The worst mistake CCP could make when they eventually iterate on sovereignty again would be to implement a "bottoms up" income system without a corresponding "bottoms up" sovereignty system at the same time.What do I mean by that? Before I get into that, I'd like to take us all back three years for a moment, to the Dominion expansion. This expansion was trumpeted by CCP as the most major change in the way sov would work pretty much since the game was launched ten years ago. Every single mechanic in the way sov was captured and managed was changed; nothing was left as it was. Remember: Every. Single. Little. Thing was changed. And the changes were so revolutionary, so ground-breaking, that a month or so before Dominion was released, the sov map looked like this:
And a month after Dominion was released -- the most revolutionary change to the sov system in the history of EVE Online -- the sov map looked like this:
I swear those are real pictures and I swear I am not making this up. It's OK. No need to feel bad: you can laugh. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Why did Dominion effect so little change on the EVE landscape? Mostly, it comes down to inertia. A lot of people belonging to a lot of sov alliances were already living in and around the systems that they held prior to the Dominion drop. These people were therefore already in the best position in terms of logistics to drop the hundreds of Territory Claim Units that would be needed to claim sov under the new system. These people already had ships in stations and already had the processes in place to stand guard as this was done. But just as important, these alliances already had both enormous financial backing to make all of the needed purchases and the motivation needed to make sure that as little as possible changed after Dominion dropped.
And that leads to the third reason why there was so little change after Dominion: the system prior to Dominion, that of logistics and POSes and a structured, organized top-down approach lent itself well to Dominion's structured, organized, top-down approach. The cost of sov wasn't based on how many members an alliance had but how much ISK they had and those ISK sources were very much fed from the top down, primarily moons of course, but also supplemented by a lot of very rich EVE players. How those EVE players stayed and remained rich, particularly in the east, I leave as an exercise for the student.
But the net result was clear: since income was top down, sovereignty continued to be top down and as a result, almost nothing on the map changed when Dominion dropped. I've been playing this game long enough that I remember how revolutionary and ground-breaking and game-changing CCP promised Dominion would be. The reality? Not so much.
The Truman Show is a movie about a man who is born, raised, and is living in an artificial town-sized bubble as the unknowing star of a reality TV show. The town is a massive TV set. All the people around him are actors. He is not allowed to leave the bubble. So when as a child he proclaims he wants to be an explorer, his (actress) social studies teacher is quick to point out that he's too late, it's all been explored and mapped out already. The subtext: there's obviously no reason to leave the bubble.
That late 2009 snapshot of sov was only that: a snapshot. Soon after, a lot of changes began impacting the sovereignty map that happened despite Dominion rather than because of it. A lot of people were pushed out of sov in 2010. I was only one of them, pushed out of Scalding Pass by the Red Alliance invasion of the region. Those of us in that situation were joined by thousands of new EVE players with the Incursion expansion, also released in 2010. By mid-2011, a lot of us were looking outward at sov again but by that time were essentially being told that it had all been explored and claimed by others. So a lot of people decided that there was no reason to leave the bubble.
Now CCP has just started to hint that they'd like to look at this again, and a lot of players are giving their opinions of it, myself among them. The problem is that where the discussion seems to be going is in the direction of bottoms up income without linking this to bottoms up sovereignty. In short, a lot of the various proposals and discussions revolve around removing moon-goo and forcing alliances to make their ISK through the active ship-flying activities of their members. And I'm all for this. And the big sov coalitions are as well. And I'm sure CCP likes it because it would be easy to implement. Whatever system they put in place for players generating alliance income through taxes or whatever, few or no fundamental changes to the game's mechanics will be needed.
But the net result is going to be that nothing is going to change in null-sec sovereignty. A couple of months after such changes were implemented, the sov map would change not at all. The sov coalitions would enjoy massive incomes coming out of their thousands of members, renters, and pets, and would use this to pay their TCU-based sov bills and that would really be that. No wonder the big sov coalitions like it: hell, it makes their jobs easier!
In my opinion, bottoms up income is a nice start. But it's only a start. It has to be linked to bottoms up sovereignty as well. I've written about this before, as sov by occupation. To hold sov, the sov owner should have to be active in the systems that they hold, by living in the station there, by mining, by running sites, or through some other mechanic. At the end of the day, I don't much care what that mechanic is (though I've suggested one possibility). And bottoms up sov is not going to be easy for anyone: not for people holding sov, and not for CCP. But if change is going to come to sovereignty, in my opinion, this is going to be the only way to do it: get your players to solve the problem for you.
But this post has gone on long enough, so I'll write about that in a day or two.