This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the Factional Warfare rewards system and its impact post-Inferno.
There is something unusual going on in the Amarr-Minmatar conflict at the moment. The Amarrians are increasingly becoming Caldari. The Amarr militia has been the underdog in FW for most if not all of the time since FW was first introduced some five years ago. It has always had the fewest pilots enrolled, for whatever reason.
Although I have only recently in the past year or so been following FW in much detail, I am aware that the common perception is that the Minmatar have held a clear advantage in numbers/activity for some time now. Despite that, the Amarr have had their long standing loyalist core who have all been fully engaged in the Amarr militia for years, regardless of being out numbered.
Pre-Inferno, the Amarrian disadvantage was pretty much limited to fleet numbers, often being unable to take on Minmatar fleets during prime times but carrying on regardless in all other ways. Post-Inferno however, the stakes were raised. System ‘occupancy’ had been a meaningless concept, but now ‘sovereignty’ means both station lock outs (which doesn’t appear to be that big a deal to many) and most significantly, ‘war zone control’.
The war zone control score is determined by the number of systems your militia holds sovereignty in and the level of upgrades present in each system. Earn enough points and you unlock successive reward tiers, with each upgraded tier dramatically reducing the prices of items in the faction LP store. At tier 5 everything becomes extremely cheap. At tier 1 everything is highly expensive. Tier 3 is equivalent to the pre-Inferno prices.
The Minmatar militia has the capability of briefly unlocking tier 5 given a concerted and organised mass-push for a ‘cashing out’ event, as happened last weekend (even without Goonswarm’s recent infamous manipulations). The Amarr on the other hand appear to be struggling to reach tier 3, typically languishing on tier 1. The Amarr are now at a distinct economic disadvantage, a place no player ever likes to find themselves. And its a significant disadvantage at that.
Putting the fact that I am presently on the ‘winning team’ aside, I do like and agree with the idea of prices adjusting to reward success. However, I think that the current extremes of the scale are too great. The losing side, already at a disadvantage (they’re losing, duh!) are further ham-stringed and heavily punished by crippling costs. While its right to reward success, the penalty for failure is currently extreme.
If this were a null sec game mechanic, I would actually be fine with that. In null sec player-run alliances and power blocs are able to establish strong chains of command and have complete control over how they execute a war. In FW however, that simply isn’t the case. No single group of players can ever exert complete control over a militia, as there is no control over who can join a militia and no means available to boot trouble makers. An FW militia can never hope to match a null sec power block in terms of group organisation. Because of that, it is not right to apply such harsh penalties.
We are starting to see the player response emerging. The Amarr players are losing out on the rewards for their efforts, and with the sharply increased prices of the LP store FW may actually be worth less to them them now than it was pre-Inferno. Although LP is now awarded for kills and plexing, they require vastly more LP just to buy the same items. As a result, they are beginning to vote with their feet.
By moving from the Amarr to Caldari militias, players can continue to fight the same opponents, but gain access to vastly better prices through the Caldari LP store. They are just being paid in Caldari LP rather than Amarrian. In effect, players are moving to avoid the penalties of failure introduced with Inferno. The result of this mechanic appears to be the depopulation of FW’s smallest militia and the further growth of the largest. That cannot be considered as being ‘good for the game’.
I think that the core issue is less about one side gaining ‘tier 5′ as it is about the other side being stuck languishing under ‘tier1′. Rewards are good, crushing penalties not so much. I think that the system needs to be tweaked in order to give the underdogs more support so that jumping ship does not become the preferable option to staying on and trying to fight back. There might be several ways to do this.
1) Reduce the cost of items at tier 1 and tier 2 so that the drop-off from tier 3 (the supposedly ‘average’ rewards level) is less severe. I’m less sure that the high end rewards should be cut back, as an over supply of faction goods will see market prices falling anyway which will dynamically balance rewards.
2) Make it easier to progress through tier 1>2>3. If an underdog faction still has a reasonable shot at reaching an upgrade tier then their pilots have a motivating and achievable goal to aim for, after which morale is boosted and fighting may pick up. Progressing beyond tier 3 (average rewards) should remain tougher and obviously come at the expense of the opposition.
3) Something more complex might be to tweak the LP reward payouts of the underdog faction. Offensive plexing and PVP ship kills might pay out more LP when your faction is at tier 1 & 2. Rewards should not however be reduced for factions at tier 4 or 5 as that would be a penalty on success. None of this should be applied to FW missions, as mission running has no bearing on warzone control. This mechanism might reflect a faction investing more heavily in rewarding its few Capsuleers actively taking the fight to the enemy against the odds.
With some simple tweaks, this disparity could be addressed and the temptation to switch militias reduced. While FW was originally being developed, at a Fanfest roundtable I listened to a dev talk about how the factions would solicit the Capsuleers for their support. Inferno has got it half right in bringing incentives and purpose to FW’s sovereignty battle, but at the same time got it wrong in the way that players are ‘punished’ for sticking with the losing side. That needs careful attention and should be a priority for CCP’s team still working on FW.