What would it take to stop the depredations of James 315 and his ilk?
Before I begin, let me start by saying... again... that I support non-consensual PvP. I've been saying this on the blog for years, over and over and over again. Here are some relevant quotes from the links:
- I absolutely believe that there should be non-consensual PvP in New Eden. I've said that many times. It's one of the things that makes EVE EVE.
- I accept, embrace, and defend the gray areas of EVE, from scamming to non-consensual PvP to unequal warfare to corp names that some might find questionable.
- ...[this] came up quite a lot during my CSM campaign, particularly when an incorrect belief that I'm opposed to non-consensual PvP was politicized...
- For the record:
- Do I think war in high-sec should be limited to suicide ganking? Nope.
- Do I think there should be a PvP-free zone in EVE Online? Nope.
- Do I think there should be any condition under which an EVE player can be in space and be completely safe? Nope.
- Do I think new or inexperienced players should be safe in low- or null-sec should they travel there? Hell no!
The topic came up because New Order Logistics and the CODEdot alliance (CODE hereafter) that it's part of have apparently started expanding their scope from "miner bumping" and miner ganking to hauler and freighter bumping and ganking. This makes a lot of sense: these are often juicier targets, certainly easier to gank in most cases, easier to find, more likely to result in a successful kill, probably more fun. Goons have elevated freighter bumping (to get them away from gate guns and instant CONCORD response) into an art form, often an entertaining art form. What's not to like?
And the questioner was curious where the trend would stop: is New Order going to go after high-sec PI next, for instance? High sec incursion ships? Missioners? Will the "code" expand to include all high-sec activities? And if so, how would high-sec dwellers fight back, even if they were inclined to?
If I can be permitted a very short "Jester Makes History Fun" tangent, the whole question kind of reminds me of submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean during both World Wars. The submarines had all of the advantages: their attacks were preemptive, most often against helpless targets, and nearly always without warning. They preferred undefended targets over defended ones, and most often avoided ships that could fight back in favor of those that couldn't. In high-sec, even if they wanted to, miners can't legally act preemptively.
In terms of looking at the various options I came up with, I'm going to grade each of them in terms of "viability", that is, the likelihood that the given approach is feasible and would be successful. And it's probably not going to surprise you that I rate most of the options I could think of as having a low viability or worse. Minerbumping has been running for a couple of years now. If they could have been stopped easily, they would have been stopped by now.
Finally, I'm going to look at every option I can think of even if the likelihood of them "working" is nil or I disagree with them philosophically. As I said, this is a thought experiment. So I warn you in advance: this is a frightfully long post.
Ready? Let's start with:
Declaring war. Viability: Low. Many of the personnel engaged in this activity have lumped themselves into a single alliance, CODE. It's possible to declare war on this alliance and in so doing, freely fire on their pilots. Minerbumping is a 100 billion ISK per year enterprise on average and its budget is growing. While this is pretty small potatoes by null-sec standards, anyone who would want to put a stop to them is likely going to have to commit equal ISK to the effort, plus the 75 million ISK/week fee to keep the war declaration active over a very long period. The organization that did this would need or would need to create a larger alliance than CODE has (the aggressor in any conflict needs to be bigger than the defender), be well organized with good time zone coverage since CODE is active from EUTZ to USTZ, and would need a ship replacement program since there would be zero ISK to be made in this effort.
A typical CODE Catalyst or Talos fleet would also have to be carefully managed since it's obviously capable of doing a lot of damage to an aggressor. Against the former, it only takes one or two losses in an attacking fleet to lose the ISK war pretty badly since Catalysts are cheap. Since both ships use very short range weapons and no prop mods, I'd probably go with Maledictions as my standard attack ships. They're crazy fast both at sub warp and warp, pretty easy to get into and to fly, do a ton of DPS at good range, kite well, and a flock of them would make mincemeat of a Catalyst gang twice its size. They'd also have a fairly easy time holding and whittling down a large Talos fleet.
That said, while ganking helpless targets is fun, chasing Catalysts and Taloses around high-sec probably would not be. Station games and neutral repping would come into play in a big way, and about a third of a given CODE gank fleet appears to be made of non-CODE members that could not be attacked without further expensive war-decs. It's a pretty good bet that a number of CODE members would just swap over to non-CODE alts to keep the ganks going. So a war declaration would be a long expensive slog with not much to show for it. This tactic would also be heavily reliant on a large number of PvP pilots, something Minerbumping's victims probably aren't going to have access to. That brings me to...
Hiring mercenaries. Viability: Very low. This approach has all the disadvantages of the first idea, plus an obviously even greater expense since the mercs must be paid, and paid well. The victory conditions would have to be very carefully set as well, since "destroy 5000 enemy Catalysts" or something like that would be pretty easy to fake.
Bounties and/or kill rights. Viability: very low to none. The typical CODE ship is a Catalyst with a very low value. Even if a kill right was successfully exercised against one, the response from the pilot would be "BFD." Likewise, putting bounties on a large number of CODE pilots might be satisfying from a stand-point of being notified every time they got killed by CONCORD and someone in a frigate shot them to get on the mail. But it certainly wouldn't do a thing to actually stop the attacks.
Counter suicide-ganking. Viability: low to moderate. Here's kind of an interesting notion: gank the gankers. The Catalysts being used by CODE are ridiculously thin. A fairly small group could declare a particularly good mining system a "Catalyst-free zone" and just suicide gank any Catalyst that warped to a belt or mining anomaly in that system. In particular, a relatively small group of Thrashers posted around a mining op and dedicated to the preemptive ganking of any arriving Catalyst could probably do a good job protecting that op.
This would get somewhat expensive in a hurry, particularly since it's 100% likely that CODE would quickly learn to hit such an op with unarmed decoy ships. It would also take a large number of participating pilots; as each pilot involved ganked a Catalyst, he would have to clear the area. The organization of such an effort would be somewhat complex because the counter-ganking pilots would also need to learn the skills to "pull CONCORD away" from the target belt. Keeping the security status of the Thrasher pilots high enough to operate in high-sec would also quickly become an expensive proposition. Amusingly and finally, there would also be a philosophical argument to be made about the justifiability of fighting fire with fire in this fashion.
Still, it's more viable than some of the other options, particularly if it's combined with war-decs. And if it could be expanded to additional systems by additional corps, over time it would damage Minerbumping's play style. Of course, it would come at the cost of having to explain to newbies why you're shooting at the Catalyst he's trying to use to belt rat in high-sec...
Defensive fleets. Viability: low to very low. I covered this one in depth last year. Even if a defense fleet does everything "right", the gankers are still going to win -- and win easily -- on an ISK efficiency ratio. And to make it work, you have to subject a significant number of your pilots to the most boring game-play in EVE: orbiting a mining fleet waiting for something that's probably never going to happen (because the gankers are going to look for easier targets). Finally, from a financial standpoint, this option cuts mining yield -- the whole point to mining in the first place, of course -- to its lowest ebb. And it doesn't stop Minerbumping's tactics overall in the slightest.
Defensive logistics fleets. Viability: low to moderate. Skiffs are getting a bit of an upgrade come summer and are already quite tough. Nothing is ungankable, of course, but you can make a Skiff gank a brutal slog. Add a logistics ship or two on stand-by and doing so becomes an almost ridiculously difficult proposition. It's also as close to a preemptive strategy as it's possible for a mining fleet in high-sec: the Scimitars and Basis and Scythes can have counter-cycled reps and rep drones pointed at the Skiffs so that once the Catalysts start firing, the damage gets repped up immediately. From time to time, you might get your Skiff ganked by a group of Taloses anyway "just to make a point" but it's going to be fantastically expensive for the gankers.
From a success/failure stand-point on an individual gank basis, this tactic is probably the one most likely to succeed. That said, it also has either the biggest boredom factor or the biggest botting factor of any of these options. At least a defensive fleet doing it "right" is going to have rats to shoot at from time to time. A defensive logistics fleet is literally going to have nothing to do except orbit and rep, rep and orbit. Even if players do this with alts, this is cutting their potential mining yield by a third. Or a quarter. And like defensive fleets in general, this tactic is not going to stop the Minerbumping depredations unless this tactic were performed en masse.
Finally, of course, if this kind of tactic started to be used in any kind of numbers, the gankers could just switch to killing the logistics platforms with more or less equal benefit to them of killing the ships being repaired.
Lobby CCP to put a stop to suicide ganking. Viability: none. CCP sees suicide ganking as part of the DNA of EVE Online. They're never going to make any change to remove it no matter how many players beg them to.
Lobby CCP to somehow criminalize bumping. Viability: none to very low. This one's a bit trickier. CCP has never come up with a definition of "harassment" as it applies to an individual ship in space, preferring a Potter Stewart test applied by individual GMs. Still, the action of spending many minutes bumping a potential suicide gank target, particularly when that action is combined with a suicide noob ships aggressing the target could potentially become a sore point. If enough players made enough of a stink about this particular action, CCP might choose to do something about it.
But it would take hundreds of individual players raising the issue and turning it into a threadnaught for anything to happen. And it would only stop a fraction of Minerbumping's tactics. As a side "benefit", though, it would make freighter and jump freighter ganks during Burn Jita somewhat more difficult and costly. Still, I can't see this one getting any traction.
Lobby CCP to give high-sec players more preemptive options. Viability: low to very low. I've always thought it would be kind of interesting if there was a way for players to "stake a claim" on high-sec minerals for brief periods. And with the advent of player anchorable structures, the code now presumably exists that could make such a thing at least possible. Assume you had a "mining claim" anchorable, and while it was anchored, the zone around the anchorable became a free PvP zone, even in high-sec. I could see that creating some interesting emergent game-play. The code would have to be carefully written such that such an anchorable only worked within some number of kilometers of a minable asteroid, though, or the abuse potential would be enormous.
But giving high-sec players preemptive options would definitely put a crimp in the Minerbumping play style. Or it might put a really useful tool in their toolbox since they could anchor this structure next to an AFK miner and use it to freely blow him away without CONCORD intervention. Other options to give high-sec players preemptive capabilities would likely have similar downsides. So something like this is interesting but I could see this kind of knife cutting in both directions.
Encourage miners to use smart fits. Viability: low. Of course, you could put ganking mining ships 80% or more out of business if most or all mining ships were fit properly. This particularly applies if high-sec miners stuck to Skiffs for most or all of their operation. Skiffs aren't ungankable, of course, but it often takes a prohibitively large number of ships to do it and in the long term, trying to gank an endless stream of Skiffs is probably a non-starter from a cost/budget stand-point.
Still, this option's viability is low for a couple of reasons: EVE players being dumb about ship-fitting is sort of one of the bedrock principles that the game is based on. And of course, not every miner can fly a Skiff. CODE gets a lot of their kills from players who can't fly anything better than a Retriever.
Attack CODE from within. Viability: low to moderate. This is another one that would be philosophically interesting: could a high-sec miner put on a good enough front to be accepted into a CODE corporation, and from there, take actions that would be sufficient to put them out of business? From a long-term viability stand-point of actually attacking the target, this one has the greatest chance of success. The end goal of this operation would be to be put into a place where one could access part or all of the Minerbumping budget. I suspect that would be a long term project and in the meantime, such a person would have to prove their loyalty by destroying dozens if not hundreds of mining ships, haulers, and freighters.
And in the process, who knows, such a person might even come to like it.
So this tactic would require iron discipline, a very long-term commitment, not an insignificant amount of luck, and the internal structure of the alliance itself and Minerbumping generally would have to be open to this kind of attack. That's a lot of ifs. I'm not going to say it's impossible, though.
Various low-end meta-game attacks. Viability: very low. This one is similar to the above, attacking CODE from within, but at a lower level. Under this heading falls various spying and awoxing tactics. In particular, keeping an ear on CODE comms and warning mining fleets of incoming suicide ganks would be an example of this sort of tactic. This sort of thing would be entertaining but I suspect such a spy would be found in pretty short order.
Also under this heading are various corp v. corp awoxing attacks. A particularly entertaining option would be to include a ECM Burst module on your Catalyst fit to break some of the fleet's target locks before a particularly juicy attack. Such tactics wouldn't work more than once or twice, of course, and their chances of disrupting Minerbumping long-term is very low.
Rally other EVE players into a combination of all of these tactics together. Viability: low to very low. Most EVE players are much more interested in activities that are fun and driven by profit than making any sort of political statement. Furthermore, enough players will sympathize with the gankers to disrupt such efforts.
Rally other EVE players into a short-term "event" to disrupt Minerbumping. Viability: low to very low. On the other hand, making an "event" out of it could be done relatively inexpensively. Something like "For one week only, 5 million ISK to every person who ganks an armed CODE Catalyst! One pay-out per character, characters must be 30 days or older to participate." would certainly be exploited by CODE members themselves. But enough other players would also come out of the woodwork to participate and make that week rather harrowing for CODE members. Of course, this would require a fair budget to implement, but probably wouldn't be too expensive, maybe five or ten billion ISK in total. And there's a possibility to drive sponsorship of such an event to help pay for it.
This would be an entertaining event, would drive visibility to the issue, and get people talking about why it was done. But its likelihood of disrupting Minerbumping's operations long-term is quite low.
Various high end meta-game attacks. Viability: very low. Not going to go into details on this one. Those of you who understand what I'm getting at will understand what I'm getting at. And I certainly don't condone these sorts of tactics. Particularly since such things would likely be against the EVE TOS... and I judge their likelihood of working to be very low.
...aaaand that's all I can think of. Again, you'll note that as possibilities for causing long-term impact to Minerbumping's activities, virtually all of them have little chance of success. But I was asked to think about this as a mental exercise and finding it interesting, I have done so. Did I miss anything?