Eve Online’s communications blackout, explained

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jul
13

The way chat works in Eve Online changes today, throwing a wrench into an entire strategic layer of the game. Here’s why that’s important, and maybe even why the change could be informative about the future of the influential spacefaring MMO.

First, a bit of background. New Eden est omnes divisa in partes tres … cough … Sorry. Old habits. I’ll begin again.

Eve’s galaxy, known as New Eden, is roughly divided into three parts. There’s the high-security area in the center, also known as highsec space. It’s patrolled by AI-controlled factions who keep the peace. Outside of that area is the null-security space, also known as nullsec. That’s where Eve’s major wars are always fought, with player-led factions duking it out on the lawless frontier.

The third area isn’t really a single, contiguous area at all. Referred to as Wormhole Space, it’s a series of randomly connected zones that shift in relation to one another in the background of New Eden. While highsec and nullsec are referred to as Known Space, Wormhole Space is also commonly called Unknown Space.

Up until today, communications worked differently in Known Space and Unknown Space. Once a player dropped into a location in Known Space, the game’s local chat channel would provide nearly perfect information about who else was in there with them, what sort of ships they were all flying, and whose side of the complex galactic power struggle they were on. That sort of information was invaluable to small-time players and big alliances alike, who would use it in real time to decide whether or not to stick around and fight, or turn tail and run.

Things worked very differently in Unknown Space. Local chat would only identify a player once they sent a message, and then it would only provide limited information about them. Big forces could hide out in Unknown Space pretty easily. Trouble was, and still is, that once they enter Unknown Space it’s sort of hard to get back out again with any certainty. But that’s beside the point.

The result was that Unknown Space felt dangerous. Anything could be lurking in the black. Meanwhile, Known Space — both highsec and nullsec areas — didn’t feel nearly as threatening.

So CCP Games, the Icelandic company who develops and publishes Eve Online, made a change. It’s now enforcing the same kinds of local chat systems in nullsec that it enforces in Unknown Space. That means players no longer have perfect information about who is in a nullsec system with them, and entire fleets of player ships can now be moved around much more easily without anyone knowing where they are.

The in-fiction reason is simple enough; with a recent alien invasion, there’s only so much 4-helium to go around. That rare material is needed to power the whosits and the whatsits that make faster-than-light communications possible in nullsec, and the ruling party in highsec wants to keep a strategic stockpile on hand for when the shit really hits the fan. So it’s turning off the juice, and enforcing a communications blackout in nullsec for the time being.

For large alliances, this means the calculus they used to plan their wars and fortify their holdings in nullsec has changed dramatically. How things will shake out is anyone’s guess. Right now some of the powers that be are likely planning bold maneuvers against their enemies. It should be heady times for those like me who enjoy following the political machinations of the game from a distance.

This change gives players more work to do, creating more opportunities for innovative gameplay within larger organizations. Now, instead of letting third-party tools skim data from local chat and spit out reports in real-time, organizations like The Imperium will need in-game spotters to track the movements of their enemies. Even Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco, long a big-wig in the world of Eve, is publicly praising CCP.

“I’m a fan,” Gianturco said in a tweet. “Free recon data […] cut down a vibrant part of the scouting and espionage meta.”

David “Matterall” Mora, who runs the Talking in Stations fan podcast, agrees.

“A lot of people [who are new to the game] will go straight to nullsec and live there,” Mora told Polygon in a call today via Discord. “They’ve been able to farm and create money and do their activities there with an incredible amount of safety. I think this is CCP’s way of shaking the game up and saying, ‘You’re too safe. We’re gonna rattle the board under you first. We’re going to scare you with what NPCs can do, and then we’re going to knock out the lights.’”

He compared it to an ecosystem with more space for diversity.

“You have a nocturnal setting now where animals can hunt at night,” Mora said, “but you also have a nocturnal setting that allows grazing animals to be able to be more stealthy when they are grazing.”

CCP is currently evaluating these changes to how local chat works in nullsec, and has said publicly that it may lift the communications restrictions at some point in the future. It’s also important to note that the company is actively working to upgrade the technology that underpins the entire game, including the local client and its server infrastructure on the back end. These kinds of galaxy-wide changes in how the game works show an appetite to experiment, and a willingness of the playerbase at large to roll with the punches.

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