Rewarding unfinished work

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the mechanics of FW system conquest.

In the last couple of days I have become aware of a particularly dubious quirk within Factional Warfare.  It is to do with contesting systems.  If you don’t know how this works, here is a quick-ish summary.

In order to capture an FW system, your militia must run complexes in the opposing side’s system.  You destroy/speed tank the defending NPC’s while orbiting a structure (a.k.a. the ‘button’) for a certain amount of time, once done the plex is captured.  This is called ‘offensive’ plexing.

Depending on the size of the plex, the contested level will rise by a few percent until it reaches 100% and the system’s Infrastructure Hub will become ‘vulnerable’.  You then shoot it up and the system flips to your side’s sovereignty.

If your system is under threat, you can reduce the contested level by running the plexes belonging to your own milita.  The NPC’s are friendy to you so won’t shoot, you simply have to sit on the ‘button’ until time runs out and the contested levels drops towards zero.  This is ‘defensive plexing’.

Pre-Inferno, there were no rewards for doing any of that.  Post-Inferno, it works like this;

If you ‘defensive plex’ a system that is not contested, you receive no rewards; doing so is ultimately pointless.

If you ‘defensive plex’ a system that is contested (anywhere from 1% plus) then you will receive a standings boost towards your militia NPC corp as reward.  CCP did not place any other rewards on defensive plexing for fear of promoting low-risk farming.

If you ‘offensive plex’ then you receive both a standings boost and loyalty points to use in your militia LP store.

If you participate in capturing an I-HUB (and so taking a system), then you get a larger standings boost.  Your militia then has the ability to upgrade the system (which has local benefits) and so raise their war zone control level.  At certain points this unlocks reward tiers which each grant huge discounts to the militia LP store.  Periodically a militia will make an organised push to boost the control level for a massed ‘LP cash out’.

Obviously, the design intent behind all of this is that the militias will compete for warzone control, flipping and upgrading systems in a bid to unlock a higher tier and better rewards.  They will also fight to avoid losing systems in order to keep those rewards and for the bragging rights of winning.  All fair enough.

There are a couple of well known issues with the current implementation that CCP should look to iterate upon in the short term.  The first is that the disparity between the reward tiers is currently staggering.  If your militia happens to be struggling then the cost of items at tier 1 is crippling, whereas if you are sitting pretty at tier 5 then everything is ludicrously cheap.  The extremes of this dynamic need to be adjusted.

The second issue is that defensive plexing is both mind numbingly boring (more so than offensive, but not much) and all but thankless.  Only a minority of players will willingly do this very often, as it often feels like dead play time.

So what was the new thing I just found out about?  Remember that in order to make a system vulnerable, you must raise the contested level to 100%.  You then shoot the I-HUB, right?  Turns out, it may be a much smarter move to not do that.  What I did not realise, and I think most of the Minmatar militia didn’t realise this either, is that a system can apparently be pushed beyond 100% contested.

Way beyond.  In fact, there might not even be a cap on it.  This week has seen the Amarr militia waking up and mounting a powerful counter offensive.  Many systems have been pushed into vulnerable state, but not flipped.  For several days now, those systems have been vulnerable and Amarr pilots have continued to offensive plex in them without knocking down the I-HUB’s.  Those systems are I’m told in excess of 300% contested (I admit to not being sure how to work that out).

It appears the Amarr game plan now is to continue flipping more systems into vulnerable, not taking them but drive them further and further beyond 100% – and continually getting paid while they go.

I think there are a lot of Minmatar pilots wishing that they had thought of that first.  So fair play to the Amarr, I’m not writing out of bitterness or blaming them for taking advantage of the mechanics.  I wouldn’t call this an exploit by any means, but it is certainly a flawed mechanic.

Consider the narrative of this.  The empire factions use their Capsuleer militias as essentially mercenary forces to fight their proxy war.  We are rewarded for our efforts in helping to take territory from their mortal foes.  Capture enemy facilities/kill enemy ships until  a system becomes vulnerable, then take it.  Receive rewards in the form of faction goodies.  Except, that isn’t happening here.  Instead we are seeing the mercenaries deliberately prolonging the fighting in order to extract greater payment.

Wouldn’t the employer eventually refuse to keep paying for a job that isn’t being finished?  Shouldn’t it always be in the interests of the players to conquer a system rather than to leave it in enemy hands?

When CCP introduced Incursions, they used an interesting phrase;

CONCORD only pays for a job that’s finished, private.

Currently, the empire factions don’t care about that. Maybe they should. 😉  There could be several solutions to this issue.

  • Place a cap on how far past 100% contested a system can be taken.  After that point completing sites ceases to pay out LP and the system can’t be taken to a ridiculous level.
  • Have the contested level fall over time, perhaps scaling with the extent of contesting to make it harder to push far beyond 100%.
  • Like in Incursions, move part of the LP rewards for offensive plexing over to paying out only once the system has been captured (or grant additional rewards beyond current level).  This might need a time limit of sorts, so that only sites completed within 7 days of the system being taken pay out the bonus.  You get paid as you go, and again for finishing the job.

I haven’t been thinking on this for very long, so those are pretty much just ideas off the top of my head but I feel there are better ways to go about this.

What I think is very clear and becomes increasingly evident with time, is that the plexing mechanics/attached rewards are the core issues with factional warfare at present.  I’m hoping that the dev team working on FW for the winter release cycle will be taking a long hard look at renovating the plexing mechanics.

I’m not sure how well known or addressed this issue is, so I went ahead and started a CSM petition thingie to try and get it bumped up CCP’s priority list.  Do go have your 2 cents and click the ‘like’ button if you happen to agree!

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