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I think it's safe to say that most EVE Online players have never tried their hands at faction warfare, the state-sponsored bloodbath that pits Minmatar and Gallente pilots against their Amarr and Caldari rivals. When the system launched almost four years ago during 2008's Empyrean Age expansion, it was an immediate and colossal success. CCP ran news stories leading up to the expansion to show the growing tensions between the four nations, with several videos highlighting major flashpoints like the Malkalen incident. The stage was set for the war to end all wars, and players were brought to the front lines to die for their nations.

Faction warfare was originally designed to be a stepping stone for empire-dwellers who wanted to get into nullsec and to give fleet-based PvP to pilots without nullsec contacts. The first few months saw some spectacular action, with fleets of over a hundred rookie pilots happily smashing each other to bits. For over a year, faction warfare provided practically instant-action PvP on any scale you could want, from solo roaming and small gang warfare to full-on fleet battles with several capital ships. Unfortunately, CCP didn't iterate on the feature, so after a year with broken capture mechanics and no real purpose or reward for fighting, faction warfare began to grind to a halt.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I speculate on how faction warfare could possibly be resurrected.

EVE Online side imageIs it really dead?

Prior to the Empyrean Age expansion, CCP's development strategy was always to release a new feature and then set aside time to tackle unforseen issues with it post-launch. While faction warfare was a massive success, players assumed that the small issues discovered on the first day of launch would recieve swift attention. The ECM from Caldari complexes made capturing systems incredibly slow and frustrating for Gallente pilots, and it was discovered that sites could be captured risk-free by cloaking or flying a speed-tanking frigate.

Players began complaining of the unsustainability of being locked into a war with no income, and ultimately, capturing systems didn't really do anything. Faction warfare endured well for over a year thanks to some great fleet commanders and organisers, but with those problems looming, it couldn't last forever without iteration. Every year I sign back up to faction warfare to see if anything has changed, and every year I'm disappointed to find the same state of affairs.

Public PvP fleets are rare, and the pirate corporations that used to be torn apart by militia gangs have settled in to catch anyone flying solo. The monetary incentives CCP added as part of its half-hearted bid to save faction warfare have transformed the warzone into a playground, with countless players running missions and avoiding conflict entirely. The Gallente militia channel has become a place where grizzled veterans reminisce about the good old days with Elijah Ghost's drunk fleets and the almost hourly Tama raids to "fry some calamari." There's no doubt about it, this ancient feature is dead on its feet.

EVE Online side imageA complete reboot

CCP has scheduled time to iterate on faction warfare in the coming expansion; CSM delegate Seleene confirmed that the feature will be getting some minor tweaks and then new elements will be added that should revitalise the feature. I would hope that the tweaks will include fixing the electronic warfare disparity that hampered Gallente capture efforts, and I'm sure CCP will try to get rid of the mission farmers whizzing around in frigates. The new elements will almost definitely be based around planets, as faction warfare could then provide a huge stream of NPC-directed DUST 514 battles.

Iteration was long overdue in the summer of 2009 when I first asked the question of whether CCP had abandoned faction warfare, and now several years later I worry that it may be too late to iterate. If CCP wants to resurrect faction warfare, it will have to do more than give it a facelift. To get people interested again, I think we'll need a complete reboot with the current four-year war ending and a fresh battlefield opening elsewhere.

EVE Online side imageIdeas to bring back the glory days

Faction warfare's capture sites were designed to be flashpoints for PvP, but players largely ignored them as PvP grounds and just fought at the stargates instead. If a revamp is to be successful, CCP will need a way to concentrate players looking for PvP into a small area of space. The obvious way to do that is to make only certain systems capturable at certain times, so a player would log in and immediately know which system is currently being fought over. It's the same rationale behind incursions, which concentrate the players who want to take part in group PvE into just one or two constellations.

To get people to actually PvP in the contested system, of course, there has to be some consequence for system ownership. A monetary reward just won't cut it to motivate people who are only interested in good PvP, but a benefit like station ownership might. Access to stations in a system could be denied to enemies of the side that currently owns the system, turning the tide of battles in that system slightly in favour of the defender. The Gallente and Minmatar would be working together (and hence able to dock at each others' stations), and the Caldari would side with the Amarr.

Something else that would be incredibly exciting is if, instead of pasting these new mechanics and tweaks over the existing faction warfare system, CCP released a completely new massive region and let all four races fight over it together. Faction warfare would then become a land-grab, where system capture is the name of the game again.

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With the story leading up to Empyrean Age and 2010's revival of events with the Incursion expansion, it would make sense for the new faction warfare to be heavily story-based. I'd love to see live events during which NPC corporations lead the charge to conquer systems. However CCP chooses to revamp faction warfare, developers should keep in mind that the new system must appeal to the power players of EVE. It's the dedicated corp CEOs and star fleet commanders that made faction warfare what it was in 2008, and it's those players CCP needs to get on board again if the feature is to have any hope of revival.

As we saw with Apocrypha, the drive to explore and capture unknown space is a powerful initial motivator for power players. Perhaps a full region of new systems could be opened two at a time, with the four races clashing over claim rights and players assisting in efforts to build space stations or find the next hidden system. Just as players continued to hold on to claims to wormhole systems, once all the new space is discovered corporations are likely to stick around to defend the systems they helped discover and colonise. Now that would get people playing again!

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.