EVE Evolved: Force projection and jump bridges

When EVE Online's Dominion expansion launched, we expected to see large empires contract into smaller areas of space and smaller entities move in to fill in the gaps. High sovereignty maintenance fees were meant to keep alliances from claiming systems they didn't intend to fully use, and smaller territories were meant to localise wars to only an alliance's immediate neighbours. Unfortunately, almost the exact opposite happened. Large alliances continued to group together into massive mega-coalitions, collectively owning huge regions of space and preventing smaller organisations from staking a claim on their own.

Dominion failed to achieve its stated goals, and in the years since its release CCP has been reluctant or unable to revisit the sovereignty mechanics Dominion overhauled. In that time, the face of EVE's nullsec warfare has changed drastically, with most large alliances now flaunting dozens of once-rare supercarriers and titans. Starbase jump bridge networks, titan jump portals and jump-drive enabled ships allow alliances to project force over immense distances, letting them support a war on the other side of the map.

With the recent announcement of changes coming to jump bridges, the force projection debate has once again taken center stage in forums and blogs. In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at the problems associated with force projection, examine the jump bridge changes and weigh in on the debate.

An issue of distance

In years gone by, nullsec alliances frequently warred with their neighbours but had to exert considerable logistical effort to get supplies in place for a war farther afield. Mercenary Coalition famously specialised in mobilising its forces to war, being able to move an entire army of people, ships and supplies across the galaxy in a single weekend.

In the past, alliances committing to a war in a far-away region would have had to leave their home systems in a vulnerable position. It wasn't feasible to engage in offensive operations several regions away and still get everyone back home to defend against an invasion. Mercenaries were often hired to attack alliances engaged in long-distance wars in order to force them to halt their advances and return home.

The speed with which an alliance can rapidly project force across large distances determines a maximum range at which it can wage war. If you can station all pilots in your alliance's home systems and still send fleets from there to the other side of EVE within a few hours, there's no drawback to waging a war that far from home. This directly influences the formation of large coalitions; if you can guarantee military support to an ally several regions away, there's a strong incentive to enter into a mutual defense pact. This is exactly what we've seen in EVE, with alliances banding together to form massive coalitions.

A lack of conflict

One of the strange revelations to come out of the last big CSM summit was the fact that the amount of PvP going on in EVE is declining. A big culprit behind this could be jump bridges, which currently provide a completely safe way to move ships across huge distances. Alliances with a good jump bridge network can not only move fleets to far-away battlefields but do so without the possibility of being intercepted along the way. Similarly, pilots hauling in supplies from empire can make use of an alliance's jump bridge network to transport materials in complete safety.

About two weeks ago, CCP announced some big jump bridge changes aimed at removing this conflictless gameplay. Alliances will be limited to one jump bridge per system, meaning they'll no longer be able to create their own private stargate networks for safe travel. Getting from one end of a jump bridge network to the other will now require pilots to go through at least one normal stargate per jump bridge link. Some players who rely on jump bridges are furious with the changes, while others plan to simply bring a scout along on any trip to check for hostiles and traps.

Force projection

A lot of attention has been focused on jump bridges lately, but they're just one of the tools alliances use to project force rapidly over a long distance. Both capital and supercapital ships have their own jump drives and so can be moved huge distances in a matter of minutes. Titan jump portal generators also allow entire fleets of sub-capital ships to be instantly moved up to seven lightyears with good skills, entering the field of battle without the possibility of interception.

It's now common to see alliances respond to small invading gangs by "hot-dropping" an entire fleet of supercapitals on top of them. By holding supercapitals on standby and using jump bridges to maneuver fleets into position, a defending alliance has all the advantages of stealth and mobility that a smaller invading force should rightfully have. This has the effect of discouraging small-scale PvP, as a highly mobile invading force can find itself inexplicably outnumbered with absolutely no chance of seeing it coming.

Although ideas to counteract hot-drops have been discussed at previous CSM summits, no concrete plans for implementation have yet been decided on. The sentiment that has been ringing throughout EVE's blogging community is that changing jump bridges without changing other force-projection abilities is a massive mistake. However, these jump bridge changes aren't designed to tackle the issue of force projection. They're specifically dealing with a travel safety factor that should never have been built into the system in the first place. Force projection is case for another time and place, and when viewed in isolation, the jump bridge changes look a lot more reasonable.

Summary

There's no doubt that EVE Online's nullsec warfare is in dire need of change. CCP plans to investigate the issue fully over the coming months before designing any changes, and we'll undoubtedly hear more about the team's investigations in the coming months. CSM 6 will be heading to CCP HQ soon for the summer CSM summit, in which the large number of nullsec alliance candidates will hopefully contribute some good ideas to improve nullsec PvP. With new development on nullsec scheduled for this winter, sovereignty may finally receive the attention it deserves.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.