Nullsec Development: Rules and Guidelines | EVE Online

Nullsec Development: Rules and Guidelines

2011-08-03 - By CCP Greyscale

tl;dr This is a theory blog, there is no tl;dr. Sorry!

The top bit

So as you may or may not have heard, Team BFF are thinking about nullsec again, with an eye to making some improvements over the next year or so.

In the past we've often started thinking about nullsec again because we were unhappy with our sovereignty mechanics (again), which leads into a nice self-contained area of work. This time our initial discussions were about resources and industry in nullsec, which are things that we've not really tackled "for a while" and "in forever" respectively. Asking ourselves "so, uh... how should industry work in nullsec" set us off down a rather interesting path of putting aside the sovereignty mechanics (for the most part, for now) and looking at everything else.

It quickly became apparent that we needed to take a more structured approach to deciding exactly where our focus should be, leading to the resuscitation of an old project which you could somewhat-charitably describe as a Grand Unified Theory of nullsec design - a proper ground-up breakdown of how nullsec as a whole should work. This project meshed nicely with an internal drive we've been having recently in EVE Development to create and refine more robust roadmaps for where we want to be five years from now and how we'd like to get there, so it quickly got greenlit and we got to work.

What followed were several rounds of brainstorming, filtering, analysis and discussion. We formed an internal group of about twenty CCP employees with an interest in nullsec and held a series of brainstorming sessions; we got feedback from the CSM and ran an open session with them during the spring summit; we even consulted with a few of the Alliance Tournament experts while they were over here, because it seemed like a useful opportunity. All this input was condensed down into two large wiki pages and one very crowded whiteboard, and then refined into a sizable collection of "Epic Stories" for our Scrum backlog.

We've done extensive private refinement and we're reasonably happy with what we have, so the next obvious step is some public discussion. There will therefore be (at least) two theory blogs over the summer, of which this is the first.

The bit where I add some disclaimers

Before getting into the actual details, here are the parameters we're working from:

  • This is all still in pre-production. We've spent some time fleshing out some very high-level "epic" user stories to improve our understanding of what we want, but there's been minimal design and zero implementation work undertaken as of yet.
  • As a consequence of the above, a lot of it is deliberately light on detail. Everything listed here is subject to development, refinement and/or eventual rejection. We're trying to see the forest here, not the trees.
  • We're trying to create a long-term plan rather than a single-expansion feature list. Some of this will probably never actually happen. Some of it will take a loooong time to get done. If we finish the majority of this plan in the next five years I'd be extremely happy. The biggest win here in the meantime is having a clear overall direction that we can use to determine what to work on first and how those things should function.

The bit with the actual information

This first blog is covering "nullsec as a whole". The work informing this blog was driven by three main questions:

  • What is nullsec "for"? This is attempting to outline the functional role of nullsec in EVE Online, ie why it is worth doing in the first place in systemic terms. Once we have an understanding of how nullsec is positioned in this regard, we have an easier time drilling down to how it should work. This section lists all the things that we believe /should/ be true in an ideal world.
  • How should nullsec work? This lays down universal rules for nullsec: every single feature that has a nullsec component should, in an ideal world, follow all of these rules. This means there is deliberately nothing specific about individual parts of the game in here.
  • What have we learned? This is a handy section I created to stockpile various "non-obvious" things that we have discovered turn out to be very obviously a bad thing with the benefit of hindsight. We would like to be avoiding all of these in future. Some of them will still happen regardless, because the reality is that we can't always have nice things - but we will frown mightily when we release them, and vow to do better next time.

Finally, please note that what we're trying to outline here are things specific to, or specifically important in, nullsec. There's a raft of EVE (and CCP) design principles that are assumed and left unspecified throughout this work, such as "getting people to interact with one another is good".

Ok, so with all that out of the way, here are some bullet points which we made earlier.

The functional role of Nullsec

  • Nullsec is the land of opportunity and adventure
  • Nullsec is an area which brings people together in a very strong way
  • Nullsec acts as a rich source of aspirational goals for players of all levels of experience
  • Nullsec provides an area in which players can amass and exercise power over other players
  • Nullsec provides an area in which players can develop a rich, player-centric shared history
  • Nullsec permits extremely rich PvP experiences at all fleet sizes
  • Nullsec allows players to build a home and make a lasting mark on the world
  • Nullsec generates isolated events and on-going stories which energize the playerbase and help drive interest in the game
  • Nullsec conflict destroys large amounts of manufactured goods, which drives the EVE market
  • Nullsec is a place that allows us to distribute high-value resources in a balanced way
  • Nullsec is one of the things that makes EVE interesting and unique

Nullsec design rules

  • EVE turned up to 11
    • Nullsec features should always reward teamwork, organization and interaction in every feature
    • Nullsec features should always support the core fantasy that we're offering
  • Maximize "can", minimize "must"
    • Nullsec features should always maximize the amount of valuable options available to the player, and minimize the number of mandatory tasks they must complete
    • Nullsec features should always encourage players to solve their own problems rather than using mechanics to regulate things
  • Keep a careful eye on economic balance
    • Nullsec moneymaking activities should be generally competitive with one another, and therefore pay out more than equivalent activities elsewhere
    • Nullsec should always remain economically linked to other areas of the game, but this link should be carefully balanced
  • Everyone should be able to see how to get involved
    • For a given nullsec feature or activity, any player should be able to figure out a plan that ends with them participating in that activity/feature
  • Players should be able to mitigate danger, but not eliminate it - nobody should be safe in space, everything that's built should be destroyable
    • Nullsec features can (and often should) allow players to mitigate the inherent danger of Nullsec with effort, teamwork and organization, but they should never make a player feel safe while in space, or secure in their investments from month to month: every organization should have a discoverable weakness, and anything that can be built up in should be possible to tear down again
  • Nullsec should feel big and uneven
    • Nullsec features should support and enhance the perception that Nullsec is a big place
    • Nullsec features and content should support and enhance a clear perception that some areas of space are "better" than others, measured by a given metric, but the hierarchy does not need to be uniform across different metrics
    • Nullsec features and content should support and enhance the perception that every area of nullsec space is different, in as many ways and to as fine a granularity as is practical
  • Everyone should have a reason to be friends and a reason to fight
    • Nullsec features and content should support and enhance an overall landscape where there's always a rational reason to co-operate with other groups, and a rational reason to fight them (and supply the tools to do both)
  • Support multiple sizes and styles of organizations across multiple timezones
    • Nullsec features and content should actively support a landscape where organizations of all different sizes and structures/styles maintain a healthy presence
    • Nullsec features and content should avoid disadvantaging someone because of the timezone they happen to live in
  • The interests of players and their leaders should align
    • Nullsec features should thoroughly consider the interests of players at all levels of corp/alliance heirarchies, and ensure that their interests all align
  • There should always be another hill to climb, and players should never want to look back
    • Nullsec features and content should actively support the perception that, for all playstyles, there's always another hill to climb
    • Nullsec features and content should always remind players why they left safe space, and never make them think about going back
  • Don't make lag
    • Nullsec features and content should actively attempt to reduce or remove the likelihood of unmanageable server load

Lessons learned

  • Shooting at stationary structures is boring
    • See: Starbase warfare, Dominion sov warfare. Even the good fights that do happen around such objectives could be improved by having better objectives.
    • Shooting at things with hitpoints scales very efficiently with fleet size, which encourages lag-producing behavior
  • Having to spend significant amounts of effort defeating an enemy which isn't even fighting back is really boring
    • See: Starbase warfare, Dominion sov warfare. See in particular how long it took to clear IT Alliance's ownership out of Delve, as a recent example
  • Waking up every morning and having to clean up the mess made while you were asleep is boring
    • See: station ping-pong pre-sov, repairing station services. Having to do something tedious every day before you can actually play the game is not cool
  • Doing something just "because it would be cool/neat/awesome" is always a bad idea and will come back to bite you later
    • See: Jump bridges, cyno jammers, Sov 4, AoE doomsdays, titans in general, supercarrier boost... Note that we should still obviously strive to make everything cool/neat/awesome, but when we start off with an awesome idea rather than an actual problem we want to fix or a feature that has a clear, functional and necessary goal, it generally requires painful fixes further down the road
  • Cost is a useful variable to tune but an unwise thing to rely on to enforce scarcity or balance - players will always be richer than you think
    • See: outposts, titans, supercarriers
  • Making something tedious will not stop players doing it if it's very clearly the best option. They'll do it, and they'll hate it
    • See: everything involving starbases. As a counterpoint though, things like the one-per-corp-per-system-per-day starbase rule demonstrate that if something doesn't make a big difference but is sufficiently awkward to do, then any theoretical "exploit" scenarios tend to fall out of favor quickly as they're just not worth the effort.
  • People like to do one-stop shopping, and will "go to Jita" for everything unless doing so is comparatively very inconvenient
    • See: moon mineral distribution, high-strength booster resource distribution, neither of which achieved much in the way of the nullsec-to-nullsec trade that they hoped to encourage

The bit where we ask for feedback

The reason we're talking about this now rather than in three or four months' time is that we're making it a clear policy with this work to collect as much feedback as possible, as early as possible. We do actually want to hear your opinions on this. If there are things that you disagree with or would like to see added here (particularly in the "lessons learned" section as it relates specifically to nullsec), please list them - and explain them! - in the comments thread in as clear, constructive and succinct a manner as you can. We will be reading and thinking about the points raised, with a view to making any necessary alterations, in the near future.

The bottom bit

There will be another blog in the near future, in which we will be explaining where we're thinking about going for all the major areas of nullsec design (I think we have twelve sections there). In the meantime, comment away!

-Greyscale, on behalf of Team BFF