This is a collection of short in-character fiction pieces about Awakened Industries, a group of capsuleers and their crews living in the enigmatic and dangerous regions of Wormhole Space in EVE Online. None of the protagonists are actual characters or corporations in-game. All similarities with persons fictional or real are possibly coincidental and only sometimes intentional. - Emergent Patroller

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24 Feb 2013

OOC Entry 76 - How to nerf, and how not to nerf

It's CSM campaign time, and that means there are all kinds of discussions, proposals, questions and hopes about game mechanics changes.

A lot of that involves nerfing one thing or other. Be it passive income from moons, "blapdreads" (I really hate the word blap btw), highsec as a whole ... you can pick and choose.

Personally I really dislike nerfing if it's not done properly, and I decided to not vote for any candidate who uses that word without having really good reasoning supporting it.

In this piece I will explain why I came to that decision. Maybe you find yourself agreeing with me.

How to nerf properly

The last pen-and-paper roleplaying game I have played was Mage the Ascension. In it's last incarnation, that game changed the rules to make working powerful magic more risky and difficult.

That might seem arbitrary, but it was not.

There was a very genuine in-universe reason why that happened. Not that I want to bother you too much with the complicated metaphysics of Mage the Ascension, but I can tell you this: In our modern world, people believe less and less in magic, wonders and supernatural powers. Because of that, it becomes harder to push the envelope. Nobody simply calls down lightning from the sky anymore with hermetic incantations or turns people into newts by means of ancient curses.

So what does that have to do with EVE?

Well, in the universe of EVE-Online we have seen many changes in the past year or two. Some of them made perfect sense within the narrative of the game and it's world. Some others definitely did not.

I would argue that such changes should be consistent with the universe rather than being arbitrary modifications of game mechanics.

Let's look at some examples.

The Good

Recently the T1 frigates and cruisers got rather improved. That surely made sense. After all, there is going to be technological development. Especially when there is a war going on. It may be a cold war where the four great empires stare at eachother peevishly across some low security sectors, but there are also capsuleers - who are customers of the companies designing ships - waging war out in nullsec (well if they don't all blue eachother)

Mining barges are another example of a sensible change.

Outer Ring Excavations might hold a monopoly on mining ships, but even then they want to keep their customers happy. If your mining barge can be outperformed by a battleship with mining lasers because it can survive a suicide attack, you might realize you are not competitive anymore. Time to improve and diversify. And so it happened.

Looking at nerfs that have happened within those years, we see lower loot drops in highsec, Interbus-run customs offices and lower mission rewards. All of them are sensible. After all, there are corporate monopolies that can be acquired from Empire establishments. Pirates venturing into highsec will fit their ships more cheaply after years of being killed by capsuleers. Agents will pay less if there are so many capsuleers available to run missions for them.

The rewards on Incursions are fine too. After all they are set by CONCORD and they might see fit to adjust them so capsuleers are incentivized to clear certain Sansha sites rather than others.

The Bad

Why do my missiles suddenly have shorter range? How come the Incursus suddenly can not repair as much armour.

Does that make sense?

Imagine that in the real world. Would Boeing suddenly make the Apache helicopter less effective because there are people who complain that it's overpowered? Of course not! Actually they would improve on that successful concept.

Still this is exactly what happened to missile launchers. Heavy missile launchers now have shorter range and less damage. Someone tell me how the defense contractors who make those got away with suddenly offering a degraded product.

Some nerfs even break the rules of the in-game universe completely.

One of my favorite hate object is the reshipping timer. Some time ago it was possible to change ships from an on-board hangar within an instant. Now that is not possible anymore.

How does that work?

Or why did supercarriers suddenly magically lose part of their hitpoints for no reason? Did the physical properties of their component materials change? They still need exactly the same amount of stuff to build after all.

The examples of nerfs which break the suspension of disbelief and make no sense are many: Titan tracking; no more dronebays on Dreadnaughts; carriers that suddenly can't launch normal drones anymore, and so on.

But how do you deal with things that are overpowered?

In the second world war, during the North Africa campaign, Erwin Rommel used the 88mm anti-aircraft gun against heavily armoured British tanks which could not be destroyed with standard anti-tank guns. The British complained about this "unsportsmanlike" repurposing of a weapon. Since that was the real world and there was no game developer who could nerf the 88mm gun, the British had to make do. New tank designs and tactics were the result.

The same should happen in EVE.

Why do Duvolle, Khanid Innovations, Kaalakiota and Boundless Creation not come up with new ships that can counter specific threats? There are certainly capsuleer customers out there who would buy the blueprints.

Actually there have been good examples how this can work out: The Alchemy system which makes transformation of moon minerals possible - for example - while not being ideal, it makes sense. The same goes for the sensor strength skills which are supposed to help against ECM or the new armor tanking changes in Retribution 1.1.

Those things could go much further though. There could be special reaction arrays which make Alchemy more effective, better ECCM modules, ships that specialize in anti-capital warfare and so on.

Of course that is time consuming to do, but so is coming up with nerfs that are "balanced". Also, looking for options to empower rather than nerf would enrich the game rather than reducing it's scope.

It would give creative players - and EVE is full of them - more things to play with, but most importantly it will send a message to all existing and potential players: That EVE is a game where senseless nerfs are not done. That CCP is a company who are constantly driving their game forward and values in-universe consistency more than the developers of other games (WoW is infamous for it's heavy handed nerfs I am told).

That would be a selling point for the game, and it should make CSM candidates as well as developers think twice about nerfing things.


  1. Mme Thalys... This, this and THIS!! Our thoughts are one.

    I am in complete agreement. There is NO reason a virtual world cannot run on the same basic principles and rules as the real world on which it is basically modeled in the first place.

    The physics and basic mechanics of EVE are based on, or are extrapolations based in SciFi from, the objective 4-dimensional Einsteinian space/time we inhabit and have evolved in.

    There is NO good reason why New Eden's mechanics, rules and standards should not follow the basic human scientific rules of (1) Form Follows Function and (B) Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

    Nerfing is something that happens in the real world in response to pressures that usually make the 'nerf' a buff in another area... and, as far as I know, is not a direction that mankind usually intentionally takes with his inventions, especially in the field of the Art or War. However, as Mme Thaly has pointed out, Creating or Buffing a counter, which has the effect of nerfing a given mechanic/module/tactic is the normal course taken when a given mechanic/module/tactic is perceived or proven to be.overpowered or 'unbeatable'...

    CPP, FFS please when take a hard look at changing, to nerf or buff, the mechanics of this amazing virtual world of yours... don't 'fiddle' with it like it was just some computer program... but ask yourselves... how would "x" be dealt with in the RW? You might be a amazed at what you will come up with... and if you are amazed, I can guarantee you we will be too... =]

  2. My personal assumption with regard to nerfs without corresponding buffs is something like: "it was killing the crews." Like the Hurricane, for example: I just take it as a given that the Hurricane design of old didn't have enough shielding on its reactor, or something like that, and maintenance crews in stations were dreading going in to fix a damaged 'Cane because they'd end up with radiation poisoning and die horribly in a month or so.

    1. It would be quite a stretch of the imagination that such a backbone of the Minmatar fleets would have such a fatal flaw.

      What I find problematic when looking at the battlecruiser rebalancing is it's contrast when compared to the frigates and cruisers. In the latter two cases, almost all the ships became more powerful and versatile across the board, while battlecruisers almost all became somewhat less so.

      I can see how they would want to make the gap bewteen the different ships less extreme, but there could have been other ways to do that. As it was, it looked a lot like an arbitrary nerf along the lines of "Drakes and Hurricanes are used too much, let's just make them less useful then."