Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Farms and Fields: Bringing Industry to Nullsec

One of the common whines I hear in industry circles is "Industry is nigh impossible in null sec".  Between lack of slots in sov-space (player owned and controlled) and the impossibility of logistics to and from POS, heavy industry is basically absent from nullsec.

Without industrial investment, there are no soft-targets to hit.  Without "farms and fields", there is nothing for smaller gangs to "burn".  And though I agree with the sentiment of enriching gameplay through more targets, I fear for the viability of industry across EVE.

I fear the changes because the first trumpet of 0.0 space is "risk v reward".  That everything should be inherently better only on the measure of risk.  That call is always paired with "nerf high sec", which would destroy (I think) a valuable balance between builders and destroyers.

The Way It Is

Currently, the modus operandi is buy in Jita, and ship to the warzone.  I don't think this is a terrible way to go, but secondary hubs are drying up and Jita is becoming more and more monolithic, which I think IS unhealthy.  

There is also a significant issue of investment when it comes to dropping a factory.  On the surface, there could be a cost/benefit analysis between dropping POS in LS/0.0 without the need for standings.  Unfortunately, there is no added benefit, so the entry cost of high security (standings) is just so much better than providing a target you will eventually lose.  This incentivizes high-sec heavy-industry corps.

Instead the benefits are in shipping.  It would currently make much more sense to sponsor a near-by high-sec industry corp that could ship to a null hub than try and support the infrastructure inside null space where it can be interrupted.  I personally think this is the place where improvements can be enacted  making it easier to make a factory mobile, allowing for a rear-operating base, rather than "farms and fields".  But if the CSM is going to push for "farms and fields" then we should look at what that would mean.

Supply Chain


This is the obvious bottleneck in sov-space industry.  Even if slot/POS issues were solved by tweaking some DB numbers, the supply chain problem would remain.  Currently, to haul the materials needed for production, compression is required.  Compound that with the trouble of reprocessing and then delivering to a POS.  This all adds up to "frack it, I'll buy it in Jita and haul the finished product".  Some proposed solutions:

Super-Veld

Currently, mining rates on all ores are nearly flat on a per-hour rate.  Also, thanks to the hellfire toward bots, the per-hour rates are pretty lucrative for miners.  Since rates are flat, why risk a mining fleet in PVP space when you can harvest vanilla ores in safe space?  If you're going to need to ship compressed materials anyway, why not just skip the mining op all together and reduce the steps?

Since the hauling volume bottleneck is in low-end minerals (tritanium, pyerite, mexallon), the first suggestion in solving the supply chain bottleneck is to make super-yield low-end rocks that can take advantage of tools such as rorquals.  This would allow for harvesting materials in much higher yields locally, incentivizing manufacturing locally to then monetize out those hauls.  This would remove a leg of the supply chain into null.

Personally, I think this is a very good idea, since I personally believe the low-end prices are way too high at the moment, and it is causing the price of things to be distorted.  There would need to be some finesse as to how people could invest in their space to get this super-veld, but I think there are a lot of opportunities in this department to ease up several bottlenecks.


Refinery Issues

Both in WH and null sec, there's a big problem of "Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink".  The issue lies in refinery availability.  Any way you go, there will be a yield hit, and if you're stuck hauling large volumes around from op->outpost then still hauling heavy loads from outpost->POS, then we haven't eliminated a supply chain leg.  

I think the issue can be solved with a heavy revamp to mobile refineries.  Increase their holds to 100k-500k, increase the yield to 75-90% flat (no skill improvement).  Even make the refinery types restricted to ores and make cycle time proportional to load.  By giving a mobile refinery where ore can be refined near the factory, a supply chain is significantly improved.  This also puts fully functional factories in the crosshairs of enemies, allowing for raiding targets.

Castle Walls


The problem with industry is it is diametrically opposed to PVP.  Without significant security, it's far too easy to burn down a lot of hard work.  It's like saying we should build a tank factory in Afghanistan because we need tanks there... when instead we can put that factory somewhere secure and ship in the tanks.  

I agree we should incentivize thriving headquarters for alliances, but the volumes alliances require are not worth putting on the line.  Unless we can build fortresses, there is nowhere to put factories.  Unless valuable BPO's can be secured, no one will risk the factory.

POSibilities

With current POS mechanics, the choice is between factory and security.  If you want to have a tower that has any defensibility, you can only half-load it with industrial capabilities.  I don't think this mechanic is directly bad, but without significant fuel savings the cost/slot and logistical hurtles of providing enough manufacturing throughput (as well as technical organization to make several towers work together).  Furthermore, the hassle of management would require returns that are significantly better than "just buy it" to really justify the risk.

As for proposals, I'd start with a PG->CPU conversion module, nullsec only.  This would allow a tower to be hardened and expanded to allow a secure base of operations.  This could be abused to make dickstars even more dickstar-y, but I think a balance could be reached to incentivize the intended behavior (higher stacking penalties on shield hardeners?).  I would also like to see a method to disable/slow production through enemy gang activity, but that's probably asking too much in the game mechanics department.

Risk vs REWARD


The main point still stands: why build in null when I can ship instead?  Without incredibly significant bonuses to build speed, material requirements, and ore yields, why would anyone take the risk.  Also, with the requirements for industry being so diametrically opposed to PVP, why would any organization tolerate the shift in paradigms.  Already PVP organizations have near-zero tollerances for missing CTAs due to "carebear excuses", and without sticking to a production schedule, I don't see how any organization can hope to have enough materials to justify the investment.

There is a significant oil-and-water world collision when it comes to PVP and industry.  The types of people who will put up with the industry grind are not the type of people who can be counted on for frontline PVP.  A lot of orgs will not find the losses acceptable when they appear on enemy kill mails.  Efficiencies will drop as carebear activities are attacked.  Space honour and image will be challenged as blocs require carebear corps for support.  

Also, my proposed changes still don't address the T2 supply chain, which would still be unsustainable in null.  The moon supply chain is designed to avoid monopolies.  Also, invention would require hauling of either invented bpcs or large groups of datacores into null, since there are no supplies coming from that space.

It's because of these two meta issues, image and real-return, that bringing significant industry to null is not a trivial matter to fix.  Without very significant overhauls to industry mechanics (most not for the better), there will be no change in the status quo.  Unless balances can be struck between killers and builders, where both can exist in the same space, then there will be no progress away from Jita.