Friday, March 07, 2014

Downward Pressure

The longer I stay out of null sec and live in low sec, the harder it is to grasp the concept of what combat is like there. I hear of the battle reports and stories and they seem to have very little correspondence with the combat I see in low sec. Of course, this could be a result that the reporting of battles in null sec is mostly confined to the larger conflicts and not the small unimportant battles (in terms of geopolitics).

All that to say that I can only accurately analyze that which I know of, and null sec has become more of an enigma to me. End disclaimer.

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I was reading Low Sec Lifestyle blog by Sugar Kyle the other day and was struck by this passage:

I remember complaining about this and being told, "Oh the changes are not that bad. It's only a mild difference. I doubt Red Frog will raise their prices." I'm not surprised by the change nor am I upset with it. These are the ripples of a game mechanic change. I now stress over my jump freighter leaving high sec. The boys have basically abandoned battleships for anything other than support fleets or preplanned ops (if we ignore Floor's Vaguer obsession). 
Maybe we shouldn't be rolling around in battleships. That may not be the Eve that CCP sees. Still, it's sad to look at hem sigh and sell off ships that they no longer want to fly. I wonder if some of this will be looked at again. I hope so.
The exact same day I read a post by Kyle Yanowski on the High Drag Podcast website talking about Kil2's (now CCP Rise) Bringing Solo Back podcast and videos:
While digging into the Bringing Solo Back archives, I noticed that the majority of fights that Kil2 talked about centered around the Battle Cruiser class of ships. Up until recently, battle cruisers were a bit of a specter to me. They have a horrendous align time, the DPS can be outdone by T1 cruisers, and they would surely not last long in W-space, Nullsec, or Lowsec. Everything about this bloated, slow class, screamed to me “move along, nothing to see here.” But listening to Kil2 talk about some decisions in a solo Drake fight sparked something in my imagination. Maybe it was time to change.
This trend, this downward pressure on hull sizes has been going on for years now and has accelerated with Rubicon and its warp speed changes. Back when I started, battleships were not only the main choice for null sec fleet doctrines but also the common choice for low sec small gang and solo warfare. Why? Well, the mechanics did not support smaller ships operating in low sec at the time; sentry guns would wreck cruisers and smaller very quickly if they incurred a criminal status, and battlecruisers lacked the sheer tank and firepower and utility of the battleships.

Some mechanics changed. Nano nerfs, new battlecruisers, rigging, faster probing, and more all put pressure on pilots to choose battlecruisers over battleships. Even before the advent of the tier 3 attack battlecruisers ships like the Hurricane and Drake were becoming the ship of choice for low sec small gangs and even many null sec fleets. Faster and more agile than battleships while sporting comparable combat ability and enough tank to survive the sentry guns on gates in low sec made them the ship of choice for most. In low sec, the battleship was still used but less often. Then the advent of the attack battlecrusiers with battleship level firepower but superior battlecruiser mobility and lower price point put a huge nail in the coffin of regular battleship usage in all but some null sec fleet doctrines.

But CCP was not done. Tiericide and tech 1 rebalancing had a huge impact on Frigates and Cruisers, not only balancing them within their own hull class but increasing their capabilities versus Faction and Tech II vessels of the same hull size making them viable alternatives. As part of that, the Tech 1 logistics cruisers were seriously buffed and accompanied by new logistics frigates. Suddenly picking a battlecruiser over a powerfully updated cruiser wasn't so cut and dried.

Then the sentry gun changes went into effect. No more 15 minute penalty for being bad in low sec, you could just warp off and then warp back to the fight. And lots of cheap tech 1 logistics to help you survive under sentry gun fire should you need to stay longer. Suddenly cruiser fleets and frigate fleets were valid choices to the battlecruiser fleets that had dominated low sec previously as they were cheaper and more agile and nearly as survivable while still being very effective at killing things.

Finally, Rubicon arrived and put more pressure on the downsizing of fleets with the warp speed changes. Frigates and Destroyers moving faster through space while battelecruisers and battleships move slower. Its not a huge change, but enough to add to the downward pressure on ship sizes.

Is it a Good Thing? Is It Intentional?

The first question that comes to mind is if this is a good thing, and the second was if this was intentional on CCP's part.

To answer this, let's look at the situation back when battleships and battlecruisers were dominant in low sec combat. In order to properly survive in low sec in a battleship or even battlecruiser you needed:
- extensive skill training for the ship and its weapon systems as well as its tanking system;
- lots of experience in flying vessels with weapons, drones, tackle, utility mods, ewar and defenses; and
- significant ISK reserves to afford the ship and still be solvent once it was destroyed

Now with cruisers and frigates as viable ships in low sec, what does one need to survive?
- minimal skill training for frigates and frigate classed weaponry;
- some experience in flying vessels with fewer on board systems;
- minor ISK reserves to afford a smaller ship

In other words, the downward pressure on ship classes in low sec has effectively made low sec PvP more accessible to younger players with less skill points, experience, and ISK reserves than veteran players.

I believe that while it may not have started out as intentional it seems certain that the purpose of changes over the past handful of expansions has been to move the "ship of the line" for low sec PvP and perhaps all PvP from larger classes to smaller classes. In other words, the bell curve has been pushed from the right to the left on the graph of ships used against hull sizes, perhaps to the point where the pressure has been too much.

Next week I'll discuss what can be done to alleviate some of the downward pressure to give Battleships a much needed niche, and if the niche for battlecruisers is currently sufficient.


  1. This should be a blog banter. Might be good also to have a blog banter about blue doughnuts.

  2. I like where your head is at for this topic. I'll be anxiously awaiting the next part

  3. Anonymous11:30 am

    Seems like the niche for battleships is high level missions, though its been awhile since I've done those, so something could have changed.

  4. The niche for BCs would change dramatically, should CCP implement on-grid only bonuses.

  5. Very interesting to hear the historical perspective, since many of these changes were already in swing when I joined Eve. I can tell you as a not-quite-two-year player that I have no intent to train any ship larger than a cruiser or weapon above medium size, and I don't see that changing for probably another year's worth of training.