I've been listening to the excellent Down the Pipe podcast ever since it started in November 2012 so it provides an excellent perspective on the state of Wormhole space from pilots living there for the past two years.
Things have changed, and I don't mean just recently. There has been a malaise sneaking into wormholes for the past year and the recent changes in Hyperion release have exacerbated the issue into stark contrast from two years ago.
From an outsider's perspective of both wormhole space and null sec space, I'm going to put forth a hypothesis that I've been thinking on for a week or so that might be completely wrong... or might not. Here we go.
Hypothesis: What is happening in wormhole space right now is a microcosm version in both scale and time of what has been occurring in null sec for years, and can be predictive of what is coming in the next year in null sec.
Now to support my position.
About two years ago wormholes appearing to be booming with large corps and alliances battling it out constantly for resources (i.e. good systems and the sites in them) or for fun and profit. Then about a year ago I noticed a change in the winds that perhaps might have been there for a while but was definitely becoming apparent through blog posts and podcasts like Down the Pipe. Wormhole space was becoming less vibrant and started to, dare I say it, stagnate. The entrenched forces in the C5 and C6 class wormholes became larger and richer and the barrier to entry to these lucrative systems became higher.
Let's be clear, wormholes with their different rules and systems with special effects and no local or stations already have a large barrier to entry for the common pilot, add on to that large numbers of professional wormhole pilots guarding the entrance way to the best space with fleets of capitals and T3s and hundreds of pilots at the disposal, and new groups are dissuaded from attempting to break in.
This creates a cycle wherein to access the riches available to these powerful entities a pilot or group of pilots must join the existing organization. These powerful and growing alliances start to strangle out smaller groups that cannot compete financially and the overall population begins to drop and activity starts to dwindle.
Then along comes CCP with changes.
Before we can talk about the effect of these changes, let's talk about the paradigm of wormhole space which is that the risk is a lot greater (i.e. no stations, dangerous rats, no local to warm you of other pilots, no easy entry and exit, etc) but is compensated by high rewards. This dynamic was fine early on in the wormhole timeline since Apocrypha but over time the rewards remaining mostly constant while the risk decreased as pilot proficiency for the ins and outs of the region improved. Eventually groups mastered wormhole space and became experts at controlling the holes into and out of their systems to the point where sites could be run in rather extreme safety by the professional wormholers for the same rewards. And let's be clear, these are some of the best rewards in all of New Eden at the end of the day. Listen to Down The Pipe episode 39 and sit agog when they talk about what ships they use to run their PvE content.
So, back to CCP's changes. Its obvious that the thrust of the changes were to decrease some of the control the of holes that the professionals had acquired in order to break down some of the walls that the professionals had erected around themselves. As wormholers themselves will state, the risk was subsequently increased as it was harder to close holes, and harder to close them safely, AND there are more of them, while the rewards had not changed at all. The fact that compared to most of all other space the rewards in the best wormholes are still miles above is lost on these professionals who only see their comfortable and known situation being disrupted. I don't blame them too much as any of us would balk at similar types of changes in our preferred area of space. Personally, I don't think CCP communicated the intent behind the changes well enough.
Regardless, the impact of those changes will require months to play out. Will there be an exodus of players from wormhole space as the changes to higher risk and less hole control and stagnation caused by the invested professional organizations drive them away? Or will these changes plus future changes trigger a wormhole renaissance where new players/returning players adjust to the new tactics and rules? We should know over the next year.
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In null we are at the part prior halfway in the changes to space phase. On the horizon is the promised sovereignty mechanics changes and the "new space / building stargates" promise. Once these changes are done, null sec will face the same question that faces wormhole space right now: Is it the beginning of a new age, or the final long decline of the old one?