February 13, 2014

The Current State of Mercenaries in EVE

The Have you ever looked at the Crime & Punishment forum before? If not, you should. It's basically the best and worst of the EVE Online forums all rolled into one. Once you get past all the hilarious posts, you'll notice that there seems to be a lot of threads advertising mercenary services. According to the front page of C&P, the mercenary lifestyle seems to be doing just fine. It'd have to be if there's so many mercenary corporations, right?

First off, we need to define what makes a corporation a mercenary and what doesn't.

What IS a Mercenary Corporation

A mercenary corporation is a group of players whose main game-play is provided through contracts given by other players for a fee. This could be anything and everything. It doesn't really matter as long as the action is paid for by another player outside of your organization against another organization. It's hard to quantify how much time spent doing contracts counts and how much doesn't, but I think it's fine to leave a little vague. Corporations who can charge more and be more selective are obviously going to work less than someone who charges less and will do literally anything.

What ISN'T a Mercenary Corporation

Quite simply, to be considered a mercenary corporation (for the purposes of this blog) your corporation must focus on finding and completing contracts. Spending the majority of your time doing some other activity and then doing a random contract here and there doesn't count. I don't consider anyone who wardecs random corporations on a constant basis so they can farm trade hubs for almost all of their game time to be mercenaries, even though they may be paid to wardec a corporation every now and then.

OK? So What?

Why does it matter if I have a definition of what makes a mercenary corporation? Simply because if we apply this filter to the C&P forum we see that there really aren't that many corporations that play as full time mercenaries at all. I'm sure there are some I'm unaware of, maybe some new groups or small groups that are doing a legitimate job at it but haven't made a name for themselves. Even still, there's less than ten (arguably less than five) full time mercenaries in EVE. Why is that? Think of your sci-fi career tropes. You've got your smuggler, your bounty hunter, your valorous captain and, yes, you've got mercenaries. When I first heard there were mercenaries in EVE I said, "Yes! That's exactly what I want to do." I can't be the only one who feels that way. So where are all the mercenaries?

I wasn't sure if this feeling that the mercenary way of life was in decline was just a personal misconception. Was I just remembering the old days as better days? I decided to do a little research on the subject. I wanted to know if it was a game-wide problem or if it was just me. So I reached out to a number of CEOs of other mercenary corporations, namely SkyFighters, Suddenly Spaceships, Disavowed., and Surely You're Joking. Their numbers actually matched up pretty well with Noir.'s.

Unfortunately, it seems that most groups don't keep records quite as well as we do, and I wasn't able to get a full list of contracts from each group so I can't compare numbers going back many years. And I wish I could, because I noticed an interesting event from 2010 to 2011 where our contracts dropped off drastically and then leveled out to the numbers we're seeing today. Initially, I thought it might be an internal cause, something to do with Noir. specifically, but when I got the results back from the other mercenaries I mentioned earlier, it seemed to dispel that idea. I began looking at outside factors, trying to determine if there was some noticeable shake up in null sec throughout that year that may have effected us. I couldn't spot anything specifically that was truly out of the ordinary, though. Instead, my theory is that people got bored of nullsec. Dominion had just been released and people were excited about sovereignty changes and chomping at the bit to try their luck at owning some space, taking it from others, and earning some of that sweet nullsec ISK. So they hired us, and quite often, to make that happen. But then the new car smell wore off, people realized null sec still sucked, and they stopped wanting to spend money on mercenaries to claim new sovereignty because people weren't so excited to go through the process any more. 

As I've been digging deeper and deeper, I've found multiple other symptoms that link back to the original problem: mercenaries are stagnating at best, slowly dying at worst, because mercenaries aren't utilized as often as they once were. This is a huge shame. The mercenary career in EVE is one of the best examples of players taking the game into their own hands and forging a path that was previously unheard of. This is the sort of thing that CCP should be shouting from the mountain tops. "Look! Look what players can do in our game! Can they do that in yours?" 


Mercenaries in EVE are effected by every security space in the game. Take Noir. for example. We're the only full time nullsec mercenaries in the game, but we also do contracts in low and high security space. Furthermore, there are mercenaries that specialize in every other type of security space: wormholes, low sec, and high sec. That means that, unlike many careers, mercenaries are effected by almost any game mechanic change made.


As I mentioned, mercenaries are susceptible to mechanic changes unlike many other player careers in EVE simply due to the fact that they're present and operating in every sphere of the game. I don't think that CCP has given much thought or consideration to this when making changes and have, therefore, hindered the growth and viability of being a mercenary through things such as the Dominion sovereignty changes. Some things are no longer a problem, but I believe they have acted as another stumbling block for the merc way of life. Things like the war declaration shield and the permanent war declarations fall into this category.

Nullsec Unipolarity

When I first heard this idea, I wasn't a fan. I'm not a believer in The Big Blue Donut. But I didn't understand what the term meant until I looked it up. It doesn't mean that there's only one side to all of nullsec, but rather that one organization has an extreme amount of power. Right now it's the CFC. It used to be BOB. Before that it was ASCN. It changes, but there always seems to be someone that, for a very long time, is untouchable. The CFC can extend their power to anywhere in the galaxy when they want. No single, or group of, organizations can compete against them right now. Mercenaries aren't needed by an organization like the CFC - they can handle anything on their own. Mercenaries aren't needed against  an organization like that because no one is willing or able to take them on.

I feel that this is the greatest single factor in creating the situation we're facing today. Mercenaries are, by nature, fairly small organizations. They have to be if they want to maintain cost effectiveness when it comes to making money. Consider that for every member in a mercenary corporation the contract price must be larger and larger to retain the same pay out per pilot. A huge mercenary alliance is unwieldy; they must charge prices so high that their demand is substantially lower. Consider Black Legion or Pandemic Legion. These are the two biggest alliances that have done mercenary work. They can demand hundreds of billions of ISK for a deployment, but they are rarely hired outright. Conversely, a smaller organization can work effectively on smaller fees. However, their small size hinders them in the current political landscape of EVE where wars are fought on the coalition level. 

What Needs to be Done?

Mercenaries need two things to survive: a goal and an employer. There are no shortage of people who would become employers if there was a reason. People all over the galaxy are willing to pay people to do things for them. Some people need more manpower to accomplish something. Some people don't want to commit their own resources. Some people want to remain anonymous. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer reasons for people to become employers. Fewer people have the desire to take something, destroy something, or protect something. People need incentive to fight on a smaller scale, breaking apart massive, generally peaceful organizations.

People have been talking about ways to fix null sec for a long time now. I'm not going to throw my hat into the ring of idea people, but there are guidelines concerning the effect of the changes that I believe are necessary to have a "successful" null sec update.

  1. It shouldn't be feasible to own large swathes of space under a single banner. 
  2. There should be less and less incentive to form coalitions.
  3. It should be possible for smaller organizations to have an impact on the landscape of null sec by themselves. I think it's important for this to be limited to some degree so that we still have large fights and small, guerrilla fleets aren't able to completely topple infrastructure alone while being opposed.

Of course, reaching a general consensus about how to achieve these things is a very difficult prospect. I think that avoiding hard, mechanical penalties is important, for one. For instance, it's quite possible to increase the cost of owning space for every system owned, making it more and more expensive and unwieldy to own a lot space. Bad idea. You shouldn't outright punish people for being well maintained and organized enough to keep control over a large number of systems. Instead, you should provide incentive or motivation for neighbors to attack. It shouldn't be easy to protect all of your assets since your border is so big. These are logistical problems, and I think they are more organic and more natural within EVE.

What we need is a lot of meaningful fighting. It can't happen in the current state of EVE, where everyone is more or less willing to keep the status quo and no one is willing or capable of dethroning the current mega power. We need people to have a reason to take space from their neighbors, to get greed in their eye.

Mercenaries need war to survive. And so does EVE.