EDIT: Since nobody is reading the full text, here’s the TL;DR: I recently lost my freighter on a hi-sec gate to NPCs that scrammed and popped me within seconds of uncloaking. It turns out they were Triglavians, not Drifters (I’ve been away from game for a long time, and am not up to date on the lingo). My overall point is that substantial losses such as the one incurred (5.6 billion ISK) should be the result of player choices, not random acts of NPC violence, expecially in secure space.
In James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse, passing through a Ring Gate incurs a small but significant chance of drawing the attention of interdimensional beings that indiscriminately destroy whatever attracts their ire. The existence of these beings imparts a dampening effect on Ring Gate travel, as without understanding the forces at work, interstellar travel becomes a fraught business, undertaken only by the most desperate of people.
The logical corollary in EVE are the Drifters, powerful and alien NPCs that appear seemingly at random and, if aggressed, will escalate their forces and attack anything nearby. They are a fascinating foe, for those who wish to tangle with them, and provide a deadly trap for anyone not equipped to deal with them.
Drifters are a largely unavoidable danger in Hi-Sec
In low-sec or null-sec, where danger abounds, it is customary to use a scout if moving anything of tremendous value, in order to avoid gate camps or other nasty surprises. This practice, if done correctly, also avoids the risk of running afoul of angered Drifters while flying anything incapable of avoiding them. However, in Hi-Sec, where there exists the expectation of CONCORD intervention against any bad actors, scouts are not customarily used, and indeed would impose an enormous cost for industrialists, as running a scout necessitates doubling your monthly expenditures, making it much harder to turn a profit. As such, while I don’t have the data on hand, I suspect that most industrialists, traders, and haulers do not scout when jumping between Hi-Sec systems.
However, this creates the risk of landing right in the middle of a hostile Drifter swarm, which CONCORD will do nothing about. And if you do, they will scram you, and they will destroy you, with no possible counterplay, as my hauler alt recently discovered.
Consequences on trade
The rarity of encountering hostile Drifters may be thought to be an acceptable risk for those who haven’t run afoul of them, but let me break down the broader influence of these sorts of incursions on gameplay:
EVE is a hyper-capitalistic system. You need money to make money. And since PvP isn’t a lucrative venture, you essentially require a stable income stream in order to actually partake in EVE’s primary gameplay (player-versus-player combat). Now, the ways to make (low-risk) money are (broadly):
- Day Trading
I’m going to focus on the first three, since Manufacturing and Day trading rely on a stable industrial sector to be profitable (and are largely non-interactive gameplay. You can make money this way without ever leaving station, but ultimately SOMEONE needs to be incurring the risk that funds your income, so if a game mechanic has a chilling effect on trade, you will feel the impact, eventually).
In each of the three main income-generating occupations (Missioning, Mining, Hauling), the best way to maximize profit is to continually re-invest your earnings into it until you’ve reached a point of maximal efficiency. For missioning, this means pimping out your ship with expensive gear to maximize tank and damage, so that you can clear missions faster; for Mining, this means buying larger and more efficient mining hulls; for Haulers, this means investing in bigger and bigger cargo bays and more and more ISK in collateral, so that you can move multiple contracts in a single run. Etc.
The point is, making ISK in high-sec generally means doing something that is anathema in the rest of EVE: Flying something you can’t afford to lose.
The game encourages this. In fact, it’s broadly necessary, as if you always make sure to keep a large enough ISK buffer to replace whatever it is you’re flying, your profits will be the square root of what they otherwise would be.
But that also means that being unlucky enough to jump into a hostile Drifter force while flying your primary money-making ship can be a deathblow to your time in EVE. In the best case, it sets you back a few weeks of grinding, but if you lose a freighter with many billions of courier contracts in the cargo hold, that loss will set you back many months, if not years. Remember, you need money to make money. If you lose all your money, then earning your way back to the same point takes a VERY long time.
That means that the existence of hi-sec drifters dampen economic activity, leading to lower income in hi-sec overall and imposing a higher barrier of entry for most “end-game” industry, as it will take significantly more time and effort to afford something that can evade the threat, such as a jump freighter.
“Why should I care about this? Hi-sec sucks, anyway.”
Of course, the knee-jerk reaction from most reading this is going to be the same everywhere: “Boo hoo, a rich person lost money, whaaaa.” But that’s immensely short-sighted. You think people play EVE so they can haul stuff? You think people play so they can stare at an asteroid for hours on end, or run the same missions over and over until their eyes bleed? NO. We play EVE so we can violence each others’ boats. Making money is a necessary evil. It’s the cost of admittance to the fun part.
When a game mechanic causes you to lose months of your labor without warning, counterplay, or ever interacting with another player, the immediate consequence is that your ticket to fun has been revoked, and no one’s to blame but the GMs. Your game time is no longer about Good Fites or political power struggles or intrigue, it’s about focusing on the menial labor required to build yourself back up. The longer-term consequence is that fewer people PvP, since with less reliable income, losses are harder to stomach. And when fewer people PvP, the fun for ALL of us goes down.
Drifters are, fundamentally, toxic to gameplay.
And the thing is, CCP knows this. There’s a reason CONCORD exists, and a reason that CCP has historically dictated that evading CONCORD in Hi-sec is an exploit. Players are not allowed to indiscriminately kill each other in hi-sec. If they want to gank you, they need to invest a lot of player energy in planning and execution, which is, frankly, fair-play. EVE is, at its core, a player-driven game. Losses and gains are meant to be measured as the sum-total of individuals’ choices, rather than simply random chance. And Hi-sec is meant to be a place of relative security, so that trade can flourish and drive the economic engine that fuels players’ ability to massacre each other in low- and null-sec.
Drifters in hi-sec run counter to this philosophy. They impose an outsized risk in a relatively unpredictable fashion. Even if a player learns to evade such hostiles, that knowledge is usually learned by suffering an outsized loss that nullifies months of work. The impact on morale of such a loss cannot be overstated, and may well lead the player in question to cease playing the game entirely if they discover that their efforts can simply be erased by the equivalent of a random encounter.
Case in point:
That is probably what is going to happen to me. My return to EVE after a 7-year break was fuelled by some tragic life circumstances that suddenly left me with a lot more free time on my hands, and, sadly, no real-world income. I’m therefore one of the minority of EVE players that has been trying to finance my game time by buying PLEX, meaning I basically need to net 3 billion ISK/month just to cover my subscription fees, not to mention my PvP losses. Without my freighter, there is now no way I can earn enough to pay for Omega, so I’m either going to have to liquidate many millions of skill points to buy another one, or simply… quit. I’m still weighing those options. And to those of you who think losing a bitter-vet from the game is no big loss, consider that I habitually PVP in some very expensive ships. I take my hi-sec earnings and inject them directly into the low-sec PvP scene, where other players can benefit from my loot (not to mention those Good Fites™ I mentioned above).
But now… that’s going away. I’m no longer a loot piñata, thanks to some over-eager drifters in a supposedly safe system.
But this is a situation that doesn’t need to exist at all. Even if CCP likes the Drifter mechanic overall, there are ways of balancing it that will mitigate some of the risk for blowouts, making tangling with them more of a choice, or at least offering meaningful counterplay. For example:
- Make Drifters not scram players that are not actively aggressing them. This would allow a buffer-tanked ship to grab warp before being destroyed, limiting potential losses of the most expensive vessels. Mid-tier ships will still fall victim, however, though such ships are generally easier to replace.
- Make Drifters only attack hostiles. This would ensure that peaceful traders and industrialists can travel freely through Drifter-occupied space, while leaving the core combat mechanics unchanged for the minority of players who seek out combat with the Drifters.
- Make the warning messages that pop up SIGNIFICANTLY different if the Drifters in the system beyond have been enraged. As it stands, the warning message that pops up at gates is virtually the same regardless of which faction or “danger” lurks on the other side. You get similar warnings for jumping to low-sec, or jumping into an EDENCON secured system, etc. If you don’t already know the danger posed by Drifters, it is currently too easy to just click through this warning and jump anyway. If the warning was blood-red and terrifying, it might convey a bit more of the actual danger you might be jumping into, affording players a real choice in the matter.
Anyway. I’m actually curious to know how many you actually like the Drifter mechanic, and whether you see it as an issue at all. If this is really just a “me” problem, I’ll accept that. But I suspect I’m not the only player who has had their month ruined by an inopportune jump into an NPC gate camp.