Prior to the Dominion expansion, sovereignty in an EVE Online system was governed by control of the system's moons. The alliance that held the larger number of a system's moons held sov in that system. Holding moons was done with POSes, just as it is today. The game would count up the number of active large POSs in a system. The alliance that held the most active large POSs held the system. If there was a tie or there were no large POSs, then the game would count mediums, and then count smalls. To take sov, you could either attack and destroy the enemy POSs, or you could out-number them with your own POSs (and often, both tactics were used). To keep sov, all you had to do was make sure your majority stake of POSs in a system were kept fueled. This created the need for massive logistics backbones in alliances whose job it was to fly through these systems with vast quantities of POS fuel to manage this activity. "Boring" doesn't even begin to cover the excitement level of this.
With the advent of Dominion, the rules changed completely. Sovereignty was now actively claimed with a new anchorable object called a Territorial Claim Unit (TCU). These are structures that can be anchored close to (but not too close to) a POS, and most often are, but the POS is not technically necessary. Once anchored, they are invulnerable until an attacker "blockades" 50% or more of the stargates in a system with another new anchorable object called a Sovereignty Blockade Unit (SBU). To take sov, you anchor these SBUs, and once they are on-line, you attack and destroy the system's TCU, then anchor and on-line your own TCU. To keep sov, all you have to do is pay the sov bills. No member of your alliance has to visit the systems in which you hold sov. It's much easier than the old system.
Both pre- and post-Dominion, things get more complicated if there's a station in system, but that's beyond the scope of this blog post. What is in scope is what happens if the sov-holder abandons their claim on a system. In the old sov system, you still had to attack and clear the the holding alliance's POSs, or at least, enough of them that you could establish a majority stake in the system. This was an activity that required significant support, since POSs are obviously both easy to actively defend, and will passively defend themselves. Once you had a majority stake, you could leave the rest of the enemy POSs to run out of fuel to make clearing the remainder much easier on yourself (but in so doing, risk giving the enemy a foothold in these POSs to try and retake your newly-acquired system).
In the new system, things are even worse: if the enemy continues paying the sov bill in an abandoned system, they will never lose sov if you don't go in and grind any needed timers and SBU and kill the TCU. This creates the amusing spectacle where an alliance can hold sov for months after they've completely evacuated an area. IT Alliance was still in control of Y-OMTZ in Delve on May 4, when they lost sovereignty in 6VDT-H in Fountain on January 31 and declared their intent to abandon all of their southwest holdings not long after. Mostly Harmless still holds sovereignty today in 18 systems, including their traditional home station system of P-2TTL in Pure Blind, even though Mostly Harmless functionally ceased to exist as an alliance almost a month ago!
These days in EVE, it is quite common for a conquering alliance to pay greenmail for the retreating alliance to abandon sov gracefully. It is much less painful to pay off the conquered foe than it is to gather fleets to grind the horrible timers, then risk the specter of the enemy returning for one big fight during one of these many timers to "reset the clock" on you and make you start the process over again.
CCP has mentioned that they'd like this to change, and are planning a broad-based change in sov mechanics for the upcoming Winter expansion.
Which brings us, finally, to the changes that Perpetuum is making in their own sov system, which they refer to as their "intrusion system". They detailed the changes that they're making in a devblog of their own which I mentioned yesterday.
The new system is quite interesting and is something that CCP should definitely consider replicating for EVE. Avatar is going with a system that they call "ownership through occupation." The key mechanic deals with "stability." Stability is a measure of a Perpetuum corporation's hold on an area, and is measured as a percentage from 0 to 100. Once the new mechanic is in place, at 50% stability or higher, the owning corporation may "lock the outpost" (station), preventing other corps from using it. The benefit of holding an outpost increases further as stability goes even higher. Capturing an outpost requires driving its stability to 0%. To affect stability, one attacks in-game structures called Service Access Points (SAP).
As I understand it, in PO's current intrusion system, each outpost has three SAPs, and all three SAPs become vulnerable once per week at a set time. There are four types of SAPs, and once they're vulnerable, you have to use the right type of attack on each one. The four types are "Destruction" (destroy the SAP), "Specimen processing" (you must courier a type of object to the SAP), "Active hacking" (what it sounds like), and "Passive hacking" (must defend the SAP for a period of time). Thinking about this mechanic will make it shortly obvious why it is vulnerable to exploiting by a blob, and why Avatar is concerned about the future of their game.
Instead, they are moving to a system where each 24 hour period, at random times, two out of the three SAPs will become vulnerable. Capturing an SAP will change the stability of the system by 6.67 percentage points. So under normal circumstances, 15 SAP captures will be required to reduce the stability of an outpost from 100% to 0%. This is a really clever mechanic for three reasons:
- First, the owning corp has to live in close proximity to the outpost in order to see the SAPs become vulnerable. Distant defenders (and attackers) won't.
- Second, the attacker has to commit large enough forces at lots of different time zones to their objective outpost to have a chance of attacking it.
- And third and most interesting, even a small group can -- over time -- make a damned nuisance of themselves to an outpost owner by staging "small gang" attacks on an outpost's SAPs, forcing the defender to respond.
Imagine if the DRF had to actually show up and actively patrol their holdings, or risk having them come under attack by random small gangs?
But most intersting of all is a companion mechanic that Avatar is also introducing, a "snowball effect" mechanic. Suppose the owning corp completely abandons the outpost? That means you have to capture 15 SAPs in a row, a task that's going to take at least eight days, since only two SAPs become vulnerable per day, right? Wrong. Because the game is also going to give you credit for each SAP you capture in a row. The first and second in a row will be worth 6.67% stability, but the third will be worth 13.34%, the fourth 20%, and so on. However, if the defender successfully defends a SAP, the count of your consecutive SAP captures resets. This also means that if you capture six SAPs in a row, you capture the outpost on the fourth day instead of the eighth. But if the defender stops the snowball (or even reverses it, getting three in a row themselves), your progress will be stopped cold.
This could create an amusing tug-of-war between corporations competing for control of an outpost.
It's a very interesting idea! Suppose capturing two systems in a row in EVE automatically allowed you to capture a third adjacent system? That would put a halt to it taking months to grind sov in abandoned regions of space.
But even more, there's been a lot of call for a way to allow small gangs to attack sovereignty of sov-holding alliances and thereby force defenders to come out and defend their property. One of the interesting things about the proposed PO reduced stability mechanic is that the outpost's services become more expensive as stability goes down. Sov-holders often enjoy free repairs and inexpensive research slots at their stations. Suppose those things only became free/cheap if they had defended their space successfully for so many days in a row, and became more expensive each day they suffered raiding attacks? That would slow the tendency of some alliances to turtle up when being harassed.
There's one more aspect of Avatar's plans that's a bit more open to abuse, in my opinion. When the new intrusion system is in place, once you capture a station, the game will give you the option of paying cash to artificially reinforce stability. Normally, when an outpost is captured, the game will credit you with a 50% stability right off the bat until the first SAP becomes vulnerable. However, it will also give you the ability to start the stability at a higher percentage in exchange for NIC, the in-game currency. While this would create an interesting ISK sink were something like this implemented in EVE, I can see it open to pretty rampant abuse by the richest alliances. Right now, there probably aren't a lot of super-rich corporations in PO, but it will be interesting to see how Avatar deals with that aspect in the longer term.
Overall, I really like the direction Avatar is going, and hope CCP studies it closely as they prepare their own plans for sovereignty changes in the Winter expansion. PO has "borrowed" so much from EVE that it only seems fair that the flow of ideas run in the other direction a bit, too. ;-)