scenarios for, from interceptors to dreadnaughts. Different players prefer the playstyles offered by different ship classes, and they should not feel the need to specialize in certain classes just to remain fiscally stable.
- Best agents
- For further discussion. The best agents in the game should all be in nullsec, in keeping with the "richest area in the game" theme. There should be a clear margin of value for nullsec agents that acts as an enticement for mission runners to move there.
- Best PvE pay
- In a broader sense, for all PvE activities nullsec should be the most lucrative place to go, both because it encourages players to move out there, and because the additional risks and effort required needs to be balanced out.
- Groups best
- While solo support is critical, it should still be the case that it's always better to group up with other players. High-value content should be designed with the express intent that players working together earn more individually than they would working alone with this or other content. If the content can support diverse ship types within the same group, even better.
- Safeish haven
- At a strategic level, NPC nullsec should provide a safer base of operations than the rest of nullsec. It should not make you feel hugely safer while in space, but sacrificing control and the ability to invest as deeply should buy you some measure of stability.
- Owners should matter
- Players living in NPC nullsec should always want to be mindful of whose space they're living in. If you live in a given faction's space, you should be consistently made aware that you're someone else's guest and that you want to stay on their good side to avoid problems.
- Story and setting
- NPC nullsec should provide a particularly rich vein of insight into EVE's story and setting. It should not be rubbed in players' faces, but those interested in the setting should find plenty of material to entertain them here.
- Local connections yield benefits
- Players who take time to settle down in NPC space and cultivate a relationship with the owner should be rewarded with various perks and benefits. This counteracts the negatives introduced by making it clear that they're effectively tenants, and provides them with interesting home-field advantages that make them less vulnerable to raiders.
- Collective admin
- For further discussion. To the extent that players have influence or control over the goings-on in NPC nullsec, they exercise this power collectively - all corps living in a given area have a say in policy. This provides an interesting alternative political dynamic, and encourages multiple corps with diverse objectives to live in the same bit of space and play nicely with their neighbours, which in turn prevents a small group of powerful corps from easily taking control and shaping policy to drive others out.
- NPC nullsec should appeal strongly to a few specific groups of players: people who want to have a nullsec experience that's more immersed in the EVE setting; people who want to start out in nullsec but don't feel ready to risk building their own home yet; people who want to establish a stable, long-term commercial presence in nullsec and are happy to accept some inefficiencies; and people who want to prey on other NPC nullsec dwellers. Everyone else should find that NPC nullsec is only very weakly appealing to them, and should find it more beneficial to base out of non-NPC nullsec.
- Easy to rebase
- Groups running regular small fleets should find it pretty straightforward to move their base of operations. This allows them to "go where the action is", and allows any given part of the cluster to get a much more regular rotation of "local gangs", which in turn should lead to more combat variety for the average player on both sides of the fence (ie roaming groups and defense gangs).
- Objectives and incentives
- Smaller fleets moving through enemy space should always have something to do, and doing that something should make them feel like they've achieved something worthwhile even if they didn't get any actual fights. This means having things to do that are both satisfying and deliver some kind of long-term value (ideally things with tangible ISK-relative value as well as intangible strategic value) to offset the opportunity cost of a roam. We want people out PvPing, and if they're thinking "I wish I'd stayed at home and run missions" then something is wrong.
- Interfere with larger ops
- Smaller fleets should have some avenue via which they can have some impact on larger fleets, without just getting killed. There should be some sensible way to defend against this with some sensible amount of effort on the larger fleet's part. A smaller fleet should not feel that it simply has to run away from a larger one, but neither should it be able to have a disproportionate impact on a larger one.
- Disrupt, not destroy
- When interfering with infrastructure, smaller fleets should as a rule be causing damage that can be brought back to its pre-damage state in a short timeframe, and without costing that much money. A single small-scale roam is not a large investment, and it should not require a large investment to undo the damage. A sustained harassment campaign should be possible to disrupt activities for longer periods, if the harasser puts in the hours to do so.
- Small-scale combat should be going on all the damn time. Set in the context of ongoing nullsec struggles, it's one of our strong points as a game, and we should be trying hard to enable it as much as possible.
- Reward local knowledge
- Doing research on and scouting of the area you're running fleets in, and getting a feel for the layout and the local quirks, should give you a small but noticeable advantage over other fleets without this knowledge. This tilts the advantage slightly in favor of the defender against random gangs, but allows aggressors to negate that advantage with some work. Furthermore, using this sort of knowledge makes people feel smart, which in turn makes them enjoy themselves more.
- Frequent and big
- A lot of players enjoy large-scale battles, and it remains one of our bigger draws in marketing terms. Large battles should be happening regularly (an average nullsec player should be able to get involved in at least a couple of fights this size each month, on average), and they should be big enough that players feel like they're involved in something really big (500+ a side).
- Diverse fleets
- There should be good reasons to field a diverse fleet at this scale, with as many ship classes as possible having a clear reason to be fielded. Diversity here allows more players to fly the sorts of ships that they prefer in large fights; it allows players to specialize more and have that specialization mark them out from others; and it creates more tactical options which should make the fights more interesting. Homogeneous fleets are workable but bland.
- Value for all
- Everyone involved in this sort of fight should feel like they're glad they took the time and effort to get involved, and that it left them feeling satisfied. People should not be sitting at a starbase for three hours, warping into a fight and getting instapopped before they've really done anything. Winning and losing should matter, but taking part should be valuable too.
- Distributed command
- It should be desirable to delegate and sub-delegate fleet command to as granular a level as possible, and with as much autonomy for the lower-level commanders as possible. This allows for more interesting tactical variety within a given battle, and also builds in a much more accessible way to learn command skills. The dearth of trained FCs is a major weakness of the game currently, both in terms of the game experience (reduces the number of big fights happening and encourages coalitions) and of the game's overall health (a few key FCs leaving at once would be very bad news). This should not, however, be mandated or forced in any way.
- Decisions beat numbers
- It should always be the case that inferior numbers can win with superior decision-making. Large fleets should be much less about who has the most ships and much more about who has the smartest commanders and sub-commanders.
- Pretty much anyone with a little seed capital (~10m ISK) should be able to establish some small, semi-permanent presence in nullsec. Not everyone wants to get involved in nullsec, but every player that feels even a slight interest but never quite takes the plunge represents a failure of design that we should fix.
- Predictable security
- People with small-scale investments in nullsec should know from week to week what the security situation of their investments is. Everything in nullsec should be vulnerable, but for smaller-scale stuff it should be easy to see the end coming, and either deal with it or plan for it. It should be possible for the bigger players to evict the smaller ones without too much investment, but it should take time to do so. This makes evicting or otherwise clearing out people more of a chore and thus a less trivial decision; it makes smaller investments less risky by ensuring an attentive owner has time to pull down their stuff and move it elsewhere; and it gives a needed sense of safety and stability to people who are concerned about the risks. The larger the investment becomes and the more functionality or power it affords, the less this should be the case, moving towards less time but more investment to remove it.
- Mostly self-sufficient
- For non-trivial investments, the day-to-day running of operations in smallholdings should be more-or-less self-sufficient. Something akin to a bi-weekly supply run (bi-weekly because then the investment gives you a "weekend off" every other weekend, which is rewarding) is desirable for a number of reasons - adds interaction, creates weaknesses, removes the need for high-value manufacturing in smallholdings, and prevents players from feeling totally isolated - but it should not be a massive amount of work, nor should it be that often. Smallholdings should make players feel like intrepid pioneers, living off the land of the frontier and hoping the bi-weekly mail coach gets through safely.
- Scales badly
- The various protections and benefits and so on afforded to smallholders should not scale well. People looking to run more extensive operations should find that, as their ambitions get bigger, so do their problems. Anything that's designed to help out the small guy needs to make sure that it's not also helping the big guy screw the small guy (or other big guys) over.
- Reward investment, commitment
- Smallholders should always be thinking "in another few weeks, we'll be able to do X", and "if we had a bit more money, we could buy Y". This gives them goals to work towards, and provides a seamless path from smallholder to major player, for those that find themselves interested; staying small should always be a viable decision, but it should be a real decision with both pros and cons. This should be achieved in as organic a manner as possible (ie, with minimal "mechanics").
- Similar but distinct
- Smallholding should be similar enough to serious territorial control that the majority of the skills and tools learned are transferrable, but distinct enough that different scales of investment in nullsec (smallholding vs sov) can be balanced in different ways, with different weaknesses. The experiences delivered by these two different playstyles need to be unique both because as long-term decisions they're intended to be aimed at different playstyles, and because our ability to deliver on this distinctiveness of experience relies on us not having to worry about tools intended for one group being used by the other.
(The Sov bit)
- Diseconomies of scale
- Being big should bring drawbacks as well as benefits, and getting big should be a lifestyle choice or a chosen specialization, rather than a necessity. Some sorts of operations should benefit a little more than others from being larger, but it should not be the case that being big is a straight-up advantage. You get diminishing returns in terms of social value above a certain point, and anecdotally trying to grow quickly to remain competitive is a leading cause of corps and alliances failing.
- Descriptive ownership
- Mechanical ownership of an area should be something that's awarded to the organization which already has de-facto control of that area, rather than something that's fought over as a necessary precondition of de-facto control. This allows us to award it as a "prize" to the winner; it gives us the opportunity to mechanically determine warzones rather than having ownership be entirely binary; and most importantly it opens the door to letting players win in their own way, rather than prescribing the steps that must be taken to achieve victory. In a game that relies on every war being different for its lasting appeal, the fewer constraints and requirements we place on players regarding the way they fight their wars, the better.
- Shoot people, not structures
- Extensive empirical testing has shown that shooting at structures is in-and-of-itself boring, and even when it results in a good fight, it generally does so in spite of the structure-shooting mechanic rather than because of it. There are other ways to achieve the upsides of sitting in front of a stationary object with your weapons cycling for half an hour that don't make it indescribably tedious if the other side doesn't show up.
- Every organization's specific circumstances and setup should have its own distinct set of vulnerabilities, and they should always exist. It should be possible with effort to mask them, but a diligent foe should be able to discover and exploit them. An organizational playstyle with no serious vulnerabilities is a broken playstyle.
- Many dimensions of value
- When assessing the value of a given area of space, there should be many different possible measures of "good", and each area of space should have a different combination of "good" and "bad" measures, to as fine a granularity as is practical. This should ensure that all bits of space are good for something and therefore worth fighting over; that for any given measure of good there's a "best" bit of space that people after that particular thing will want to fight over and hold; and that there are many different "best bits" corresponding to different specific requirements, so there's no clear "best overall" bit of space that allows one organization holding it to dominate everyone else. (Note that there still need to be areas of space that are good at being accessible to newer players, which means that people should be moving out of them on a regular basis.)
- Grunts involved throughout
- Corp and alliance leadership are very important to the game because they often do a lot of work to make sure that thousands of other players are having a good time. We should be careful not to put the cart before the horse, though. Wherever possible we should make sure that interesting tools and decisions are being given to all rather than just the few leaders. If a feature is trying to make the often-thankless job of leadership easier, it should be aimed at the leaders. If it's trying to add something new and interesting to the game, it should be aimed at the "grunts".
- Emergent "terrain"
- The "playing field" of territory and conquest should be shaped by players. Further, each adjustment they make should have consequences to other nearby areas, and those consequences might not always be intended, and when multiple adjustments begin to overlap in space they should interact in interesting ways. Every location should have a different character based on the unique combination of natural features and player-made alterations that surround it. This helps make every fight and every campaign different and interesting.
- Reward investment with value, control
- At these scales, investments should scale in two directions. The first is investing to increase the value of your space. This sort of thing pays for itself if you can hold the space long enough for it to pay off. The second is to increase your influence/control over your space, including existing objects like stargates and map statistics and so on. This does not pay for itself directly, but increases security and so on so that value investments have a chance to pay off. Both types of investment are necessary in order to build a good environment for players to really put down roots and develop areas of space, which increases the gameplay value for residents and raiders alike, and means there's more on the line when a big war rolls around, making it more emotionally intense.
- Up for removal. Still thinking about how much we should try and mitigate time zone issues for people, and how much we should leave them to figure out the problem themselves.
- Reward time, localism, thought, investment, teamwork
- Time - gathering intelligence should not be quick. People who take the time to really do their homework should be rewarded.
- Localism - there should be a clear advantage to specializing in a particular area, allowing players to build up local knowledge and use it against their enemies.
- Thought - intel-gathering should not be a rote activity, it should require people to make plans and then adjust them as they go.
- Investment - those who are willing to make investments in intel-gathering, either in static or mobile tools, should be rewarded, as this further encourages specialization.
- Teamwork - working together should be more efficient than working separately, because getting people to interact always brings value of one sort or another.
- Pervasive concern
- Intel should not be a thing that you think about occasionally, or that can be worked on a bit and then checked off on a list as "done". Decision-makers should always be thinking about their intel and how up-to-date it is. This ensures that intel-gathering is a useful specialization, and further implies that there are lots of decisions that other players could be making that will disrupt your plans. A game that requires constantly updating intelligence for optimal gameplay is a game where there's a lot going on and a lot of interesting decisions to be made.
- Strong tools for collecting and sharing
- To support the other goals here, tools should be available for collecting and sharing intel that minimize the amount of rote work, particularly documentation, that players need to engage in. This frees up their attention for collaboration, analysis and decision-making.
- Moving target
- New information should become old information on the shortest delay sensible for a given thing. This serves to make intel an ongoing concern and a regular occupation, gives people space to take action before their opponents are ready for it, and adds an edge of urgency to decision-making. People should not be asking if their intel is up-to-date, they should be asking how out-of-date it is.
- Active components
- Intelligence-gathering should not be a purely passive occupation. There should be plenty of opportunities for gatherers to take a more active stance, either to take shortcuts in gathering the intel, or to act on it right away and sabotage or otherwise mess with the enemy's stuff. There should though always be the risk of getting caught, and having your patrol cut short on top of the usual drawbacks of eg getting shot. This serves to make intel-gathering a little more interesting and engaging.
- Sense of home for all
- Everyone in nullsec should have a place that they can call home, and really mean it. From the lone guy living in a dead-end system on his own, to the small corp in NPC nullsec, to every member of a giant alliance claiming three regions, they should all have somewhere they can go that feels familiar and safe, at least for the short term. People in nullsec should feel like they live in nullsec, rather than just hanging out there from time to time.
- Opportunity for expression
- When a player has a place called "home", that feeling should be reinforced by a sense of ownership. A very strong way to achieve this is to allow the player to customize their home, adding their own unique details to the whole which in turn makes them identify with it much more strongly.
- Players should be able to invest in their homes, both because spending time and resources on something they already like generally makes people happy, and because it further raises the stakes when they're fighting for their home.
Your feedback here!
As noted above, we want to move feedback into a bunch of separate threads, so we don't have twelve discussions in one thread. Here are the links again in one convenient place:
- Movement and Logistics
- NPC Nullsec
- Small Combat
- Large Combat
- Territory and Conquest
We're doing these blogs now so we can get as much clear, well-argued feedback as possible before we commit to anything. Please feed us back!
Also, to repeat a thing from earlier in big letters, THIS WILL ALL TAKE A LONG-ASS TIME TO HAPPEN. Some of it will be changed or dropped before it ever gets implemented. Some of it will never happen. This is a roadmap, not a production schedule.
-Greyscale, on behalf of Team BFF (WHO ARE CURRENTLY CCP AFFINITY, CCP FRELLICUS, CCP GREYSCALE, CCP SOUNDWAVE, CCP PUNKTURIS, CCP GILSEV, CCP BETTIK, CCP DROPBEAR AND CCP TALLEST, and who thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.)