How the ESS Changes Came About
As an “Excavator Stealer” who got freshly elected into CSM 14, I gave a piece of feedback to CCP.
What if “stealing” as a playstyle was democratized instead of niche players earning trillions ( stealing Excavators, citadels, AT ships, corp theft)? What if farmers had an “ante” that they had to fight for, from which daily regular conflict arose?
Couple of months later, plans for an ESS revamp was revealed to CSM. It could be the feedback or coincidence, but a joyful moment.
They hit us with specifics of the grid design. All CSMs did great work to get the ESS grid to a playable state. No capitals, hard to kite/disengage, ships at risk for the thief. Minor issues sure, but generally fine.
However, we were barely listened to about the accumulation and the distribution of the money. That led to an underwhelming design.
The Underwhelming Design
The distinction between the main/reserve banks is cool. Individuals farming the bounties defend their own main banks. And reserve defense is at the organization level, potentially yielding alliance-level income.
Due to the shortness of the payout time, insufficient money accumulates in the main bank for wider engagement with this feature. That’s probably fine, as that bolsters the agency of individuals to defend their own money. There is still some engagement.
The reserve bank was the promising conflict driver. It could have created a sizeable portion of the nullsec conflict. Instead, as CSM @Innominate puts, it became a bottomless pit with trillions of ISK lying dead useful to neither the farmers nor the thieves.
Some players likely bait fights with keys. But the money in the reserves speaks for itself about the general non-engagement with the feature. In my close circle we are desperately looking for content for our fleets, and we don’t even think for a second about ESS reserves.
A fundamental driver of most Eve content is that the riskier your activity is, the more rewarding it is. Below are four reasons why the ESS reserve design is underwhelming, They all tie back to the imbalance in risk/reward levels.
Firstly, the reserve keys drop from lowsec sites that require up to 1-3 marauders and at least 2 hacker alts. Meaning, only high SP multiboxers can solo the sites. The sites are also not a common spawn. This means time consuming preparation (of alts, or players organizing) is needed to run them, but the time spent for chaining them as a playstyle is not worth the reward.
Secondly, even if the sites were common, gating marauders in lowsec is a bigger risk than the potential reward for most lowseccers.
Thirdly, even if the keys were more common, they will still hit a (lower) market price equilibrium. The keys cost the same to locals and thieves. But stealing in hostile territory will always be riskier than accessing your own reserves. Thieves have the surprise element. But locals can rageping, reship, respond to aggressor fleet composition, use capitals on ESS gate or on system gates. Meanwhile, draining your own reserves can be done at a quiet time with some alts and ignorable PvP risk.
The price equilibrium will be composed of the farmers’ and the thieves’ demand. But since farmer risk of self-draining is lower, farmers will have more demand for the keys and will be willing to pay higher prices. This means that, unless key prices are negligibly low, the risk/reward math will always make more sense for farmers to access their own ESS. Not only non-nullseccers will be less encouraged to steal from nullsec relative to farmer self-draining, but also nullsec inhabitants will always find it more sensible to drain their own reserves rather than aggressing someone else’s. Thus, we have a risk/reward imbalance between the thief and the farmer.
Fourthly, there is no risk/reward scaling in stealing across more or less defended regions. One problem with the abundance era was how dense certain umbrella regions became, how many people they can rageping at any time, how much force they can project in their own region, etc. One naturally emerging counter-balance here is that crowded regions attract more hunters. But since the max payout is always the same across the richer/crowded regions, and poorer/quiet regions; the thieves are always encouraged to steal from dead-end regions rather than the most crowded ones. The risk/reward discrepancy across stealing from different regions then creates a problem in which the richest regions accumulate trillions in their bottomless reserve bank pits.
All these risk/reward discrepancies lead to a situation under which;
- Nullseccers are not happy as their money is stuck.
- Most would-be thieves do not think stealing is worth their time.
- Even lowsec inhabitants can’t chain-run sites for value.
The reserve is only good if you want to spend approx. 1 billion to bait a fight, only in regions that can’t rageform twice the size of your fleet. Or perhaps you found a site with the lowsec system in which your marauder was docked. Other than that, bad luck.
The Magic Fix
CCP likes non-costly, simple changes. So I will propose two simple changes that could render reserve banks into the intended glorious conflict driver.
- ESS reserve banks can only be accessed a few days a year.
(Assign randomized days to each ESS. Only in those days, preferably in the timezone chosen by locals, reserve keys can be activated. Adjust the frequency so ESS’s accumulate 5b to 50b in active systems, depending on the activity level.)
- ESS reserve bank max payout rate now equals to the total amount that’s accumulated in the ESS.
The wide engagement with Pochven PvE and the conflict around it should teach CCP one ideal model for everyday conflict generation;
- There is a big reward (so it’s worth organizing to get it, fighting over it).
- People know where to find it, how to access it (looking at you, NPC Sotiyos).
- In a limited amount of systems/regions (so the macroeconomy is not spammed).
In the ESS reserve design I suggested, we’d have timers across New Eden that’s worth 5-50b. We would scout the ESSs and know exactly where/when to be. And we can fight over it.
This new design could create several big fleet fights every day. That’s way better than the bottomless pit mode.