EVE Evolved: Bringing back the glory days

EVE Evolved title image
In years gone by, exploring the unknown far reaches of the EVE Online universe meant setting a course for nullsec. With no way to install a permanent residence in the most lucrative far-off systems, players would launch dangerous expeditions into the deep with the hope of striking it rich. Nullsec was the only place to mine rare ores containing megacyte and zydrine, and piracy wasn't as common as it is today. For putting themselves at the risk of pirates, miners were rewarded with an income stream greater than that of any other profession in the game. It was a golden age in exploration that wasn't to repeat itself until March 2009's Apocrypha expansion opened 2500 hidden wormhole systems for exploitation.

Things have changed considerably since those early days of EVE. Player-built starbases and outposts have transformed the face of nullsec, allowing alliances to build themselves an empire in the void. December 2009's Dominion expansion brought a complete revamp of the nullsec sovereignty mechanics, allowing alliances to upgrade their space but dramatically increasing the cost of system ownership. Despite all of these updates and improvements, over the past several years we have somehow lost a lot of what made nullsec great in its glory days. Local industry has been replaced by risk-free logistics, and nullsec's risky but rewarding mining profession is now greatly overshadowed by safe highsec mission-running.

With a new iterative nullsec revamp scheduled to begin this winter, I use this week's EVE Evolved to speculate on what can be done to bring back the glory days of nullsec industry.

EVE freighter imageSupply lines

When EVE was young, nullsec was designed to be the most profitable area of the game. High-bounty NPCs generated tens of millions of ISK per hour for combat pilots, but the real ISK to be made was in mining. Rare arkonor, bistot and crokite ores could only be found in deep nullsec systems, and they were the main source of the high-end minerals zydrine and megacyte. Most of the zydrine and megacyte used in ship and module production came from miners in nullsec, creating a supply dependency with high-security space that strongly incentivised mining expeditions into the lawless regions.

Six years later, that dependency on nullsec mining has all but evapourated. Level 4 missions brought NPC battleships right into high-security space, and the influx of refinable battleship-sized modules dropped as loot had the odd effect of making mission-running a major player in the global supply of minerals. For the first time, minerals including zydrine and megacyte were produced in reasonable quantities without the need for miners. The situation became even more dire when CCP released the drone regions, an area of space with NPCs that drop high-end minerals instead of bounties. Nullsec mining became a third-rate profession, giving way to the very profitable speed-running of level 4 missions in high security space.

EVE whiteboard imageBringing back the glory days

CCP recently revealed that a full nullsec revamp will begin this winter and continue for the foreseeable future. In a recent devblog, CCP Greyscale outlined his early goals for the revamp, which touches on everything from mining and industry to PvE, logistics and combat on all scales. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the blog was that the goals mesh perfectly with what most EVE players want. Developers still aren't sure how to meet all of those goals or even whether they're all good ideas, so they have appealed to players to suggest their own ideas in a series of feedback threads. If that's not listening to the players, I don't know what is.

The goals for mining are set to once again make it the most profitable profession in the game. The current plan is to make nullsec mining the only source of zydrine, megacyte and certain ice ores. Perhaps more encouraging is that CCP wants to incentivise mining as a way to procure materials for local production. This is something that nullsec has lost over the years due to the proliferation of jump drive capable ships and jump bridge networks, which make it easy and safe to transport vast quantities of materials in from high-security space.

EVE asteroid imageSelf-sufficiency

Over the years, local nullsec industry has gradually given way to rapid logistics. Instead of producing ships and modules locally, players found it much simpler, faster and more cost-effective to buy everything they needed in Jita and transport it to nullsec. CCP aims to tackle this issue head-on by both nerfing the effectiveness of logistics and making nullsec producers "99% self-sufficient by volume." This means the things needed from empire will be very low-volume supplies, and the huge volumes of low-end minerals needed to build battleships and capital ships will be economically feasible to obtain locally.

The most effective way to achieve this is through the introduction of alternative rapid mining methods for low-end minerals, methods that can only be used in nullsec. One popular idea in this area is blast-mining, an illegal type of mining that blows apart rock-type asteroids to get fast access to the ore inside. Other exciting options include automated mining drills that can only be used on rock-type asteroids, and rare comets with incredibly high mineral yields and short life spans. Whichever idea CCP eventually goes with, it will have to ensure that the masses of low-end minerals produced are used in local production and can't be easily transported to the markets in empire.

EVE starbase imageTech 2 production for everyone

An interesting idea coming out of the discussion is that nullsec should either focus primarily on tech 2 production or it should be a faster, more profitable place for it once infrastructure is built. As most nullsec pilots use tech 2 modules on every ship and many almost exclusively fly tech 2 ships, some way to build a full supply of tech 2 gear entirely in nullsec would be essential for making alliances self-sufficient. The tech 2 production line currently involves mining moon minerals, reacting them into advanced materials, building components with those materials, and then building the final module or ship based on an invented blueprint.

The random distribution of moon minerals makes it infeasible for an alliance to run an entire tech 2 module or ship production line within a single constellation or region; you might have the materials available locally to make one or two different components, but not all of them. A lot of materials would need to be brought in from empire to complete the production chain, and at that point you're probably better off just bringing the finished modules and ships in. The Alchemy system allows you to substitute large quantities of common materials for small quantities of rare ones, but this still doesn't guarantee that a full production chain can be made locally.

One solution to this problem would be to introduce a new nullsec-only POS module that converts one moon mineral into another. An alliance might mine Cobalt, for example, and then convert it into Titanium or Cadmium. When you're converting an element into a rarer version, the output yield would be a fraction of the input in order to maintain the relative rarity that exists today. This maintains the advantage of having naturally good moons in an area but allows alliances to build infrastructure to compensate for having poor moons and complete a full local production chain. Other solutions include rare comets or planet sectors that can be mined for moon minerals, or radical changes to the moon mineral distribution.

Final Thoughts title image
The state of nullsec industry has degraded so slowly over the years as to go almost unnoticed, migrating inevitably from a local production model to an importation model. Nullsec has been transformed from a land of opportunity to be tamed and exploited into an expensive colony we support financially from afar and fight over just to keep our names on the map. Dedicated industrialists have long since been relegated to high-security space as military alliances have no need of a large local industry section or mining fleet.

The coming nullsec revamp aims to change all that, bringing back the glory days of nullsec life. Although work will begin this winter, it may be several years before the full plan comes to fruition. If the goals set out in this week's devblog are any indication, CCP is firmly on the right track but has yet to come up with solid game mechanics. It's now up to us to steer CCP in the right direction by contributing our ideas and suggestions. Head over to the Features and Ideas Discussion forum to contribute to any of the feedback threads or drop your ideas in the comments of this article and we'll pass them on to CCP.

Stay tuned to EVE Evolved for next week's second part of this series examining the upcoming nullsec revamp. Topics still to cover include fleet movement, small-scale warfare, territorial conflict and the potentially revolutionary small-scale infrastructure concept.

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.