Besides, the latter's been a good way to keep up with how the Escalation patch is affecting incursion-runners.
And I'm glad I have been, because I'm learning a lot. Ironically, Escalation's effect on incursions is turning out to be a CCP record: a quadruple nerf.
- Vanguard payouts are reduced 10% (nerf #1); and,
- Vanguard spawns are no longer blitzable (nerf #2). In addition,
- Either because of this, because CCP adjusted it, or both, Sansha influence increases faster in constellations than it did before; so,
- Because Sansha influence is higher, player DPS and resistances are lower; so,
- All incursion sites are slower to run than they were before (nerf #3); and,
- Because Sansha influence rises so rapidly, often HQ sites can't be run at all (nerf #4).
Sansha incursions have a little influence bar that shows and regulates how much players are impacted by the incursion when they enter sites in an incursion constellation. At "100% red" -- full Sansha influence -- player DPS and resistances are greatly reduced from normal. At "100% blue" -- no Sansha influence -- player DPS and resistances are unchanged from normal. Before the Escalation patch, it was extremely common for players to rapidly smite the Sansha influence bar from 100% red to 100% blue in a matter of hours. Even when I was running incursions pretty regularly last summer, I don't think I ever saw Sansha influence in a high-sec incursion of higher than 20% red or so.
The higher the Sansha influence is, the harder incursion sites are to run primarily because player DPS is reduced. However, some sites -- notably HQ sites such as True Creation Research Centers -- become impossible to run because player resistances are also reduced. There's enough alpha in a TCRC to volley player ships off the field if Sansha influence is high enough, regardless of the number of logi brought into the site. As a result, to even make multiple HQ sites possible to run, someone needs to go out and run a large number of Vanguard sites to drive Sansha influence down. However, as I said, either players are running markedly fewer Vanguards or CCP tweaked the rate at which Sansha influence rises (probably both).
Doing a HQ site reduces Sansha influence in the constellation by about 4%. Doing an Assault reduces it about 2%. Doing a VG reduces it by a small amount, probably around 0.33%. But Sansha influence continuously rises by about 1% every five minutes or so, or about 15% per hour. If there is an HQ fleet running, that will hold down half of that. The rest must be held down by Assault and Vanguard fleets.
Ironically these days, there often aren't enough. This is particularly true on weekdays and during USTZ. As a result, where prior to Escalation it was uncommon to see any red in the Sansha influence bar, today it's quite common for the influence bar to hover at around 20 or 25% red. Again if this is the case, incursion income is reduced due to reduced player DPS. Only if the armor and shield public incursion channels cooperate or compete in the same high-sec incursion is it easy to keep the influence bar at 0% red.
All of this is having two other interesting effects as well. First, the Sansha mother ship site only appears if the Sansha influence actually reaches 0%. It doesn't have to stay there, but it has to be pushed there at some point during the incursion. If the mom site never appears, then it cannot be run and incursion-runners don't receive their LP rewards. Prior to Escalation, getting the influence bar to 0% was trivial. In at least two cases since Escalation, it's been a point of worry whether it would be done at all for a given high-sec incursion. Quite a change!
Second, incursion fleet griefing, a tactic which had been on the decline for the last part of 2011 and the first part of 2012, is back on the rise. The more difficult Vanguard sites combined with the higher Sansha influence (and the impact this has on player resists) are making it much easier for griefer Logistics pilots to abandon fleets to their deaths.
No doubt, many of you reading this are saying "good!" to yourselves over and over again. Incursion runners have less ISK? Good! Incursion sites can't be blitzed? Good! Incursions are harder? Good! And sure, that's a fair opinion. I understand why you might hold it. Still, it's having two chilling effects on the EVE economy at large that are contributing to the "May gray" I mentioned yesterday.
I've commented before on how circular incursion ISK tends to be. Full-time incursion runners spend their ISK on faction or pirate battleships, or tech 3 ships. They run more sites. Then they spend the resulting money on faction modules, earn more money, and upgrade to dead-space modules. In the process, a ton of ISK is produced and then flows into the EVE economy. With the exception of a few over-priced True Sansha modules, though, this money isn't going to other incursion-runners. It's going to players who are making those faction and pirate battleships possible though tags and pirate missions, respectively from faction warfare and either low- or null-sec. The higher-end dead-space modules of course come from null-sec. As a result most of the ISK from the "ISK faucet" -- though it goes directly to incursion-runners -- spends very little time in their wallets before finding its way into the wallets of faction warfare, low- and null-sec players.
The resulting slowing of incursion fleets is slowing down this flow of ISK, too. The result has been reduced prices for faction and dead-space modules. We can now track the prices of these modules on the market and those prices are going down, down, down. Granted, some of this is due to the reduction or elimination of scams from the contract market. But some is also reduced demand for the modules themselves. That isn't hurting incursion-runners.
Second, the Sansha influence bar is so aggressive now that it's nearly impossible to be an independent incursion-runner. Before Escalation, an "unclaimed" high-sec incursion(2) would soon find its influence bar pushed down by fleets not brought together in the two public incursion channels. These days, the much higher Sansha influence makes that difficult or impossible. The independent fleets soon find it's worth their time to move to the constellation where one or the other public channel are working to take advantage of the reduced Sansha influence (and the higher DPS and player resists this provides). This has, in essence, put more power into the hands of FCs in these channels. Ironically, this is not unlike the effect the 2010 sanctum/haven nerf had on smaller independent null-sec alliances. That nerf crippled or killed most small independent sov-holding alliances. This nerf is doing the same to the independent incursion-runner.
So overall, has the quadruple nerf been too harsh? It's too early to say. The incursion-runners would certainly say "yes", no doubt about that. Still, you can see the fleets compensating for the new normal week by week. Income will never get back to a pre-Escalation state, but all the nerfs and changes will probably become more manageable than they are today. It'll be a topic I'll want to revisit in a few more months before I decide on an answer myself.
Aiden Mourn over at finders & keepers is one of the gleeful EVE players saying "good!" about all this. Very ironically, though, he thinks that frustrated incursion-runners are going to fall back to doing level 4 missions. That's a ridiculous notion, but I'll talk about why in a day or two.(3) It's another factor having an impact on the "May gray".
(1) This is before the cost of ships, ammo, boosters, and paste is considered.
(2) Each of the two public incursion channels "claims" one high-sec incursion. If there are three high-sec incursions at a given moment, one will therefore be "unclaimed".
(3) Those that have been keeping track can probably guess, though...