Monday, November 19, 2012

CSM7 Progress Report: November 19, 2012

Hello again, Pod People!

It's time for another no-nonsense archive post, for the purposes of summarizing and centralizing the recent activities of your CSM7 representatives. Links to outside resources will be provided where possible, though some of this content takes place on internal CSM / CCP forums and Skype channels and cannot be directly referenced.

This is by no means the sum total of everything the CSM has been up to, merely the items not covered by NDA that individual CSM reps have self-reported. If I missed a key conversation, posting, or media appearance, I'll update this reference as needed.

The CSM Winter Summit will be held December 12-14 at CCP HQ in Reykjavik, a schedule of the topics to be discussed should be posted shortly.

Public Appearances:

Voices from the Void Episode #58 - with Elise Randolph

Declarations of War Episode 35
- with Alekseyev Karrde and Seleene

Declarations of War Episode 36 - with Alekseyev Karrde

Declarations of War Episode 37 - with Alekseyev Karrde

Declarations of War Episode 38 - with Alekseyev Karrde

Ongoing Forum Conversations:

EVE Online Development Strategy (CSM Public)

CSM Chairman Hotline - AMA (Ask Me Anything)

For all the FW peeps: "Dockblocking" - working as intended?

For all the FW peeps: "Diagonal plexing" - working as intended?

[Proposal] - "Place Bounty" option on forum posts

Reddit community discussion on the Development Strategy Document

Stakeholder Pilot Project:

Interactions with CCP management as part of the Stakeholder project have mostly consisted of feedback regarding the details of the Bounty Hunting system coming in Retribution, as well as CSM7 inquiry into CCP's plans for 2013. 

In particular, CSM7 has been almost unanimously concerned with the fact that kill rights can be so easily shed using an alt purchaser and cheap ships, and urged CCP to prioritize adding selective options not only to who can claim kill rights, but also to who can collect on bounties as well.  These options are critical not only to delivering a healthy bounty system with a marked advantage over the uselessness of the current mechanics, but also in helping to create a true marketplace for paid PvP services.

Additionally, discussion during a recent meeting with CCP Ripley, the new Sr. Producer of Expansion Content, led to the CSM offering a set of recommendations for building compelling expansion material that not only meets CCP's marketing needs but also delivers on fixing core problems.  CCP Ripley was appreciative of the feedback, and shared the document with other management staff as well as with the individual developer teams.  This was a great opportunity to share high-level advice about the coming year just in time before CCP begun the process of developing their own 2013 plans (which are currently underway).  CCP will be monitoring the stickied discussion thread as we go into the summit.

Internal Work With

-Trebor Daehdoow discussed issues that affect color blind players with CCP via Skype, with regards to the upcoming UI changes.

-Elise Randolph posted internally to start a discussion focused on gathering ideas for useful FC tools such as improvements to the overview, ways to facilitate intelligence sharing, and overlays for better tactical management.  Elise emphasized that FC's are essentially content creators and that making their job easier means more content for players to enjoy every single day.

-Two step, Alekseyev Karrde, and Trebor all provided feedback on the new targeting brackets heavily encouraging CCP to better differentiate between the HP bars and to accommodate user-picked information i.e. velocity, transversal, etc.

-Alekseyev pushing for all ECM to be changed to a lock breaking mechanic ie Burst ECM and Lockbreaker Bombs, Hans favors jam time being modulated by sensor strength and ECM drones that simply pop locks, as elaborated upon the blog post linked below.

-While most of the CSM members have chimed with their own walls-of-text in CCP Fozzie's various ship balancing threads, Elise Randolph continues to lead in this effort with immediate and incredibly detailed feedback on every single ship and module change.  Disclosing what each CSM member liked or hated about each of the ship changes is far beyond the scope of this summary, you'll have to contact us individually for further comment.

-Alekseyev has continued to lead the charge internally on wardec issues, asking for and obtaining a 1 vs 1 meeting with CCP Soniclover, to review the current situation and backlog.   Aleks emphasized the need to have a dev blog outlining the upcoming changes to the wardec system.

-Alekseyev called for the bounty minimums on organizations to be drastically reduced.

-Hans Jagerblitzen has been closely monitoring Faction Warfare developments going into Retribution, giving feedback on the work-in-progress NPC overhaul.  As there will now only be single spawns instead of waves of NPC's inside of each plex, attention will need to be paid to the tag drops (in this case, the lack thereof) and encouraged a multiple tag-per-spawn adjustment as well as tuning the drop rate of the plexes to be useful for FW pilots collecting tags for use in the creation of Faction modules.  While praising CCP's decision to bump up the implementation of the geography changes (due to it being a much faster issue to address), Hans continues to emphasize the importance of the timer rollback for unoccupied plexes and the system-wide timer visibility as measures directly affecting the PvP risk level.

-Hans reiterated the need for PvP LP bonuses to be paid at the maximum level possible regardless of Warzone Control, and Alekseyev also seconded the motion.  Elise responded that he wasn't convinced there needed to be an explicit bonus for the losing faction, noting that since the farm-and-push mechanic has disappeared, Amarr have been able to hold Tier 2 consistently and thus the old income discrepancy had narrowed considerably.  Elise also pointed out that the losing side does enjoy increased target availability as bonus for PvPers.

-Hans has been encouraging CCP Fozzie and Team Game of Drones to announce the final list of Faction Warfare features to be released on Dec. 4 as soon as they know which items will meet the deadline.

-Two step and Dovinian both have been leading the feedback effort regarding the removal of corporate hang divisions, Two step posting in surprise at the sudden announcement of Greyscale's changes, and emphasizing the need to have privacy in order to make hauling viable.  Dovinian seconded this, explaining that the "double wrapping" used via courier contract is what makes these services possible and that removing the ability to force gankers to gamble hurts logistical chains, and small-scale operations in particular. He also urged CCP to pay close attention to good posts expressing player frustration with the proposed changes.

-Alekseyev Karrde also provided feedback on the Fleet Hangar changes, calling them positive but wishing for more organizational tools within each hangar.

Recent Blog Posts:

The Permaproblem, by Hans Jagerblitzen

Recent Forum Activity:

-Darius III on Crimewatch changes

-Darius III in support of Poetic Stanziel's blog post asserting that CCP has an agenda to make highsec completely safe.

-Issler Dainze sharing her thoughts on upcoming Retribution features

-Issler Dainze reflecting on the Mining Barge changes in a thread about progress on miner issues

-Two step sketching out his suggestion for layered damage indicators rather than the original "pie slice" design from CCP.

-Trebor elaborating on his advocacy for universal UI design

-Trebor referencing a developer tool to assist with design for colorblind players

-Elise Randolph on fitting large shield transporters on the new Scythe

-Hans responding to a call for an update on the state of the Decshield situation

-Alekseyev Karrde elaborating on his confrontation with CCP Soniclover

-Alekseyev touching on Farms and Fields and where it currently stands.

-Kelduum Revaan responding to the idea of a CCP training corporation

-Hans Jagerblitzen on Mineral Compression

-Hans Jagerblitzen on the need for an economic balancing initiative

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Permaproblem

Last week, CCP Fozzie made a post on the Features and Ideas section of the Eve Online forums introducing a series of E-war changes being proposed for Retribution.  Many of you have been actively chiming in on these changes in the comments, which is awesome.   I'm happy that the developers are taking the time now rather than later to tweak these modules, because of the fact that so many of the rebalanced ships depend on them for their primary role.  Damps need love, TD needs tweaking, TP's are still useless for a lot of things, but the real discussion here for me centers around what are arguably the most controversial module in the game - ECM.  I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and I wanted to take some time and share my concerns about these changes.

As I've spoken to Fozzie about, I really don't like flat out nerfing ECM even as a temporary holdover.  I think its masking the underlying problem - ECM isn't a particularly interesting mechanic in a lot of ways.  First of all - unlike other E-war modules, ECM is binary - it either works or it doesn't.  And when it does function - it's effects last for a fixed period of time (20 seconds), a variable which does not change whether the effect is applied by an ECM drone or an ECM module.

I presume as most would that when ECM was originally designed by the developers, the random success rate of its application was a response to the fact that its effect was fixed, and there needed to be some way of modulating it through skills, rigs, and other upgrades.  The result is that using ECM drones or an ECM module is like playing a slot machine - and the more you upgrades you have, the better chance you have of hitting the jackpot.   This is something that is almost completely unique in EVE's mechanics - the only other example I can think off of the top of my head is the success rate of the "mini-professions" codebreaking, analyzing, and salvaging.  Everything else you can do is a direct result of piloting skill, the only random element is what your enemy brings to the table.

Compounding the fact that ECM relies on waiting for a dice roll is the frustration for the victim once a jam is successful - he is now out of the fight for 20 seconds - quite a length of time in a gang situation.  And 1 vs 1?  In solo PvP, one lucky successful jam can allow a much weaker ship to toast his attacker before he can fight back - lending to its popularity on even non-bonused ships.  No other module is as powerful at tipping the scales in a pilot's favor.  Team Game of Drones is approaching this by introducing new skills to increase your sensor strength and resistance to jamming - but this doesn't affect the fact that one lucky diceroll is as powerful as the effect doled out by griffins and blackbirds.  

Griffins, Kitsunes, Blackbirds, and Caldari recon ships are bonused heavily enough for success rate and have enough midslots that they can chain these lockdowns one after another, essentially increasing the chance of getting that lucky dice roll not by how you throw the die, but by simply grabbing larger handfuls of dice.  This doesn't even need Caldari ships, either - any gang can load up on ECM drones and form a cloud around an opponent and keep them "permajammed".

From the slot machine mechanic, to the fact that players are mostly frustrated by jam *duration* not just how often you get jammed, I think there are far more elegant solutions to this than simply making you get jammed less often.  Increasing sensor strength through has other ramifications too - like hiding your ships from probes.   It would be easier for Fozzie to just reduce the success rate of the modules than implement skills to do the same thing (and he'd skip on the side effects).

Personally, I'd much rather a plan be put in place to have jam length reduced by sensor strength, and have ECM drone functionality match that of ECM Burst modules - breaking locks, but not having a fixed-duration jam.  This creates a synergy between scan resolution dampening (which slows lock times) and the ability to pop locks, to create the "permajam" effect players only have to roll the dice for right now.  Drone users, additionally,  could make use of shorter jam periods to relock, switch targets before getting jammed again. It would also justify the new skill addition by having sensor strength be more valuable an attribute than simply reducing the opponent's chances of a jam. 

The real benefit of this is that in large scale fleet situations, more ECM ships and larger clouds of ECM drones could still permajam a key enemy vessel, but that in smaller situations, being jammed wouldn't take you out of the fight for the often-deadly 20 second window.   If you could start relocking immediately, or even in 5 or 10 seconds, your survivability rate goes up substantially.    This takes care of the scaling issue in a tangible way.  This doesn't remove the current usefulness of ECM as "chaff" dumped out to interfere with kiting enemies that are keeping you from an escape, but it does mean that one really unlucky dice roll won't negate the years of time you've spent learning to duel in frigates.

My main concern here is this - there doesn't appear to be any such plan for the future of ECM, other than this current fix.   I suspect that a lot of this has to do with the fact that ECM already is out of place in EVE Online as a random effect, and the devs would prefer to replace it entirely with something thats works more similarly to other forms of E-war.  The difficulty of coming up with a compelling replacement probably led to this weaker short-term solution, out of reluctance to further commit to the random model.  The result is what we've seen posted so far: essentially a shot of morphine to ECM victims, but not the true fix that ECM really needs.

My advice to the development team is this: chance-based doesn't have to be a dirty word in game design. Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good, in this case.  Take poker, for instance.  Poker is a game with a random element - you have zero control over the cards you are dealt.  But the individuals who end up in the tournaments every year are not by any means random.  If we give players the ability to have more control over the situation despite the "unlucky draws"  built in to ECM, we can create a more skill-based mechanic without needing to face the scary prospect of throwing it all out and starting over.   

Modulating jam length based on sensor strength and killing the 20-second lockdown on drones are both popular player proposals. They address many of the frustrations that players have with both ECM as a game mechanic, as the frustrations many of you have right now with the prospect of new "mandatory" skills to inject and invest time in.

If you've got other amazing ideas, I'm all ears (just post them in the forum thread too).   But I think we all need to send the message to CCP that band-aids aren't the way to go with something that is as critical as damage and logistics in fleet compositions....let's take the time to make this truly more interesting and fun.