January 31, 2016

A Capsuleer's Treasury of Old Ships

Some nights I don't feel like jumping in a fleet, or perhaps there isn't a fleet up and I don't feel like solo.  It is then that I'll generally start casting about for wormholes.  Part of this is to see what I'll find and where those wormholes will go.  A wormhole to a quiet place in null is an opportunity to try again to figure out how running those anoms make nullbears so much ISK.  A wormhole to lowsec is a chance to cast about for targets and maybe pop some tag-rats and the like to get my security status up.  A wormhole to highsec is pretty much off limits, at least until I get my aforementioned security status up.  But there is one particular destination I've been hoping to find for a while.

Sirekur Station Cache

No, that's not a new anom type you haven't heard of yet.  Before I joined Aideron I was in Rifterlings, based out of Sirekur.  When I decided to make the long move across empire space it was easy to take the hulls and a lot of the little things via JF.  But left behind where a collection of rigged ships, plus modules that hadn't fit in the JF out, worth at most a billion ISK (yes, that is still a lot to me).  I'd always thought I'd get back to them eventually.  I had a bounty up on the AIDER forums for a while if any explorers found a path, but then the Amarr swept through the FW zone and claimed Sirekur, meaning that my main couldn't get in there anyway.  So I forgot about those assets for a while.

A week ago I was checking out nearby systems for wormholes.  In Deven I found a lowsec wormhole that put a huge smile on my face when my Helios emerged on the other side.  Sirekur was right there, behind a wormhole with plenty of lifetime and a mass limit that wouldn't blink at my paltry stranded assets.

Happily, Sirekur was also nearly empty.  If the Rifterlings were at home and fussing about, then I would have attracted a lot of attention moving a Brutix out on an insta-undock that might just be a copy of the Rifterlings corp bookmark (or near to it).  And so the long exodus of ship out, back in a pod, ship out - wait on polarization - dock it in friendly Deven.  Each ship was crammed with the random modules and ammo I had left behind.  As I worked my way down the size classes I started seeing polarization a bit more often since my warp time was now faster than the polarization time.

I was particularly happy to see this Jaguar in Deven.  It was fit to match one of Sugar Kyle's, and for a while it had run around lowsec with the name "Sugar Kyle for CSM."  When I found it again it had been renamed "Sweeeeet" since the need to promote her election was no longer necessary.

I was moving a Stabber through the wormhole when intel showed up in chat on a Rifterlings gang that had busted through a gatecamp a few jumps away.  It's a long way from Sirekur on a normal path - what were the chances that the Rifterlings had used this very wormhole to start their roam?  It would definitely be bad news to emerge from the wormhole with a freshly restarted polarization timer, only to find myself surrounded by joyously hostile assault frigates.  Some of these ships I'd be glad to throw into a small gang to get blown up, but there were some that made me wonder what I had been thinking two years ago when I fit them.  A shield-tank kite Vexor is definitely a thing - but one whose tank was a medium shield extender and which used two T2 rails and two meta rails?  That was not really something I wanted to have show up on my killboard.

Fortunately they apparently had used more conventional means to roam, or had yet further places to go, and soon were away again.  The last ship was moved out and safely docked.  I count that as a very profitable evening.  Yes, all of those were my assets, so technically I didn't gain anything.  I terms of utility, however, those ships were of zero value far away.  Now I have a surplus of ships around - even if some of them or odd or distinctly outside the current meta.

An Old Stabber has Old Tricks

Fast forward to a couple nights ago when I decide to move some of those back to Sujarento.  The Brutix and the Zealot will likely see some use, but a Stabber?  Widely considered to be a poor choice of cruiser these days, it isn't one I see around much.  There were two Stabbers in Sirekur - one autocannon/neut, one artillery.  Nothing fancy.  I figured it was time for them to do something or die trying, so I flew back to Deven and hopped into the autocannon fit.  I slipped over to the Caldari-held Oto and put up a fleet to see if anyone wanted to run plexes and look for squids to fry.  A couple of guys indicated interest in the fleet, but they were going to take a while to get back from what they were doing and head to Oto.  No rush, I had planned on essentially solo'ing anyway.

When I first entered Oto I saw a Coercer in a large plex, but it ran before I landed.  The Stabber's dps was too anemic to break the BC rat, so I moved down to a medium.  I saw the Coercer appear outside, but then headed off.  Being a Caldari-held system with a station, the real problem here was that they could reship to exactly what they thought would kill me.  I had renamed the Stabber to "Longshot" in an attempt to imply an artillery fit, so I hoped that they would be surprised to find me sitting right on the warp-in beacon.

The Coercer appeared on d-scan again, and this time headed straight in followed by a Corax.  I announced the hostiles on comms, but the response from other pilots was that they were still multiple jumps out.  Okay, so time to see what the Stabber could do then.  The few seconds between each of them landing is probably why my Stabber is still in one piece.  The Coercer was clearly fit to take point and hold me down, but two small neuts probably made it hard for him to keep things running.  He was dead pretty quick, but my Stabber was in armor.  The Corax was also fit for short-range brawling, and the neuts were a waste on him, but his gank vs tank couldn't match even a sub-meta cruiser and soon he was down too.  I was feeling pretty good about the ol' Stabber taking on both destroyers, and wished I had FRAPs'd it so I could see what exactly happened when.  I didn't notice until writing this blog that AndreiRUS was perhaps the real reason my Stabber didn't die.  Andrei had joined the fleet, and I noticed him later as we ran around Oto, but he wasn't on comms and my standard combat overview doesn't show blues.  So a thanks to my silent Russian friend, and I'll lower my expectations of what that Stabber can do all by itself.  Then again, maybe that old hull still has some potential for surprise left in it... and perhaps the other old ones may have some fun left in them too.

January 20, 2016

How I learned to stop worrying and love the CSM

I’ve been a fan of the CSM since I learned about it.  It’s an institution that as certainly had its ups and downs.  CSM 9 by about mid-year was a great upswing, and right now CSM 10 is defining how low it can get.  So should we get all depressed about how dysfunctional our community is, how disorganized the CSM is, or whether or not CCP really cares about it?


The case for the CSM value pendulum

We may see a natural swing going on here.  When the CSM is viewed as powerless, then the in-game powers will largely ignore it and only candidates who really care about the game run and are elected.  They then build a strong relationship with CCP and contribute a lot of value, which then influences the wider community to care about the CSM.  This attracts the attention of the political powers, who then cram their candidates and their objectives into the CSM.  Those space-important CSM candidates then present their egos and agenda to CCP and wreck the relationship again, driving down the value of the CSM.  As CCP distances itself from the toxic and overly politicized CSM, it no longer is worth the time of the space-important politicians who then won’t bother to run for CSM.  Earnest, optimistic (and yes, perhaps more naive) players then are elected and begin to build the relationship and value of the CSM again.

I’ve been an Eve player for not quite four years.  The first year (CSM 7) I can’t say I knew much about as I started, but as many of you will recall this is when The Mittani himself won the chairman position for the second time - and then got promptly got himself kicked after his infamous call for people to harass a player until he killed himself. We can see that moment as the peak of the previous cycle. CSM 8 was clearly rebuilding with the leading personalities being fairly independent people like Ali Aras and Ripard Teg being joined by the very level-headed Mynnna from the CFC. CSM 9 brought in Sugar Kyle, the very popular low-sec candidate, while also building to three (then) CFC leaders in Mynnna, Sion, and Xander. As CSM 9 wrapped up there were many comments from people like the outgoing (and clearly exhausted) Ali Aras speaking to the legacy of cooperation that CSM had rebuilt, and hopes that CSM X could take this even fartehr. However, eith null-sec and sov so clearly on the line CSM 10 was crammed with representatives of the powerful - and everything promptly went to shit.

Replacing the CSM with focus groups won't solve the problem as the same cultural issues exist there as well. Consider this recent public update on the capital ship focus group:

“Our attempts to gain decent community feedback on this were rather unsuccessful, and the general response was that they didn’t want refitting to change at all. While understandable, this sort of input is entirely unhelpful when trying to present a reasonable balancing alternative to what is currently proposed. The reaction on this was pretty heated and largely directed at the focus group’s members who joined in on the discussion. It’s fair to say many of the group are now far less keen to reach out to the wider community beyond their own social network.”

Focus groups, in the public sense they are being conducted now rather than in the private sense that CCP has apparently used for years, aren't going to have the same scope as the CSM. There's overhead in selecting each focus group, getting them under NDA, and then briefing them them sufficiently on the ways of development at CCP, then tearing it all down again and losing that headway when the focus topic is done. The CSM is an unfocus group (to coin a phrase), ideally able to contribute on a wide range of issues.

So where do we go from here?

The Roads for the CSM

I'll argue there are two ways we can go from here. Either CCP puts a lot of effort into building structure around the CSM and tries to force the representative to behave like adults, or they step back and figure they'll get what value they can from each CSM as it comes. Yes, there is a third way of canning the whole thing and throwing it away, but I don't think we're to that sad place yet and institutional inertia is a powerful thing.

The Right Fork - Structure the CSM

The path is the one that I hear advocated by commentators such as in the CSM Watch pre-interview analysis podcast. Rewrite the CSM White Paper to have more structure and more teeth. Lay out exactly what the CSM can and cannot do, report to the players more rigorously what their candidates are doing, and put real teeth in to remove the lazy and the malcontent.

In this path perhaps we'd see a monthly statement from CCP to the player based that reports on how many meetings the CSM has had with how many teams, what CSM reps attended the meetings, and who has contributed the most in asynchronous communications outside of meetings. Since CCP uses an agile methodology, perhaps each dev team could end each iteration by rating the CSMs by how valuable their feedback was to work in that iteration. If CSMs dropped below a threshold, they'd be put on warning, and if they persist then CCP would kick them.

Some part of me would love this. Transparency is a key agile tenant, and I'm an advocate for agile software development in my real life job. The CSM has the potential to be the advocate for the customer, though we shouldn't delude ourselves that they would be product owners in an agile sense. Let the community see how useful or not their CSM reps are. If you want to be a representative who just shouts and complains about everything, or can't let go of pushing for something that isn't on the roadmap, then the CCP teams say you aren't valuable, we don't want to meet with you, and you get kicked. Whine on twitter or reddit all you want, it won't help you. In order to influence the development of Eve you have to grow up, act like an adult, and actually be constructive.

On the other hand, this is a massive investment in management effort for CCP. It's clearly a high-overhead system, and we have to wonder if just running pick-up focus groups wouldn't be a better bang for the buck. This also potentially plays towards the space-lawyers (some of which sadly even claim to belong to that profession in real life) who will want to spend all their time nit-picking the white paper, the NDA, and any other artifact of the structure they can lay hands on. The clue-by-four needed here is that it really doesn't matter what the legalese of the document is - either CCP (and by extension the players of Eve) are getting value from you or not. But it will be painful to get there.

The Left Fork - Making Lemonade

In this path, CCP buys in to the “CSM Value Pendulum” theory and recognizes that no one structure is going to stand the stresses of our strange player culture and entrenched power base. There are going to be useful CSM years and destructive CSM years, and even in the toxic years there are going to be earnest representatives that are sincerely trying to help the game with something approaching altruism.

CCP could look at the CSM and decide to work to get the best ROI by decreasing investment instead of redoubling it. Let the player base elect who they want, with all the vote-blocks, vote-swaps, and vote-buying the clever can come up with. At the end of the day there's a slate of representatives, and by the end of Fanfest the CCP liaisons are likely to not really have decent idea of which of them are worth anything since all of them are fired up and excited to strut their stuff. CCP opens up channels, floats some mid-level ideas, and sees how the CSMs react. Once a month or two has gone by and the reps are caught up in their real lives and their normal space lives, many of them will have faded to the background. In this approach CCP doesn't waste time figuring out how to define how to kick a rep, they just make up their mind internally and do it based on the expected value of that rep versus the next one in the STV results. At worst, you just stop inviting them to meetings and let them sulk or rant if they want to. If people complain about the capricious nature of CSM wrangling, just smile and say you're glad to work with those who have come to work. They can be space-tyrants of their own people on their own time.

If you look at the truly strong CSM representatives of the past few years you'll see people who CCP could get value from in this looser approach to CSM engagement. The likes of Steve Ronuken, Sugar Kyle, Ali Aras, and Mike Azariah would continue to make contributions. Those who are pretentious would make a stink (which they were going to do anyway), and those who can't follow through on the commitment for any number of reasons will fade away.

The downside of this is that the easy path for CCP developers will be to not put themselves out there during the early stages where they're still sorting out who is useful. It could be just as easy to just talk to none of the CSMs, or avoid a particular one more for their reputation (or slander in the community) than for their actual ability. If there was a couple bad CSMs in a row, this path could slide towards elimination of the CSM.

Looking towards CSM 11

It all does come back to all of us in the player base. We can elect more ego-driven, loud-mouthed CSM reps, perhaps with a laugh that we're trolling CCP as we do so. Or we can elect thoughtful people who can work together and work with CCP development teams. As the panel joked in the CSM Watch analysis piece, we are going to get the CSM we deserve, not the CSM we need.

I'm going to listen to all the interviews again this year, read the blogosphere (and God help me, reddit), and try to make good choices. I figure if we all just try to make good choices, maybe CSM 11 can be the first step in the rebuilding cycle instead of another step down into the oubliette.

January 10, 2016

From Wonder to Nirvana

You may have heard, gentle reader, of the many transformations that an Eve player may undergo during their career as a capsuleer.  I present to you the stages that you may confront, but know that they are not linear.  Players may loop and double back along their journey as they find new parts of the game to wonder at, or endure terrible tragedy of eviction or corp collapse.

Stage One: Wonder

Each new thing that happens in Eve comes as a surprise.  Ships types that you've never heard of attack your ship as you wander into lowsec.  Turns out a Rapier isn't a frigate.  You start to absorb information at an incredible rate from blogs, podcasts, and the Eve Uni wiki.  In the middle of the day you think of a idea, and cannot wait to get to a computer to EFT-warrior it out.  Advanced Weapons Upgrade 5 taunts at you.

You wonder just how far you are in over your head.

Stage Two: Addicted

You log into Eve several times a week, looking to undock and find some action.  Your hands shake as you watch the dials of your imaginary spaceship HUD swing back and forth between the attacks of another player and the repairs of your ship or an ally.  When you hear "Warp Drive Activated" you sink back with a sigh or pound at your desk, according to your nature.

Don't worry, this is considered "normal."

Stage Three: Docked

You log in, but rarely undock.  You update your skill queue, and work your will upon the markets, piling up great stacks of ISKies in between posting to /r/Eve or your other Eve media of choice.  You scoff at the poors who run missions or explore to get their wealth, as you know that the reins of the great economic engine of Eve run through your hands.  You remind any other space nerd who will listen that there is such a thing as "market PVP."

If you're really advanced, you can up this to "podcast PVP" and still not undock.

Stage Four: Unsubbed

Technically you're not a player of the game.  Technicalities are for close-minded people who couldn't think their way out of a discarded Amazon box left out in the rain.  Your presence is known in the meta with every clever comment you make and devastatingly dank meme you craft.  Some may call you bittervet, but that's only because they are naive and cannot see that Eve is dying and that CCP is filled with fools.

At the highest level of this step, it is said that you can control entire empires by force of will.

Stage Five: Winning Eve

There are some people who say there is some nirvana, some peaceful place, where even the winds of the meta cannot be heard.  You do not hear the scream of the low hull warning in your sleep, nor do you dream of the tears of those who have fallen before you.  There is no lure of Fanfest, Eve Vegas, or Eve Down Under.

Rest in Peace, our brother and sister capsuleers.

January 7, 2016

Transitions, and a look back at 2015

2015 was a good year for me in Eve.  I spent the year in Aideron Robotics, enjoying FW for the pew pew with breaks for PVE when I was feeling quieter and wanted to work back up my sec status (and to some degree my bank balance).  The wider Eve world had a great upswing this year as well.  However, there are also times for transitions, so I've made some changes for 2016 that perhaps are echos of changes we've all seen across Eve.

Aideron Technologies

While Jakob was off having fun blowing up squiddies in Aideron Robotics, my industrial alt (and her less skilled sister-in-grime) were busy with Aideron Technologies.  In August I talked about how just plugging away at the tasks assigned to me (without any real thought needed on myside) I was pulling in a nice chunk of change and on course to pull in a PLEX worth a month.  At the same time I was stocking up the market in our home station of Fliet and in particular enjoying being the local drug pusher.

And then somewhat abruptly Aideron Technologies closed up shop.  It sounded like the founders and directors were pretty much burned out, and the margins made on the corporate side (that paid the wages for people like me) were closing down.  I completely get that.  Organizing what we'd be running, bringing materials in, lining up the jobs - all the things needed so that us line wage-slaves could fire up jobs and get paid for it - that's a lot of work.

I understand Lukas Rox has closed out his twitter and stepped away from Eve pretty hard, though at least his blog is still available on his website.  I hope this isn't a sign of anything rough going on for him in real life, and I wish him and the directors of Aideron Technologies the best.

As a result, my alt has now moved to trying out station trading while I liquidate far flung assets.  There appear to be a couple industrial opportunities through other folks (some of whom were involved in Aideron Technologies), so I need to decide how to jump there.

Aideron Robotics

Aideron Robotics is a pretty great group of people.  When I joined in 2014 it was largely due to the reputation I'd heard through some podcasts and some random other connections.  As is the nature of things, after I joined Aideron Robotics some of the AIDER people I had been following in the meta either moved on to other adventures or stepped away from Eve.  The feel of the group was great though, generally mature folks with easy-going attitudes and a real love for the game.

Unfortunately as summer 2015 came along things were waning in Aideron.  I found that most fleets I was joining and finding a lot of action in weren't actually Aideron fleets, but ones from nearby allies.  The old guard leadership largely faded away, but was replaced by some dynamic new people who were de-facto running the joint and trying to make things work.  This was pretty rough on them, and on the whole corp, when Brave plummeted out of null and some remnants decided to join FW and take on the little AIDER corp down in the south.(I would have sworn I blogged on that, but I must have bailed after Kirith covered it so well in his own blog.)  Brave bore down hard on us, but our bigger friendly allies such as Rapid Withdrawal (RDRAW) rode in like the cavalry and helped us push them back.  They pretty much haven't been back since, though they have been pushing other systems in GalMil.

The load was heavy on the new leadership though.  Too much really.  All through 2015 we had people stepping out of Aideron, with a lot of them joining the aforementioned RDRAW. In December I saw some people I really liked flying with make that step and it hit a tipping point for me.  As of 2016, I'm now a member of RDRAW.

There are a lot of reasons, and I'm sure they're different each each person who has moved on from AIDER.  It certainly makes it easier than there are a ton of ex-AIDER people in RDRAW, though that's not to imply the corps are the same.  The culture is definitely different, and that will take some adjustment.  It helps that RDRAW is based in Sujarento three jumps away from AIDER's base of Fliet, and we're still on the same side.  Fleets spun up by one corp often will have pilots from the other, so I expect I'll be hearing familiar voices on a regular basis still.  I did make a few changes to the skill queue to handle the more diverse RDRAW doctrinal line-up, but Jakob was already set to be able to fly most things BS and down across all factions anyway.  Then we'll see about getting back on that capital ship course.

Transitions in Eve

As I read 2015 wrap-up blogs and listen to podcasts, I hear a lot about transitions that have happened across Eve.  I hear Declarations of War talking about the end of Black Legion and Null Secunda.  I read Talvorian Dex deciding to leave the CFC that he had grown up with and move into being a dirty low-sec pirate.  These have a bittersweet component to them, but they are also signs of a game and a player base that is alive.  People come and go and that means that corporations, alliances, and even coalitions comes and go.  This is not a game where the NPC-run "good guy" faction will forever fight against the NPC-run "bad guy" faction world without end, amen.

I'd been meaning to write this blog since I left AIDER, but what really kicked me tonight was zaqq's excellent short video "Progress."  Now before anyone gets upset, I'm not saying that me leaving AIDER or any of the other changes I've mentioned tonight are part of some linear rising line of improvement.  They are change.  Eve is full of change, from the rise and fall of markets to the swirl of T1 frigates in combat, and yes to the small changes of pretty insignificant pilots like myself.  Sometimes that change comes in cycles.  I'm sure nobody would really be surprised if Elo Knight restarted Black Legion from scratch in 2016.  But change is what we expect to see, and we should keep aiming for change that increases our enjoyment of the game.

And bring on the citadel and capital changes...