I don't think anyone was given any warning about this. I haven't heard any CSM members breathe a word about it. I haven't heard CCP hint about it. It wasn't in the list of features CCP Zulu told us we should expect from the winter expansion. And yet, here we have a major expansion and alteration to Planetary Interaction, apparently near completion and ready for testing. Even more interesting, it includes multiple changes in strategy that hint at some hugely positive developments coming in EVE's future.
I'd say I was rendered speechless, but yeah, that never happens.(1) ;-)
Bravo, CCP! I really starting to think we're going to collectively look back on October 2011 as the month you turned it all around.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way: anything that takes content out of the hands of NPCs and puts it into the hands of the players can only be a good thing. And this does that, and does it in a big huge way. As a driver of content and drama, this change is a beauty! The bear community is probably going to freak out, of course. We're sure to see some drama, particularly in the low- and null-sec systems that are one jump out of high-sec, as well as planets in class 1 and 2 wormholes that are easy to access. People are going to lose beloved planets, some to others that truly want them, others to people who just want to grief them some bears.
But let's look at the basic positives, because there are a lot of them:
- This adds the ability for single players to own planets. Awesome.
- This also adds the ability to blockade planets. Hugely awesome.
- You can control who you want to be able to do PI on your planet by standing, and you can set a tax rate for the facility. Fantastic!
EDIT (18/Oct/2011): You can't completely block people from a planet you own. Turns out you'll be able to farm planets without a Customs Office. The CO will just make things more convenient. See comments below. I am "eh" about this. I'd be all for the ability to blockade a planet.
I couldn't be more positive about these changes. CCP Omen has also specified what the EHP will be for the new structures:
* Customs Office Gantry
** Shield: 10,000,000
** Armor: 500,000
** Structure: 300,000
* Customs Office
** Shield: 10,000,000
** Armor: 2,500,000
** Structure: 2,000,000
Mike deVoid over on Failheap has done a terrific job of creating a table that shows off how long it will take to reinforce such a structure:
So, if you're using the POS bash Apocalypse fit that I posted a couple of months back, it will take you 16-18 minutes to reinforce the Customs Office if you have ten friends along, or 10-12 minutes if you have fifteen. Or, if the enemy gang is 30 or more people, or is using dreads, it will take less than five minutes. This strikes me as exactly the right balance. If the force applied is overwhelming, you won't be able to respond to your Customs Office being reinforced. If the force isn't overwhelming, though, there will be plenty of time to scout out the attacking gang and decide if you want to counter-attack then, or wait for the reinforcement timer.
Which brings us to the best feature of all, the reinforcement timer:
I love love love this. Not only is this fantastic in and of itself, it speaks to a larger strategy that CCP is obviously looking at in terms of timing large gang fights. Imagine, if you will, if other timers in the game -- POSs, TCUs, et cetera -- could be chosen like this! This has many advantages, not the least of which being that CCP could strategically automate node reinforcement in null-sec! No longer would reinforcement of nodes for large TCU fights be at the whim of players filling out a form. Instead, a number of reinforced nodes could be handed off to be automatically distributed to reinforced structures based on the timers set by this dialog box by players. Once the reinforced node is no longer needed, it's released back into the queue to be automatically applied to the next set of reinforcement timers.
If CCP is not thinking in this direction, I hope they soon start. In other news, I want this kind of reinforcement timer for my POS, please. ;-) I'll happily forgo several hours of stront if it means that my POS automatically chooses to come out of reinforced during my strongest TZ.
And that speaks to the largest issue of all: CCP's null-sec team has clearly taken the "farms and fields" argument that's being made to heart. This isn't the whole book, of course. PI is only a small part of the resources that are mined in low- and null-sec. But it's a great first couple of chapters to that book. This is a strategy that could theoretically be applied to moon-mining, cyno jammers, and jump bridges, in particular. In the meantime, alliances looking to make trouble on other alliances can do it by interdicting their POS fuel sources or other PI worlds, and in this way, force fights over resources or threaten to have those resources cut off.
A couple of shorter notes, and I'm done. The Customs Office Gantry is 9600m3. This is a terrific size, and was surely chosen with tactics in mind. It's the exact size of a cargo-fit blockade runner, meaning that if you're going to interdict enemy planets, that's the type of ship you'll be using once the enemy Customs Offices are destroyed. Still, it also doesn't mean that you can block a lot of planets quickly, unless you're willing to commit a lot of pilots to unarmed blockade runners. Good show.
I also like the change of interface in the "import/export" dialog. That always struck me as really clunky, and I hated the fact that I had to physically go visit a planet to break up blocks of material for import into easy-to-manage chunks. This is a big deal with factory planets in particular. As a result, I hope that shift-drag works on the new customs office dialog box!
One thing struck me as somewhat negative: Customs Offices appear to be corporation-owned, which was the right choice. But there doesn't seem to be a mechanic in place for shared usage, which I think is a mistake. There should have been a hangar functionality included, for personal PI products and corp-owned PI products. Going back to the factory planet example, it would have been hugely helpful if corp members could drop materials into the corp PI hangar at the customs office for immediate import to the factory by someone with the proper roles. Today, if one character creates materials for a second character's factory, it's a wonky process requiring both characters to fly to the factory planet (or some other shared location in the same system) to manage. This is an aggravating weakness of running a factory planet, and it could have been easily corrected by giving the Customs Office a corp-owned hangar. Hopefully, this will be added in a future version.
But that's it. That's the only semi-negative thing I can think of. The rest of this change strikes me as positive from start to finish. I'd love to see the concepts from this devblog applied to a lot of other player-owned structures and mechanics, particularly in null. These are farms and fields mechanics that I can get behind.
(1) Tangent: people who think I'm going to burn out on blogging or run out of things to write about make me smile. There's just too much going on in New Eden not to have stuff to write about. I've been in my new corp and alliance for two days now, but I can't get the post out about it because there's so many larger things going on that should be written about first. ;-)