Saturday, 19 December 2015

Risk aversion, and the costof thinking: Part 3

I didn't really intend for this to become a three part series, but out of looking at this paper some advice for pirates, or Faction Warfare militias popped into my head.

The goal of this advice is to reduce the cognitive load on people trying to enter PvP. By reducing that particular barrier, you will see a rise in the number of people fighting in your particular systems.

Getting new players in system

Stock the station market.

One of the biggest issues facing new PvPers, in particular for solo PvP, is the logistical problem of getting ship to combat zone.

My very first foray into Faction Warfare involved fitting up a frigate from my base station, and then making a 30 jump journey to the warzone. Upon entering, I had 2 minutes of delightful combat against a Rupture, and then blew up. I got him down to structure though, and drunk on this perceived success, I eagerly warped back to my base to re-ship.

I got about halfway before I realised I'd need to get all the modules for the ship again. And in my home base, that meant a trip to Rens to get everything. Transport it back to my base to fit up the ship. Then 30 jumps again to find a Rupture, most likely long gone.

In short, a lot of thinking to get back into the fight.

My next PvP encounter would be years later, when I assumed the title Khanid Kataphract, and really applied my brain to getting into PvP.

Anecdotal evidence, but it's my experience.

Just think what could have happened if all the things I needed were right there in that very system. I could have re-fit instantly, maybe gotten a second try at that Rupture, and maybe even my first kill mail.

Stock the local stations with goods. Allow newbies to simply bring ISK with them, and not an indy with everything they think they need. Not only does it reduce the starting costs of PvP down, but it means they can change their fits without wasting ISK.

For FW neutral markets can be a massive boost. Militias can be locked out of stations, meaning that assets can be locked away. Great for denying space from the enemy, but the problem there is you've denied space to your enemy. Why are you in Faction Warfare if not to PvP? Why then take actions that actually restrict targets from coming to you?

If you work very hard, and find your home base far from the front lines, you've basically turned your PvP arena into a deserted back water. It takes even more thought power to reach you, so why even bother?

If you want to have more PvP, make it easy for PvP to take place in your system. Stock the markets. Don't camp the jump gates. Don't mock in Local. Make your space somewhere people actually want to come to.

Reduce the effort it takes to get there, and people will come.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Risk aversion, and the cost of thinking: Part 2

Before we just looked at the cost of thinking as some of the background.

It's worth mentioning now, that this is mostly layman conjecture on a single paper, which is relatively recent. It's by no means a water-tight discussion from an expert, but rather the fevered ramblings of a pretend scientist on the internet.

That said, I hope some of this sparks a little bit of your own thoughts, or gives a little clarity to what you may be thinking about already.

Risk aversion to cognitive effort

Strictly speaking, this is a study of shifts in attention, and the perceived thinking effort that goes into it. If your attention is dragged all over the place, you tend to feel like you're being strained, or feel as though you are putting in a lot of work.

However, it does show an aversion to risky cognitive effort. It says that, given a choice between a safe, low thinking activity, and one which MAY require a high amount off thinking, people will tend to choose the simpler one.

Put simply, people don't want to find themselves in a position where they don't know how much thinking is needed.

I actually see this first hand in the classroom, particularly with students with Special Educational Needs. If they go into a lesson not knowing how much thinking they need to do, they will generally resist any attempts by you to teach them. Give them a set of criteria, and tell them directly what they will be doing at the start, and they will tend to put in effort.

This study also notes the difference between thinking effort and physical effort.

How many times have you heard the advice from solo PvPers: sometimes you just have to jump in and hope for the best. This is rationalised by these findings. Physical effort, actually getting yourself into combat, is usually rewarded with dopamine. That rush you get and the euphoria after a fight is a result of this reward.

This study tells us that there isn't as strong a link between a reward for thinking about a problem, as actually accomplishing it. Whereas that first fight you have will encourage you to do more, the thinking about the problem, even if a solution is successful, may not motivate you into more thinking time.

I'm not sure how valid a point that is, as my own experience tells me I enjoy analysis and logistical thoughts. So there is some more work that needs to be done there. But running with this idea that thinking effort is a detractor from activities, we can go on to the general risk aversion of EVE.

This means that a capsuleers risk aversion to more dangerous activities in EVE is not really down to a cost-benefit analysis of the physical cost, but rather the heavy thinking load involved in getting started.

Why do you think fitting guides and tactics advice are so popular?

Again, referring to mining. Mining as an activity is very easy to start in. You are hand held in the tutorials, and after less than an hours training, you are a successful miner. There are layers of mastery on top of that, but those layers of mastery are actually guided by ship progression. You work towards your first barge, then exhumer, then Orca. At the very beginning, you know how much thought you will put in, and where you're going.

Contrast that with PvP.

For Faction Warfare, you generally haven't got a clue where you're going, what you'll do when you get there, which ship you'll need, or what you'll do when it blows up. The preparation for entering even the most rudimentary PvP is, quite frankly, hard work.

In other words, what keeps people from entering EVE's PvP is less about risk aversion to money loss, but more about the aversion to the thinking effort needed to put in.

It's not really about losing the ship (although it does sting when you lose your shiny new faction battleship). It might be about knowing what to do afterwards, or even how to get into a situation where you can lose your ship.

Er... I mean, a competitive situation. Parking an indy about Jita's main station and shouting about the stack of PLEX in your cargo hold is a great way to lose a ship.

Next time, I'll discuss how, if you are a PvPer, can encourage people to actually come to your systems to fight.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Risk Aversion, and the cost of thinking: Part 1

Whilst I was fact checking for one of my last posts, I stumbled across this paper on

Risk aversion is one of the key phrases thrown around by pirates and other competitive players who bemoan the fact that newbies and less skilled capsuleers do not line up to pad out their kill boards, and we see it in most peoples' blogs and forum posts eventually.

I've never really looked up the Science behind risk aversion, so when I saw it here, I had to take a look. It's a social science paper though, so not my specialty. If any of my three readers think I've made a mistake, then please correct me.

The cost of thinking

Simply this; If you have to think about the task, it devalues the reward.

We do little cost-benefit analyses of actions we take every day. A simple example would be seeing a lollipop on the other side of the road. You will calculate the physical effort it takes to get to the lollipop against the reward of eating the lollipop. If the reward is acceptable to you, you cross the road, and devour the sweet, sugar kebab. If not, you'll continue on your way to the gym.

An EVE example would be selling an item. You see on the market a buy order in Jita 5 jumps away for 10,000 ISK, and a region wide order for 8,000 ISK. If, to you, the 2,000 ISK is worth the effort of travel, you hop in your frigate, and head to Jita. If not, you sell to the Region order.

What this study shows is not the Physical effort cost, but rather the cost of thinking about the problem; in the words of the study, how cognition devalues your reward.

Again in EVE terms, you could spend 10 minutes browsing the market for the best buy order, or you just hit sell instantly. You know you can get a better price by browsing markets, or even setting up your own sell order. But if it's a round of projectile ammunition you're looking to just clear your hangar of, then it's not really worth your thinking time.

The more you have to think about obtaining your reward, the less likely you are to even try it. To use Gevlon's language, you are a slacker, and probably a moron too for not thinking. In other terms, you are simply trying to most efficiently use your bodies current resources.

So what? Time is money. Nothing we didn't already know. What the paper tells us isn't that, and in fact suggests that time spent thinking isn't as important, but rather the effect it has on motivation to complete tasks. The more you need to think about an action, the less the perceived value of the reward, which affects your willingness to even attempt a task.

The best example of this was the old Planetary Interaction or even Scanning interfaces. To complete any of these tasks required a good deal of planning, memory load on remembering menus and options. This meant that many capsuleers were turned off from it before they even started. The reward became diminished because the thought work was too high.

On the other side of the scale, mining requires barely any thought at all. Okay, that's probably unfair to miners, who strive for efficiency with each laser cycle, but it's undeniable that fitting a laser and pointing it at a stationary rock is much lighter on the brain than say, setting up a manufacturing line. This is why many EVE capsuleers start off with mining. It has a clear reward with minimal thinking, and as discussed in a previous post, the mechanical process is well supported by a currency reward.

How this applies to risk aversion is what I'll discuss in the next post.

Just one more thing before we go. This study also shows that there isn't much of a link between task avoidance and the amount of eye movement involved. What that means in terms of EVE, is that UI layout is only important where physical movement of mice is involved... at least in terms of encouraging people to do activities.

So for an effective UI, keep your information spread out, but your action buttons clustered together. But then again, you knew how to set up your own hot keys already. Right?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

New Eden Conflict Drivers

Gevlon over at Greedy Goblin wrote an interesting piece on conflict drivers.
Thought provoking is par for the course for him, and I envy his ability to manage both blogging, a trade empire and his day job. But provoked my thoughts are, and I started to think about the conflict drivers in Faction Warfare low-sec.
The obvious answer is the Faction Warfare loyalty points, as the four militias battle over the complexes. There are a few reasons why this is not tremendously satisfying.
  • We rarely encounter fleets going all out over single complexes.
  • The majority of plexers will simply run if the fight is not winnable.
  • Those that do stick around were looking for combat anyway.
  • Pirates are there... and they care not a jot for LP.
So as conflict drivers go, LP is somewhat failed. Those that chase after it tend to steer clear of conflict, and the greatest conflicts are not driven by them.

Gevlon goes on to talk about ideology being the conflict driver for larger groups. I'm a scientist (or at least pretend to be for my students and on the internet), so let's look at some research.

LP is currency, hence why it appears in your wallet. It's a slightly odd currency, in that it's not directly transferable, but you use it to indirectly inflate your wealth.

Traditional economics says, do more work, then get better paid. Work hard, you get the best salaries, don't do any work, and you get, well, minimum wage. The best way to imagine this is a carrot to the stick of starving to death. Or to put it in Gevlon language: morons and slackers go broke.

It turns out that money is a fairly poor motivator for creative or cognitive tasks. It works great for something more mechanical (i.e. mining), but rewarding with currency for something that requires more brain power actually makes people perform worse, not better.

If you've ever wondered why null-sec can field such large fleets of relatively low-skill pilots, whereas you find it difficult to get your small 5-man elite gang together, this is why. Locking target and firing without regard to thinking tactically can be easily rewarded with a salary or farming space. Luring your fellow small gang PvPers with the same isn't going to work as well, as they need to fly creatively, and thus need a better motivator.

This video explains it neatly in ten minutes, but please don't treat it as the end of the story. I'm still looking up research papers to verify.

It turns out that to properly motivate people creatively, you need to remove money from the equation. Make it so that the next pay check is not a consideration, and they are instead focused on a larger goal, something beyond themselves.

In essence, a cause worth fighting for, or working towards.

It's not that hard to see. Nearly all of the successful meta-groups of New Eden follow this plan. Examples include EVE University, who devote their own time to teaching Unistas for free. Dotlan is a fairly sophisticated piece of coding which others use for free. The CSM is another, well publicised example. Even Goonswarm, with their goal of epitomising the villains of EVE have a larger goal.

You now see why conflict in Faction Warfare exists at all. People are genuinely fighting for their faction. Pirates there are genuinely fighting for their independence, or more often to master their PvP skills. It's a fairly common trend for FW militia pilots to drift over to piracy once ISK becomes an irrelevance. One of the more famed pirates in New Eden often talks about the complete lack of PvE he actually does!

This is at work in Gevlon's own war against the "Emporium", as he calls it. Mordu's Angels are well subsidised by him, so they no longer have to worry about where their next ship is coming from. This allows them to tackle the problem of dismantling Gevlon's target much more creatively, hence their success. I remember a clear example where the Goons hell-camped a staging base, and the Angel's simply switched tactics to interceptor roams, able to slip past the bubble camps and carry on their harassment of goon money makers. Thus, their fluidity in approaching challenges creatively shown.

So yes, he's right. Ideology in the EVE universe is pretty much the sole conflict driver. But at least now we can see the mechanism by which this works.

I wrote in the recent Blog Banter about wanting a reason to fight on the Amarr side. This hypothesis goes a long way to rationalising my feelings on wanting some more moral high ground on the Crusade side of the conflict.

So, a nifty hypothesis, but still in need of evidence to back it up.

Monday, 14 December 2015

BB70: Dear Santa, I want to be good, but...

I'm Amarr.

Well, not strictly true, since I'm Khanid. But I used to fly through the Crusade, and still carry my rank there.

Dear CCP, I want a Space-Pony and a Space-Puppy and a....If CCP was Santa and you could ask for anything (in-game obviously) what would it be? A new type of ship that is tailored to your game-play? A change to mechanics? A battleship mini-doomsday weapon? Proper hats for your avatar? Opening of that bloody door? There are so many different options depending on what you do and what you want to get out of Eve Online. What would you like to see in your virtual Christmas stocking from CCP?

Blog Banter 70

A problem I've been struggling with is that the Amarr are objectively the bad guys. Slavers, conquerors, religious zealots. There are actually very few nice identities to claim once you choose to fight for the Crusade.

That may be the draw for a lot of people, but it's hard to put your all in when you know all you're doing is perpetuating the subjugation of star systems, and spreading dogma which you only pay lip service to yourself.

I can't be loyal to my home. I was born a Khanid. I trained in the War Academy. I was a knight of the Kingdom. But when my faction's history is literally a litany of the peoples enslaved or destroyed, you don't want to go and fight for them.

The only reason I struggle with it, is because I particularly like Amarr ships. I love the slicer, and the Navy Omen, and I enjoy using laser canons. For that reason alone, the best option would be for me to join the Crusade.

But... I don't want to be the bad guy. I'm not even a particularly good pirate.

It's worse now. Following current events. For the longest time, the Empire was run by Empress whose own mind may not have been her own. Why would any reasonable person fight for such a ruler? You know

The succession trials are going on now. I only hope the next Emperor is more... sensible than the last. An emperor worth following.

I still remember Arzad. The freighter destroyed and the slaves inside murdered for a simple, petulant display of cruelty and strength. That's not worth fighting for.

So, dear Santa. What I would like is a reason to be proud of being Amarr again. Doesn't have to be much. Just a little moral grey area. A reason to fight in the Crusade beyond money. Beyond ships.

Something to hold on to when the hull's about to breach.

Other than that, a sack of spare parts for the Astero, some Christmas lights for the drones, and a pair of socks that cleans easily after being dunked in pod goo.

The usual.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The New(-ish) Punisher: Nice bonus, wrong hull

It would be fair to say I'm out of New Eden at this point. My subscription has lapsed, and I don't have time to really do anything in it these days.

My recent forays into Physics have turned me into a Physics teacher. Ironic, or merely inevitable, I'm not sure.

Either way, in between writing reports for my classes, my mind wandered over to what's happening in space these days, apart from the usual ground breaking discoveries which people now consider mundane (we took a picture of Pluto guys!). I went to the Features and Ideas section of the Eve-O forum, which is my usual stomping ground for intellectual stimulation. Most ideas there lack thought, but the creativity is abundant!

I noticed this: Balance Smorgasbord.

It certainly is a delight of different updates!

The punisher caught my eye as significant, however.

It's gaining a turret, dropping its damage bonus for the old cap bonus. Nice, but I think the Rifter would be the better hull to put that on. 4 turrets and application bonuses make the Rifter into much more comfortable ship to fly, rather than operating on the knife edge between heated scrams and fall-off.

So nice bonus, but the wrong hull there.

It did get me thinking about the Tormentor (which also got a buff) and the Punisher though.

Why doesn't the Punisher have drones?

I get that the Tormentor is the starter ship for the high firepower Amarr ships, sporting a pair of drones in addition to its 3 lasers. It also has the mid slots to fit a full trinity tackle, meaning it has a chance to dictate range. The only downside is capacitor management, and less tank than the Punisher. It's faster too, hence why the Tormentor is picked more for solo work.

The problem is this: the Tormentor has all the options, and redundancy built in.

It has the mid slots to dictate range, or at least mitigate the effect of faster ships. The good optimal on pulse lasers does the rest. It has the drones to pick at kiters who can stay out of range, and again, the web and scram to catch kiters with some clever maneuvering.

The Punisher has the same effective range, but no way to keep it's target where it wants it. It can barely catch up to targets either. There is simply no answer to a kiter beyond tanking the damage, and hoping for rescue. Even if you manage to slingshot a kiter, with no web to stick them in place, they're going to be able to coast past your scram range.

I want to suggest that the Punisher either get a mid-slot or a drone bay comparable to the Incursus. And I'm more in favour of the drone bay.

Just as with the Incursus, that single drone gives the Punisher hope against kiters, where its tank can absorb incoming fire, with the drone wearing down the opponent. It mirrors the Incursus nicely, simply swapping a resistance bonus for a rep bonus. Incursus still has the edge being lighter on its feet, and the Punisher retains its good damage application.

Two drones would be an extravagance, and negate the advantage of the Tormentor.

That said, I'm genuinely hopeful for the new (-ish) Punisher. More gank and tank may help it out. I doubt pilots will be encouraged to use it solo though.

And yes, I know not every ship should be designed with solo warfare in mind, but I don't like fleet fights, and I talk for my particular combat style.

Edit: I wrote Tristan earlier, when I meant Incursus... and I wrote it several times too. Let this be a lesson; never blog whilst tired.