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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My 2015 Balance Wishlist - (Over) Half Way There

At the start of 2015 I wrote about what, in my opinion, are the seven most necessary balance changes needed in EVE. I think the list is missing a few dozen major balance changes that would sigificnatly help the game, and a few relatively new bloggers have highlighted some of these needed changes. Two of these bloggers I highly recommend are Gorski Car (who also and primarily posts at Crossing Zebras) and Suitonia. Gorski Car has offered some of the best analysis available of the current solo and small gang meta, and provided fantastic in-depth guides on recent changes such as the balance pass on prop mods, plates, and shield extenders. Suitonia of course makes some of the best PVP guides on his youtube account eveiseasy, but his new blog has offered some of the best proposals for changing links, assault frigates, and battlecruisers on his blog. I hope the devs are reading these two blogs though Fozzie & co. seem to be increasingly following Gorski Car's proposals for balance changes.

As for my wishlist of changes, though: Six months later and four of the seven changes on my list have been--to some degree--changed by CCP, something I am extremely happy about! So let's go through my wishlist and how CCP have balanced the game in these areas:

1. No security status penalties for combat inside faction war complexes (unchanged)
Unfortunately, CCP has largely moved on from crime watch and low security / faction war balancing, though they have mentioned a need to revisit some aspects of crime watch and players in FW frequently press the need for security loss changes. However, I would actually modify my proposal now, given that CCP has removed skill loss and clone grades. Since getting podded is not as big of a risk as it used to be (since you cannot lose skill points now), CCP should cut back on security status loss from destroying capsules. The massive security loss is a relic of a time when podding someone could potentially cause them to lose skill points, and so no longer has a reason to be such a huge penalty. I would still advocate for the original proposal as well, though, or even removing security status penalties for engaging in LS altogether.

2. Remove fleet warp (changed--mostly)
Well as of the July release of Aegis,  FCs (etc.) will no longer be able to fleet warp to locations that the fleet members could not already warp to--so no fleet warping to bookmarks or probed locations etc. I would still advocate for removing fleet warp entirely, but this is a step in the right direction. CCP's intention here, to quote Fozzie from the June 11 o7 show, is that it “encourages you to fly your own ship more, and rely less on other people flying it for you.” That is basically the exact justification I gave for such changes in my original post: other players should not be able to play the game for you, and forms of passive game play should be re-worked into active game play that requires each player in a fleet to contribute to the goal. As I asked in my original post: 
Fleet commanders cannot align other fleet members, activate their guns or other modules, nor can they (as of January 2015) use multiboxing software to effectively fly more than one ship at a time, so why should FCs be able to warp an entire fleet with a single click? 
This is a huge change in the right direction toward making fleets require more individual player skill and participation, as well as towards boosting the effectiveness of solo and small gang players fighting against larger numbers. If you have ever tried to engage or harass a large fleet solo or small gang, a common experience is that the mobility of the fleet depends primarily on one person--the FC. If the FC wants to scan you down (particularly on-grid), he/she can essentially control X number of ships at the same time to land on top of you. This means that while the mobility of a solo player or small gang depends primarily on the skill of each individual player, the mobility of a large fleet depends primarily on a single player--a pretty inane way PVP in EVE has evolved if you think about it. From my own experience, the ease of fleet warp makes fighting against large fleets highly tedious, and pushes solo/small gang players into narrow metas where they have to fly extremely kity ships that can remove tackle quickly, because a single FC can warp dozens or hundreds of players directly onto your location and, particularly if this is an on-grid warp, you will only have seconds to react to either pull range or warp away. This reasoning all the more supports removing fleet warp entirely, as again it simply does not make sense why another player should be able to control X number of ships piloted by other individuals.

3. Reduce Drone DPS by Around 3-5% Across the Board (changed)
Drone damage did not get reduced across the board, but CCP has nerfed sentry drones as well as some of the more OP drone platforms, primarily the ishtar. Drones as a PVP weapon system are in a better place now than they were six months ago, so I count this as a positive change overall.

UPDATE: However, CCP has also gone a step further in reducing drone damage across the board by reducing the drone damage bonus provided by drone damage amplifiers. The change would mean a 2.5% nerf to drone damage provided by tech II DDAs. This is a fantastic change in my opinion, in that most of the tier 1 or cancer tier ships in game right now are drone based--the Tristan which is king of tech 1 frigates at the moment; the vexor; the ishtar; the dominix; the VNI; the rattlesnake; the worm; the gila--all of these ships are the best or close to the best in their respective class, and are, statistically, much more frequently used than any competing ship in the class. This change is also much smarter than my original proposal, because it will not affect the use of drones on ships that use them as a secondary weapon and hence do not use DDAs. There is a strong correlation between ships that use DDAs (i.e., primarily rely on drones for their damage) and ships that are cancer tier or close and hence used far more frequently than their rivals. Another great change that will serve to make more ships worth flying in the long run.

4. Increase Medium Projectile Rate of Fire by Around 2% (changed--mostly)
CCP did not buff medium projectile DPS, but they did make a number of changes which, in effect, amount to a medium projectile buff, even if they are still not in an ideal place overall. First, CCP buffed the range of medium projectile ammo overall, and then nerfed the DPS on sentry drone platforms and medium rails. This in effect has created a more even playing-field, even if medium projectiles are still underwhelming.

5. Reduce Warfare Link Effectiveness by Around 50% (unchanged)
I would now rate changes (nerfs) to links as the #1 most needed balance in the game, but CCP has yet to figure it into their plans. However, more and more players are calling for a major nerf to links, and some of them (like Suitonia at the blog linked above) are offering fantastic proposals for how to make links a more engaging (less passive) but also less overpowering mechanic in game.

6. Local Chat Delay: Pilots do not appear in local chat upon entering a system until their gate cloak ends. (unchanged)
While this is unchanged, it may be a future game play option with the upcoming structure and sov rebalances. CCP is increasingly allowing players to control how much intel they get, and interfere with how much intel other players get. Delayed local chat is one proposal that may make its way into the future sov rebalance, though I still think delayed local should be the default in every system in game. Intel in general is far too cheap and easy to acquire in EVE.

7. Increase Fleet Warp Speed on Battlecruisers and Battleships to be closer to Cruisers (changed!)
CCP has improved the fleet warp on BCs but they have also made warp speed rigs less costly to fit by changing the reductions away from CPU. CCP Fozzie also hinted that combat battlecruisers (and their navy counterparts) will be seeing an interesting balance pass soon, something I am extremely excited to see!

Overall, 4 of the 7 areas I hoped would see balance passes have been significantly improved, and after only 6 months. I hope in the next 6 months the remaining 3 areas get positive changes, but CCP has already surpassed some of my other hopes as well. Heavy Missiles will be getting a DPS increase in July (as hinted by CCP Fozzie) and they are finally introducing modules that improve the velocity or explosion radius of missiles, something many of us have been waiting for for years now.

I've remarked frequently that the current meta in EVE is pretty terrible for solo PVP, but things look to be improving. A few more changes and balance passes and solo PVP might once again be in a good place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Inching Along in EVE (and searching for a wormhole)

Inching along in EVE is probably the best description of how I've been playing EVE lately. Not only am I coming off a long phase of high activity, but I've had little free time to enjoy space even when I want to log in--changing jobs, moving (twice), not having internet for a while, and so on. When I do find time to log in, it is primarily just to relax and make a little progress on my projects.

The first thing I usually do after a period of inactivity is restock and update my market orders. Somehow, I don't find this tedious, even after almost 2 years of trading. It is always satisfying to see that I've made isk even weeks after I've updated the orders! :

I logged in during late May and early June to stock up on items but went through a 10 day spell of not updating orders, yet still managed to make a decent amount each day--albeit significantly less than when I am frequently maintaining the market hubs.

The second thing I do is a bit of casual exploration. I search for inactive POSes, wormholes to check out, mobile structures to blow up, and combat sites. Lately, I've enjoyed exploration in tactical destroyers. Not only are they one of the few ships that can fit expanded probe launchers fairly easily, but they are great for running low-end combat sites. This past week I've had some decent luck in the Jackdaw. Sharpshooter mode gives light missiles a range of over 70km--though it is still not as convenient as running combat sites with drones. I would love to have a drone-based tactical destroyer, if only for I. the expanded probe launcher and II. the fact that I wouldn't have to target NPCs while running combat sites, the most tedious part by far...

EVE's graphics continue to see huge improvements. The graphics team is certainly the MVP of the first year with EVE's new fast release cycle--if only the other teams worked as fast, maybe we would see all sub-caps balanced at this point (including some much-needed balance passes on links, assault frigates, and some under-performing individual ships...). But, EVE evolves at its own pace.

For the past few weeks--and, really, for the past few months--I have also been searching for a specific wormhole (or three). There are, as far as I know, three Sansha shattered wormholes in EVE: J005299, J010556, and J011195. These are shattered wormholes with Sansha combat sites and landmarks, and one of my goals over the next few months is to find one of these wormholes and live nomadically in one for a time, reporting on my experiences here. However, finding them on my own is no easy matter. I monitor EVE-Scout to see if they are connected to Thera, and I check every wormhole I find while exploring; but finding one is still statistically highly unlikely. As far as I know, each of the three has a different static: one has a NS static, one a LS, and one a HS. I would be happy to find any one of the three, though the HS static would provide more PVP opportunities. Someday, if I explore enough, I will stumble across one of these systems, but for any of my readers who happen across one (or have a character parked in one...) and would like to help, I would greatly appreciate any info on locations of connections! I would also be happy to pay a few hundred million isk for the location of a connection as well.

Finally, I did one other things while on break. CCP's PLEX for Good campaign ran an auction to raise money for the Nepal earthquake relief. I decided to "cash out" some of my trade profits, and won LOT#2 in the auction with a bid of 62 PLEX, winning:


In the end--as in, when I am tired of trading!--I will likely donate most of my isk to a future PLEX for Good campaign (assuming there will be one--which is kind of depressing if you think about it, since it would mean there is a new major humanitarian crisis...). The package of these books is with my family as I am in the processing of moving, and I likely won't receive it until late June, but I am extremely excited to check these books out (I did not previously own any!) and am extremely grateful that CCP allows players the opportunity to do some good--however small--with the isk they earn in game. After all, what else would I ever spend my isk on...?