EVE Evolved: Has colonisation been forgotten?

EVE Evolved title image
At last year's EVE Online Fanfest, CCP revealed its ambitious plan to take the game where no sandbox MMO has ever gone before: full deep space colonisation. The plan will be delivered over the next five years and will end with the incredibly exciting vision of players building their own stargates and colonising brand-new solar systems that lie off the grid. Rubicon was intended as the first step toward this glorious plan, and its new focus on deployable sandbox structures certainly seemed to be introducing a more player-directed form of colonisation.

I've been cautiously optimistic about the whole endeavour so far, but five years is hell of a long time to wait for that vision to come to fruition. Rubicon's Mobile Depot structure was a great first step toward player-run empires on all scales, but none of the recently announced Rubicon 1.1 deployables has continued along the same theme of colonisation and exploration. The Mobile Micro Jump Drive and Mobile Scan Inhibitor structures I looked at last week provide extra tactical options in PvP, and the three new structures revealed this week are all designed to steal money and resources from nullsec corporations.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I ask whether the newly revealed Encounter Surveillance System and alternate Siphon Units are a step in the wrong direction. With games like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous on the way, CCP may not have five years to deliver the promise of colonisation.

EVE Evolved side imageThe new siphons are actually pretty good

The Siphon Unit was one of Rubicon's more controversial additions, designed as a way for individuals to steal the output from Moon Harvesters on corporation-owned starbases. As soon as the expansion landed, players started slapping siphons up on every moon with valuable materials with Neodymium and Dysprosium. Moons with simple mining setups are most vulnerable, as the siphon steals 60% of the output from moon miners but only 15% of the output from reacted materials. People quickly learned that the best way to passively protect their free moon goo was to feed it into a simple reactor and collect the processed materials.

Two new variations on the siphon unit have just been announced and render this defense useless. The Small Mobile "Rote" Siphon prioritises processed materials over raw moon harvester output, stealing 60% of the output from a simple reactor, and the Small Mobile "Hybrid" Siphon does the same thing with polymer reactions in wormhole space. Two of these new siphons will completely empty out a starbase with a simple reactor, but that can't touch the output of a complex reactor or alchemy reaction. This basically forces force moon-holding corporations to either manage full complex reactor chains or watch their starbases for siphons around the clock, encouraging them to fully use or at least patrol their space.

EVE Evolved side imageThe Encounter Surveillance System

While the new siphons will force nullsec alliances to step up their industrial games, the Encounter Surveillance System seems to be designed to disrupt other sources of income. This structure will steal 20% of the bounties awarded for killing NPCs in the solar system, leaving players with only 80% of their normal payouts. Ratters can warp to the ESS at any time and activate it to re-distribute the collected 20% back to its rightful owners. The machine starts generating an additional 5% in bounties for free after a few hours of use, and developers have also decided to nerf bounties by 5% if a system doesn't have an ESS.

The interesting thing is that anyone can access the structure and choose to steal the collected ISK for themselves. It takes 20 seconds to open the ESS and a further 40 seconds to steal the funds, during which time an announcement is made in the local channel that someone has approached the structure. The ESS also has a built-in warp disruption bubble to prevent thieves from escaping, though this will do nothing against an interceptor or interdiction-nullified tech-3 cruiser. Players have already complained that this will just lead to interceptors whizzing around nullsec and looking for unattended ESS structures to loot and that there's nothing ratters can do to defend against it.

EVE Evolved side imageThe ESS is fundamentally flawed

All of these new structures are based on the idea of disrupting nullsec alliance income streams and forcing them to defend the space they use. The new siphon means players will have to periodically check starbases for leeches or set up a full industrial infrastructure around valuable moons, but the Encounter Surveillance System is unnecessary. Ratting is an active income stream and can already be interfered with by sending roaming fleets through an alliance's territory; it doesn't need some new mechanic to disrupt it. It's the passive streams like moon goo, outpost tax, and renting that qualify for some kind of structure-based active disruption.

The idea that any ratter will voluntarily set up an ESS before going to work is ludicrous. Nobody in her right mind is going to risk 15% of her ratting income for a possible 5-10% boost, so the structure's only use will be to steal some ISK from nullsec farming bots. The ESS should have been an alliance-level structure that collects a percentage of bounties as rent and can be accessed by disabling its shields and then hacking it. That would have allowed alliances to tax their members and anyone else using their space more effectively while providing targets for small gangs. Alliance chat could get a warning when any ESS is under attack, giving some advance notice and an opportunity to fight. Instead, we're getting this strange personal deployable that nobody will use or fight over.

EVE Evolved title image
I've been a strong supporter of CCP's long-term goal of deep space colonisation since the first details came out in April, but the reality of it is now starting to sink in. It's going to be five years and 10 expansions before we get there, and the current development direction doesn't seem to be relevant. Rather than working on exploration and empire-building tools necessary to make true colonisation possible, CCP has been developing superfluous deployables like the Mobile Micro Jump Drive and the poorly thought-out Encounter Surveillance System.

With sandbox MMOs taking centre stage in the next few years and new sci-fi games like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous making the headlines, the next five years will see a flood of new competition that EVE has been largely insulated from for its entire lifetime. CCP can no longer afford to spread its grand vision of true space exploration over 10 expansions and feel around blindly for new features and items to introduce. What we need now is a laser-focus on developing the empire management and exploration tools necessary to make EVE the ultimate sci-fi sandbox.

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.