Thursday, December 19, 2013

Touching Local - A Response

So there was an opinion post on written by Sion Kumitomo called Don't Touch Local in which he presents the case that change the behaviour of local chat in null sec is a bad idea.

I have argued in the past (almost two years ago in fact) that I think local in null sec should be changed to delayed mode so I took strong interest in this article and would like to look at his reasoning in close detail.

Reason #1
The most simplistic—and erroneous—assertion is that local makes space ‘too safe’ and that removal of local will lead to an endless bloodbath of easy ratting ganks. Such people might call it content or cloak it under the heading of pvp, but that’s mere rhetoric with intent to provoke a specific visceral response in those who, like myself, believe that EVE should be a dangerous and risky game.
The reason this ‘too safe’ argument can be tossed aside is because of risk-to-reward incentives that are entirely obvious to anyone who has ever flown in nullsec. Leaving aside the greater social and large-scale implications of local for a moment, let’s evaluate the very real implications such a change would have to populace that is allegedly best served by local: nullsec ratters and miners.
Throughout the vast majority of nullsec, the only real reason to be in space for any length of time is to pve or to hunt those who are engaged in pve content. Though there are instances where roaming gangs will clash with each other in honorable space combat, the bulk of nullsec combat is dirty, one-sided, and entirely unfair. Just as it should be. But all of those pve pilots—those ratters and miners—make a conscious risk analysis decision every time they undock. They know that space is dangerous, and that somewhere, someone desires nothing more than to see them scattered across the vacuum as debris. They know this. Yet, they undock because it is worth it to them. They think they can beat the odds often enough to make it valuable to do so. Remove local, and that whole risk-reward calculation changes.
This is the reason that the ‘too safe’ argument is inherently flawed. Worse than flawed, it is counterproductive to anyone who enjoys engaging in non-consensual pvp. If local mechanics change, all those targets that are actively floating around in space have a new risk calculation and far less hope, real or imagined, of beating those odds. That doesn’t equate to more targets and more content. That equates to the catalyst for the greatest mass exodus the nullsec population has ever seen. It doesn’t matter at all how easy it is to gank if there is no one awaiting the tender embrace of your guns.
Sorry to quote so much, but I needed to get all of his prose to make sure I get this right. In this reason, he's saying that people want to change local to reduce the safeness of null sec, so first we need to agree to that. I don't think this is the main reason for changing local; I think it has far more to do with reducing the power of the larger groups and increasing the safety of the individuals and smaller groups. So already I think we are on shaky ground in this opinion article.

But if we grant him the assertion that people want to make null sec more dangerous, his argument is changing local to non-immediate mode will make null sec residents simply give up and leave null sec for safer pastures. This is not without precedent as the great complex rebalancing of a few years ago caused hordes of null sec players to go back to high sec missions.

I'm not convinced of his logic. For one thing, immediate local cuts both ways, allowing the hunter to see the hunted as quickly as vice versa, and the hunter is not distracted by fighting the rats, getting the salvage/looting the wrecks, or from distractions that get pulled in during the mind numbing activity of shooting NPCs. So moving to delayed local would force the ratters to use deepscan more frequently, yes, but it also forces hunters to move around systems to be able to deep scan all the possible locations, or to deploy probes which are detected easily on deep scan too. In other words, I'm not sure the risk-vs-reward calculations change too much in either direction. After all, wormholers fight sleeps all the time without local and seem to manage fine but I will grant that the reward and risk calculations may be very different there and the author does address this fact later.

The next section talks about fleet warfare:

That covers local at an individual level, but what of the greater implications on fleet movements, reconnaissance, and fleet battles?
It is no secret that between jump bridges and jump drives, power projection in EVE is easier than it has ever been. Indeed, these longstanding issues date back to just after Dominion, and CCP Greyscale and the CSM discussed them in depth at the time. Sophisticated cyno networks allow well-organized alliances to move entire capital and supercapital fleets anywhere in New Eden in under ten minutes. Ten minutes isn’t much time as-is, but if you factor in the likely time dilation within the destination any fleet of supercaps is headed, it is almost no time at all. While this is also a symptom of other looming issues in nullsec, I’ve treated that elsewhere at length, and shall not explore it further here.
This combination of power projection and TiDi means that any engaged fleet must keep constant vigil not just in nearby systems but throughout the entirety of EVE. Fleet commanders carefully track their watchlist and use scouts in staging systems and midpoints to ensure that they have the ability to fight or, if they are facing overwhelming odds, to extract.
Removing local changes this on several levels. Barring some kind of extreme luck or an incredible amount of reconnaissance manpower, fleet commanders would be effectively blind to threats barreling down upon their fleet—perhaps from anywhere in EVE. And just as nullsec PvE pilots make a risk analysis choice every time they undock, so too do fleet commanders whenever they engage in battle. Thus a fleet commander would be faced with a new calculus—a calculus that would demand the same level of commitment with vastly increased risks.

Here too the results are obvious, and run counter to the arguments presented for removing local. Removing local as a tool would not in any way lead to more or better fleet fights. It would instead cause wary fleet commanders to commit less often and to smaller fights where fewer assets are on the line, and it would further incentivize mass blobbing as a method to deal with crippled field intelligence gathering abilities. If a group has a bigger blob than the rest of EVE combined, a fleet commander gains the ability to engage on their terms even if effectively blind. Why anyone might want to incentivize such practices, I have no idea.
To summarize, fleet commanders would become more risk averse because they can't tell as easily what enemy forces are being marshaled against them. So, he argues, we would see fewer and smaller fights and massive blobbing to mitigate risk.

While I can point out that less intelligence information is a sword that cuts both ways again, thus the enemy marshaling to fight your fleet has less idea if you have reserve fleets ready to counterattack, I think the author himself provides the best reason why this is a nonstarter against changing local:

Local is not the only easily used intelligence-gathering tool. Watchlists provide instant and accurate data, and when coupled with locator agents, provide near real-time positional data (unless of course that pilot has a cyno chain and is now on the other side of EVE). The star map itself provides a wealth of data regarding ship losses, active pilots, npc kills, cynos, and a host of other useful information at a glance. Dotlan refines this further and provides historical tracking as well as sophisticated and accessible API data.
Though useful, none of these other tools can possibly replace the local mechanic when determining risk or exposure profiles. Not with TiDi, and not with force projection being what it is. Instead, it serves to highlight an interesting question: Of all the free and easy data-gathering methods, why target local?
You can't have it both ways, Sion Kumitomo. You can't say that there are myriad ways for a large organization to get intelligence about enemy fleet movements while at the same time saying Fleets are going to be paralyzed by the lack of immediate local. To answer his last question, we target local because local is most harmful to small organizations or individuals trying to make it in null sec, either PvP or industrially. Without local, large coalitions/alliances will adapt their tactics and make use of all of the other tools you listed, and scouts will adapt to have to visually see targets as opposed to just sitting in a safe and watching local. Its a small change for big fleet warfare, but a huge change for small organizations looking to survive on the edges and quiet lanes of null sec.

The problem with problems is that very often the symptoms are a result of non-obvious causes. In this case, advocates for the removal of local direct entirely understandable anger toward the most visible mechanic they see that prevents them from getting legitimate kills. Missing tackle by a fraction of a second is incredibly frustrating. Knowing that local allows significant advantages for bots is equally so.
I feel this is a strawman again, but perhaps a lot of the Change-Local crowd have this as a reason. While I do think that removing immediate local will hurt bots, I am much more in favour of it for the occupation of null sec by smaller organizations.

Now the author addresses the wormhole argument in favour of changing local in null sec:

The plain counterpoint that I’ve been studiously ignoring is the wormhole space added in Apocrypha. W-space local isn’t like local throughout the rest of the game. It differs in that it does not exist as an immediate and involuntary chat channel, so if a pilot wishes, he or she need say nothing at all in a local and will remain effectively invisible until uttering that first word. Doesn’t that entirely contradict everything I’ve said to this point?
It doesn’t, for one very important reason: W-space was systemically designed for it. There are no supercaps of any kind—let alone blobs of them—to contend with (or risk losing), wormhole mass mechanics limit the ability to pile ships of any class en masse, and ever-shifting ingress and egress points limit casual threat exposure from far-flung reaches of space. In addition to these mitigating factors, wormhole space is lucrative for individual pilots and their corporations, and there is no requirement to engage in politics on a grand scale.
W-space is in many ways more dangerous to live in than nullsec, and the lack of local is certainly a part of that. But paradoxically, w-space feels safer. There are no outsized bullies to kick over your sandcastle, and any combat feels fair, if not always equitable. So pilots take those greater risks, and the overall risk and reward profile makes it an attractive and rewarding choice for players who enjoy that style of gameplay. In this way, w-space is fantastically well designed.
This is a good point: wormholes were designed with no local in mind. But I don't follow how there are no out-sized bullies to kick over sand castles. I listen to Down the Pipe podcast, I know there are evictions and POS destructions all the time in wormholes. They might not be large bullies in the null sec scale of organizations, but they exist.

However, more relevant is that statements that there are no super caps to content with, no stable jump gates / maps, and wormhole space is very lucrative. Not to mention a very important fact he missed in his points, there are no cyno hot drops, capital or black ops.

I'm not swayed that since null sec is vastly different that it precludes the changing of local to delayed mode. Delayed local in wormhole space is one small facet of what makes it different, not necessarily more dangerous or safer. But I do think it encourages and emboldens players to take greater risks in smaller groups and the author agrees with me, so one could imagine the same result happening in null sec.

The author and I fundamentally disagree on the reaction and results of the average ratter versus ganker dynamic with the change: I think ratters will adapt just fine as they realize the change makes them harder to find, while he thinks they will give up and leave null sec in droves.

The author ends his post with this:
It also highlights why simplistic ‘local is good’ or ‘local is bad’ arguments are flawed. Rules in an ecosystem are as malleable as the ecosystem as a whole, but they are notably difficult and fraught with unintended consequences. The existence of local is, at this point, an ecological fact that has sprouted a system fed by many other design choices. The interconnected nature of it all means that no one aspect should be examined in isolation, and barring a total system redesign, local shouldn’t be investigated at all.
Love it or hate it, local is a mechanic that is too big to fail. At least for now. Maybe someday CCP will revamp the risk-to-reward landscape in 0.0, power projection, and the entire nature of intelligence gathering. But until that happens, any plan for nerfing local should be summarily shelved.
I have to disagree strongly with his conclusion. By his logic, several massive changes to the game in the past decade would have never been undertaken for fear of disrupting the current ecology. We as players and CCP as developers need to recognize when a current system is not ideal and attempt to change it for the better. The upshot is that we need to be able to realize when our changes are not working and take steps to rectify that. This is how Faction Warfare got changed and changed again. Its how ships and modules and concepts like warfare linking get changed.

The author himself pointed out that local is one of many intelligence tools in null sec. But its the most powerful tool against small organizations or individuals from making use of null sec as content to enjoy. Change local to delayed mode and the current organizations out there will adapt while at the same time allowing more people the chance to get in.


  1. "he's saying that people want to change local to reduce the safeness of null sec, so first we need to agree to that. I don't think this is the main reason for changing local; I think it has far more to do with reducing the power of the larger groups and increasing the safety of the individuals and smaller groups. So already I think we are on shaky ground in this opinion article."

    Actually he is right, people want to remove local to decrease the safety of stationary players. Ie they want more ratting kills.

    People also want to remove local because it is what they call a "perfect intel tool" even though it isn't.

  2. His (and most other people's) w-space argument, on both sides of the issue, misses the real point of w-space local. Yes, those of us in w-space have very little sympathy for the k-space folks about a delayed local, but the one big thing that most people seem to forget is that there are no cynos in w-space.

    That's huge.

    One cannot just change local in null without also thinking how to handle cynos, regular and covert. If cyno jammers would jam all cynos, not just the regular kind, that would kill a lot of the arguments against making null local the same as w-space local.

    There is some validity to the social aspect of local in null, but, honestly, when I lived in null, both as a sov warrior and a renter, we almost always only used local as an intel tool. Most social activity occurred in alliance/corp/other channels. So while I see CCPs reasons for not wanting to make local a recent speaker channel, I think the impact would be far less than what they think it will be.

    Turning null local into w-space local would affect defender and attacker equally. Yes, ratters and miners would have to resort to d-scan (or not - you'd be surprised at the number of w-space folks who give up on d-scan and just factor losses in as a cost of doing business), and the afk cloaky types would need to d-scan or put out probes to see if anyone is home, but so what?

    The other argument, that FCs would be more risk averse, is also a bit of a red herring. They're so risk averse as is that they barely engage unless they outnumber the other guys. Having a delayed local might just make scouting and recce a thing again.

    On the other hand, as some have pointed out, having to scan each system to see if there's anyone home might have a negative impact on roams, particularly small-gang, though I really don't see how it would make it worse unless the gang wants to camp stations. As it currently stands, a local spike sends ratters and indy types rightly running for safety, so I don't see how not having that spike would make things harder for the roamers.

    W-space residents mine and rat every day without knowing if someone is going to gank them or not. If it's a group effort, then one or two players get the dreaded d-scan picket role. If solo, it's a YMMV situation. But being 'forced' to d-scan has never prevented any w-space denizen from leaving his POS.

    Getting rid of local, or changing it to recent speakers only = bad. Delayed, though, why not? It would make null sec more tense (as it should be, IMO), but certainly wouldn't kill it.

  3. What is "deep scan"?

    1. Using your directional scanner at maximum range, it will notify you of any ship types within ~14 AUs in any direction. "Short Scan" is using the directional scanner at about 100,000-250,000 km to see ships very close, like at an entrance gate to a complex you are in.

    2. Ah, thanks. I only knew of short range scan and long range scan, never heard the term deep scan before.

  4. It could be my Faction War patois coming through :)