EVE Evolved title image
Several weeks ago, EVE Online developer CCP Greyscale published possibly the single most important devblog of the past two years. Titled Nullsec development: Design goals, the blog laid the ground rules for high-level discussion on EVE's upcoming nullsec revamp. For those who live in nullsec, territorial warfare and nullsec life represent the true endgame of EVE. It's in these massive lawless regions of space that players forge alliances, build their own empires, and lead massive fleets of ships into enemy territory to kick over some space sandcastles.

Over the past two weeks, I've been delving into the discussion surrounding the upcoming nullsec revamp and speculating on what changes we might see. I started with a look back at the early days of nullsec industry and went on to give some ideas aimed at reclaiming those glory days. I followed that up with last week's summary of EVE Online's empire-building history, the problems faced by today's territorial warfare mechanics, and further speculation on how the system could be radically changed for the better.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I conclude this series of articles on the upcoming nullsec revamp with an examination of the discussion surrounding PvE, the local channel, and the potentially revolutionary smallholding system that could give even casual and solo players a taste of nullsec.

EVE side-imageBalancing income

In the devblog, CCP Greyscale states that nullsec should be the most lucrative place for all PvE activities. This is already part of the exploration system, with rare 8/10 and 10/10 DED complexes having the chance to drop incredibly valuable deadspace modules. When we look at grindable PvE gameplay, however, nullsec ratting actually produces less income than speed-running level 4 missions in high-security space despite the huge difference in risk. If CCP is to address this issue, it will have to either reduce the income from level 4 missions or increase the payout from nullsec ratting and anomalies.

One way to potentially solve the balance of grindable PvE income between high-security space and nullsec automatically is through the introduction of nullsec missions. Many of the same missions might be available in both highsec and nullsec, but the nullsec varieties would have higher rewards, better bounties and a chance of faction commander spawns. After the anomaly nerf last March, an increase to nullsec grindable income is required more than ever. Part of the difficulty will be in making the new system unsafe for automated bots, which can currently detect incoming hostiles in the local channel and then cloak at a safespot to become essentially invulnerable.

EVE side-imageRemoving the local channel

You may not think of the local chat channel as an intelligence-gathering tool, but it's one of the most important weapons in a scout's arsenal. It provides instant, perfect intelligence on the pilots in a system with no effort, equipment or skills. It can see cloaked ships and docked pilots, and it can even display standings next to every pilot's name. Players have long demanded the removal of the local channel as an intelligence-gathering tool, but before that can happen CCP will need to introduce new intel tools that can gather the same information.

Scouts are currently tasked with tracking the movement of hostile fleets and sending up-to-the-minute reports back to their fleet commanders. Some alliances are lucky enough to have their own third-party intelligence application to reduce chatter, but most have to use text or voice chat. Cataloguing enemy starbase structures before an attack is another infrequent but essential task, providing the alliance decision-makers with an accurate view of the playing field. This currently has to be recorded in text, and a fleet commander may not have time during an operation to dig it out.

In the future, I think we can expect new reporting tools to be integrated into the EVE client. Fleet commanders might have access to a star map showing reports from their scouts in realtime and the locations of catalogued enemy infrastructure. Static scanning posts might trigger a warning when enough ships pass through a stargate in a short period of time, allowing small gangs the ability to move largely unnoticed but providing intel on incoming large fleets. As the local channel can see cloaked ships but current scanners and probes can't, we would also need a way to scan for cloaked ships.

EVE side-imageA place to call your own

One of the most interesting ideas to come out of Greyscale's nullsec devblog and the ensuing discussion was the concept of smallholdings. The basic idea is to introduce a whole series of small anchorable structures that can be hidden in deep space. While starbases are costly but highly configurable bases typically owned by a corporation, smallholdings would be personal-level structures with very limited functionality. We might get mobile docking ports that would act as a temporary base of operations, a loot drop-off point or an ore depot.

The current plan is to make it so that alliances will take over a week to track down and evict the owner of a smallholding operation, but that it won't require much effort. If the smallholdings themselves can be placed in deep space, far outside the range of the normal directional scanner, they could be made impossible to find with current scanners and probes. The only way to locate them might then be through the installation of a new scanning structure that would take a few days to produce a list of smallholdings in the system and several more to get a positive lock on one. This would provide the owner with warning that he's about to come under threat.

EVE side-imageA new nullsec for everyone

The ultimate goal of this new personal infrastructure is to re-invent nullsec as a place players can go to make their own way in EVE even if they aren't part of a big alliance. It should be possible to sneak into an alliance's territory and set up a temporary base from which to engage in nullsec PvE, industry, mining or PvP. When that base is discovered, there should be sufficient warning to let a pilot pack a small operation up and move it elsewhere. Combined with new ways of getting past the initial gatecamps on the way in to nullsec, low-cost personal infrastructure that's largely self-sufficient would help a lot of players finally take the plunge and give nullsec a try.

Perhaps the most exciting possibility for smallholdings is that pilots might be able to hide out there to avoid detection. Added to the possibility of industrial capabilities, a small group of players could feasibly start up their own self-sufficient pirate base to build new ships and store loot. An idea that's been repeated several times on the forum is to make it beneficial for an alliance to leave private smallholdings intact as long as the owner isn't causing any trouble. A tax on produced or deposited goods is probably the simplest way to achieve this, but there are some interesting alternatives. Smallholdings might contribute to the security of a system, or they might use products made on planets as their sole fuel source and so encourage privateers to help secure planets for the local alliance when DUST 514 finally opens EVE's planets for conquest.

Final thoughts title image
The omnipresent local channel currently makes it difficult for pilots to hide in another alliance's space. With new intel tools on the way, local may eventually be replaced with a set of passive scanning infrastructure and active tools for scouts. With scanners watching stargates, the advantage of stealth could be given to small gangs and individual pilots who might not trigger detection in the same way a larger fleet would. Smallholdings also represent a potentially game-changing gameplay mechanic, providing anyone who's ever wanted to live in nullsec with the affordable tools required to make it happen.

So far CCP has only discussed the high-level goals of the upcoming nullsec revamp, with no solid timeline yet released nor any specific mechanics defined. The revamp is scheduled to begin roughly this winter, but developers expect it will take years to fully renovate all of the mechanics discussed in Greyscale's devblog. With a team dedicated to nullsec and a high degree of player-involvement in the design process, I can say without a doubt that CCP is on the right track with the nullsec revamp.

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.