One of the thoughts to come out of the discussions about Faction Warfare plex farmers and warp core stabilizers discussions that I want to explore further is Away from Keyboard (aka AFK) gameplay.
EVE Online is chock full of passive activities or partially passive activities that require limited player involvement, from mining to manufacturing to plex running. Some of it can be considered true AFK gameplay, others simply passive gameplay.
For the purposes of this post, AFK gameplay is defined as an activity where the pilot is required to be in game and engaged in the activity but the player is only partially engaged and could be doing other activities either on the computer but in different applications, or away from the computer entirely and only checking in occasionally.
This definition embraces activity as varied as autopilot movement through high sec (set destination, hit autopilot, come back hours later), asteroid / ice mining (checking in every few minutes to move ore / ice to hauler), mission running / ratting where a pilot warps in and launches drones, sitting cloaked in a system, etc. And of course, it includes faction warfare defensive plexers who only half pay attention to their ship orbiting the button.
In all these examples, the in game pilot is required to do something (even if its sit there and keep the ship running in the case of an afk cloaker) but the player is free to do anything else out of game. In some cases the player could stay at the keyboard and make the task run more efficiently (e.g. warping gate to gate and not relying on autopilot, or actively running a mission instead of letting drones do the work) but there is common property that runs through AFK gameplay: often the task is repetitive and boring and the player would happily do something else out of game rather than be stuck in game. In some cases, like afk cloaking, there is virtually nothing to be done.
So we need to ask a few questions: is this gameplay beneficial or at least non-harmful to EVE? And secondly, what can be done about it?
Is AFK Gameplay Harmful?
To be blunt, yes. In every single instance, you want players when they are logged in and doing an activity to be engaged in what they are doing and invested in paying attention. Having gameplay boring enough that players would rather do something else, in some cases sacrificing reward, is bad design.
Is There Anything CCP Can Do About It?
This is where things get more convoluted. In some cases it makes sense to change mechanics to make the gameplay engaging and requiring the player to WANT to be involved in it, but at the same time you don't want to make the gameplay frustrating or needlessly repetitive which may drive players away. If you go too far the other way, make it less boring by taking less time, you possibly skew the entire balance of the mechanic. For example, market differences drive a portion of the economy and if mass transportation of goods is allowed to discourage people from afk autopilot hauling, you could destroy a market trader career.
Other things could be easily addressed with a mechanics addition or change and not disrupt any vital economic or balance issues, like AFK cloaking, but beg the question if addressing the gameplay is worth the backlash of the players who utilize it.
A more current events example is faction warfare plexing (ignoring the whole warp core stab thing) where a defensive plexer is potentially faced with 10-20 minutes of button orbiting that may or may not get interupted by a hostile that the player then runs from. If we make the effort more intensive than simply orbit, e.g. require shooting at a rat or using an entosis link or some hacking minigame, than the fallout of that could be players stop defensive plexing and move on to other non-addressed AFK gameplay, perhaps depleting faction warfare of some pilots, and thus possibly fewer pilots in space. Depending on your point of view, this might be a GOOD thing (fewer pilots in low sec that avoid fights means less time hunting runners and more time finding fighters) or it might be a bad thing (less deplexing means home systems more vulnerable to attack means possibly less stability and investment in militia low sec HQ systems which possibly means less fighting pilots living in low sec). ALTERNATIVELY, you could make deplexing less time consuming thus being less attractive to going AFK while doing it, but then you run the chance of the risk-vs-reward dynamic becoming to tilted to reward and flooding the market and destroying the LP conversion rates... and so on and so forth.
In other words, since many things are interconnected, sometimes quite strongly, CCP can't simply go from one AFK gameplay mechanic to another and change them to make them less attractive to AFK gameplay, even in some cases where we strongly would like to remove boring gameplay (and let me tell you, orbiting a button is boring).
This is all not to say that CCP should never try and fix things. Don't be ludicrous! All I'm saying is that addressing them needs to be done carefully and with an eye to the knock on effects.
For now, we're faced with a number of AFK gameplay mechanics.