CZ Minutes: Away From Keyboard?


Last week on CZ Minutes, the team tackled the thorny issue of the New Player Experience. Trying to communicate complicated game mechanics to people new to New Eden is an incredibly difficult proposition. Which is ironic given at the higher SP, more complex parts of the game, more and more players seem to be able to do what they need to without even sitting at the keyboard. One of the activities causing the most consternation amongst the player base is the use of various fits, particularly the Ishtar to rat away from the keyboard (AFK). We discuss one of Eve Online’s most broken game mechanics this week…

Xander: Over the past weekend, I have been dabbling with the ever increasingly popular phenomenon of AFK ratting with mixed success… With the correct setup from the player in the correct backend system, considerable ISK can be made with virtually zero input. Some have argued that this is a natural evolution given how dull ratting is in nullsec while others press that the risk/reward balance is completely out of kilter.

Is AFK ratting a necessary evil? Can it be fixed and if so, should it be fixed? How do we make PvE more engaging so that players won’t attempt ways to game the system?

Proto: Where there is isk, there is risk. The ratios to which have always been called into question regardless of whether it’s ratting, industry, missioning, or even planetary interaction. I would argue that PI is the most afk source of income that can be extremely lucrative, even more so than ratting. You said it yourself that your results were mixed. I would further argue that this proves the point that sentry afk ratting isn’t really a big deal.

HVAC: I fucking hate AFK ratting with a passion. I was hoping that we’d have a complete overhaul of the drone system, complete with the inability to do drone DPS without locking a target. Kill drone assist, kill passive drone targeting, re-do the drone UI. Bam, best EVE expansion ever. Hopefully they don’t consider the assist change the only thing to do to change drones, because seriously fuck AFK ratting.

Proto: I guess I’m not seeing a difference between somebody ratting afk or mining afk. the solution is the same in both cases: kill them. It doesn’t sound like this is an afk issue to me, but more of the same arguments regarding drone mechanics. I know it’s the mechanics that allow for this to happen, but drone mechanics and drones themselves largely have not changed in years (if ever) but the ships in the doctrines that use them. Is it time to revisit this? Absolutely. But again I have to ask if this is a drone issue, an afk activity issue, or a risk vs reward issue?

Sindel: I honestly don’t know much about afk ratting. I know people do it, I’ve killed people doing it, but that’s about as far as my knowledge-base goes. Personally, I can’t even get up and grab a drink without someone trying to kill me. Parking yourself somewhere, dropping drones and walking away just baffles me.

As for making PvE more “engaging”, I think that’s ridiculous to even think about. When any gamer decides to do PvE, it’s not to be engaged, it’s not to interact with anyone or anything; it’s about the bottom line. How can I profit from this? This is prevalent in every game I’ve ever played. In Eve, at least, a larger group of players enjoy more of a challenge – like ghost sites, for example. Still, I think the majority of people who have chosen PvE as their main career don’t want to be engrossed in story or situation. They just want money. Sure, you could say “Well, what about incursions?” What about them? You might have to deal with people and a higher level NPC, but you’re not doing it because you want to make friends.

Jeg: AFK anything should not be possible, full stop. There should be something happening that forces interaction in any activity to prevent it. How anyone can call it a game when there is no interaction is beyond me.

Niden: The very expression AFK is gaming anathema to me. What the hell is the point? A game that encourages you to turn it on and AFK so that you can have fun another time is a flawed game. Full stop. If CCP cannot leverage engaging, worthwhile PvE, that has an intrinsic entertainment or intelligently stimulating value to it – then remove that part of the game.

While the above statement sounds sound and simple enough on paper, it is vastly more complicated to implement in a sandbox world. Take what happened to Xander as an example; him being there, doing what he was doing, created content for someone else. That guy gets a nice kill and a story to share with his friends – worthwhile content.

Jeg: What story is generated from Xander’s lossmail? I fail to see how anyone gets anything in the way of fun from killing someone who is AFK and not fighting back beyond the satisfaction of destroying their ship. Where is the story? “Oh, I killed an AFK Ratter this one time, it was epic” hardly has a ring to it. Of course, the very fact it is Xander makes it satisfying, but beyond that?

Niden: You are right, of course. It does have some meaning however, because Xander will (hopefully) think twice before he AFK rats again. The root of the problem is that he felt that he could AFK. I don’t know if removing aggression AI from drones is the right solution however because that has a lot of value in PvP when fighting EWAR for instance. Another way to look at it is to consider the space where this happens. I could for instance never in a million years AFK rat in FW lowsec.

Jeg: Xander is a crappy example here for this conversation. Had he made more money than he had invested in the ship he had lost then he would have no incentive to not do it again. The very fact it is even an option is the problem at the core of things. Removing drone aggression AI can’t be done without seriously affecting a lot of playstyles that are very relevant. Countering EWAR is the obvious case as you mentioned. Tweaking drone AI so that it requires some interaction (outside of direct control and micro management) may be a viable option, but again, this needs to be done carefully so as to not break other playstyles. You are right about the area of space that this happens in and that does really make the risk/reward balance seem odd. Null security space is supposed to be less safe than low security, however clearly that is not (nor has it ever been in my memory) the case. Is this an issue of addressing the risk/reward balance, making the PvE content more engaging, or perhaps simply forcing more interaction with the “automated” aspects of the game such as drones or cycling of mining lasers? I really have no idea.


Niden: I really like the idea of other players providing the ‘risk’ in the risk/reward equation, the problem of course is that you cannot control the behaviour of that risk, but you can stimulate it. Again we sort of end up in the ‘fix null’ discussion. Another thing to be considered, besides tweaks to drones, is changes to the NPC rats themselves. Engaging another player requires you to make decisions every second, that’s why we love it. What if the NPC AI borrowed some of that?

Jeg: This is not a null sec only problem. This affects high sec as well, and potentially wormhole space, though I have zero authority on the subject there so frankly I have no idea. However it is not a case of “Fixing Null”. I love the idea of players generating the Risk, however when it comes to PvE content, there is always going to be some pocket somewhere that this wont work in, reliance on players completely for that is too unreliable. Tweaking the NPC rats happens on a regular enough basis, but frankly as long as there is some predictability there there will be a way to game the system, at least to some degree. It also ignores the AFK mining aspect that is just as important as the AFK Ratting issue. Frankly the problem is that there is an automated means to deliver damage/mine or whatever to earn the ISK. Look at PI, moon mining and those other money making methods. Where is the risk? It all needs looking at realistically, people should have to actually engage in the game, engage in risk, and have to work to make ISK. I wrote an article a long while back on this very subject that covers a lot of these points when an exploit was found that effectively meant that AFK farming of rats could be done 23/7.

Proto: “AFK anything should not be possible, full stop”. Hang on there on just a minute here and let’s work through this. You asked where the risk was in moon mining. It’s your POS. Monetary Risk. PI? A lot less, but we have yet to see how Dust will play out in this. There are associated risks with anything. Yes Xander probably made more money than he lost, but that did not have to be the case. Calling for a full stop of any AFK activity is just ludicrous. You have the same opportunities as anyone else to make isk. you may have the luxury of ratting afk, but not everyone else does.

Jeg: Yea, I think that quote should be scrapped, ‘anything’ covers too much ground. I don’t think AFK should be stopped completely, I simply think that the risks should be balanced appropriately. Since Alliance level income can be made from mining of moons using a relatively safe POS structure that cannot be destroyed in a single pass seems somewhat broken. Being able to make money from removing materials from a planet in a cloaky hauler with little to no risk whatsoever seems somewhat broken. Being able to kill rats potentially making 20-30 million ISK an hour while having a shower seems somewhat broken, through at least there is SOME risk of being ganked in null sec. Mining while AFK seems to be the only sane way of mining, and frankly making a game so engaging that it forces you to AFK for your own sanity just seems wrong. AFK means zero engagement in the game, encourages botting and frankly (IMHO) should have no place in a game like EVE Online. Thats not to say ban it, it is however to say make it less lucrative so that people aren’t encouraged to ‘play the game’ while AFK.


Niden: As for solutions I would suggest a more advanced NPC AI that, for instance, it would realize you are the problem rather than the drones doing the DPS – forcing the player to be present. This however would just be enforcing the presence of the player and I think if would be necessary to add more advanced tactics employed by the NPC’s, borrowing from real player behaviour, thus making the fight itself more interesting. Gaming AI has come a long way but EVE NPC’s seem to be stuck in 2001. Consider this; GTA V is PvE. But it’s so well done that you almost forget that at times. There are no direct parallels between GTA and EVE, but it does illustrate the point of what good AI can do.

As for mining; make use of the idea that actually got a total PvP addict like me to try exploration. Fun, interesting and challenging mini games can be the solution here. At least they can be put in place as an option – giving those that engage in them a considerable bonus.

Tl;dr: don’t just force presence, make it interesting using AI and novel gameplay.

Forlorn: Sorry, I was busy afk ratting. I actually did that on an alt, just to test it. The ISK created is compared to active ratting not that good, however it is possible. It is definitely not a good mechanic. Depending where it is done, it is a nearly risk free, passive income. It shows that the PvE content in EvE really needs some love. Usually most complexes and anoms are just a tank/dps thing and drones make it easy while consuming more time. Players are forced to specifically fit their ships and that leads to most players that do PvE content in null or low just to run away as soon as hostiles enter the system, which is one reason why there is little consensual PvP in null.

Jeg: The completely predictable nature of the damage you will encounter and behaviour of the rats in the anoms allow you to make a very specific build to make running anoms safe. Obviously any real opposition would know how to break your tank. Not sure if that is a problem or not, but clearly it does rather limit proper PvP opportunities since no-one is going to hang about and fight with such an obvious weakness. It is however a very interesting point Forlorn.

Mangala: Erm. I was afk.
Tags: afk, cz minutes, pve, ratting

About the author

Xander Phoena

The good looking, funny, intelligent member of the team, Xander set up Crossing Zebras with Jeg in April 2012 mainly because he was talking too much about Eve on his other podcast. Playing the game for almost five years, Xander still has absolutely zero clue about how to actually play Eve but somehow still manages to talk a good game.