Tools vs. Rules - Virtual Worlds Discussion

Earlier today I was looking over the minutes for the first meeting of the CSM. While doing so I stumbled across this offshoot thread on system sovereignty. As I read through the various thoughts and suggestions posted I invariably found myself shaking my head in disappointment.

The posters in the thread certainly don't come across as unintelligent people, and even the concepts they put forth aren't bad in and of themselves. Still I can't shake this feeling that I'm watching a deeper issue at play here. This does provide an interesting working example though, so let me explain.

In EVE players can own their own bits of space down in 0.0 space. In an effort to allow people to not have to be on at all hours twenty four seven, and create a certain amount of stability in ownership, they created a system to shore up an alliances sovereignty of their own systems. The way it worked was that alliances would build and place their own POSs (Player Owned Stations) and those POSs would grant them a certain amount of sovereignty over the given system(s). Those POSs would need to be destroyed one at a time, and any system may have several, from the edge inward in order to be able to shift sovereignty and make those systems usable by your forces.

The problem that created though is that it forced the sheer number of ships required to even challenge an entrenched enemy up into the server breaking numbers. A problem that has seen active discussion for pretty good piece of time now and we can be fairly certain the devs are talking about it non stop as well.

So where do I come in with an argument? Well, I think we have run into a problem where everyone is discussing rules for a fundamentally tool related issue. There are two things I know that come into play here, the first is that when it comes to two equally advanced forces Nathaniel Bedford Forest* said it best, "the firstest with the mostest". It's the simple truth for any symmetrically advanced combat where MAD is not on the table. Second is that players will discover and (ab)use the most successful/efficient tactics almost without exception. Therefore, I believe the answer is not to change the rules governing the game, but to implement the tools necessary to change the most efficient set of tactics.

First we need to create something to break up the groups. A good suggestion here would be to create a capital ship module that would do extreme amounts of damage to large structures, but would also create a huge radius around it which would damage other ships without regard to alignment or standings, the damage being inverse to victim size of course. You could also add battle cruisers that are basically a ship-gun capable of doing reasonable damage to a cap ship out at ranges of 300-400k, but who take a penalty for every ship within 300k of them and are naturally shy of fitting slots.

The hope would be to simultaneously decrease the typical fleet size for dreadnoughts, increase the number of battle cruisers in fleet engagements and spread out the combatants to take advantage of 3d space and gang warfare. Obviously it's impossible to know from discussion how exactly all of these will effect the game, but the basic concept I'm trying to get across is that you can't rules your way out of a tools issue. Just as you can't use electronic controls to fix bad mechanical design, nor good maintenance to solve poor engineering or architecture.

Especially in sandbox environments, I feel that one should always focus on providing the players good tools. You may not always be right, but at the end of the day at least the player gets to keep their shiny new tool.

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