The suicide ganking of miners, as a profession, is essentially dead. It is no longer a profitable enterprise. The Hulkageddon bounties have been discontinued, but Inferno 1.2 was the fatal blow, and the end of Goonswarm Federation payouts is merely an acknowledgement of reality. The annus mirabilis of the Catalyst is over. Exhumer killing has become the privilege of the wealthy and bored.
Pirates are, of course, disappointed. The consensus among those I’ve talked to is that some miners have refused to fit their ships properly, and CCP has been forced to give them what amounts to free EHP to counter their greed or incompetence. Still, there will always be those hardcore and isk-rich enough to terrorize the untanked Hulks and Mackinaws of the belts. The insurance nerf taught us that gankers generally gank for the joy of it, not profit. Exploiting weakness and punishing incompetence is enjoyment enough on its own terms - making money while doing it was icing on the cake. A job becomes a sport: so be it.
For EVE’s sake, I’m more concerned for the miners. They're still mining.
THE MINING TRAP
There’s a lot to be said for the ship rebalancing initiative. Breaking tiers and focusing more on choice and ‘role’ is an unquestionably good move. The large across-the-board HP buffs to barges in Inferno 1.2 may have been a bit excessive, but the principle is sound. Unfortunately, toying with the mining ships does not address the central deficiency with mining: it’s not fun.
We’ve all probably tried mining at some point. It tends to attract the risk-averse, particularly newbies, and played a prominent role in the old tutorial. If you’re a first-time EVE player and you’re unaffiliated with some outside community, you’re quite likely to start training into a Retriever. Thus begins the tedium and probable unsubscription.
The number of players who have burned out in the long grind for a Hulk - or found, at the end of the tunnel, that mining still sucks - must be in the thousands. Give them a mechanic more interesting than ‘target thing, hit F1, wait’ and I imagine player retention will move beyond the masochistic and the obsessive-compulsive.
Why is it so hard to catch mining bots? Because mining requires no uniquely human qualities. It isn’t so much a game as one of those experiments where a monkey presses a button and receives a snack. Target some ice, get the harvesters going, and go do something else for 55 minutes. (If there’s one thing that a typical miner hates more than fitting a tank, it’s paying attention.) You don’t even need an Orca or a can anymore, just let the ore hold fill up. Here's the real Naked Lunch moment: the very best human miner is essentially roleplaying a bot. That is what needs to change.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
It’s probably not possible to make mining engaging to the degree PvP is, but something needs to be done. There have been innumerable proposals over the years to make mining more interesting. Some advocate a more combat-like experience. What if asteroids moved? What if they were dangerous, somehow? What if you had to dig through to find precious ores, a la Minecraft? What if DUST players are involved? Perhaps these are, from a game design point of view, terrible ideas, but there is a lot of potential for change. Even a PI-style interface would be a step in the right direction.
Incidentally, CCP has proven that they can do this right. When we think of Apocrypha, we tend to think of wormholes and Strategic Cruisers, but we shouldn’t overlook the probing overhaul. An underdeveloped mechanic was completely revamped. It looks great, makes sense, and rewards human ingenuity. It can’t be reliably botted. This a superb model for the kind of development CCP could apply to mining.
Incursions are a more problematic example of the same principle. Although they are superior to standard PvE content, they tend to be managed and farmed by the wealthy. When Machariels and Nightmares are a common sight, you’re not in a newbie-friendly environment. CCP has been talking about Ring Mining as an Incursions-style group activity, but without careful attention, it could, too, become the preserve of the rich elite. The standard mining experience needs attention badly. As it stands, the result of 1.2 is newbie miners making much less money (due to the mineral market tanking) while botters and multiboxers sit happily in their supertanked isk-making chariots.
The day mining is fun - the day it requires intelligence - is the day miner botting dies. It’s also the day, unsurprisingly, that ganking will become much harder. An alert miner is often a safe miner.
I will miss blowing up botters, admittedly. They’re just so precious.
Probing proved the ridiculousness of turning ‘minigame’ into a dirty word. Yes, there have been some poor examples in other games, but CCP has a reasonable track record when it comes to turning underdeveloped features into something engaging. With Soundwave at the helm, I’m genuinely excited about POSes, and I think we could be excited about mining, too.
THE NECESSITY OF CHANGE
Changing mining will, of course, result in a wave of bleating protest from afkers and botters (try typing "EVE Mining" into Google and let autocorrect show you just how prevalent botting is.) A sense of entitlement has developed: an attachment to the ability to alt-tab out of EVE and watch Hulu as the isk trickles in. Remember the drone minerals nerf? The Titan rebalance? I’m sure there was some forum warrior out there who complained about the probing changes, too.
I am a ganker. I refuse to grind, unless for sec status. I live on reimbursements, loot, bounties, scams and market play. I will never mine. I stand to lose if miners have more incentive to pay attention. It is clear, though, that I owe a lot to the privilege of membership in a well-run alliance, and that the majority of players have to - shudder - work for their isk. Spending the last few months murdering exhumers has led me to be at least somewhat sympathetic towards capsuleers who choose to grind out profit in the most tedious way possible. Why are the unfortunates in the asteroid belts playing basically the same game they were in 2003?
The issues of 2011 and CSM6 - overpowered supercaps, fleet lag, pos-fueling horror and hybrid weapon weakness - have been mostly addressed. (POSes still need work, but the AT10 interstitials make it clear that CCP’s on it.) Crucible, Inferno, and the continuing rebalancing initiatives have made a difference. We may not appreciate it, but EVE is in a golden age of PvP right now. It’s time to make PvE and mining great, too.