Revisiting Sec Status

Pearl Abyss and CCP: Unlikely bedfellows.
Pearl Abyss and CCP: Unlikely bedfellows.

Today, CCP announced it will be acquired by Pearl Abyss—the makers of Black Desert Online. I find the announcement both interesting and amusing, for a couple of reasons: First, despite CCP saying they will continue to operate “independently”, common sense says if the mothership decides that it’s in its best interests to meddle in the affairs of the child it just spent almost half a billion dollars on, they absolutely will do so. Whether for good or ill, big or small, some amount of change is coming to EVE regardless of CCP’s assurances about their supposed retained “independence”.

Second, even though it’s true that CCP and Pearl Abyss both produce MMOs, from the perspective of the player these two companies are hilariously different in ways that will matter greatly to the existing EVE playerbase. I spent enough time playing BDO after my initial foray into that game to know there’s potential for internal corporate friction to erupt over the desired approach to two particularly hot topics: cash shops and PVP freedom.

BDO has a fairly large cash shop. I used it for some cosmetic armor skins and a non-combat pet or two. I’ve heard other people accuse Pearl Abyss of fostering a pay2win environment. Regardless of whether or not that’s actually true, during my time playing BDO I felt that Pearl Abyss placed a great deal of emphasis on their shop. Promotions and pressure to spend felt quite “in my face”. The EVE cash shop is limited and CCP’s attention to it is rather meek in comparison. Will CCP end up being pressured by the new ownership to expand their shop and promote player spending more? The existing EVE playerbase has never been very receptive to micro (or macro) transactions, but maybe Pearl Abyss doesn’t care—maybe they will set their sights on attracting the other kind of playerbase to EVE that is receptive to that kind of activity. After all, they have $425M to make back.

To Pearl Abyss’s credit, BDO has an insane amount of activity. While I played they were forever running player events, one right after the other, constantly driving incentive to log in for free rewards. (The unending strings of events were exhausting and hard to ignore, to be quite honest.) EVE has player events too, but not to that scale. Many people have lamented that CCP doesn’t do as much as they used to, particularly with lore events (though the recent bot blowups were definitely a cool idea). Will Pearl Abyss encourage CCP to do more of these kinds of things? That would definitely be welcome.

But what got me the most about this announcement was its totally coincidental relation to the article below that I originally wrote in 2017. I didn’t reveal it at the time, but my ideas for EVE’s sec status mechanic were directly inspired by the Black Desert Online PVP karma system.

BDO, like EVE, has open world PVP, meaning players can kill each other just about anywhere other than towns and cities. These days, BDO doesn’t let anyone start PVPing until level 50 (EVE has no skillpoint equivalent restriction) and even if you are level 50 or higher you can’t target another player unless that player is also level 50 or higher. Additionally, in order to PVP in BDO you have to flag yourself for it first (similar to disabling an EVE safety). But, if the level 50+ player you attack has not flagged themselves as well, you as the attacker are penalized with karma loss and other nasty things that are only somewhat similar to sec status loss in EVE. Pearl Abyss designed their PVP mechanic to deter griefing, and why not? Like any business, they have a vested interest in retaining paying customers rather than losing them to griefer frustration. They absolutely encourage PVPers to PVP but to also choose targets wisely, to best ensure that the majority of people who play (including the PVPers) can enjoy their playtime the way they want. Apparently, accruing negative PVP karma via griefing makes existing in BDO a truly hellish experience. Basically, if you want to be a griefer, fine, be a griefer—but the game will grief you back. When I originally wrote this article, wanting to see EVE incorporate that to some degree, and to otherwise improve PVP for truer “hero” and “villain” play, was something I very much desired. How interesting (to me, anyway) that the developers of the game I modeled my idea on now own CCP.

Pearl Abyss has purchased CCP for a very pretty penny. Obviously, their PVP vision is very different from CCP’s. Friction about griefing (and scamming, and other such “underhanded” yet permitted activities) is constant in the EVE community and is one factor (among many others) that impacts both new and veteran player retention. I can’t help but wonder what Pearl Abyss will think of this in the long run (remember, motherships will definitely meddle!), and whether EVE Online might one day see a revised PVP system implemented that could possibly look something like what I outlined below. Time will tell.

What follows is the original text of the January 7, 2017 article.

In August of 2014, I wrote a post called EVE Unbalanced – The Sandbox is a Lie and in one part of it, I explored an idea of how player security status could potentially be made more meaningful. I still think the idea has merit and is a change worth making to reduce EVE Online’s “villain” bias so “hero” play can be more integrated and more visibly represented in the game. Having sat on the idea now for two and a half years, I’d like to expand on it a little, particularly in light of other small mechanic changes CCP has introduced recently.

Standings toward NPC corps now have additional practical application thanks to the new mining fleets. I was really excited about this; it creates new and worthwhile motivation for players to engage in PVE and even to be more choosy about which corps they PVE for. Great! While standings are a totally separate thing to sec status, the mining fleets elegantly demonstrate how CCP can make a relatively small change to an existing mechanic that results in reasonably meaningful impact for lots of players.

So what about sec status? The issue I lamented about before still exists: PVPers are unilaterally punished by CONCORD in the form of sec status hits regardless of the sec status of their target (excluding criminal flags or combat in lawless space). Still dumb overall, while positive sec only being obtainable via PVE continues to foster the nasty and toxic attitudes that exist about positive sec, PVE, and carebears.

The Idea

I posited before that sec status should actually be awarded or revoked based on the difference in sec status between the attacker and the target. The idea in its basic form is this:

  • Sec status below zero equates to varying degrees of “criminal” PVP; above zero equates to varying degrees of “lawful” PVP; sec of zero is literally “neutral”.
  • If a player with negative or neutral sec attacks a player with higher sec status than their own, CONCORD should view this as a bad action and slap the attacker with a sec hit;
  • If a player with neutral or positive sec attacks a player with positive sec, CONCORD should also see this as a bad action and slap the attacker with a sec hit;
  • If a player with neutral or positive sec attacks a player with negative sec, CONCORD should view this as a good action and award the attacker with a sec increase;
  • If a player with negative or neutral sec attacks a player with lower sec status than their own, CONCORD should also see this as a good action and award the attacker with a sec increase.
  • No -10 or +10 cap on sec status. Go as low or as high as you can based on how active you are in PVP.

This system would make the sec grind completely PVP-focused regardless of which side of zero someone is on, effectively allowing players whose only desire is to PVP to concentrate completely on that playstyle. Negative sec players would not have to be forced into PVE in order to recover their rating. Obviously, this also means divorcing PVE activities from sec status so that PVE only grants standings gain/loss (no more sec bonuses from killing NPCs). “Tags for sec” should be converted to “tags for standings” and PVE players could turn them in to any NPC corp instead of just CONCORD.

Result: negative and positive sec status become equal in-game indicators of PVP prowess and credibility across the playerbase. Negative sec means you play as a villain and you’re going to find it hard or impossible to get into hisec (lawful space); positive sec means you play as a hero and hisec continues to welcome you with open arms.

Like with standing gains and losses, the amount of sec status hit or increase applied would be percentage based. The larger the difference between attacker and target, the bigger the penalty or bonus. This would ideally encourage players to seek out more challenging targets in order achieve greater impact to their sec status in less time, the idea being that someone with a sec status value further away from their own should mean the target is that much more practiced and thus more valuable and worthwhile to hunt. (Griefers and players looking for “easy” kills will, of course, do the opposite by seeking out characters whose sec status hovers around zero. Depending on the sec of the griefer, the trade-off of focusing on these less credible/experienced PVP targets will be less impact to the griefer’s sec status and thus less visible “PVP cred”.)

This change would be a boon for pirate and anti-pirate players alike (and invested roleplayers in particular), allowing them to more easily make informed choices about who they attack and why, depending on what they want their sec status to say about their playstyle and PVP credibility. Other players who don’t care what their sec status says would continue PVPing against everyone as they already do.

Filling the Gaps

My original idea from 2014 wasn’t complete. For example, it didn’t address situations where the attacker loses the fight. What should happen then? The easy answer is to have CONCORD do the sec calculation in reverse, but in some scenarios this could actually produce a result the triumphant target might not want (for example, -8.2 attacks -6.8 and loses; -6.8 would get a sec increase, pushing him or her closer to 0 when maybe -6.8 doesn’t want to go that way). In the grand scheme of things, this scenario might not actually matter too much depending on how big of a change the calculation grants; that player could easily go off and attack some higher sec players to drive sec status back down again.

What about when the combat is more than a 1v1? Whether the target is attacked by one player or one hundred players the sec calculation could still be done on a per-player basis so each attacker has their sec adjusted accordingly. The game already calculates the percentage of damage contributed by each player on a kill report so it should be able to figure out who needs to have their sec adjusted in a similar manner. With the additional monitoring the Crimewatch system does for remote repping and things like that, the sec calculation could be extended to those pilots as well because they are participating in attacking the target.

What should happen if one of the involved parties escapes? The initial attack occurs but maybe the target slips out of scram range and warps off, or the attacker realizes he’s in over his head and breaks off, or it’s simply a stalemate and both parties disengage. What happens if the ship explodes but the pod gets away? In all of these scenarios the key is that one player still aggressed another, so a multi-stage calculation system would be needed: one penalty (or increase) for hitting F1 at the start, then a second penalty (or increase) depending on whether or not a ship explodes, then a third penalty (or increase) depending on whether or not the pod explodes. The initial penalty/increase would be smaller than the second one, and the second smaller than the third one, even if the second and/or third ones aren’t applied in the end. Why? Because hitting F1 is easy; sticking it out for a fight is harder; catching a pod is (in principle) hardest—and in the end, the sec status adjustment should be viewed as part of the reward for seeing combat all the way through (being committed to the playstyle), even if the individual value gets lower as a result of the player’s actions.

Duels? Sec adjustments shouldn’t be applied here. CONCORD shouldn’t care if both parties willingly decide to bash each other’s brains out.

War decs? Setting aside how broken the war decs mechanic is, no sec adjustments when under war either. Yes, this means if players end up really valuing what their sec status says about their PVP cred, it ends up being in their best interest not to declare war except for really exceptional circumstances.

Attacking fellow fleet, corp, or alliance mates? If anything, this should result in a hefty negative sec adjustment for the attacker regardless (a true punishment), especially if friendly fire is illegal in the corporation. (Friendly fire should be an option for an executor corp to apply across an entire alliance, too.)

Nullsec? Anoikis? Interesting question. Right now, PVP in lawless space doesn’t impact sec status. I can imagine the null players might not care, but some might enjoy showing their “PVP cred” with this kind of mechanic. Others might be completely opposed. Since I only play in lowsec and hisec, I can’t speak to implementing my idea in lawless space, but if those players did see value in it and it was introduced there I’m sure CCP could come up with some kind of lore explanation about why it happens even though CONCORD is nowhere to be seen. (After all, if not CONCORD, what in-character entity is responsible for generating kill reports out there? If you can have kill reports why can’t you have sec status too? Surely there are players out in 0.0 who want to play as “heroes” against the “villains” of null.)

Attacking new players in new player systems? I get that griefing is permitted in EVE but the game won’t go on without newbies who stick around longer than their first few days. Burning newbies in the starter systems is a fantastic way to make many of them quit. To discourage villain players from farming newbies, newbie systems should probably be immune from sec adjustments. If that doesn’t sit well, then the punishment for attacking in newbie systems should be so severe that it makes it highly inconvenient for the attacker to do it in the first place (or unrealistic to do it more than once on a given character) so as to encourage those PVPers to find more suitable targets elsewhere.

In implementing this, CCP could issue an optional one-time sec status “reset” to every character. On logging in after downtime when the mechanic change has been launched, everyone could be presented with a dialogue box that tells them what their current sec is and gives them the option to keep that value or reset it to zero depending on their PVP preference. Villains who want to stay villains would opt to keep their negative sec. Heroes who have been stuck with negative sec could reset to zero to more easily begin building positive sec. Everyone else who doesn’t care or doesn’t dabble in PVP can make their choice accordingly. A sec status reset token could also be added to the AUR store for players to buy when they want or need to get back to neutral sec faster than grinding will allow.

So in the end, the entire mechanic might work something like this:

Revisiting Sec Status Flowchart
Revisiting Sec Status Flowchart. Click to enlarge.

In this system, being the attacker is generally better than being the target, since the attacker ends up with three opportunities to impact his sec status whereas the target has only two chances. This puts some emphasis on being proactive in PVP, which is good for everyone and should appeal to the min/maxxers out there who would want to get the biggest sec status change possible. But the flowchart asks, “TARGET Safety off?”, talks about lifting safety restrictions, and has three instances of “Safety Penalty”. What’s this about?

Let’s Talk About Safeties

In principle, the current safety feature is not bad, but in practice having three options is more complicated than necessary. It’s just one more thing in an already complicated UI that people have to remember to change depending on where they are and what they’re doing. More than once I’ve heard comments like, “I died because I forgot I was set to green” or “My safety was off and I didn’t notice I was in hisec” or “His pod got away because I was set to yellow”.

Instead, I’d like to see the safety feature simplified to an on/off toggle:

  • Safety is “off”: Players are allowed to initiate every type of PVP act.
  • Safety is “on”: Players are not allowed to initiate any type of PVP act.

This would still be “safe” in the sense that “on” would prevent players from accidentally CONCORDing themselves. If they have no interest in PVP, they also wouldn’t be able to steal from owned wrecks or otherwise do anything that amounts to taking action against another player, period. If they want to do any of those things, then they have to set the safety to “off” and take the risk of incurring the entire range of PVP consequences the game has, including CONCORDOKKEN.

Of course, the toggle should not prevent any player from defending themselves when attacked by someone else, even if safety is set to “on”. If attacked, all bets should be off and the targeted player can freely fire back.

Some players don’t like that griefing is permitted in EVE and want more protection, while the opposition bemoans making EVE “safer”. Both sides of the argument have merit, particularly when it comes to discussions about respecting different playstyles.

Everyone has to face it: some players simply do not want to PVP. That isn’t going to change. They have zero interest in that aspect of the game. They are content to sit in whatever system (whether or not it’s hisec) and mine rocks, suck gas, shatter ice, run agent missions, take hauling contracts, tweak PI, explore, build, invent, trade, whatever. Signal Cartel proves how desirable and successful the non-combatant way of life in EVE Online is to some people.

Non-PVPers will naturally tend to have their safety set to “on” (or green, in its current iteration). Under the mechanic I outlined above, these players would also tend to have sec status of zero because none of the activities they engage in would result in sec status changes, except in cases where they are attacked and overcome their attacker.

When a PVPer comes along and is deciding whether or not to attack one of these players, he would still have the ability to do so, but the other player’s safety being “on” should act as a deterrent (not a prevention) to griefing. Why attack someone who obviously isn’t a PVPer other than because the attacker is too lazy to find someone with better PVP experience? This is where the “Safety Penalty” comes in as that deterrent.

Every capsuleer ship comes equipped with a basic level of defense capability in the form of its inherent hp levels and damage resistances. After that, it’s up to the fitted modules and the skill of the pilot to achieve victory in combat. But, just as how we have anti-virus software in the real world to automatically scan and quarantine threats to our PCs, I’d like to think the ships of New Eden would also have some kind of defense software built in to assist the capsuleer when the ship is threatened.

Call it a kind of basic EWAR if you like: when safeties are on and the ship is attacked, I envision Aura reacting by “hacking” the attacker’s ship to compromise the attacking ship’s systems for the duration of the conflict. This is the Safety Penalty and the idea is to make the fight a little harder for the attacker. It would be a passive debuff against the attacker that the target can’t influence, similar to the “capsule interference” debuffs that are experienced during Sansha Incursions.

Penalties would be applied only if the target’s safety was set to “on” prior to the attack being initiated. Players with active PVP timers or PVP combat flags would not be able to change their safety setting, meaning an attacker couldn’t aggress and then turn his own safety “on” to trigger a debuff against the target when the target fires back. (Remember, he can’t do the reverse either, because having the safety set to “on” means he wouldn’t be able to initiate PVP against the target in the first place.) By the same token, if the target didn’t have his safety turned on before being attacked, he is out of luck until after the fight is over because as soon as he’s attacked he’ll get a combat flag. A target switching to “on” just prior to being engaged should have to wait for a spool up timer—this so he can’t leave his safety off until the very last second and then switch it on just as he is being yellow-boxed. Being engaged before the spool up timer finished would override the process of turning the safety on.

Safety Penalty 1 would come into effect as soon as the attacker hits F1 for the first time. This debuff could reduce the attacker’s rate of fire, damage bonus, and damage resistances.

If the target’s ship explodes, the attacker immediately gets Safety Penalty 2. This would be like “Aura’s Revenge”: as the target’s ship explodes, the onboard AI makes a last-ditch effort to “hack” the attacker’s systems in an attempt to help the capsuleer’s pod escape. Under Safety Penalty 2 the attacker’s ship still has a chance to catch the target’s pod but the debuff will make this more difficult by inheriting the debuffs from Safety Penalty 1 and adding, say, reduced targeting time, reduced scram/disruptor strength, and reduced web strength. The attacker will have to be on the ball to get the pod kill and the sec adjustment.

If the attacker catches the pod and blows it up, the attacker gains Safety Penalty 3 from the capsule’s onboard AI carrying on where the ship’s AI left off. Along with the criminal flag (in lowsec and hisec) this debuff would inherit everything from the previous two penalties while adding increased align time and reduced acceleration, making the attacker an attractive target for other PVPers who might happen to be in the same system, thereby encouraging even more engagements.

The debuffs would last until expiration of the weapons timers/combat flags or the destruction of the attacker’s ship, whichever happens first. Of course, these could not be huge debuffs, otherwise, too much advantage would be given to the target (provided the target is in a ship that is equipped to fight back). In this way, griefers would still be able to grief just as they can today, just not quite as effectively as before. The point is to encourage PVPers to put more focus on other legit PVPers rather than players who are dabbling in other activities.

There would have to be a visible indicator of safety status in order to give attackers a way to easily determine who is a viable target and who is a waste of their time. Creating a new color tag to indicate “Pilot Safety is off” (meaning they do want to PVP) would probably be easiest, and then players can set their Overviews accordingly. The crosshair icon but with a red background (instead of orange for kill rights) might be a good choice.

Would this safety change mean “everyone” would fly around with safeties on to make life difficult for attackers? Possibly. But keep in mind that safeties on would mean those targets couldn’t initiate any kind of PVP action themselves, so they’d look like the oft-disdained carebears while they do it, and a spool up timer would force players to choose carefully when they change from “on” to “off” (and vice versa). Flying with safeties off could simply become a matter of honor: If you’re serious about PVP, you’ll never turn it on. A true PVPer might just disregard people who fly with safeties on as not being worth the time or effort unless the ship would make for a really juicy kill report regardless.

Baiting tactics would have to adapt too. Will you sit by yourself in a belt or a plex with your safety on, hoping your attacker is a dumbass or isn’t paying attention? Or will you sit there with your safety off to shout to the entire system that you want a fight and leave it to your attacker to decide whether or not you have friends waiting in the wings?

So, what do you want your sec status to say about you?

3 Replies to “Revisiting Sec Status”

  1. Good blog and well thought out. Just want to throw an opinion on the table about this line, too.
    “Why attack someone who obviously isn’t a PVPer other than because the attacker is too lazy to find someone with better PVP experience? ”

    For me, it is not only about being lazy. I have long held the opinion – one that has been confirmed in conversations in-game with so-called PVPers – that some people seek out players that cannot defend themselves such as mining ships because they want to ‘teach them a lesson about the real EVE’ or some such nonsense. Like they think themselves a protector of true gaming and they have some kind of mandate to punish people who are ‘playing it wrong’ so to speak.

    In fact I would often encounter the argument that ‘EVE is a PVP game!’ when the conversation comes up to griefing and general non-consensual PVP. When PVP is only one part of EVE Online and there are many playstyles. They might as well have the argument thrown back in their faces with ‘EVE is a mining game!’ or ‘… a PVE game!’ and so on. They are all as valid as each other. But some elements of PVPers simply think they are doing ‘soft’ players a favour by shooting them. Others do it because they get a kick out of knowing/thinking their victim will be ‘butt-hurt’ or salty over their loss. Not a flattering characteristic of the common EVE PVPer. But I guess that is the internet… ;)

    Bit of a rant, I know. Just had to get that out of my system.

    1. Completely agree with all your points—but also feel that those are the lazy players! They value PVP but are too lazy to go get real fights so they tell themselves they’re doing the game a “favor” simply to appease their egos and keep themselves from feeling bad. :p

  2. A great mechanics post ma’am, and one I would whole heartedly support. This would make New Eden a more realistic and varied place where someone’s security status would be more likely to show what kind of playstyle they prefer. Those of us that fight for honor or to protect would be visible in that regard, and habitual pirates and griefers in the same manner. Decoupling sec status from PvE activity would be the biggest hurdle I anticipate, though I honestly can’t see too many complaining aside from the ones programming it.

    I do foresee some interesting consequences for the pilots of the ILF. Our more industrial members will tend towards the positive side of security as any PvP they engage in is likely to be reactionary. Our combat pilots are going to be more complicated as the militia pilots we are liable to engage would run the gamut of securities. Concord doesn’t really care that we’re fighting to protect the Intaki system from squabbling invaders…

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