Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beyond the Links Problem: How to get 750m in bonuses with zero risk of loss

Imagine that CCP introduced a new type pirate implant set, one you purchase with a monthly subscription using either PLEX or traditional subscription costs, $14.95 a month (or  $10.95 if you buy it for a full year). For $14.95 you get a unique implant set with the following bonuses:

10% Armor HP 
10% Shield HP
10% Agility
10% Scan Resolution
10% Targeting Range

I will call this the "10% x5" set for short. 

However, here's the really good part. By paying this monthly subscription, you cannot lose this implant set. Using it, in other words, involves 0 isk risked. If you have this subscription and fly a 100m isk worm in an empty pod and lose the ship and the pod, you lose 100m isk--the 10% x5 set remains active the very next time you undock.

At this point, it sounds dangerously close to a pay-to-win system to me, but maybe the really troubling part about it is the fact that your implant set is never at risk. It is 100% safe so long as your sub is up, which is contrary to the fundamental, risk versus reward design of EVE.

However, let's also say CCP sweetens the deal. If you buy this implant set not only can you never lose it, you don't have to buy the implants with isk in addition to the monthly sub. So unlike, say, pirate sets which have a high up-front cost and the potential risk of losing them (and having to buy them all over again), the implant set is "included" in the monthly sub, in addition to the fact that it can never be lost if you are an active sub. And hey, this implant set is not even bound to your character--the buffs apply to any of your active characters!

CCP, being so generous, sweetens the deal even more. If you subscribe to this implant set, you can also have any of your other implant sets on top of it that get attached to your clone and can be lost. So, you can have the 10% x5 set plus your geno set or some snakes.

To sum up: for the price of a monthly subscription, you get 10% armor, 10% shield, 10% agility, 10% scan res, and 10% targeting range to your active character, buffs which can be used on top of any other clone-based implants, comes free with the subscription, and can never be lost like your ship and regular implants can be.

This seems like a fundamentally broken system with high reward and zero risk. And this is exactly how fleet bonus characters work.

Here is how you can get exactly the above implant buffs that you cannot possibly risk with just a monthly sub.

First, create a new account and pay the monthly sub. There is your fee for your buffs. Now, buy the trivially cheap leadership skill books--the ones that give bonuses when in the proper role in fleet, like armored warfare--and train them to V. As I described in previous posts, training them all to V takes roughly one month, but you can get them all to IV (.i.e, a full 8% bonuses across the board) in under a week.

Here is how fleet bonuses work if you are not aware: you only need the relevant leadership skills and the role of booster in fleet, and if you are undocked the bonuses apply to anyone in fleet in system. It does not matter what you are flying.

No, really, it doesn't matter what ship you are in: You can give fleet boosts in a rookie ship.
You can give fleet boosts while cloaked at a safe spot.
You can put a prototype cloak on a rookie ship and cloak at a safe spot and provide fleet boosts.

The easiest and completely risk free method is just to be in an empty rookie ship (afaik you cannot provide boosts while in a capsule). You can park the rookie ship booster at a safe spot. If it dies, you lose absolutely no isk. With the clone grade and medical clone cost removed, you lose absolutely no isk if you get podded as well--just the inconvenience of having to get your risk-free bonuses back into system (trivially easy if you set a station in system as your home system for instance). You can even use this booster as a scout, or cloak the character on an important grid.

This is a troubling system. You get a large set of bonuses plus other benefits like a scout but risking 0 isk in the process. The risk-free booster is not used much, though, because most players just prefer links--you get the fleet bonuses plus officer module / pirate implant set level bonuses for very, very little risk and cost. However, the risk-free booster still remains an option.

How much, though, is the 10% x5 set worth, compared to existing bonuses? Let's compare this set of bonuses to current available skill implant and pirate implants. What combination of implants (pirate included if needed) could we use to get roughly the same bonuses, and how much would such an implant set cost?

First of all, it is impossible to get the same set of bonuses using just implants. However, we can get close. The main issue is that the agility, shield HP, and scan res implants all use slot 7. There's no other way to get scan res via implants, and the only other way to get shield HP is via a full geno set which will give you roughly 5% but use slots 1-4. The problem with getting agility via implants is that we have slot 7 in high demand but the mid/low grade nomad sets are extremely expensive. Low Grade Nomad Epsilon provides 5% agility at roughly 350m isk. Another option is to use the Low grade nomad alpha + beta + delta + omega which will get you to the 10% agility but at roughly 500m isk at the Jita average price (though the price of low grade implants varies a lot since they are in both low demand and low supply). The much better option is to use the full geno set, which provides roughly 5% Shield HP, 5% Armor HP, 5% Agility (among other bonuses obviously), and is roughly 380m isk total at current Jita prices (though subject to change and likely upwards).

So here is the most cost effective implant approximation to the 10% x5 bonus set:

Slots 1-4: Genolution Implants, providing roughly 5% Shield HP, 5% Armor HP, 5% Agility (among other bonuses obviously) at 380m isk.

Slot 7: 'Gnome' Shield Management SM-705 - 5% Shield HP at 125m
Slot 8: 'Gypsy' Long-Range Targeting LT-805 5% Targeting Range at 125m (the +6% is over 875m)
Slot 10: 'Noble' Hull Upgrade HG-1005 - 5% Armor HP at 125m

In total, this gives us roughly 10% Armor HP, 10% Shield HP, 10% Agility, 5% Targeting Range, and 0% extra Scan Res, at a cost of roughly 750m isk at current Jita prices. Obviously this does not get us the full bonuses--we don't get any scan res, and we lack 5% extra targeting, but the genolutions also give us other valuable bonuses such as powergrid, so the bonuses do equal out in value at the very least. So we can estimate that the isk value of the bonuses provided by the 10% x5 fleet bonus is roughly 750m isk in bonuses, all provided by an empty pod in a an empty rookie ship risking 0 isk. This does pale in comparison to the value in isk full links provide compared to how much they cost. Suitonia, for instance, calculates that you get roughly 10b isk in bonuses for a roughly 1.2b isk ship that itself is rarely in danger. But the fact remains that even the base fleet bonuses are a fundamentally broken system where you can get in the range of 750m isk in bonuses at no risk whatsoever.

What are potential ways this disparity in risk versus reward could be fixed? My suggestion would be that CCP change how links work roughly following the suggestions of Suitonia's detailed post linked above, and in the process remove the base fleet bonuses from the game. That way, you don't have the possibility of an alt in a rookie ship providing free bonuses, and instead the only fleet bonus/link system in game is one where the reward is commensurable with the risk and one which requires active and intelligent flying, rather than cloaking up at a safe spot.


  1. Unlike a full link booster alt a mini-booster like you mention is easy to train and with the exception of true solo players almost anyone can and will have these bonuses.

    You can't really compare the value of a boosting alt with implants.
    Your 10% armor is equal to 2 ranks of hull upgrades trained.
    10% more shield? 2 ranks of shield upgrades.
    Same with agility, scan resolution and targeting range.

    Getting 10% more in those 5 stats requires some cheap skillbooks and some training time, not much different from training leadership skills.

    In that regard eve is already pay to win, since I can invest RL money and get instant skill boosts by selling off my old character and buying a new one. Or I can boost my performance by upgrading from a T1 to a T2 ship. Or by buying a boosting alt. Or buying implants. Or stacking all those together.

  2. You are right that comparing fleet bonuses to implants is not too fair, but the thing that stands out to me is the strength of the bonuses combined with the fact that they can be conferred with zero risk--e.g. in a rookieship. That's fundamentally unlike other ways of getting bonuses, where you risk loss. Though you are right to point out that all bonuses provided by skills are like this (especially since the removal of medical clone costs and potential skill loss). It does beg the question whether the trained skill system really fits into EVE since it involves reward but no risk, and I wonder what the game would look like if it were removed.

  3. Honestly I don't see this as as much of a problem; if your main has these skills trained, just fleeting up with a trial account scout will also give the bonuses. It might be just me but I just see them as any other 'skill' bonuses (hull upgrades etc).
    I have a bigger issue with off grid linkboats, which have higher strength than several high-grade pirate sets... combined!

    1. Unless the trial account is piloted by another player, you cannot run a trail account at the same time as another account (so you can't recycle fleet boost / scout accounts for example).

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  5. OGBs can be subtly changed simply by having links or processors increase signature or decrease sensor strength. A scannable ship might as well be in the fight.

    As for non-hardwiring implants, they are just a disincentive for pvp. Eliminate them, or make them a feature that you pay isk to maintain over time rather than over clones. People can buy isk legally, so there's no issue there. If CCP doesn't start getting more subscribers soon, expect to see unlimited trial accounts or other migrations to cash-shop focused subscriptions.