PvE in most MMOs revolves around killing hordes of NPCs for currency, XP, tokens, or loot, and EVE Online is no exception. Players can hunt for rare pirate ships in nullsec asteroid belts, farm Sansha incursions for ISK and loyalty points, or team up against Sleeper ships in dangerous wormhole space, but most prefer the safe and steady income of mission-running. Missions are essentially repeatable quests that can be spawned on request, providing an endless stream of bad guys to blow up in the comfort of high-security space.
Completing a mission will earn you some ISK and a few hundred or thousand loyalty points, but most of the ISK in mission-running comes from the bounties on the NPCs spawned in the mission sites. Similar deadspace sites with better loot are also distributed randomly throughout the galaxy and can be tracked down using scanner probes. But what would happen if the NPCs in these sites were a dangerous and unexpected interference that could get you killed, rather than space piñatas ready to explode in a shower of ISK? This is a question CCP plans to test with the Rubicon expansion's upcoming Ghost Sites feature, which promises to introduce a whole new form of high-risk, high-reward PvE.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at EVE's upcoming ghost sites and explain why I think its goal-oriented approach to PvE should be adopted in other areas of the game.
What are ghost sites?
In her recent devblog, CCP Affinity described ghost sites as rare, dangerous, objective-based PvE environments that will appear throughout space just like normal cosmic anomalies. Each site contains four research facilities you can hack into, unlocking a container filled with sweet loot. Failing to hack the facility will cause it to violently explode, and if you take too long on the hacking screen, then backup NPCs will warp in to kick your ass. A random silent counter linked to booby traps and possibly further reinforcement waves will also start when you enter the site, so you have no idea how long you'll be safe hacking the facility.
The sites will appear rarely in highsec, lowsec, nullsec, and wormhole space, and details of the booby traps and NPCs aren't yet known; the first few explorers venturing into ghost sites will be taking on a massive risk to figure them out. The rewards may be worth it, however, as CCP has revealed that the loot will contain blueprints for improved versions of the Mobile Depot structure and a brand new Ascendancy implant set designed to increase warp speed. A full high-grade Ascendancy set should increase warp speed and warp acceleration by 66.56%, which will be a huge bonus for tacklers or small squads engaging in hit-and-run style warfare.
What if killing NPCs weren't necessary?
One of the interesting twists these new sites have over existing cosmic anomalies is that the NPCs don't have bounties and don't drop any loot. They only show up when triggered to stop their illegal research falling into your hands and will even blow up the research facilities to accomplish that goal. You may be forced to waste time killing the reinforcement NPCs even though they drop no loot and the booby-trap timer is ticking all the while. I've always been of the opinion that killing NPCs shouldn't be the goal of PvE but a barrier put in front of your actual goal, so I'm pretty interested to see how this first experiment with the idea will work out.
If it proves to be successful, the same goal-oriented philosophy could also be adopted across more missions and exploration sites to provide more varied strategic gameplay. Imagine stumbling across an ore refinery in deep space full of valuable ore and minerals for the taking but with a horde of pirate ships protecting it. You could destroy all of the NPCs and make it safe to bring in a hauler to take the bulky ore, hack the acceleration gate to prevent reinforcements showing up for a few minutes, or just send in a heavily tanked ship to steal the most valuable minerals right under their noses. Killing the NPCs would be optional, but there might be certain NPCs in control of booby traps or self-destructing the facilities that you could take out to buy more time or make your objective easier or safer.
Avoiding economic inflation
While I'm sure there are people who run missions and deadspace complexes for fun (even I enjoy the occasional mission), the primary purpose of PvE in EVE is to generate ISK. Before CCP cancelled its quarterly economic newsletter, the document reported that a huge percentage of all ISK created in the game comes from the bounties on NPCs. To avoid rapidly inflating the economy and raising the price of most items beyond the reach of newer players, this has to be balanced with the ISK removed from sinks like sales tax, broker fees, sales of NPC-sold blueprints, and nullsec sovereignty bills.
Maintaining a healthy balance between ISK created and destroyed within the game economy often involves adding more sinks to spend it on, but the most effective solution would be to remove some of the billions of ISK in bounties handed out every day. If a mission or deadspace complex instead handed out an equivalent value of items and materials, the inflationary pressure of that reward would disappear. When you sell a rare shield booster for 200 million ISK or sell rigs built from your mission salvage, that ISK is just changing hands within the economy rather than being created out of thin air.
ISK inflation raises market prices of goods almost across the board, while an influx of items and materials will decrease the price of those particular items. ISK inflation can make items like PLEX and tech 2 ships so expensive that they're out of reach of newer players, and replacing some of the ISK generated each day with items would have the effect of making specific items cheaper and more accessible to poorer players. If this were done with tech 1 minerals, for example, the price of battleships would drop and more people could afford to lose them in PvP. Drop rates could then be modified on the fly to give developers more precise control over the value of items.
There are several different forms of PvE in EVE today, but all of them share the same common theme of destroying NPCs to get ISK and players eventually work out how to farm them safely. A few kill missions can be speed-run by ignoring most the NPCs and heading straight for the mission's goal, but it's usually more profitable to kill the NPCs for their bounties. Sansha Incursions improved on this by removing the bounties from the pirate ships themselves and putting the ISK into the reward for completing the site, but only a few incursion sites have goals other than blowing up everything in sight.
Ghost sites may represent another leap forward in EVE's PvE design, eschewing ISK rewards entirely in favour of items and turning NPCs into security risks rather than ISK piñatas. Players may find that there's more than one way to get to their goals in these new sites. Do you play it safe by killing the NPCs and risk the random silent counter triggering booby traps, or would you rather speed-run the site and hope a facility doesn't blow up in your face? I'm looking forward to giving ghost sites a try when Rubicon lands in just over a week's time, but mostly I'm hoping that CCP plans to roll this design philosophy out over other types of PvE to provide more immersive gameplay.
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 email@example.com.