Monday, April 6, 2015

The Faction War Farming Issue

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post about Faction War. A few months ago, I left militia to join a pirate alliance with most of LNA. While viewing Faction War from ‘the outside’ hasn’t drastically changed my opinions, it has given me a new perspective to chew on.
One thing that never seems to go away in any discussion about militia, is the topic of the plex farmer.
I say ‘farmer’ and not ‘stabbed farmer’ because the rage regarding farming in militia hasn’t always centered around the fact that many farmers are stabbed. In fact, the center of the discussion changes quite a bit over time. In the past, I distinctly remember a time when the primary rage over plex farmers was the fact that they didn’t fit any guns on their ships. 

The evil “gunless farmers” was a raging hot topic. In fact, there was such a hubbub that CCP finally got sick of hearing about it and did something –forcing players to shoot the NPCs during offensive plexing, which subsequently forced farmers to fit some semblance of guns to their ships.

Of course, this did not fix plex farming. Just like eliminating the usage of warp core stabs, or enforcing any other particular fitting measures will not fix plex farming.

What is Farming?

In order to fully understand the ‘issue’ of farming in Faction War, one must understand the mechanics of Faction War:

In a nutshell, taking sovereignty in Faction War requires a militia to run plexes to contest a system, until it becomes vulnerable and the I-HUB can be shot. The number of plexes it takes to take a system from 0 contestation to 100% varies based on whether there is resistance. But typically, it takes a minimum of 150 plexes—upwards to hundreds of plexes to successfully take a single system.

Warzone Control –the primary objective in Faction War—requires that you take more and more systems in order to achieve higher levels of control (and higher levels of LP payouts.). Taking a single additional tier could require taking a dozen or more systems (depending on the warzone)–with minimum numbers of required plexes surging into the thousands.

To say that ‘farming’ is a problem in Faction Warfare, is kind of like saying that structure bashing is a problem in null-sec sovereignty. Currently, the mechanics of Faction War are designed around the concept of farming plexes and grinding down systems.

Nerf It!

Over the years, when people talk about ‘fixing’ farming, they usually mean that it should be nerfed in some way. Whether this is to eliminate the ability to fit a module, or ‘force’ pilots into some sort of engagement in each plex, most ‘ideas’ on how to ‘fix’ farming in Faction War involve making running plexes harder.

When you understand how Faction War works, and how the entire system is designed, you understand how problematic this is.

Let’s put this into perspective a bit: Fixing ‘farming’ by nerfing peoples’ ability to farm plexes would kind of be like fixing structure-bashing sovereignty in null-sec by significantly increasing the number of hit points on all the sov-based structures.

This wouldn’t just not fix anything, it would probably make things worse. 

There is a general misunderstanding held by many that plex farmers are risk-adverse pilots trying to min-max the system in order to gain easy ISK. While this may be the case in some situations, it’s not the full story.

Many plex farmers are actually alts of legitimate militia PVPers. They farm on an alt in order to defend and take systems, simply because farming in general is boring, but it’s something they need to do.

Believe it or not, there’s a great number of people out there who don’t particularly enjoy sitting around in plexes watching timers count down, waiting for someone to come after them. *gasp* Many, many people use alts instead so that they can do something more interesting with their main characters, and eliminate or deminish the burn-out that often accompanies larger campaigns to take/defend space.

Fixing It

So, how do you ‘fix’ farming when the entire system is designed around it? Well, you can’t eliminate farming altogether, unless you rewrite Faction War game mechanics. But, plexing in general is not inherently bad.

Burn-out is bad. Sovereignty and warzone control being dictated by a bunch of stabbed alts seems like pretty bad ‘gameplay’. Players looking for fights, only to find people who run away is frustrating.

It is my opinion that plexing in Faction War is in need of a good old fashioned rebalancing. Everything –from how many spawn at one time, to how long it takes them to respawn could use a good, hard look.

Same time, less plexes

In general, I think the time it takes to contest a system is fairly good. However, it takes grinding way too many plexes. Furthermore, there are way too many open plexes in the warzone with pilots spread too thin, and less and less chance of their being bottlenecks that encourage conflict.

How about reducing the number of plexes that spawn at once, but increasing how fast they spawn? So, instead of four plexes with a respawn rate of 30 minutes, what if there were only 1-2 plexes, and they respawned another plex within a few minutes?

Victory points and plexs spawnage could be rebalanced in such a way so that it takes significantly less plexes to contest a system fully, but around the same amount of time.

Also, we’d get rid of the legacy plexes spawnage, where a large number of old-fashioned FW plexes spawn right after down time.

Pools, not Predictions

Since only a small number of plexes would spawn, what if which sizes spawned came from a pool, instead of all of them spawning at once? It would be semi random, but in general, a ‘Compound’ is most likely to spawn, with there being a slight chance that one of the more valuable ‘Strongholds’ or less common plexes could spawn instead. 

So for example, once a Small was closed, any size compound could respawn next, with a slight chance of a stronghold or other type of plex spawning instead.

These changes would accomplish a few things:

  • It would funnel pilots into a smaller amount of space, increasing the likelihood of conflict
  • It would decrease the grind – pilots could focus on less plexes that spawn more often rather than trying to spread out to farm more and more plexes
  • There would be no more plex pileups in systems, with bunches of plexes cluttering the overview
  • Pilots fighting over ‘hot’ systems would never have to wait long for the next plex to spawn
  • Since people are funneled into less plexes, it will be much harder to simply farm, stabbed. And the increased chances of combat happening could make stabbed farming nearly a moot issue entirely, depending on how well it is balanced.

Finally, another idea I’ve been toying with is the idea that plexing uncontested impacts the capture status similarly to how Dust 514 does. So, if you run plexes uncontested in a back-water system, the system becomes easier and easier to take. (Unless someone comes to defend it, or etc.) That way, systems no one cares much about are significantly easier to flip then systems that are well defended –also eliminating some of the ‘grind’ of pilots taking systems for warzone control.

Anyway, those are a few ideas. I know first hand that burn-out is a really big reason people leave Faction War, and a big reason why stabbed farming exists. And while it will probably take more than a plex rebalancing to get me back into uniform, I’m still a little sad at the current state of Faction War and hope that CCP does a serious look at it again someday soon.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Box of Chocolates

I never know what I’m going to get myself into these days with my alliance. One day, I’m sitting on a titan in a faction Battleship, and the next day we’re rolling people in assault frigates. 

My corp has started to become a lot more active lately. I don’t know if it’s the time of year or what but the other night we had a record number of people online for our ‘Beiber’ roam. (Someone dubbed it a Beiber roam because we squirreled at things like a bunch of adolescent girls at a Justin Beiber concert.) 

We had a few outside of corp jump into fleet curiously, but they were quickly frightened away. IFW does these crazy kitchen sink fleets where we literally scatter everywhere in all manner of ship, and point everything and go full-blown manic. We’re very good at it, but it’s super scary to people who expect fleets to have compositions and official FCs.

It’s still a bit weird sometimes to not be in militia. Being a ‘general’ low-sec pilot is a whole different ball game. Sometimes, I miss having the over-arching ‘purpose’ that something like Faction War brings. But, I suppose we have our own pirate-purposes, if “burning everything to the ground” can be considered to be a purpose.

Low-sec, in my humble opinion, needs a lot more conflict drivers and things for people to fight over. Right now, the main thing we seem to fight over are moon locations, POSes, and etc. Occasionally we’ll fight over a POCO, but they don’t really generate much revenue so there’s not really a big motivation to take them all over.

I do NOT want sovereignty. But it would be cool if there were more reasons for people to be in low-sec, and more ISK-making things that people could setup as a group. (And kill, steal, or take over as a group.)

Anyway, I keep hoping to do more writing. But, it’s almost inevitable that when I sit down and get cozy with a topic that a jabber ping goes out and we’re forming up fleet to kill someone or other.

And in my world, playing EVE always trumps writing about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Boom, Headshot

Every once in a while in EVE, kills are handed to you. Folks warp defenseless into your gang while you lay in wait in a plex or at a belt, they jump into your gate camp without a scout, or they somehow fall helplessly into your waiting hands.

And then at other times, kills in EVE involve a long, slow hunt. You lay down bait, or try to lure in a target in some way. You spend time observing your prey –waiting for them to make a mistake.

The worst times are when you hunt, and you bait, and you catch –only to have something go wrong. And, you are left looking at the engine trails as your prey runs away from you, stabbed. Or, you are left sitting in the dust as the fleet you were trying to intercept and prod into a fight, successfully avoids you and scurries away home.

Since I started PVPing again and playing EVE more, I’ve seen a very wide variety of combat.

Last week, we were out roaming around in a Svipul gang when a cyno lit up in local. Now, cynos aren’t all that unusual –and not all that exciting unless it’s a hostile one lit next to your ship with local spiking up around you.

But this one was odd. Instead of being at a station or near a POS, it was out in the middle of nowhere-space.

We warped to it to see what was coming through, and an archon popped through into our waiting hands. The only thing missing was the silver platter to go with it.

Of course, being in a destroyer fleet we weren’t exactly equipped to take down a capital. But that didn’t stop us from grabbing all the points we could and shooting the thing. (And calling for help in alliance to see if anyone was available for some heavier backup.)

Nobody saw the mobile depot. And there was a collective groan on coms as the archon warped away –far more stabbed than our smallish fleet’s points could counter.

Then the weekend arrived. And with it, a brand new experience for me, as far as pvp goes.

I was enjoying a particularly lazy Sunday afternoon playing EVE. Our Europeans were determined to kill something or other, and were hatching all sorts of plots to bait in this or that target. After a failed attempt or two, I remained in fleet and on coms—not because I thought they were going to be successfully at sparking a fight, but because it was so incredibly entertaining listening to all the elaborate things they were coming up with. 

(You have no idea what baiting is until you’ve heard our alliance folks come up with one of their crazy ideas….lol )

To be honest, I had started to zone out –alt-tabbed on another screen working on market orders, only half listening to whatever trap they were currently trying to lay. And it was then that a surge of excitement noticeably changed the atmosphere on coms, and I tuned in to see what was going on.

“omg, it’s working…I have an Avatar on long scan!”

Wait. What?

The fleet jumped into high gear—our FC calmly restating orders as though carefully moving chess pieces on a board. Just one wrong move and the prey might get away….or worse.

“Confirming that the titan is landing on grid.”

“HICs, on standby.”

“Doomsday! Confirming Doomsday!”

“Cyno up. Cyno up.”

There is a narrow period of time, just as your trap is sprung and you are preparing to act—when everything could go wrong. It could be a counter trap. Or, something could happen too early or too late. I’ve seen many situations where a single, tiny mistake blew the whole operation.

That was not this situation. Everything happened with clinical precision. The HICs. The supers. The sub capital fleet bridging in on our squirming, blistering prey.

The boys had caught themselves an Avatar, and I was about to get in on my first titan kill.

Now, it would be far more interesting a story if there was some sort of battle that then ensued. A titan fighting for its life –perhaps calling in friends. My alliance doing glorious battle to smash their caught prey.

But, that was not what happened. What happened was a very fast, very focused execution. There was no mess, no confusion. And there was only one primary.

The titan evaporated, dying so quickly that he was nearly in structure by the time I bridged through and locked him up. His only friends that came to help him were a couple of griffins –which flitted around like a couple of small, helpless birds.

So, I guess don’t mind fights and kills being handed to me on a silver platter. And I’m prepared for a few to get away once in a while. But it’s kind of fun to see folks plan and connive, and to see that planning and conniving result in a big, beautiful explosion.