This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the role of the Warp Core Stabiliser module in Factional warfare.
I’m going to kick this off with my customary rambling, but if you would like to just get to the meat of the idea then scroll down to ‘the solution’ below. If you do like to hear me use ~words~ then read on. 😉
EVE’s Factional Warfare mechanics have a long and oft-maligned past. Ever since the system was first implemented players have been lining up to criticise various aspects of it, often with good cause. Unfortunately, the solutions have typically been met with contention on the part of the players or have taken exceedingly long periods of time to implement. When CCP began their cycle of extensive renovations to EVE’s most dysfunctional old systems in late 2011, FW was pretty much the top of their list for major surgery.
Compared to pre-2012 and the work done across multiple expansion cycles, I would say that Factional Warfare is a much improved system and no longer in urgent need of open heart surgery compared to some other aspects of the game yet to be (recently) iterated upon such as null sec sovereignty. It does however have some significant flaws that still need to be addressed, with one in particular I want to see tackled ASAP in order to keep FW healthy until it can next get some iterative loving.
The clue was very much in the title of this post. A good hard look needs to be taken at the role and proliferation of the Warp Core Stabiliser module in Factional Warfare. The FW overhaul(s) of 2012 across the Inferno and Retribution expansions succeeded in making FW into an activity that held value to the players in a more literal and compelling sense than waging eternal war for an abstract sense of ‘national pride’ in the success of your chosen faction. This was achieved primarily by attaching a loyalty point reward to capturing and defending the randomly spawning complexes which are used to conquer systems for your militia. On top of this CCP added a system upgrade and war zone control scoring mechanic that allowed players to improve their faction’s reward pay outs.
In my opinion this was all good stuff as it made many players actually care about FW beyond regarding it as merely a free war dec against everyone on the other side. It provided an income source to these players that they could use while participating in FW directly rather than having to potentially leave the war zone to earn ISK or run FW missions that actually do not impact the war effort. The problem that quickly arose however was that once FW became profitable players figured out means to exploit and farm it for all that it was worth! That was of course the inevitable outcome of giving Eve players a new source of revenue; they will collectively race to bleed it for all they can! 😉
While the very worst abuses of the FW system have been largely ironed out, there are still means to use FW, which was (in my opinion at least) originally intended to be a PVP-centric feature, as a low-risk cash cow. The most prevalent of which is the so-called Plex Farmer. Or maybe more to the point; the Ridiculously-Well-Stabbed-Farmer.
It is extremely common to come across Tech 1 frigates in FW plexes fitted with multiple WCS modules. Two, three, perhaps even four at a time. Or perhaps the Venture mining frigate, thanks to its +2 bonus to warp core strength it is immune to even a short-ranged 2-point warp scrambler before even one WCS is fitted. These ships are very cheap, can be flown by relatively low skill point alts and are highly difficult or even out-right impossible to catch unless their pilot isn’t paying attention to their screen.
The presence of the large numbers of alts farming in the war zones has several detrimental effects on FW as a whole. The first being that large groups of farmers can and do have a considerable impact of which side is able to take over space. Hundreds of cheap, expendable yet highly difficult to catch frigates piloted by alts are out there each day farming LP, avoiding any combat and making it very difficult for the full-time FW warriors to push for territory while keeping the WCS frigates out of their back yards. This causes a huge amount of frustration for those looking for combat as time and effort is wasted trying to catch a ship that may be ‘effectively invulnerable’.
The second issue with the plex farming horde is that organised large-scale farming unbalances the tide of battle alternately in favour one side then the other depending on which side the farmers are pushing at the time. It seems to be the case now that we see one side of the conflict propped up by farming alts for a time before the farmers switch over to the other in order to avoid saturating the faction markets with the same faction’s stuff continuously. The impact that so many dedicated farmers has upon the war zone can be profound and undermines the efforts of those players who dedicate themselves to one side, as victory it seems is determined not through battle but through packs of WCS-laden frigates avoiding confrontation.
Because of all this, player confidence and interest in FW as a feature is being steadily eroded. If the outcome of the war is determined by farming rather than actual PVP, why make the effort to fight at all? Just leave it to the farmers, right? Regardless of if organised mass-plex farming has the impact many players seem to believe it does, the perception of it alone is very much an issue that requires attention.
So, if our problem is the rash of WCS junkies intent on evading any signs of a fight (the risk) in order to get their LP (the reward), then we need to do something to deter the extensive use of WCS. As it stands, if you want to earn ISK through FW than loading up on WCS is pretty much a no-brainer. Assuming you don’t want to get into a fight, then there is no real reason not to do it so long as your fitting can deal with the token NPC’s guarding the plex (if you are de-plexing then that isn’t even an issue). So what we need then are reasons to discourage the practice.
The simplest solution I can think of is to make things so that a ship with a warp core strength of more than 1 (which all ships have except a few like Ventures) is not able to run down the timer on FW plexes. That means you could not fit a WCS or fly a Venture at all and still be able to plex. Farmers, you are welcome. 😉
This does however seem a little harsh to me and might be deemed as too heavy-handed a solution and overly restrictive. If the WCS mod is truly that bad then really the simplest solution is actually to just remove it from the game altogether, but I don’t see that happening. Even if it would make some people very happy indeed!
So then, what if we implemented a trade-off mechanic instead? What if for each point of warp core strength beyond 1 that your ship has, the time it takes for you to run the plex timer increases? Let’s say by 10%. If you fitted two WCS to your Slasher, you may be immune to a 2-point warp scrambler but the plex takes 20% longer to complete. Turning up in a venture with a WCS fitted? That’s 30% longer, but it will take 2 scramblers to hold you down.
I think this approach rebalances the risk-reward ratio somewhat and would either result in players accepting more risk to maintain the presently attractive rewards or sticking with playing it safe but taking a pay cut through the slower pace of plex running.
If you really want to fly stabbed frigates all-day long, you will still have that option. You just don’t get to make all of the ISK without accepting a reasonable amount of risk.
It seems likely to me that some of the farmers will be encouraged to move into other areas of the game that perhaps need the population boost more (hopefully into null sec ratting and the like) as their revenues drop, or at the very least have their dramatic impact upon the war zone outcomes curbed allowing for the focus to move back towards FW being the PVP-centric feature I believe it was always intended to be.
Options to abuse?
The worst outcome I can think of with this idea is how it could be abused. If I were so inclined, I might be tempted to place an alt in the opposing militia flying something (preferably with 8 low slots) loaded with WCS mods. Then I would join a fleet attempting to contest/de-contest a system and laugh as each timer takes up to 80% longer to run. That would be an effective means of slowing the enemy advance! 😉
The solutions to this I can think of would be for a ship entering the grid to either be somehow marked as carrying WCS and thus influencing the timer, or for its arrival to prompt a notification to be sent out to everyone on grid identifying the offending pilot. They may then be dealt with as their fleet-mates deem fit.
Fortunately there are no new issues raised with the opposing side bringing a WCS-laden ship to disrupt your plexing efforts, as timers currently halt if there is a member of the opposing militia on grid with you anyway. Similarly non-militia pilots don’t affect timers so it wouldn’t matter if they rock up with WCS fitted either, which just leaves the AWOX’ing issue to contend with.
So there we have it. I think this would be the way to begin addressing the issue PVP-evading plex farming in FW by introducing a greater risk vs reward consideration to the practice. You may now tell me why I’m wrong!