Exploring EVE Online #6: The Rise of Factional Warfare
EVE Online provides a unique sci-fi environment for players in their hundreds to combine forces and clash in momentous fleet-on-fleet space battles. Equally, smaller squads of players and solo pilots roam the space-lanes of New Eden in search of the pulse-quickening thrill of spaceship combat. Meanwhile other players of a more peaceful nature keep a watchful eye for potential aggressors as they go about their industry, trade and exploration. In many cases, the motivations for all these activities are purely in pursuit of financial gain or for the benefit of their corporation or alliance.
But for some, a greater purpose is what drives them; to fight for a cause, a flag or a nation. Fortunately, EVE Online is steeped in a history and lore which provides the perfect vehicle in its answer to realm versus realm (…versus realm versus realm versus pirate versus everyone else – EVE has never taken the simple path). Factional Warfare provides the framework for ongoing territorial disputes with an undercurrent of science fiction lore.
In order to get a grasp of how this dynamic theatre of combat works, first let us take a look at the factions themselves, why they’re trying to kill each other and why capsuleers (players) might want to get involved. Each faction has a militia which any player, corporation or alliance can enlist with, enabling them to fight for the Faction of their choice.
THE MAJOR FACTIONS OF NEW EDEN
Set over 21,000 years into mankind’s future, the human race has migrated to a distant star cluster and lost all knowledge of its origins. After millenia of regression and struggle, four major powers rediscovered interstellar travel and and laid claim to territory throughout the New Eden cluster. Their cultures had diversified and with ever-expanding borders, human nature being what it is meant war was inevitable.
The Amarr Empire
The God-fearing Amarr Empire was the first to explore New Eden and in doing so discovered the nascent Minmatar Republic who, although capable of space travel by this time, were woefully unprepared for what the Amarr called The Reclaiming. Using their iconic “Golden Fleets” of heavily armoured ships bedecked with energy weapons, the Amarr Empire enslaved much of the Minmatar population in the name of religion and used them to further strengthen their own culture. The political and technological climate of New Eden has since seen a decline in Amarrian superiority, but they still remain a powerful force who hold true to their ideals.
Enlisting Militia: 24th Imperial Crusade
Allied to: State Protectorate (Caldari)
At war with: Tribal Liberation Force (Minmatar), Federal Defense Union (Gallente)
The Minmatar Republic
The tribal Minmatar nation is made up of seven distinct tribes. Following the Amarr incursion, the Minmatar rallied with the help of their allies, the Gallente Federation. An ongoing rebellion saw many of their enslaved brethren freed and worlds previously under the yoke of Amarr rule returned to the Republic. However the continued Amarrian possession of Minmatar slaves remains a driving force which unites the sometimes divided tribes. The less elegant technology of the Minmatar often sees their ships described as low-tech, with a preference for primitive projectile weaponry and vessels considered to be poorly constructed. Despite this, Minmatar fleets have proven time and again to be quick and devastatingly effective.
Enlisting Militia: Tribal Liberation Force
Allied to: Federal Defense Union (Gallente)
At war with: 24th Imperial Crusade (Amarr), State Protectorate (Caldari)
The Gallente Federation
In the dawn of the rediscovery of space-travel, the culture that would grow into the democratic Gallente Federation found themselves to be occupying the same star system as the Caldari and at first they became allies. However, over time cultural differences drove a wedge between them and an overbearing Gallente desire for unity was rebuffed by the hardy Caldari, who strove to expand on their own terms. This led to a downward spiral into war which saw both sides inflict atrocities upon civilian populations of their former neighbours. As territorial disputes escalated and entire planetary systems forceably changed hands, an arms race began which saw the rise of the Gallente’s favoured drone weapon technology. In more recent years, hostilities had declined until a decorated Gallente officer on a diplomatic visit inexplicably* crashed a supercarrier into a Caldari space station. This act re-ignited hostilities with both sides crying foul and calling for capsuleer pilots to join the fray.
Enlisting Militia: Federal Defence Union
Allied to: Tribal Liberation Force (Minmatar)
At war with: State Protectorate (Caldari), 24th Imperial Crusade (Amarr)
*read the EVE novel The Empyrean Age for a full explanation.
The Caldari State
Branching out from a harsh planet, the industrious Caldari were forced to be culturally disciplined and organised. This ingrained philosophy was counter to the more relaxed Gallente ethos and the Federation’s attempts to absorb Caldari communities into their own social structure was perceived as controlling. The escalating acrimony led to the Caldari attempting to preserve their megacorporation-centric culture by any means necessary and war was unavoidable. Situated deep in Gallente territory, for a long period the Caldari homeworld, Caldari Prime, was cut off from State-claimed systems. Now once again under Caldari rule and protected by the missile-heavy technology of an orbiting State fleet, the difficult arrangement surrounding Caldari Prime remains a political powder-keg for both sides.
Enlisting Militia: State Protectorate
Allied to: 24th Imperial Crusade (Amarr)
At war with: Federal Defense Union (Gallente), Tribal Liberation Force (Minmatar)
THE THEATRE OF WAR
New Eden is divided into 64 regions, each containing constellations of star systems linked by a network of stargates. The core regions of the star cluster are home to the Faction nations, with poorly-policed fringe systems separating them from the far-flung “null-sec” regions of lawless expanses entirely ruled by player empires.
Every system has a security rating which serves as a guide to how a capsuleer can expect the world to respond to his actions. As a sandbox environment, players can choose to behave how they like regardless of what security rating a system has, but the consequences of those actions vary wildly according to this security level.
The four Factions each hold claimed “high-security” territory which remains under the watchful eye of CONCORD – an interstellar police force with access to unique technology which is devastating to capsuleer ship systems. In this way general capsuleer hostilities in high security systems (those rated 0.5 or more) are discouraged. The exception to this is if a capsuleer is in a CONCORD-sanctioned war, which includes both private corporate wars and Factional Warfare. If an enlisted capsuleer is engaged in high-sec by a member of the opposite faction, CONCORD will not intervene. In addition, any enlisted capsuleer venturing into the high-security space of an enemy (or their allies) will be intercepted by NPC naval forces loyal to the territory-owning faction. The path of the committed soldier is narrow and perilous.
The Shifting Battlefronts
On the outer periphery of each Faction’s high-sec dominion are low security systems. These systems are claimed by one the various factions, but unlike high-sec, neither CONCORD nor the Faction Navies actively respond to hostile action there. However, it is worth noting that powerful static weapon platforms protecting stargates and stations will still open fire under certain conditions. There are many areas of low-security space scattered amongst the regions, but a specific few are where Factional Warfare rages.
The Amarr-Minmatar war zone comprises 70 star systems within four regions; The Bleak Lands and Devoid are both traditionally considered Amarrian territory and the Minmatar front lies within the Heimatar and Metropolis regions.
The Caldari-Gallente conflict takes place across 101 systems in five regions; Black Rise and The Citadel belong to the Caldari State and Placid, Verge Vendor and Essence are Gallente territories.
Despite this, the ability for invading forces to take control of individual systems and gain control of space station facilities means that the front is constantly shifting. In this way, capsuleer strongholds and outposts containing many of their warships can fall into enemy hands, preventing them from being able to dock to access them. Reason enough to take up arms.
JOINING THE WAR EFFORT
Factional Warfare as a playstyle is a complicated beast to enter into, and the rookie EVE player may find it quite daunting. As well as learning the basics of EVE’s gameplay mechanics, with its deep character skill process, the nuanced ship-fitting system and the art of combat, the proto-capsuleer also needs to find his way into the player-run Factional Warfare communities.
As with many of EVE’s more involved facets, the key to community integration is finding an existing organisation of players compatible with the rookie’s chosen gameplay goals. This way at least, the more experienced players can provide some guidance and knowledge as the new militia pilot grapples with the unique Factional Warfare experience. For those brave souls who want to find their own path, some militia pilots amongst the EVE blogging community have written a few excellent articles describing the basics. Susan Black’s blog, @Gamerchick42, has an invaluable guide on “How to Join Faction Warfare” and Drackarn of Sand, Cider and Spaceships has written “The Ridiculously Quick Faction Warfare Guide”. Both are recommended reading for the fledgling enlistee.
Each player-driven militia has its own community, with their own idiosyncrasies and cultures. Enlisting with a faction militia automatically opens a new ‘Militia’ chat channel on the user interface, which serves as a lobby for players to get involved. There are secure private channels and other means of communication for operational purposes, but these will only be divulged on a need to know basis. Infiltration and spying is part of EVE’s gameplay, after all.
Edit: In the last few hours before this article was published, Susan Black launched a fantastic Factional Warfare portal site which looks like it may well provide exactly the unified information service that FW needs. I highly recommend bookmarking and visiting FactionWar.net.
THE EXPERT VIEW
In order to gain a better understanding of how Factional Warfare works, I spoke with prominent player and member of the Council of Stellar Management, Hans Jagerblitzen. Hans was elected onto the CSM primarily due to his involvement with the Factional Warfare communities and there are few people involved with EVE who are in a position to know more about how Factional Warfare functions, where there’s room for improvement and what the future might hold for enlisted capsuleers.
As an experienced battle-hardened veteran of three years of militia campaigns, what advice did Hans have for those who wanted to throw themselves into the fray for the first time? He accepted that there isn’t presently any central resource of up-to-date documentation for Factional Warfare rookies. He pointed out a number of player-written guides (as linked earlier) but accepted that the new player “has gotta find a friend fast.”
Despite the lack of an official tutorial, Hans identified that the new UI elements within the client are a lot clearer and more self-explanatory. “It’s one of the real high marks that doesn’t get enough credit. It’s not a narrative or a written ‘how to’ but it plays an important role in allowing players to know what to do and where to go.”
MOTIVATING THE TROOPS
Gaining a sense of what attracts players to Factional Warfare gameplay might seem like a simple question, but it turned out that there are many layers to what draws pilots in. Hans described Factional Warfare gameplay as “a structured form of PvP, there are objectives – get cookies, get kills have laughs.” He explained how it differed from the more “player-driven narratives” as found in null-sec, with Factional Warfare providing “a static war that gives a sense of home and a lasting sense of permanence. Also a taste of the bigger picture and participation in the story of the four empires that is so essential to EVE lore.”
Prior to the recent Inferno expansion, social interaction and storyline content was often the motivation of players as the gameplay mechanics were limited. Occupation of enemy territory was only possible by maintaining a constant presence. The ability to capture systems and deny enemy access to station-based assets changed that: “The station control lock-out mechanic introduced in Inferno was something many players were initially sceptical about, but it turned out to be one of the biggest conflict drivers. Historically Faction Warfare players have asked for real consequence, but prior to this mechanic there was no consequence, so Faction Warfare was heavily associated with RP culture. Players had to have arbitrary reasons – making up your own stories, have your own sense of racial identity or pride with the people that you flew with. If you didn’t have any of that then there was no reason to do any of it.”
“And it worked to a degree – it’s what kept the community strong all this time, but it hasn’t really been a growth driver and it hasn’t been something that has connected with the rest of the game and the universe at large and so I think that’s what’s exciting that we’ve seen since Inferno…”
THE POINT OF LOYALTY
Changes to the fundamental mechanics of Factional Warfare were introduced in the recent Inferno expansion and Hans explained that Loyalty Points are central to this. Although ISK is the ubiquitous in-game currency, for the militia pilot, Loyalty Points are the primary conduit for acquiring the ISK necessary to allow the pilot to purchase more ships. He explained that the new system was devised to give players more freedom of choice: “Formerly, people would have to take breaks to run missions in order to fund PvP, but if you just want to murder people, that should be a valid way to play Faction Warfare. Now everything we do gives LP, they are awarded for killing enemy, capturing dungeons AND missions.”
With the new ebb and flow of system control defining the battlefront, was Factional Warfare now the same process as found elsewhere in New Eden? Hans explained that the shifting battlefronts are dictated by a mechanic unique to Factional Warfare, with each Faction vying for the acquisition of Victory Points to increase the ‘tier level’ of their militia, with incremental benefits for all members being the reward.
However, he admits the system is still in need of a few tweaks – with no rewards for defending territory and high rewards for capturing enemy systems, gameplay has become a “tit-for-tat” exercise in territory exchange as militias allow the enemy to seize control of systems before taking them back for the rewards.
Additionally, not all players have embraced the new Infrastructure Hub concept, which requires player donation of their valuable Loyalty Points to increase and maintain the Faction tier level. “No one is really putting the points into the I-Hub. Because of the way the mechanic works, the I-Hub bleeds out LP with time based on enemy activity, so the only way you can sustain a tier level is by continually dumping money back in. The militias figured out that putting money in every day is like flushing money down the toilet. This has boiled down into a spiking behaviour, where basically you say Saturday is the day [you donate LP to the I-Hub].”
As much it may seem a little Communist, there are benefits to pumping Loyalty Points back into the system. Hans explains, “if you want to spend your LP at the LP store, you want to do it when you’re at a high tier level, because that’s when prices are at their lowest. At tier five, everything is at quarter the price it used to be – faction battleships become insanely cheap. If you’ve earned all this LP fighting and you’ve got your faction way up to a high tier level, that’s when you want to cash out at the store.”
STORIES OF THE FUTURE
With a concerted effort to create a dynamic system of territorial mechanics to drive the ongoing Factional Warfare conflicts, it would be a shame to see storyline elements becoming less integral. Thankfully, Hans was effusive about the idea of having some lore-driven events to complement the existing conflict: “There’s definitely some fun ways they could spice it up… If I could appeal to them at that level, hopefully I could make a case for the fact that – what’s the point of just pooping out a dry set of mechanical changes when you’ve got a community that is willing to invest so much more interest and imagination into what they do rather than just running through gaming the mechanics.”
Through his CSM role, Hans is optimistic that he will be able to communicate the desire for further improvements to the appropriate developers and the Winter expansion will include revisions that will continue to see Factional Warfare refined into an epic and immersive science fiction experience.
Tantalisingly, a recently released CCP Dev Vlog featured Senior Producer Jon ‘CCP Unifex’ Lander explaining that the PS3-based MMOFPS DUST514 will have Factional Warfare links allowing ground troops to play a part in the territorial wrangling. More details are yet to be revealed, but with bold design decisions coming down the pipe and an enthusiastic and dedicated player community driving things forward, Factional Warfare is certainly looking like the place to be in New Eden.
Pick a side pilot, it’s time to enlist.
[SEGMENTS OF THE FULL 2-HOUR INTERVIEW WITH HANS JAGERBLITZEN, IN WHICH WE DISCUSS FACTIONAL WARFARE IN GREATER DETAIL, AS WELL AS HANS' COUNCIL OF STELLAR MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE AND OTHER EVE-RELATED TOPICS INCLUDING TUGS-OF-WAR AND ICE CREAM, WILL BE AVAILABLE ON FREEBOOTED.]
[This article was originally published on 10 September 2012 on the Guild Launch blog.]