So, Ripard Teg's recent blog post "Ganking Isn't PvP and Never Was" has been getting a lot of attention from the #tweetfleet and the Eve blogging community today. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussion has been focused on ill-advised hyperbole on his part (rape and slavery metaphors are always winners) and on whether this is a shameless ploy to grab the carebear vote for the upcoming CSM elections, obscuring the some of the larger point he's making.
The Opening Barrage
First off, let's get it out of the way. Yes, the rape and slavery metaphors were probably not going to be that conducive to a constructive debate. However, the moral outrage from people who use rape metaphors for just about everything else in the game (including, by the way, a good many of the same people complaining) strikes me as ridiculous. There's a proverb about motes and beams in eyes that seems appropriate here.
The bigger controversy swirling around this post though is that Ripard is asking whether or not the current largely unrestricted wardec and ganking environment in highsec is healthy for the game. The reaction was probably about what you'd expect; a great number of players who make highsec wardecs, ganking, and PvP in general their way of life gave a great hue and cry about how Ripard was trying to turn Eve into Hello Kitty Online and how newbies who quit because they can't handle a wardec or a gank or two aren't cut out for Eve anyway. Then you had the other side of the coin, where some people are calling those PvPers the thing that will destroy Eve by driving everyone except themselves out of the game. There's plenty of people somewhere in the middle, but in what is normal for most Eve veterans, I think the general opinion is that everyone is very wary of calls to reduce the sandbox, open PvP nature of Eve in order to try to get more subscribers. After the events of 2011, they probably have some right to be a little concerned, especially when someone running for CSM seems to be pushing that line of reasoning.
For my part, I don't think Ripard has become some sort of kumbahyah carebear (though I wouldn't put it past him to pose as one in order to get votes), and I don't think he wants to gut the sandbox as much as some people think (though I think the suggestions he has here aren't on the right track). I do think he makes a valid point, however -- that if new players are thrown into the deep end without understanding what that entails or how to defend themselves from, for lack of a better term, organized crime, they are not likely to be long-term subscribers and learn the lessons that most of us Eve veterans have figured out by now.
What we have here is a failure to communicate
It's that not understanding part that is the key here. For a lot of new players, they'll form a new corporation just so they can play with friends and share a hangar -- for most other MMOs, that's all creating your own guild gets you, a communal resource. When they get wardecced, they don't really understand what their options are at that point, so they either end up dying to a much more experienced, well-funded enemy, hiding and hoping their enemy goes away, or they quit. Not all, of course; I count myself among those who went from someone initially frustrated by highsec wardecs to someone who is firmly in the "it's a learning experience" camp. Unfortunately, Eve does not do a very good job of presenting those options to new players or making more options available.
If Eve is going to grow as a game, it will need to increase its player base, and frankly a lot of those new players are probably going to have to be on what I'll call the "noncombatant" side of the fence; miners, industrialists, mission runners, etc. There's two big reasons for this. One, CCP needs these players to support their business because the niche of people who are already super-hardcore PvP gamers is not a large one and is probably getting close to tapped out. Two, in order to sustain the Eve ecosystem, the hardcore PvP types need all those noncombatants to build their ships and to be juicy targets. If the proportion of pirates to potential victims gets too out of whack, you're going to see noncombatants simply get devoured out of existence.
Instead of artificially protecting those players with more of what I'd call "gamey" mechanics -- mechanics which have no basis in the world of Eve and are there to create arbitrary barriers between players -- I think the best course of action is to give those noncombatants more ways to prepare themselves and more incentives for other corporations to help them do so. Right now, there's a lot of incentive for going after those newbies (easy, cheap kills for your killboard, if nothing else), but there's not much in the way of incentives for people to come to the defense of noncombatants with little in the way of experience or resources. They can't afford to pay mercenaries, and when presented with significant resistance, a lot of their former enemies simply give up and move on, which means that a friendly corp guarding them ends up doing a whole lot of nothing, which is not really most people's idea of fun. And the minute that friendly corp moves on...well, the cycle ends up repeating itself. I think the fundamental problem is that highsec isn't really profitable enough to support a full-time military presence (especially when you're paying them to be bored out of their minds, which isn't conducive to them being a particularly good military presence), but if you make mining or missions more profitable than they already are, it would get ridiculous.
Fix it, but don't break the sandbox
There is an alternative: instead of making noncombatants safer in highsec, make the risk to those who prey on them higher.
Let me explain a bit where I'm coming from. Early on in CAIN's history, we tried to do a lot of what I'd call "citizen policing." Even though I'd say most of us still had a lot more sheer persistence than skill or resources, we wanted to roleplay a Caldari security unit, so we wanted to seek out industrial corporations in Caldari space and protect them from highsec wardecs or other forms of harassment. Our first real big knock-down, drag-out fight, the Mito Conflict, basically arose because we were trying to safeguard an area of Caldari space. In the end, it put us on the path from being roleplayers trying to PvP to, in my not so humble opinion, probably one of the best pound-for-pound combat corps around, at least in our particular niche.
However, our initial goal kind of fizzled out because the logistics of trying to be the police was, quite frankly, too difficult and simply not worth the time. You can't afford to wardec every penny-ante corp of pirates, extortionists, and general troublemakers, and even if you did, eventually you'd be so overstretched, militarily and financially, that you'd be ineffective. Plus, you can only be pro bono bodyguards for local carebears for so long before you simply run out of cash.
The new Crimewatch system and the revamp of bounty hunting that went in with Retribution was a good first step on the road toward making "white hats" more profitable, however. I think iterating on that, possibly also linking it in with faction warfare, might be one way to make those highsec wardecs a little less lopsided, while avoiding solutions that give them complete safety and threaten to ruin the sandbox of Eve.
A Possible Solution
Here's my first pass at an idea -- keep in mind this is just what I've come up with a few hours of spitballing and it's hardly ready for prime time, but I think it at least illustrates the type of solution we should be looking for.
PvP corps already have the option to throw their lot in with one of the four major factions in the game through the factional warfare mechanic; what if we added an option for noncombatant corps to do so as well? Add an option for player corporations that allows them to incorporate as a Caldari corporation, for instance, in return for paying some amount of tax. I'd suggest that it should be at least 5-10%, possibly more -- it might even be dynamic, based on the size of that faction's territory and/or how many players were flying under its banner. I would posit that a lot of people who form player corporations don't necessarily care about the tax so much as the other cooperative benefits you get from forming a corporation, so I don't think this tax is going to be as big a deal breaker as you might think.
In return for incorporating under the banner of the Caldari State, your corporation gets a degree of protection from the Caldari. Not direct protection -- the Caldari Navy isn't going to jump in and blow up anyone who declares a war on you; they're busy protecting the interests of the megacorps and the planetside populations. However, corporations that declare war on a corporation incorporated with the State get flagged as suspects to Caldari factional warfare corporations. There's nothing stopping them from plundering the rich hulls of highsec miners, but at least now they're exposing themselves to white hats that want to put their PvP skills to good use. Factional warfare corps get something new to add to their sandbox, being a Caldari corporation (or whichever faction) actually has a real meaning, and it gives the empire factions a little bit of extra life instead of making them simply background noise for most people. Better yet, it gives those noncombatants some extra opportunities for protection (and possibly an impetus to communicate with friendly FacWar corps) without giving them some sort of arbitrary immunity.
You could unify the current FacWar system with this system and the only difference between these noncombatants and today's factional warfare privateers becomes their focus as a corporation. I admit I've always thought it's silly that you can declare on one corporation in factional warfare and their fellows can't shoot you for it. This would mean that all those noncombatants would also be open to attacks by hostile FacWar corps, so maybe you'd want to set the tax significantly lower (especially since you'd be charging it to all FacWar corps, and you don't want to disincentivize factional warfare).
Those are the kinds of solutions I'd like to see to give newbies and noncombatants more of an even footing against the people who want to prey on them. Things that add more interesting gameplay opportunities and meaningful choices, and make the game world feel more like a living, breathing place rather than like more of a game, and hopefully foster more conflict and community, which I think most of us veterans can agree are the two most interesting parts of this game.