Maybe it’s because the route to our new home lead me through wide swaths of high security space, maybe the thoughts that will spill from my mind momentarily have simply cooked there for too long. Today I am going to put out some musings about highsec, PvP and emergent gameplay.
[tl;dr The debate on highsec as being “too safe” misses the point. The Sandbox paradigm has to be expanded. As an example I propose a political system for highsec.]
Red Herrings in the Sandbox
Let me be blunt: I tend to believe the ever ongoing discussion on the utility of highsec ganking, miner bumping and war declarations is falling short of the true challenge of discussing the design of a game like EVE. In fact it is a red herring which distracts from the true issues at stake. The question is not whether to make highsec safer or more dangerous. The question is: how can the Sandbox paradigm be developed in high security space?
How do you build a game which thrives on player interaction? This is not as trivial a question as it may seem. Every player has his own idea how he want’s to play the game and what he understands under a “thriving game”. On the other hand the game has to be supported by CCP and they state explicitly that without the Sandbox concept where players create content for other players they would simply not be able to keep pace with players consuming the content. As such EVE is a game of creation rather than consumption. And for this concept to work it is imperative that there are interactions between players. I should say that I am a little bid biased at this point. There might be players who just enjoy the nice scenery of EVE, who would love to look at their mining lasers chewing up rocks just because rock-eating lasers are awesome. There are those that like to run missions and fight against red crosses. I am happy to have those guys in the game, it is awesome that there are people enjoying these sides of EVE. But I think CCP should not attempt to make those play styles a driving motivation for developing the game, precisely because of the statement that they will not be able to keep pace once they commit to supply content consumers with more and more food.
In order to unify the two issues of having players with very different wants in the game but also the necessity to root the game in player interaction, the Sandbox attempts to provide a diverse menu of ways for players to interact. Now the above mentioned discussion seems to revolve about the question whether there are more valuable forms of interaction (PvP combat?) than others (participating in the market?). I believe the more relevant question is, how can you increase possibilities for player vs player interaction without having to force people into uncomfortable play styles?
Before I go on here, there is one important piece in the puzzle that has to be examined. It is the issue of danger and of loss. It is an issue of risk and reward. It’s why I have been writing player versus player interaction in contrast to player-to-player interaction. Now, I totally believe that cooperative player interactions are a vital part of the game and an tremendously interesting area of game design, however, in order to generate challenges the game designer still needs a means of posing problems (which could then be subsequently be solved cooperatively). In the Sandbox the designer empowers the (groups of) players to generate the problems of other (groups of) players. This clarifies why there needs to be player against player interaction, but why do we need to loose stuff? I believe arguments like “because EVE is dark and gritty” or “because in EVE reward can only be gained at a risk” are superficial and only scratch the surface of the deeper reason, why there needs to be loss in player vs player interaction. “The market is only driven by the demand for equipment created by combat PvP” probably hits a bit closer to the mark. In complex systems theory there is a term called dissipative structures. It is used to describe an almost universal feature of emergent patterns in complex systems. Dissipative means there is a mechanism for loss in the system and only this mechanism allows the emergence of interesting structures. Without a loss mechanism, emergence would simply violate the second law of thermo dynamics. We could do that in a computer simulation But I am getting carried away. Dissipative structures are an interesting topic in themselves and I hope to write about them soon in my “Mathematics of the Sandbox” series. For now, however, let’s return to the original question of this post.
Empower the Economist and the Politician
In order to stick to the sandbox paradigm, high security state could be developed in ways that increases player vs player interaction by widening the possibilities that players can interact and compete beyond combat PvP and market wars. In order to resolve the tension between the fundamentalist sandbox defenders and the proponents of a save high sec, new features have to be introduced into the game which allow for additional player interactions.
An extension of the market to include a stock exchange is probably the most straight forward proposal in that direction. Tools for players to setup money lender shops (or even banks), keep track of their credit lines in game and setup interest rates etc. More flexibility in the contract system has already been discussed several times and CCP seems to be open to the suggestion, although it is very unclear when this could happen. For example it would be interesting to provide a tool that formalizes clearing house trades, involving a neutral, trusted party which acts as the go-between and acknowledges contract fulfilment conditions. In order to promote player interaction via such tools there need to be better tools for advertisement of player created services. Contracts available at the current station should scroll over a bulletin board on the undock, be visible in the captains quarters, be audio-broadcasted inside the station (?). People could pay for advertisement space. A few simple predefined building blocks to design your add would be completely ok.
There is one component in high security space that I find strangely missing. It is something that has the potential to embrace everybody from the most social highsec player to the solo mission runner. It’s politics. Let’s face it, capsuleers might not be the governments of the four empires, but a group with these demigod-like abilities will definitely have a big political influence. Maybe there are capsuleer councils that at least advice the governments and have a say in capsuleer related issues. Each empire would have a slightly different political system. The Galente will have extensive democratic structures with the most sophisticated voting system, possibly practicing basic democracy for a lot of decisions. Minmatar will have local tribe assemblies where decision are taken by those that are present. Decisions will only affect a constellation though. The Amarr will have a system where influence is based on standing towards important empire factions. There are regular votes, but not everybody’s voice is equally regarded. Finally the Caldari will have a system in which corps can vote on decisions. And even the voting system they invented is based on market mechanisms with different competing proposals being bought into by voting corporations.
But what would the capsuleers be deciding? That is the most difficult question and will require a profound change to how high security space works. It is important that for the system to have any chance of functioning there must be consequences on decisions that impact the live of Bob the miner. On the other hand the systems has to be robust against exploits. I believe nothing like this has been ever attempted in gaming history (that’s why we have to do it in EVE) so it would make sense to start with small things. Taxes are an obvious issue that could be voted on. For this to work there have to be consequences from lowering taxes, otherwise players would obviously just down vote taxes. So first of all split taxes in highsec into an empire part and the corp part. The corp tax may remain as it is in the current system. Empire tax is voted on by the residents of the respective empire (using different voting systems). What happens if one tries to do away with taxes? Well, taxes are spend on infrastructure. If players choose to down vote taxes infrastructure will start to deteriorate. There will be longer waiting times at jump gates or on the docking. The number of industry slots in stations decreases. The reach of visible market orders is reduced to the constellation level. Jump gates go down for periods of time. Police service gets delayed or even ceases to exist. Security status of systems plumets. There are all kinds of nasty things that could happen based on tax-payer money. Incursions would be a huge sink of tax money. Especially if they are not dealt with.
At later stages interesting opportunities might arise when such a political system is tied together with faction warfare. After all, who pays for all these nice faction ships available in the militia LP-stores? Depending on how well the system works at later stages there could be several budgets of tax money that need to be filled (police, jump gates, CONCORD, station infrastructure, communication infrastructure…) and votes would go out for the distribution of tax money onto the different areas.
All This would make the world of EVE more dynamic and if done well, in the sense that the voting tool has to be put right under the nose of the players, would include much more players in actual emergent gameplay in ways that might be more appealing to many than combat PvP.
Let me remark that having players vote on additional rules of the game is a prominent feature of many of the best boardgames out there. The political cards of Twilight Imperium are just one example that shows that such a system can indeed work very well. What is important though, is the frequency at which votes would be held. This is a balancing issue and would have to be tried out. One per month seems reasonable but it very much depends on how the system is implemented.
I think building a political system into EVE empire space would be a challenge that certainly is not easy to master, requiring a lot of development resources on CCPs side, but it has such a great potential that it cannot be just dismissed. Actually many of the tools and mechanism that would be needed could immediately be recycled to implement a true bottom-up sovereignty concept for nullsec!
Small steps will not suffice to resolve the tension that builds around the save highsec. There need to be radical steps to expand the Sandbox concept into the carebear realm.
Fly smart! Chira.