Killmail Archivist

EVE Online theorycrafting and history

Competition and Optimal Play in Eve

Eve’s hallmark quality — that which that separates it from nearly every other MMO — is that the game is designed to include a competitive aspect in nearly every element.  Market traders constantly adjust order prices, miners compete for limited amounts of ores and ice, industrialists research blueprints and shift their production lines around in space, PI producers move their collectors around on planets, and pretty much every form of spaceships shooting each other (whether consensual or non-consensual) — they all have this common thread.  Competition, both friendly and hostile, is a constant in Eve.

In comparison, most other MMOs have a design goal of minimizing competition between players.  Themepark content tends to be instanced and isolated, and where it is not, it respawns rapidly to prevent players from monopolizing it.  Most MMOs have achievement systems, which are essentially participation ribbons — they’re a symbol that you were present at a place and time, and that you didn’t soil yourself in the process.  There’s rarely an achievement for doing things first; where there are such achievements, drama almost always emerges.

As an example, World of Warcraft often contains two achievements for every piece of endgame content in the game — one for completing the content at any time, and one for being the first group on the server to complete the content.  (The latter usually has some reward attached to it, such as a rare mount or a unique player title.)  These achievements are a perpetual source of complaints to Blizzard — and they are the cause of some strange player behavior, such as players transferring their characters whenever a new server opens, in the hopes of collecting that achievement on the new server.

What does that mean?

Some players simply don’t enjoy competitive games at all; Eve, as it exists today, will never appeal to those players.  Other players are okay with competition, as long as they feel that it’s a level playing field (or that they can opt in/out depending on mood); they may be drawn to Eve, but they usually end up dissatisfied with it.  Why?  Because the bar is always rising, and ultimately they reach a point where they’re no longer willing to do what’s needed to keep up with the rest of the player base.  (Or they decide that they were never able to effectively compete in the first place.)

On top of this, much of Eve’s game design provides incentives for hyper-competitive behavior — more often than not, the winner takes all.  There’s no benefit to being a small fry; no prize for second place.  It shows up in many places:

  • Multiboxing miners
  • 0.01-isking on market sale orders
  • Market manipulation, especially on T2 components
  • Spying and intelligence-gathering
  • Large-scale fleets (i.e. 2000+ man fleets, and pushes towards supercap dominance)
  • Betrayals (Haargothing, corp theft, and awoxing/safaris)

Over time, Eve tends to drive out everyone who isn’t hyper-competitive in some aspect.  And for the players who are willing to compete and stick around, the line between “competitive play” and “anti-social behavior” gets blurry as the ceiling grows higher.  This is CCP’s Gordian Knot — in fact, it’s an entire web of interconnected Gordian Knots.

But, instead of arbitrarily declaring degrees of competition to be socially acceptable or unacceptable, consider this: What if CCP changed some parts of Eve’s design to put upper bounds on competition?

  • What if 0.01-isking wasn’t the optimal way to ensure steady sale volume?
  • What if multiboxing wasn’t the best way to clear out a belt?  (Or if the multiboxers competed in a different type of belt?)
  • What if there were diminishing returns on cramming thousands of players into a fleet, or flying large ships?
  • What if there was a meaningful bounty hunting system that provided long-term disincentives for awoxing / corp theft, while still leaving it open as an option for the dedicated?
  • What if Alliance Tournaments had meaningful prizes for more than just first and second place?

It’s entirely possible for Eve to be competitive without becoming a cesspool.  Not every commons needs to be a tragedy — especially when you’re in control of both the commons and the cattle.

I guarantee that CCP will almost certainly be looking at ways to cut some of these Gordian Knots, if they want to see Eve survive to a third decade — and players need to be ready for that.  I don’t expect CCP to try to stop players from fighting; however, they might be able to create the right incentives for players to keep the fight clean, and maybe even pull their punches on occasion.

Market/Industry Wardecs

About two years ago, Mike Azariah floated an interesting thought experiment called a “peace dec.”  Summarizing it: Using a peace dec, a non-destructive entity (i.e. mining/industry/ratting) would be able to unilaterally sue for peace with a PvP group, forcing that PvP group to perform some industrial activity in order to regain the ability to engage those pilots in space.

Ripard Teg recently revived discussion of the idea this week, neatly summarizing it: Both the proposed peacedec system and the existing wardec system serve as a tool to force players into participating in a play style that they don’t enjoy.

When it was first posted, Mike pointed out that it was a thought experiment with obvious weaknesses (and obvious possibilities for workarounds/evasions), and that it would almost certainly never be implemented.  However, the reactions to the idea — especially with Ripard’s recent revival of it — have been interesting: as you’d expect, the reactions have been very positive from the industrial/ratting community, and negative from the PvP community.  In this case, however, I’m pretty disappointed in the former, though; the idea is proving to be popular simply because it’s “sticking it to those damn griefers,” and that’s a terrible reason.

I’ll get into a discussion of “griefing” sometime later; in the meantime, let’s roll with this idea a bit.  If the problem with wardecs is that they force you to play Eve in a different (and potentially unpleasant) way, then how about we introduce a mechanic that encourages competition between industrial/ratting entities?  One that does not involve destroying each other’s assets — or even directly interacting with each other — but that rewards people for competitive behavior.

For example, imagine a mining interdiction declaration:

  • Corp/alliance A (for aggressor) declares that corp/alliance T (for target) will be prohibited from mining in system S.
  • For one week, if any member of T activates a harvesting module (miner, gas harvester, etc) while in S, they will suffer some penalty — I like the idea of them gaining a suspect flag, but a fine or a dramatic reduction in mining efficiency would work too.
  • However, in order to continue the interdiction, the members of A must mine a minimum amount of ore (in m^3) from system S.
  • If A cannot mine enough ore to continue the interdiction, they cannot start another interdiction for a significant period of time.

This is competitive, but in a constructive, and largely non-confrontational manner.  It has all sorts of possibilities:

  • Corp T might simply move to another system for mining for that week.
  • Corp T might choose to mine in the system during a quiet timezone, when nobody’s there to shoot them.
  • Corp T might choose to ninja-mine an anomaly in the system with Prospects, forcing A (or other entities in the system) to probe them down and hunt them.

It also encourages community involvement:

  • Non-A locals in the system might be compelled to engage members of T that receive suspect flags by mining in defiance of the “minedec” — or be encouraged/bribed to let them go.
  • Members of A need to be undocked and mining in S in order to maintain the interdiction, so there’s room to interfere with A — whether that’s a conventional wardec, a suicide gank, or simply bumping their miners.

It encourages competitive industry.  It doesn’t require direct, destructive combat between ships — we could probably even remove the suspect flag mechanic, and simply say that members of the target corp/alliance will get significantly reduced output in the system, or a small fine from CONCORD for defying the minedec.  It’s constructive for the rest of the Eve universe too; no matter how the minedec ends, you’re going to have somebody mining ore to sell.

And yet, if something like this was implemented, I guarantee you that the miners of Eve would shit themselves in rage.

There are similar analogs for market PvP that we can make.  For example, plenty of nations in the real world have restrictions against predatory pricing and “dumping product” — how about CCP implements a market wardec that increased the cool-down period for updating your sell/buy orders, effectively preventing a trader from 0.01-isking?  (Or increased the market-maker fees taken out of each sale?)  Or a market competition, where traders could compete on market volume for an item in one region, with the winner receiving some bonus to trade on that item.

You can’t make every player happy.  My suspicion is that wardecs (and the peacedec/minedec/tradedec ideas) are offensive to people not because they’re asymmetric, or even because that they force you into a different play-style.  They are offensive to people because they are inherently competitive, and not everyone enjoys competition — of any kind.  I’ll talk about that, and the definition of griefing, and about the nature of certain themepark MMOs, later. :)

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Deep Safes — Ultra Deep Safes and Sov War

I mentioned in my last post about deep safe spots that the Poseidon technique could be used to generate very deep safes (300AU or more away), and that null-sec alliances found these very valuable during sovereignty wars.  Why was this?

To understand, let’s turn back the clock to five years ago.  The player base was much smaller at that point, and fights were much smaller — seeing the Local count above 200 anywhere outside Jita meant that some major event was going on.  A fleet of 100 ships was considered serious business.  The server was not nearly as optimized as it is today.  Time Dilation didn’t exist.  Weapon grouping didn’t exist.  Drone AI was dumb as bricks, and so were most player’s ship fits.  (And so on.)

The Black Screen of Welp

If a large fleet (> 100 hostiles) had set up a camp on a gate or station, and you jumped or undocked into it, there was a very good chance that you would die without ever seeing the grid.  Why?  There’s a huge list of things that the Eve server needs to send you whenever you perform a session change, most notably three things:

  • The list of players in the system, and their standings relative to you
  • The list of objects on grid — ships, drones, wrecks, etc.
  • Data about the objects on grid needed for graphical rendering — what turrets each ship has on their guns, etc.

Eve Online in 2009 was not very good at this task.  In fact, when the servers were heavily loaded, it would still be sending this data to you by the time that your 60-second jump-in cloak wore off, and you became lockable and shootable.  Entire fleets were lost without ever firing a shot — they’d simply get a black screen on jump-in, and a few hours later, they’d wake up in station, podded without ever even seeing the ship that did the deed.

Because of this, when alliances went to war over sovereignty, the actual warfare would start playing out several days prior to the actual system invasion.  You’d stage players in a system and have them log off, days ahead of the actual attack.  On the day of the attack, everyone logged in after downtime, as quickly as they could, and set up camps.  Whoever got their full fighting force into the system first would win the conflict, as simple as that.  (And, needless to say, this was usually easier for the defender to do.)

Ultra Deep Safes To The Rescue

How did players work around this?  You’d use the Poseidon technique to create an extremely deep safe, 300 AU or more away from the nearest celestial.  You’d then light a cyno in that safe-spot, and bring your fleet into the system (at that empty grid) via Titan bridge or jumpdrive.  The locals would warp to the cyno to kill it, of course; however, the 300 AU warp took so long that you had a very good chance of getting your entire fleet into system, and giving them time to finish their session changes and load grid, before anyone could arrive at the cyno.  At the very least, it gave you a fighting chance.

The End of Deep Safes

CCP never really intended for people to create deep safes; while it wasn’t quite considered an exploit, it was certainly based on unexpected and unintended Eve mechanics.  In the summer of 2010, as part of the Tyrannis expansion, CCP made two changes to eliminate deep safes:

  • They fixed the bugs in emergency warps that enabled the Poseidon technique for creating deep safes.
  • Attempting to warping to an existing ultra-deep-safe bookmark would fail.  (And, later, these unwarpable bookmarks would be deleted entirely from players’ clients.)

However, some of the deep safe bookmarks were just barely close enough to their system’s star that they didn’t get caught in CCP’s heuristics for what constituted a deep safe, and are still around.  If you’re lucky enough to have these bookmarks, make good use of them, and appreciate the days that resulted in their creation.

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Deep Safes — What, Why, and How

Many Eve players have learned how to make mid-warp safe spots — you initiate a warp from one celestial object to another, and create a bookmark in space while you’re in flight between them. A mid-warp safe spot is a decent place to hide in a system, especially if you’re cloaked or about to log off… that is, until someone uses Combat Scanner Probes to find your spot and get their own bookmark for it.

However, every once in a while, you may find that someone has a bookmark for a safe spot that’s completely out-of-the-way: off-axis from any celestial, 30-40 AU off, in a weird direction that you couldn’t get to by just warping between celestials. This is a deep safe.

How are deep safes useful?

Most deep safes are relatively far away from any celestial. If they’re distant enough, then there will be no conventionally reachable spot in the system — even mid-warp safe spots — that will come within 14 AU of the deep safe. This means that any ships or structures at the deep safe will never show up on another ship’s directional scanner, due to being out of range; you’ll still be in Local chat, but other people in the system won’t be able to identify what ship you’re in unless they use probes. It’s nearly as good as being cloaked; it’s also a decent spot to anchor a Secure Canister to store spare ammo or loot.

On top of that, in Eve’s past, it was once nearly impossible to probe out people in deep safes.

Players today will drop all their probes in one spot, then move the probes around on the solar system map; this functionality was added during the Apocrypha expansion (Spring 2009). Before Apocrypha arrived, scan probes had to be dropped directly at your ship’s location, while you were out of warp; probes couldn’t be moved once dropped, and had fixed ranges and sensor strengths. For a deep safe that was far enough away, the only way to probe out a ship sitting in it was using a Deep Space Probe. These probes had a 1000 AU range, but very weak sensor strength; the chances of getting a useful hit on those was near-zero.

There was a third important use for deep safes, and that’s preventing your strategic op fleet from crashing to the desktop when jumping into a crowded system. (I’ll talk about that later.)

How did players create deep safes?

Today, it’s impossible to create deep safes. But, how were they created back then?

  • Some of them were created by bookmarking missions. Long ago, missions had a chance to spawn nearly anywhere in a system within a certain radius of the system’s star, and you’d occasionally find a good one to bookmark.
  • Some of them were created by using the probe deviation mechanic. Before Apocrypha, the probing mechanics worked very differently — a probe would almost always get a hit on a target that you could warp to, but you would land at a random distance from the target. The maximum deviation of a probe result was determined by the strength and quality of the scan probe you were using, and the size of the target being probed out. So, if you dropped an extremely inaccurate probe (such as the previously mentioned 1000 AU deep space probe), and then attempted to probe out a capsule, it could return a warpable result that was 30-40 AU away from the capsule in a random direction.
  • Some of them were created by probing out buggy objects in Eve. For example, at one point, if a carrier pilot delegated a fighter drone to another player, and then abandoned that drone, it would teleport to a random location within 100 AU of the star. The lost drone could then be probed out.

However, the most famous and effective method for creating deep safes is what’s called the Poseidon method, named after GARPA’s 2010 writeup of it:

If you disconnect from Eve while in space, your ship will “emergency warp” (or e-warp for short) to a random spot within 1,000 km of its current location. At one time in Eve’s past, there was a bug in how Eve decided to initiate e-warp if you disconnected while your ship was already in mid-warp between celestials. This bug would cause a disconnected ship to overshoot the intended target celestial, by 30-50 AU, while it attempted to align out for e-warp. So, a player would set up as if they were creating a standard mid-warp safe, close the Eve client in mid-warp, and immediately reconnect — and regain control of their ship, now in a deep safe.

The Poseidon method could be repeated to create safes that were nearly arbitrarily deep: 500+ AU away from any celestial. These ultra-deep safes used to be very important and valuable to alliances going to war over null-sec sovereignty… something I’ll discuss in a later post.

When Was Ship X Added?

This is a surprisingly common question, and there’s not a ton of solid answers out there. Here’s a rough list, by expansion, plus some notes on where the T2 BPO Lottery began and ended:

Summer 2003 (Second Genesis — initial launch of Eve):

  • Tech-1 Ships:
    • All frigates except the Magnate.
    • All cruisers.
    • All industrials.
    • Tier 1+2 battleships.

Winter 2003 (Castor):

  • T2 BPO Lottery starts.
  • Tech-2 Ships:
    • Interceptors
    • Assault Frigates
    • Covert Ops
    • Logistics
  • Amarr Championship prizes:
    • Apocalypse Imperial Issue
    • Armageddon Imperial Issue
    • Silver Magnate
    • Gold Magnate

(Note: Castor had a ton of rapid-fire micropatches that would add T2 ships and mods piece by piece; it basically streamed in as it was finished. The dev blogs from this era are hilarious. Logistics were referred to, while in development, as “support shippies.”)

Winter 2004 (Exodus):

  • Tech-1 Ships:
    • Tier-1 destroyers: Catalyst, Coercer, Cormorant, Thrasher
    • Tier-1 battlecruisers: Brutix, Cyclone, Ferox, Prophecy
    • Mining Barges
  • Tech-2 Ships:
    • Heavy Assault Cruisers
    • Transport Ships (Blockade Runners, Deep Space Transports)
  • Pirate Faction Ships
    • Sansha, Serpentis, Guristas, Angel, Blood Raiders
  • Most navy faction ships:
    • Navy frigates: Comet, Firetail, Hookbill, Slicer
    • Navy tier-3 cruisers: Caracal NI, Vexor NI, Augoror NI, Stabber FI
    • Navy tier-2 battleships: Apocalypse NI, Raven NI, Megathron NI, Tempest FI
  • Event reward ships:
    • Megathron Federate Issue
    • Opux Luxury Yacht
    • Guardian-Vexor

Summer 2005 (Cold War):

  • Dreadnoughts
  • Freighters

Winter 2005 (RMR / Bloodlines):

  • Tech-1 ships:
    • Carriers
    • Supercarriers (originally named Motherships)
    • Titans
  • Tech-2 ships:
    • Interdictors
    • Recons
    • Command Ships
    • Exhumers

Winter 2006 (Revelations):

  • T2 BPO Lottery ends.
  • Tier-2 battlecruisers: Drake, Hurricane, Harbinger, Myrmidon
  • Tier-3 battleships: Abaddon, Hyperion, Maelstrom, Rokh
  • AT3 reward ships: Raven State Issue, Tempest Tribal Issue (originally named “Corvus” and “Storm”)

Summer 2007 (Revelations II):

  • Rorqual

Winter 2007 (Trinity):

  • Electronic Attack Frigates
  • Heavy Interdictors
  • Black Ops
  • Marauders
  • Jump Freighters

Summer 2008 (Empyrean Age):

  • Magnate (before this, Amarr only had five frigs, compared to all other races’ six)
  • Navy tier-2 cruisers: Exequror NI, Omen NI, Osprey NI, Scythe FI
  • Apotheosis (Gift to everyone who logged in during Eve 5th anniversary)

Winter 2008 (Quantum Rise):

  • Orca

Summer 2009 (Apocrypha):

  • Tech-3 strategic cruisers: Legion, Loki, Proteus, Tengu
  • AT7 reward ships: Freki, Mimir
  • Zephyr (Gift to everyone who logged in during the launch of wormholes)

Winter 2009 (Dominion):

  • Navy tier-1 battleships: Armageddon NI, Dominix NI, Typhoon FI, Scorpion NI

Summer 2010 (Tyrannis):

  • AT8 reward ships: Adrestia, Utu
  • Primae (Gift to everyone who logged in during the launch of PI)

Winter 2010 (Incursion):

  • Noctis
  • Revenant
  • Echelon (Gift to everyone who logged in during the launch of incursions)

Summer 2011 (Incarna):

  • AT9 reward ships: Malice, Vangel

Winter 2011 (Crucible):

  • Tier-3 battlecruisers: Naga, Oracle, Talos, Tornado

Summer 2012 (Inferno):

  • AT10 reward ships: Cambion, Etana

Winter 2012 (Retribution):

  • Tier-2 destroyers: Algos, Corax, Dragoon, Talwar
  • ORE Venture
  • Pirate rookie ships (Codes handed out by CCP at multiple events: Fanfest, EveVegas, PAX East, etc.)
  • Sarum Magnate (Christmas gift)

Summer 2013 (Odyssey):

  • Navy tier-2 battlecruisers: Brutix NI, Drake NI, Harbinger NI, Hurricane FI
  • AT11 reward ships: Chremoas, Moracha
  • Ishukone Scorpion Watch (Gift to Fanfest 2013 PvP Tournament participants)
  • Gnosis (Gift to everyone who logged in during Eve 10th anniversary)

Winter 2013 (Rubicon):

  • Sisters of Eve pirate faction ships: Astero, Stratios, Nestor
  • Stratios Emergency Responder (Raffle prize at Eve Vegas 2013)
  • Leopard (Gift to everyone who participated in the “Yule Lad” Christmas event)

Summer 2014 (Kronos):

  • Mordu’s Legion pirate faction ships: Garmur, Orthros, Barghest
  • ORE Prospect
  • AT12 reward ships: Chameleon, Whiptail

The above list is limited to ships with unique in-game statistics; I’ve omitted ships that are simply a re-skinned version of an existing ship with identical stats. However, there are a few ship skins which are particularly rare or notable due to their limited releases:

  • Interbus Shuttle
    • Given to new accounts created using the 60-day code included in the Atari retail box.
  • Miasmos Quafe Ultra Edition
    • Given to all attendees of Fanfest 2011.
  • Miasmos Quafe Ultramarine Edition
    • Given to Japanese players who purchased a year of pre-paid game time through NEXON.
  • Miasmos Amastris Edition
    • Given to new accounts created via Amazon.
  • Nefantar Thrasher
    • Given to people who pre-ordered the Eve Collector’s Edition.
  • Tash-Murkon Magnate / Rorqual ORE Development Edition
    • Given to all purchasers of the Eve Collector’s Edition (via the Mystery Code).
  • Mackinaw ORE Development Edition
    • Given to players as a reward for getting old players to reactivate existing accounts using a Recall Program code.
  • Bestower Tash-Murkon Edition / Iteron Inner Zone Shipping Edition / Mammoth Nefantar Edition / Tayra Wiyrkomi Edition
    • Attendees of Fanfest 2014 (or purchasers of the Twitch live stream) were allowed to select one of these to receive.
    • Physical attendees at Fanfest 2014 could earn a code for a second ship by winning a match in the Fanfest PvP tournament.
  • Aliastra Catalyst / Inner Zone Shipping Catalyst / Intaki Syndicate Catalyst / InterBus Catalyst / Quafe Catalyst
    • Given to players who invite someone else to try the game using a Buddy Program code.
    • All of these ships were previously available packaged with time cards from CCP affiliate companies — Green Man Gaming, Markee Dragon, Raptr, EA Origin, and 1С-СофтКлаб.
  • Megathron Quafe Edition
    • Given to all attendees of Eve Vegas 2014 (or purchasers of the Twitch HD live stream).

Obligatory Intro Post / FAQ

I’m Namamai.  I’ve been playing Eve for just shy of ten years, and have done a little bit of everything in Eve:

  • I’ve been a soloer, a small gang FC, and a cog in a large fleet.
  • I’ve been a highsec industrialist, a lowsec pirate, and played in both NPC and sov null-sec, as well as a bit of wormhole living.
  • I’ve done spying, counter-intelligence, recruiting, war planning, and doctrine theorycrafting for my various alliances.
  • I’m active in Eve’s tournament scene: I’ve participated in every Alliance Tournament since AT4, I was on the winning team (Expendables) at the Fanfest 2013 PvP tournament, and I help operate the Syndicate Competitive League today.

As Eve moves into its second decade, more and more stories and knowledge from its earliest days are becoming forgotten.  This is my attempt to archive and catalog some of that history, and connect them to the concerns and metagame of today.


Commenting will remain turned off for most posts, unless I mention otherwise.  I would love to hear comments/criticism/corrections on my writing!  However, I would prefer to do so on another forum (Reddit, TMDC) or over Evemail.  Most Eve blogs with open commenting have ended up turning into an extension of the Eve-Online forums, and I’d prefer for that not to happen here.