I haven’t posted much this past week. I point you to reasons I discuss in this previous post about time management. Real life matters and in-game preoccupation have left me with little time to blog recently. But I have returned, and I’ve got stuff to say. So strap in, dear reader, as we explore the following idea.
I think mining barges should have a utility high slot. I actually suggested this once in a CSM town hall meeting, but without any context behind it, I don’t think the idea got much traction. So, this post aims to present that context. Why should barges get a utility high slot? What are the benefits? Are there drawbacks? What would it mean for gameplay?
Inevitably, there are subsets of the player population that regard any kind of perceived buff to mining as another example of the downward spiral of EVE into a carebear playground. My response? Don’t be so myopic. The addition of a utility high to barges is a balanced approach to expanding players’ available tools for true sandbox play. Furthermore, it actually encourages miners to expand beyond their current gameplay paradigm into potentially riskier behavior. In short, I see the addition of a utility high slot to mining barges as a content creator.
Previously, I’ve talked about the nature of risk in EVE. One of my key points was how risk is centralized for some types of gameplay and decentralized for others. For haulers and miners, risk is centralized, meaning that balancing one loss requires many gains (whereas in decentralized risk models, one gain balances many losses). One of my assertions in that post is that centralized risk play styles require a greater set of tools for risk management to maintain proper gameplay balance.
One of the primary uses for a utility high slot that I envision is the ability to fit a cloaking device to your mining barge. I originally had this idea before the introduction of Higgs Anchors. You might think that this pretty great risk management tool for miners renders the ability to fit a cloaking device in a utility high as obsolete or unnecessary, or that the ability to run a cloak and a Higgs is one too many tools in a miner’s risk management tool set. Actually, I think that with the introduction of Higgs Anchors, the ability to fit a cloak becomes even more balanced than it would have been previously.
Here’s why. They don’t synergize particularly well. A Higgs Anchor lets you stay aligned to a warp out point at full speed without pulling out of range of an asteroid belt before your hold is full. A cloak has a massive speed penalty. For a Higgs Anchor-fit barge also equipped with a cloak, a miner faced with a local spike is presented with an either/or choice. Do I go ahead and warp out or do I cloak up? It would depend on the situation you’re in which tool you’d take advantage of. You can’t simultaneously take advantage of both. The only way they work together is the ability to warp out to a pre-aligned safe spot with the Higgs and then cloaking up in your safe spot. But how is that any different than just warping to a station and docking up? I’ll get into that shortly.
My reason for a cloak on a barge is to open up more options for low-sec mining. If I can find an isolated low-sec system and smuggle in a barge, a cloak provides enough risk management that low-sec mining in barges becomes viable. As it stands, the profit to be made from low-sec mining does not warrant the huge risk of operating a barge in low. It comes back to that centralized risk. The potential reward for that activity, even over multiple successful runs, remains overbalanced by the stakes (high relative cost of a barge) and the high chances of losing those stakes. Furthermore, the current strategies required to even attempt this in low suggest only mining when a system is empty and docking up whenever someone enters local.
Now, the Higgs Anchor helps with getting off a belt and docking up, which addresses one element of this risk scenario. But docking up whenever there’s a local blip is so time-consuming that it nerfs your mining rate into the ground. So, if the aim is to make using barges in low-sec viable—which I think is a huge benefit to the health of low-sec and the encouragement of high-sec-only miners to venture out of that particular gameplay rut (where a lot of new players go to die), which is a benefit to the health of the New Player Experience—then mitigating the risk while also ruining the reward isn’t really a help.
Enter the cloaking device. As a miner, I would likely still be only mining when local is empty, but now when someone enters local I activate my cloak. Now I can sit cloaked to avoid being ganked instead of docking up. And the targeting delay upon coming out of cloak is less of an interruption than warping to station, docking, undocking, warping back to a belt. It keeps the same level of risk management without as much of a nerf to the reward. This brings the whole activity to a more balanced state, without having to touch low-sec asteroid yields in order to balance the reward with the risk (which would bring with it a host of other complicated balance issues).
Great for a miner, you say, but how is this not unfairly balanced against low-sec hunters/gankers? There’s a pretty simple answer to this. If there’s an effective method of risk management for miners to operate in low, such that doing so can be profitable enough (or useful enough—I’d want to mine low for better access to minerals for production) compared to the risk of that activity, then you’re going to see a lot more miners going for low-sec belts. Yes, your chances of taking down an individual miner would go down, but the greater availability of targets as more miners attempt it means that overall you’d likely see at least an equivalent ganking return, or more likely even a bump. For every savvy miner who uses all his tools to consistently avoid you, there’s going to be one who will try to get away with semi-afk mining, another who’s heard that low-sec mining is a thing now but hasn’t actually researched the right way to do it, and a third who makes poor choices and can be outsmarted. And even the savvy miners, hunting them might actually become a regular and interesting cat-and-mouse game instead of a rare lol-gank. So there’s your end.
But mining in low-sec with a cloak is just one possible aspect of a mining barge utility high. Think of the other possibilities. Probe launcher. How many more miners (especially new players) might get into exploration, if they can scan while mining in the background. Beyond that, being able to scan down signatures while mining is an amazing way to keep miners engaged while doing what is admittedly a sometimes boring activity. Salvager. How many miners end up leaving belt rat wrecks untouched because it’s too much of a hassle to come back in a different ship just to salvage a few wrecks. Tractor beam. Maybe for salvage, you roll with a salvage drone and use a tractor beam to pull in wrecks for the loot. Smart bomb. Maybe I want to keep five mining drones out and not have to call them back and pull out combat drones when belt rats pop in. Take care of them with the smart bomb instead. Energy Neutralizer. Spice up a bait ship with a little extra dimensionality. Whatever. Quality of life and utility.
A utility high slot on a barge not only enables more gameplay choices, it also adds greater dimension to existing gameplay. It vastly improves quality of life for miners. It has the potential to create content in low-sec. It can enhance the new player experience. It makes the sandbox a more varied place. I really only have one question. Why hasn’t this been done already?