Killmail Archivist

EVE Online theorycrafting and history

Alliance Tournament participation and prize levels

CCP Fozzie recently made it public that they had a less than full signup for Alliance Tournament 12 — only sixty-three teams registered, so there will be no need for the typical lottery followed by silent auction that has been a mainstay of previous ATs.  A few bloggers have turned this into the usual “Eve is dying” screed; in my case, though, I’m actually quite happy.  It means that many alliances have started to figure out one of the nasty truths of AT: participating in the Alliance Tournament is generally nothing more than really expensive advertising.

This probably sounds strange, given that I run a tournament (the SCL) and I’ve been involved in every AT to date in some way.  But bear with me; I’ll explain!

Problem 1: The Prize Structure

The root problem with the AT is that it has a very strange prize structure: Only the first and second place finishes get prizes, in the form of BPCs for limited-edition tournament ships.  (And, in some cases, the prizes don’t really reflect the challenge; in all but one case, the tournament frigates have been in higher demand than the cruisers.)

Dear reader, imagine that we lived in an alternate universe where the AT was held on Singularity; all ships/setups were free, and that the sole cost of participation was the 5 PLEX for the entry fee.  Even under those conditions, the AT would still be a poor proposition for most alliances:

  • You pay 5 PLEX (~3.6B ISK) to enter into the tournament.
  • You spend 1-2 months of spare-time evenings practicing for this tournament.
  • When the tournament actually starts, you dedicate four weekends in a row, waking up early and spending most of the day playing Eve.  (Especially for players in the Americas, where the first matches of each day can be as early as 6am.)
  • The top two teams (~25 people) get massive prizes, and the other 60 teams (~750 people) in the tournament will get nothing and lose their entry fee.  At best, they might get an alliance commercial to run on the stream between matches, and if they reach the top eight, they might get a bit of buzz to help recruiting.

Definitely not a good return on time investment, nor money.  For contrast, most tournaments for other video games have no entry fee, and offer prizes for at least the top four or eight players, plus occasional smaller prizes — for example, the Fragbite SC2 tournaments allow spectators to vote on a “play of the day” that won a small prize.  AT doesn’t even give you a damned participation ribbon.

Besides being inherently discouraging, this prize structure also causes massive problems with talent migration.

Problem 2: Talent Migration

Speaking bluntly, I can tell you the outcome of AT12 without having to look at the rules in any way:

  • First place: Hydra Reloaded.
  • Second place: Either Pandemic Legion or Camel Empire(My money’s on Camel.)

In most cases, the third place team ends up being whoever Hydra’s practice partner was.

The vast majority of world-class, tournament-level players will quickly learn after an AT run or two that they cannot carry a lower-tier team into the top two finishes by themselves.  If they’re going to invest time and energy into practicing and participating in a tournament, they want a return on their investment, and the only way to do that… is to move to an alliance that’s also full of world-class players.

I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes: Rote Kapelle had most of its competent tournament guys leave for Hydra Reloaded shortly before AT11, and I don’t blame them at all.  Talent migration would be a problem even if the tournament was free to participate in… which it is not.  This problem is unique to Eve in eSports; you don’t see the same players (or the same teams) winning SC2/LoL/DOTA tourneys over and over.

These two issues, by far, are the biggest factors that discourage people from participating in AT.  Imagine what the World Series of Poker would look like if there were no side events, and the main event had no prizes for anything other than the final table, and that the final table would be nearly guaranteed to contain both Hellmuth and Nguyen.

However, there’s a third issue: On top of the entry fee, AT also requires you to pay for your ships.

Problem 3: Costs of Participation

A competent AT team not only needs to stockpile ships/modules/hardwires for the 12-man fleet compositions they’ll be flying, but they actually need to have multiple compositions ready to go at any given time, due to the banning mechanics.  (Or, at the minimum, compositions with interchangeable parts.)  These have to be stockpiled before-hand: depending on where you are in the bracket, you’ll have less than 15 minutes between matches, and you will not have time to run to Jita and buy new ships.  (And this is assuming that Jita has the parts you need; it’s not uncommon for people to buy Jita out entirely of certain drones, hardwires, and ships leading up to an AT.)

The consequence is that you need to have a fairly large bankroll at the start of the run to fund ship and module purchases.  Then, after the tournament is completed, you’ll recoup some of that bankroll by selling the ships that weren’t destroyed during matches.  With the current AT12 rules, a serious contender team needs ~30B ISK in initial bankroll, plus any extra optional costs for faction/officer modules for their flagship.  (I arrived at that number after some debate with members of Hydra and Camel.)  You’ll recoup 60-70% of that 30B expenditure after the tournament ends, by selling off the ships and modules that didn’t explode; however, you still need the initial amount up front, in order to have a serious shot at first or second place.

That’s a lot of money — and some teams choose to spend far, far more than that.   Pandemic Legion was famous in AT10 for bringing 100B ISK worth of ships and modules in just a single match alone… a match which they ended up losing.

Ironically, it’s also less money than it used to be.  In previous tournaments, CCP allowed players to use +5% and +6% hardwirings, which cost hundreds of millions each.  The Rote budget for our entire run in AT10 was 90B, and 40% of that was spent on hardwirings.

Summary: Blech.

Someone who previously participated in the SCL came up to me a few days ago and asked if they should consider participating in AT.  I told them to save their money and do it next year, and stick to submitting a player commercial.

If CCP wants to see wider player interest in AT, they have to start with reforming the prize structure.  At a minimum, ensure that anyone who wins at least one match will recoup their entry fee; ideally, getting into the top 16 in either bracket will let them recoup some of the cost of ships.  Spreading out the availability of tournament ships between 1/2 (and maybe even 3rd, or 4th-8th) is another worthwhile activity as well, as Suitonia suggests in this excellent post.  Get some minor prizes out there too; there’s a ton of possibilities for them:

  • A prize for the team who wins a match with the fewest ships on field.
  • A prize for the team who wins a match with the fewest points on field.
  • A prize for the team who wins a match with the cheapest setup (ISK-wise) on field.
  • A prize for the player who gets to the lowest HP during the match and survives.
  • etc.

There’s also room for handing out little trinkets that aren’t clear prizes — for example, the New Eden Open gives all participants an in-game tshirt for their player avatar, and these have become collectors items over time.

Until there’s actual incentive for smaller alliances and lower-tier teams to compete, it simply doesn’t make sense for anyone to sink months of practice and effort into AT, unless you’re in Hydra or Camel.  This situation also doesn’t make for exciting video for CCP’s stream; as Tyrus Tenebros recently put it, the typical AT stream consists of three days of cripple fights, two days of actual close matches, followed by three days of the eventual 1st-4th placers mopping up.

The data’s staring you in the face, CCP — and you’ve got a new guard in charge of AT as well.  It’s time to shake things up!

Footnote: Why This Matters

A quick footnote here that I’m opting to add after the initial publication:

Yes, despite all of the above, tournaments can be fun to participate in; that’s why I continue to run the SCL, and why I’ve done the AT every year in non-Hydra/PL teams.  It’s spaceships exploding, it’s theorycrafting, it’s sitting with your fellow competitors on Mumble, and it’s the shaking hands that everyone gets before every match.  Competition is fun, and it sharpens your PvP skills and makes you a more effective player.

However, as it stands today, the group of AT participants is a tiny subset of the group of people who participate in PvP in Eve.

I want to see Alliance Tournaments become something accessible and interesting to a wider audience of PvPers; I want to see more players competing, and more players watching that competition.  That won’t happen if a watcher can predict the outcome easily, and it won’t happen when there’s no clear benefit for new players to get involved, other than a promise of “it’ll be fun, I swear.”

Adding incentives for smaller and less experienced/successful teams to play is a good first step towards making AT appeal to more players.

Addendum 2, 12jun2014: Fozzie mentions that prize changes may be coming for AT12.

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. :)