Tuesday 24 March 2015

Fozziesov: a defence

At last, the redesign of nullsec Sovereignty is on the table - and it's a doozie. I really like the proposals - really, I do, ok? This is a tear-free zone. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't have suggestions.

In case you live under a rock

Please skip this if you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, I really recommend reading the dev blog. I'll wait.

Territorial Control Units (TCUs), Infrastructure Hubs (iHubs) and Outposts will be uncoupled for the first time. TCUs will provide the current 25% saving on starbase fuel costs, a name on the map, and nothing else. iHubs, an optional improvement, will provide the current upgrades such as the ability to build supercapitals, install a jump bridge or cyno jammer, or increase the number of anomalies or signatures in the system - as at present. Outposts - effectively player-owned stations, but limited to one per system - remain unchanged. In theory, different alliances can control the TCU, iHub and Outpost in the same system.

Each of these three sov structures will now be invulnerable to weapons; instead, they can be attacked during the owner's "prime time" (a window set by the alliance) using an Entosis Link. This targeted high-slot module can be fitted to any ship, has up to 250km range, and if uncontested, can reinforce a structure in 10-40 minutes, depending on the occupancy indices of the system. Defence bonuses will initially be based on the current indices for ratting, mining, and duration of ownership, but these are slated for further iteration.

Once activated, the Entosis link cannot be deactivated until its cycle is complete (2 mins minimum). During the cycle, the ship operating the link cannot warp, jump, dock, or receive any form of outside assistance. This makes the Entosis ship extremely vulnerable unless it is defended; pure kiting strategies have been officially deprecated and are intended to be sub-optimal. Capitals will have severe penalties to using Entosis links.

Capture begins after the end of the first full Entosis cycle; at this point, members of the defending alliance are notified. Only one ship is required to operate an Entosis link; additional modules or ships offer no further benefit. If the defenders also activate an Entosis link on the same structure, no capture progress is made, and if the attackers are driven off, the defenders can restore the structure to its "untouched" state in minutes. The intended effect is that attackers or defenders can win an Entosis contest only if they control the whole grid surrounding the target for an extended period.

If a Sov structure is successfully attacked, it exits reinforcement at a random point during the defender's primetime two days later. At this point, five Command Nodes (nodes) will spawn randomly throughout the constellation; each can be attacked using the same Entosis mechanic, which takes 10-40 mins for attackers, but always 10 mins for defenders. Unlike the initial attack on a structure, there is no notification relating to nodes or their capture; they are visible as beacons, but only to pilots in space in that system. If the nodes are uncontested, capturing ten is enough to win the battle, saving or destroying the target structure. If opponents contest the capture, there is a tug-of-war. Whenever a node is captured, another one spawns, and eventually more nodes will spawn, making it increasingly easy for the faster or more numerous side to break a stalemate.

If the capture event is won, TCUs and iHubs are destroyed; in the latter case, this can be moderately expensive for the defender. Outposts first go into a two-day "freeport" mode before a second free-for-all capture event determines the new owner; this is a temporary system, as the new structures coming this year will be destructible.

Here's why it's good:

Goodbye to BoredomShield(tm): "the art of weaponising [an] opponent's boredom" will no longer be a key strategy in Sov warfare. Taking and defending Sovereignty will always either be fairly quick and easy, or involve actual fighting.

Unused space will be vulnerable: under the current indices, long-term ownership will give defenders only a small advantage; ratting and mining will be needed to bolster the defence.

Defenders will have to defend: "denying fights" will no longer be a dominant defence against roaming gangs; during prime time, defenders can now be forced to undock and fight. Absent "defenders" will have very little protection; they will need to show up and fight for their space, or lose it. The defending alliance will need to show up in person; third parties can help them fight attackers, but only the defenders can use Entosis Links to prevent reinforcement or capture Command Nodes. This doesn't spell the end of renting, but the writing is on the wall.

Defenders will have some advantages: the lengthened capture times for attackers, defenders' assets in the systems under attack, and fast reship times should all lend significant advantages for defence. This is a key design goal:
"It's very important that active and prepared alliances be provided with the tools they need to defend their homes." - CCP Fozzie

Some known issues

Prime-time Peeves: There has been much discussion about how this should work; clearly, defenders should have some control over when they can be forced to fight, if smaller alliances are to be able to hold space - but there are worries that some players, especially in AUTZ, will be effectively left out of the action.

Trollceptor: There have been worries that an interceptor fit for speed and locking range might be able to operate an Entosis link while remaining effectively untouchable. Although it would be easy for a defender to activate their own Entosis link and prevent capture, this would force one character to remain in space doing nothing else until the Trollceptor pilot leaves the system. There are a number of straightforward solutions to this concern, which has been answered in principle fairly clearly:
"We do not intend to allow pure evasion tactics to become optimal." - CCP Fozzie
Alliance-hopping defenders: renters could be protected if landlords can join their alliance temporarily to help defend their space; this could also allow a range of silly timer games. Anthar Thebess has already raised and proposed a solution to this concern: a two-week delay before new alliance members can use Entosis in defence.

Skin in the game: attackers can threaten sov without putting any meaningful resources on the line. This was raised by Gevlon Goblin: 
"...if the "attack" succeeds, the defender loses his home. If the "attack" fails, the attacker loses a T1 cruiser... This can be fixed by increasing the price of the Entosis link enough to make Entosis kill reports a prized goal of PvP-ers."
Another popular suggestion for this has been to require at least a Battlecruiser to make an initial Entosis attack, but Fozzie has firmly scotched this notion:
"Using the Entosis Link mechanics to artificially skew the meta in that way is not something we are interested in doing."
Endie van Posts raised a related concern:
"A system which allows non-sov-dwellers to run riot in sov null, but which does not compensate the sovholding line members sufficiently, will see depopulation, after which nobody gets fights."
He was talking about income for residents, but I'm more inclined towards Gevlon's view: defending Sov should entail good, mostly-meaningful fights, or failing that, satisfying killmails with lots of zeroes on. This is a powerful argument against the 20m.ISK Entosis Link fitted to a 20m.ISK interceptor; of course I should be able and willing to hunt them down, but why should I have to drop whatever I'm doing to deal with such a trivial threat, when the owner can send hundreds of these into my space, one at a time, 4 hrs a day, every day, with no intention of actually contesting sovereignty? If the module cost, say, ten times as much, even wealthy alliances wouldn't treat them as utterly disposable - and I'd be less irritated at having to swat them away. I wouldn't mind undocking to blap a HAC, and I'd be delighted to help take down a pirate battleship; if Entosis killmails were that expensive, defending space would feel like an opportunity, not a chore.

The Blob Problem

...Bloblem? So, this is where I buried the lead: blobbing is by far the biggest problem with this system. EVE Hermit expressed it best:
"...current super alliances... could just flood every system in a constellation with 100+ pilots and stomp all over small to medium sized groups."
This is my main concern at this point. To quote Endie once again:
"I do worry that this favours people like us (Goonswarm) rather heavily... I think that a further advantage explicitly rewarding the smaller defender would be good."
I'm not terribly worried for Providence; we can muster a couple of hundred pilots, especially during our (EU) primetime, and if "denying fights" ceases to be a defence, living in Providence will become more fun, and more attractive. But really, Provibloc is already a bit of a blob; this system is supposed to make sovereignty an option for the little guy. At present, the only reliable defences for smaller sov holders are more-powerful allies, BoredomShield(tm), and the invulnerability of Outposts; the latter two of these are on their way out, leaving genuinely independent sov-holders practically defenceless against much-larger groups. What if an alliance with just a couple of hundred members wanted to independently take a constellation in a quiet corner of nullsec for themselves? Isn't that one of the aims of this system, to encourage the Balkanisation of sov nullsec?

There is a ready and popular answer to this: the big boys might bring overwhelming force for a day, a week, or even a month, but they won't bring hundreds of pilots indefinitely unless they actually decide to live in the space they've taken. Even a small alliance with the sort of irrational tenacity displayed by Provibloc would eventually be able to take their space back - or more likely, in the new dispensation, make a fresh start elsewhere.

This argument misses the point. Already under the present system, but even more with the new structures unveiled during fanfest, investment is key to making use of sov space. But why would any small and independent group make what, for them, is a large investment, when they have no realistic expectation of defending it against, say, PL, if they should happen to swing by? Both Endie and Sion have expressed this repeatedly and eloquently: if you want to break up the blue doughnut, there's no point making it harder to form gargantuan coalitions; you have to remove the incentives for doing so. If the only remaining way to keep assets safe is to blob up, sov null will only become more homogeneous.

What should be the minimum criteria for holding space and being able to invest in it? I believe the best approach, the only viable approach for a "Balkanised" sov map, is to ensure that even small groups can actually defend their space - not by taking it back when assailants get bored and move on, but by preventing even much larger attackers from taking their home systems in the first place.

Of course, n+1 is always an advantage, and to misquote Malcanis' law, any system that benefits small groups will tend to offer a greater benefit to larger groups. But this sort of handwaving is not an excuse for shrugging shoulders and walking away. Make it possible for tenacious, organised, adequately-resourced and adequately numerous groups to defend and hold their home against any attacker, no matter how numerous, without making the large blocs unassailable.

Yes, I have a suggestion. That will be part II.


  1. "without making the large blocs unassailable".

    There's the sticking point.

    Bring on the suggestion, I'm looking forwards to it.

    Rob K.

    1. (Replying to myself, how droll)

      Thinking this over, 'without making the large blocs unassailable' isn't the sticking point. After all, what is a large bloc, but a group of small guys together...

      What is, is the nature of n+1 to be superior to n.

      We need a system that makes people that are more dedicated to their space more successful. Places like BUZ or VFK need to be the norm, not the exception. An example of how little space is worth at the moment is the Delve invasion. the CFC has taken 6? systems now, and only one has any actual value. This has to change.

      Rob K.

    2. Thanks for commenting! Suggestion coming soon(tm).

      I agree - if n+1 (or n+100) is enough to win, then all the incentives favour the largest possible coalition. What I'm looking for is a system where competent and tenacious defenders can hold their *home* constellation (not hinterland) against anything except treachery, or a genuinely huge investment (of resources as well as numbers) on the part of the attacker.


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