Many expected the siphon to be a minor annoyance to starbase owners, with the presence of a siphon being easily discovered and a limit of one siphon per starbase established. In reality, one siphon unit can rob a starbase of 60% of the output from a moon harvester or 12.5% from a simple reactor, and there's no limit to how many can be stacked on an individual starbase. It'll take only two of these to completely shut down a single moon-mining operation, and the owner will get no warning whatsoever that it's happening.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at how the Siphon Unit will work, its stats, various ways to protect your starbase from it, and what the long-term implications may be for EVE.
How the siphon will work
The Siphon Unit will cost only about 10 million ISK and will be 20m3 in size, so it can be easily deployed from frigates, covert ops ships, or interceptors without any real risk. The module will anchor and go online instantly, and the only way it can be removed is by destroying it. Anyone can access the device's cargo hold or attack it without getting a criminal flag, and it'll have only about 50,000 to 100,000 HP to chew through. It'll also be ignored by a starbase's guns unless a player manually assumes control of them, so there's no way to passively protect a starbase from them.
The module will automatically steal 60 units of raw material from a moon harvesting array or 25 units of intermediate material from a Simple Reactor Array each hour when the starbase cycles. The amount retrieved will be reduced by a waste factor of 20%, though developers have since stated that they may decrease this to 10%. CCP is also considering limiting the number of units any one character can have deployed at a time to about 5-10, but players warn that this will favour large groups over the intended smaller entities. The device's 1,200 m3 storage bay can hold a maximum of 25 hours of raw moon minerals or 60 hours of simple reactor output.
Protecting your starbase from theft
The only surefire way to protect your starbase from theft will be to manually check it every few hours and blow up any siphon units you find. This is obviously not feasible as a long-term solution, as all corporations and alliances will have offpeak times when very few pilots will be online. The siphon is the first asymmetric infrastructure attack in EVE, with no reinforced timer or vulnerability window to ensure your target is online and has a chance to defend itself. But since materials can be stolen only from the end of an industrial module chain, there may be other ways to protect yourself from theft.
Linking your moon harvester into a simple reactor will protect the raw harvested material from theft by making a smaller amount of the output from the simple reactor vulnerable instead. Lone moon-mining starbases will no longer be viable in Rubicon, as just two siphons will steal 100% of the harvester's output. If your don't want a significant value of materials stolen while you sleep, valuable minerals will have to be reacted on the moons they're extracted from. Since advanced materials from a Complex Reactor Array can't be stolen, it may be possible to protect your starbase completely by piping the output from the simple reactor into a complex one. If this is the case, then reactor farms will be largely unaffected by siphons.
The biggest objection to the Siphon Unit has been in its low 10 million ISK cost. Many complain that they'll be so cheap that players will spam them as griefing tools, but this doesn't take profitability into account. At current market prices, the module would need to remain undiscovered for at least 4-5 hours on the most valuable moons types to break even on its initial cost. Something cheaper like Chromium or Platinum would require about 48-72 hours to break even on, and there's a good chance the siphon will be discovered by then.
You can't stop someone from setting up a siphon, but if you catch it early enough, then you can destroy it before the owner makes a profit. Profitability therefore relies on keeping your siphon unit hidden for as long as possible. The current status of starbase silos and reactors can be retrieved through the EVE API, which means that someone could write a program in five minutes that would warn her when any of her starbases loses output due to a siphon. Anticipating this, CCP Tuxford claims that the server will record the amount of siphoned material and then lie to the API about the actual numbers as if everything is running smoothly. It apparently won't be possible to discover that you're being siphoned by any means other than actually visiting the starbase.
a lot of debate on the forum over what the long-term implications of the siphon module will be, particularly over what will happen to the shape of nullsec. Large established alliances have suggested that this will lead to decreased conflict in nullsec, but I think we'll actually see the exact opposite happen. Starbases in unused systems will be easy targets for theft, so alliances are more likely to rent valuable moons and the systems they're in to renter corporations, each of which would then become responsible for checking its own moons for siphons.
CCP's intent seems to be to force people to actually live in or at least patrol the space they claim and to react the raw materials they mine rather than just selling them on the market. Full or partial reaction chains that require regular maintenance will likely become the norm on rare moons due to the reduced rate of siphoning. We'll likely see a lot more small alliances renting and protecting their own little corners of nullsec, which can only be a good thing for small-to-medium scale PvP.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.