EVE Evolved: Three exploitable game features

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If there's one thing EVE Online players are good at, it's finding ways to get an advantage over each other. The hyper-competitive PvP sandbox breeds players with an investigative streak who will constantly figure out ways to bend and abuse new features to make ISK or get an edge over other players in combat. The most obvious cases include abusing bugs, as happened in 2009's starbase exploit that corporations used to generate valuable tech 2 materials out of thin air and 2010's MonkeySphere exploit that let players hide themselves from the local chat channel and sneak up on unsuspecting victims.

Most cases of abusing features for profit or advantage aren't as clear-cut as these obvious exploits, as some have negative consequences but still use completely legitimate game mechanics. When players figured out how to abuse Faction Warfare's kill LP rewards to farm five trillion ISK, for example, they did so using in-game mechanics that just hadn't really been thought through. Many more subtle cases of broken game mechanics that undermine EVE's core design ethos still exist, some of which have been recently introduced and others that have managed to remain unchallenged for years because there isn't really a good alternative.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at three features in EVE Online that I think fundamentally break the design ethos of the game but don't have very clear solutions.

Game side imageRefitting in space to save your stuff

Though EVE Online has changed immeasurably since its launch in 2003, it has always at its core been a competitive PvP sandbox that's more about strategy and tactics than twitchy action. Combat is often slated for being slow-paced and very one-sided, but the truth is that the outcome of PvP is usually decided long before the missiles actually start flying. If your ship is blown out of the sky, there's always some way you could have prevented it, either by seeing the enemy coming on the scanner and leaving or by fitting your ship differently.

A big part of EVE's PVP metagame is in fitting your ship for a certain role and knowing which ships you can tackle and which you can't. When Carriers first hit the scene, players got a new way to refit their ships in the middle of the battlefield. This was fine because you had to risk a carrier to do it, and it led to some interesting high-level strategies like triage coasting or parking carriers near big battles as pit-stops.

But with the recent addition of the Mobile Depot, anyone can now do this at any time. Some pirates have reported that mission-runners are setting up depots in the middle of their mission areas and then refitting to add warp core stabilisers and unfit expensive modules when hostile players appear. Though attacking the depot will disable the refitting service, a quick pilot can still abuse this feature if he's set up his Depot before hostiles show up.

Game side imageBypassing CONCORD and the security status system

In last week's EVE Evolved, I wrote about the three different security levels in EVE and how low-security space isn't as impenetrable nowadays as most people think. We now have plenty of tools for staying relatively safe when travelling through dangerous areas of space, and it's ironically often more dangerous to play in highsec. Suicide gankers wait at all the major trade routes into Jita and scan passing ships for high-value cargo, ready to attack and sacrifice themselves in exchange for ISK.

The tradeoff to ganking in highsec is that CONCORD will always destroy the attacker's ship and he'll lose security status for every attack. Once a player's security rating drops below -5.0, he can't enter high security space without being attacked on sight by the local police. This sounds like a reasonable punishment, but players have found loopholes over the years that render CONCORD kind of useless as a deterrant.

It's technically against the rules to create new characters explicitly for suicide ganking and then delete them when they gets to -5.0, but people still do it and can use new accounts and trials to remain anonymous. A player who is below -5.0 can also still enter highsec and gank someone as long as his ship is agile enough to avoid the faction police on the stargate. CCP largely addressed this issue for miners with last year's mining barge buff, but the security status system still seems like a broken mechanic that's easily bypassed.

Game side imageDisrupt nullsec alliances with a cloaked combat ship

The introduction of cloaking devices to EVE in 2004 was a landmark moment, but I don't think anyone truly appreciated the impact it would have on the game at the time. Prototype Cloaking Device Is and Improved Cloaking Device IIs first appeared on the scene as part of a live event and were intended to be purely defensive modules. Activating them made your ship invisible and immune to scans but also disabled your warp drive and reduced movement speed by a huge percentage.

The only real use of these cloaking devices was as a defensive tool to let you go dark when other players appeared in the system so you could just wait until they pass through. When the Covert Ops Cloaking Device later added the ability to warp while cloaked, it was intentionally restricted to a flimsy non-combat frigate to prevent it from becoming overpowered. This careful balance was completely thrown out of whack when CCP added Force Recon Ships that could fit a covert ops cloak and a decent PvP loadout, and today we have stealth bombers and strategic cruisers to contend with.

The big problem with this is that players can remain cloaked in enemy territory indefinitely, going away from the computer for hours and returning periodically to pick off a target of opportunity. So-called "AFK-cloakers" can make an enemy system too dangerous to mine or farm NPCs in, essentially shutting the system down with very little effort, and there's no way to scan them down when they're cloaked.

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The one constant in the EVE universe is that if there's a way to break the game or bend the rules to their advantage, the players will find and abuse it. The exploitable features I've listed above are three that particularly annoy me as there's no clear-cut solution to any of them that wouldn't also detract from the game experience. Banning Mobile Depots from deadspace or limiting their refitting capabilities would definitely stop the cases of abuse, for example, but it would significantly limit the sandbox potential of the structure.

AFK cloaking and the flawed security status system are problems that have been in EVE for years, and I think they're fundamentally at odds with the design ethos behind EVE's sandbox gameplay, but there really isn't an obvious way to correct those abuses yet. Ideas like making cloaking devices consume charges or overheat have been thrown around on the forum, and countless changes to the security system have been suggested over the years, but none of it has made it into the game. What do you think? How would you correct these three abusable game mechanics, and are there any worse offenders that you think need to be tackled?

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.