[Proposal] A solution to meaningful PvP: Squadron Warfare

A propsoal to provide meaningful PvP

So the open vs solo/private group argument has continued to rumble on and on and has so far shown no sign of abating. What has become clear is that the PvE community generally do not react well to the prospect of having an existing part of the game changed so it is locked to open. But also it is clear that the PvP community feel like their playstyle has not really been given any mechanics that are exclusive or meaningful. That leads to a question:

What is meaningful PvP?
This request comes up a lot, players have been asking for 'meaningful' PvP for a long time now, but what is it? In my view it can be described as any player vs player interaction that has an objective and/or effect on the wider sandbox that is greater than simply the destruction of the opponent in direct battle. One player might be intending to stop the opponent from killing local Security or Powerplay NPCs to negate a BGS/PP consequence. Or another player might be attempting to stop traders delivering cargo to a community goal to stop the CG from succeeding. Simply put it is PvP with a purpose, not just for the thrill of the fight itself.

Why is meaningful PvP in Elite rare?
This type of PvP struggles to gain any traction in Elite because of the mode system.. Whenever a player group who maybe aren't the best at PvP-combat need to achieve a territorial objective; they will simply move to a private group and go about their business unnopposed. This pretty much eliminates any chances for true sandbox emergent content to occur. You will rarely ever get a situation where two rival player groups who do enough PvE to hold territory are actually confident enough in their PvP abilities to stay in open play and fight it out. Sooner or later one of the groups will take too many losses so they will retreat into private group and fight any wars there through PvE grinding. This has the affect of disenfrachising the PvP community to the point of being cynical and apathetic about anything territory-control related. PvP is then reduced to meaningless wing-fights and oppertunistic ganking because it's the only thing left that gives the PvPers the gameplay fix they are wanting.

Now I'm not saying the mode system needs to go or anything like that, that argument is pretty much a dead-end circle of dispair that has been going round for 5 years. The modes are here, they are extremely unlikely to change. But what we do need in Elite Dangerous is a mechanic/feature that is exclusive to open play that links the different areas of the game under a PvP system, like this:

Powerplay was intended to be the feature that did this initially (Sandro Sammarco said that it was intended as a voluntary PvP feature), but unfortunately Frontier made the mistake of opening it up to all modes from the outset. This resulted in it being more used by PvE groups to control territory from various private groups - completely undermining any attempt to use it as a PvP system (finding anyone to powerplay PvP against in an undermined system is rare). Now it's very difficult to go back and change PP to open-only because of the PvE player backlash (as we saw from the reaction to Sandro's proposal).

Potential Solution: Squadron Warfare

Giving squadrons the ability to declare war on eachother would be a great way of encouraging meaningful PvP in open while at the same time rebalancing the scales of territory control between Open, Private and Solo modes. Here's how it could work:

  • Warfare Rules
    • To declare a war on another squadron, your squadron must be able to place at least one carrier in the enemy squadrons' territory/home system (see carrier section below).
    • Your carriers have 9 retreats (lives), if you run out of retreats the war ends in a defeat. Retreats can be spread over up to 3 carriers, but are always limited to 9 retreats max.
    • You can only declare 1 offensive war at a time, and fight a maximum of 3 squadrons at any one time.
    • There would be a swing-meter like faction conflicts, but only player (members of enemy squadron) kills/wakes/logs would count.
    • Once a significant positive kill-margin/wake threshold is reached, the war is won (offensive & defensive).
    • If the kill-margin threshold is not reached, the war can be won by maintaining a positive kill-margin over the enemy until the end of the war (14 days) while not losing more than 9 carrier retreats.
    • Winning a war would provide a large influence bonus (variable to the size of the defeated squadron) for both the BGS faction the squadron is linked to and a CC bonus to the Power which they are pledged to.
    • Losing or not-engaging in a war results in a linked BGS faction influence penalty (average not major) and an average CC penalty if the losing faction is pledged to a power.
    • There could also be a league table for squadron wars shown on the squadron league screen: 5 points for an offensive win, 5 points for a defensive win, 2 points for an unengaged offensive win, 0 points for a defeat (Unengaged means your squadron declared war on a squadron that never fought back).
    • Wars against a specific squadron would have a time limit of 14 days and a cooldown of 28 days, to prevent a perma-war against a specific squadron (which could be done for exploitative reasons).
    • You could not declare war against that same faction consecutively, your squadron would have to fight other wars in between.
    • While at war with a squadron, the enemy BGS faction linked to the enemy squadron would be locked to hostile reputation until the end of the war (this would have the side-effect of shutting out players from enemy faction-controlled stations while the war is ongoing).
    • During PvP fights between squadrons, waking out/logging out would be classed as a retreat (not a carrier retreat) and count towards the war swing. Wakes/logs would be weighted less than kills. This is to provide a slight penalty to running away or logging during a fight.
    • Any players leaving the enemy squadron would still have a hostile state with the linked BGS faction until the end of the conflict (to prevent exploiting access to a hostile station).
    • All members of the winning squadron would also receive a credit payment bonus.
    • The outcomes from squadron wars could also be posted as Galnet articles.
  • Carrier-ships
    As we would now have squadron warfare, there would be added incentive to have squadron carriers in game. I'm not proposing that they be exclusively tied to Squadron PvP warfare, as they would still be able to be used for PvE activities - but this is how I see them being used for Squadron warfare:
    • To be able to declare war on a squadron, your squadron has to be able to position a carrier or carriers in one or more of the enemy squadrons systems where they would be open to enemy attack.
    • Enemy squadron members would only be able to see and low-wake on the carrier in open play (enemy carriers would not instance in private or solo mode so relogging would not work).
    • With a hostile carrier located in the territory of the defending squadron, it would be the aim of the defenders to force the carrier to retreat, much like superpower capital ships.
    • The squadron operating the invading carriers has a retreat life pool of 9 (which would be spread over their carrier group).
    • Losing more than 9 retreats would end the war and apply a minor influence/CC penalty to the attacking squadrons' BGS/Power.
    • When a carrier retreats it moves to another area of the system it's occupying or can be moved to a different system where the enemy BGS faction is present - if they leave enemy territory the war ends in defeat for the attackers.
    • Enemy carriers are not revealed to the defenders immediately, they have to be scouted out once war is declared.
  • Ace pins
    Killing enemy squadron players' ships would provide an Ace pin of one of five levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum or Painite) depending on the amount of ace pins the killed player has themselves.
    • It could be possible to gain advancement in Federal or Imperial rank through Ace pins (if the squadron is pledged to a Federal or Imperial Power).
    • Kills of enemy Trade, Passenger or Exploration class ships would not provide an ace pin but provide a skull pin instead (you dirty griefer :p ).
    • A commanders' Ace/skull collection would be available upon a basic identifying scan.
  • CQC Rank Change to Ace Rank
    Because CQC is generally not very popular (ok I know some of you love it), and PvP within the main game is - I propose that the 'CQC rank' change to incorporate squadron warfare (as well as PvP from powerplay, bounty hunting and dueling). It would be renamed to 'Ace' rank and would count any legal PvP kills (warfare/powerplay/wanted/crimes off). It could also be changed to drop if you die (the more expensive the ship you die in the more % is lost). This would put an end to the usually redundant CQC rank to a lot of players (although I accept it would still be redundant to PvE players... sorry).
  • Squadron Bonds & Loot drops
    Any enemy squadron players killed will provide material loot drops appropriate to the value of thier ships and level of engineering and squadron-specific combat bonds.. The payout would depend on the Ace Rank/Ship of the enemy player killed. Diminishing returns would be applied to killing the same player over and over to stop exploits being used to farm materials and credits.

So what are we trying to achieve here?
This proposal aims to bring a number of positive outcomes to the game.
  • It would give PvP a purpose within the BGS/Powerplay and stop it from being an irrelevant fringe activity.
  • The proposal would provide some unique gameplay associated with squadron carriers.
  • In such a large playing area, players need to be given choke points to PvP, this would provide it very effectively.
  • The territory-control playing field of the BGS & Powerplay would be leveled somewhat between PvP & PvE players (Private-mode shadow wars would have an open-counter).
  • It would be the first aspect of the game that would class waking out of a fight or combat logging as an immediate negative action and penalise it.
  • It doesn't lock out any existing part of the game away from solo or private mode players.

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Why is meaningful PvP in Elite rare?
This type of PvP struggles to gain any traction in Elite because of the mode system.. Whenever a player group who maybe aren't the best at PvP-combat need to achieve a territorial objective; they will simply move to a private group and go about their business unnopposed.
IMHO this is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem (well, one of them) is that everything is very spread out across a big bubble and even bigger galaxy.

For example: when the Void Opal gold rush started, and there were just a handful of known places to sell them for max profit, there was great meaningful piracy (and pirate hunters), even though anyone who wanted to could just visit the systems in Solo, because all the action was concentrated at one place. Now, there are dozens of equally ideal places to sell void opals, and I can no longer quickly & reliably find ships hauling them.

Another example: Remember the "New Caribbean?" Back when rare goods were the prime way to make money, the cluster of systems around Lave that had lots of rare goods available saw a ton of trader traffic, piracy, and bounty hunting. Same thing: even though a lot of people can (and did) just escape to solo, enough people stayed in Open that it was fun. This worked because the action was concentrated to a small, specific, consistent location.

When it launched, Powerplay sometimes concentrated efforts in specific systems, but even then there were usually multiple systems at play spread far apart, and they changed constantly, so it didn't work as well. The people who had fun with powerplay were the ones who could do the BGS contest, where getting interrupted by players wasn't fun for them and was a nuisance at best. Many of those who joined powerplay hoping for meaningful PvP drifted away when it failed to provide it, and you instead spent a bunch of time hopping between far-flung systems hoping to find opposing players to fight.

Potential Solution: Squadron Warfare
How would you handle the imbalance from wildly different squadron sizes? What's to prevent big PvP squadrons from just steamrolling every small squadron they see? What about squadrons that have no interest in participating in PvP war? Is there anything to incentivize taking on challenging opponents, as opposed to adding a reward for ganking the easiest ships you can find to kill in open?

I do think the idea of having your carrier "invade" someone's system is interesting.
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Almost nothing here has anything to do with PvP's meaningfulness, especially the part about shooting down a carrier. It's just be another BGS/PP mechanic to exploit by knocking out a capital ship 9 times or waking over and over with a buddy/alt account, since squadrons can declare for any faction or power. Any group would just set up a rotation of two weeks of squadron wars, and it would have the poo abused out of it for damaging factions and powers without ever engaging the enemy.

"your squadron has to be able to position a carrier or carriers in one or more of the enemy squadrons systems"
Kinda seems like the idea hinges on this, but you haven't said how this works. Whatever it is, it would probably not work for PP, since the powers cover the whole bubble.

"Enemy carriers are not revealed to the defenders immediately, they have to be scouted out once war is declared."
What does this mean? It doesn't show up on the nav panel? Do squadrons not know they're at war until they FSS a carrier, or does the UI tell them they're at war and they have to go FSS a carrier? Seems pointless either way.

With INF/CC being a reward or penalty, any squadron actively doing BGSor PowerPlay would unpledge the squadron, because unless the INF/CC benefit of winning the war is greater than doing actual objectives, a squadron war would be a total waste of time and INF/CC.
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So I in general support ideas to add meaning to PvP.

A couple notes I want to make to keep in mind:

1 - requiring squadrons is iffy. Every ED group I've ever joined has ended up having human drama outside which is a no go for me. So IMO any suggestion needs to be tenable for a squadron of 1 person (current roster of ZOZO in PS4 is just that, me). I can accept that it will be a disadvantage but it must at least be acknowledged and feasible to participate as a lone wolf.

2 - I and many other PvP'ers hate BGS/Powerplay for what I consider good reasons [I could drone on for paragraphs, please just take my word for it, I'm not speaking from ignorance of the mechanics]. Even BGS experts are frustrated by 3.3. So it can't be tied at the hip to these things (fine if there is some connection, just can't be required).

Nah, lets keep pushing for OPEN only Powerplay and BGS with dedicated servers for instancing as well as X-play to tie it all together. (and for Fdev to keep their bloody word would be nice too... c'mon? 3 years of empty promises? why'd they even bother with those livestreams?)​
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To start, I do not support this because it does not follow the current game design philosophy (No mode exclusive content)

I also have a lot of problems with this idea so Ill outline them here;
For this example Ill be taking Squadron A who are the attackers and are 50 strong. Squadron D will be the defenders and are 10 strong.

1.) Since D is significantly smaller than A they have 0 chance of winning the war. Now they have to take BGS penalties and CC penalties if they're pledged to a power.
This is dumb for a number of reasons. Firstly this makes 5C activities laughably easy, simply use a bunch of alts to make a squad pledged to a power you want to undermine, declare war and make them lose. Now the system faction they are aligned to is weakened and if you have enough of these 5C squads you could cripple a faction enormously.

2.) Attackers have too much power
They can declare war any time they want (assuming they arent already at the max conflict cap) and on anyone they want (assuming they havent attacked them repeatedly, etc). This on its own is fairly powerful. Now the defenders also have to scout out the enemy carrier AND have to participate to avoid BGS and CC penalties (which they could still incur). Now if the attackers lose the war they only take a minor BGS/CC penality!

This is incredibly stupid on so many levels. Attackers shouldn't have power over engagements in DEFENDER CONTROLLED SYSTEMS. If anything, the attackers should have to shoulder BGS and CC penalties if the defenders do not engage. The attackers carriers should also be under attack by System Defence forces because THEY ARE A HOSTILE INCURSION. I don't get why you'd think placing the burden on the defenders is a good idea. All it does is allow powerful squadrons the ability to steamroll across anyone smaller than them.

3.) Mode Issues
As far as I am aware, FDev has no interest in mode-restricted content (a stance I agree with). While I normally play in Open I do still play in Solo and PG on occasion. Now if we assume the Squadron D is a group of friends who like to do trading RP and only play in their own PG you would suggest that they are locked out of using Carriers? Why cant a peaceful bunch of traders use their megaships to go around to trade hotspots or do whatever their sweet RP'ing hearts desire?

4.) Instancing and Time Zones
Considering the fact that instancing is an abomination and that there are so many instancing exploits to avoid players I think that it would be super easy for either side to simply block the enemy squadron or use other exploits to easily attack each others carriers with no opposition. Time zones will also be an issue because if either side lives on the opposite side of the world to the other then they will never see each other and can get in Carrier attacks with no opposition.

5.) Rewards
Where would rewards come from and how much would they be? Considering the fact it doesnt seem to 'cost' anything to go to war it seems odd that rewards seem to come from thin air as well. I guess it could come from a PP faction or the system faction your squadron is aligned to but thats a kind of lame source and if you have the 10 mil required to form a squadron and however much it costs to build carriers then any amount of millions you get for winning will probably seem weak in comparison.

6.) Meaningful PVP
Considering all the ways to avoid ever seeing your attackers that exist I find it hard to believe this will create ANY meaningful PVP encounters. If anything the system your proposing will simply be exploited by those who want to destroy Powers and crash faction BGS. I do believe that players will come together and PVP in this system but I think it will be dwarfed by those who seek to exploit it for their own gain by using nefarious means.

Finally, in my eyes this is basically just adding Elite Dangerous on top of itself. You'll have the exact same people mad that their Squadron got ganked by one 500x stronger. As with most suggestions that involve "Open Only", "PVP" and "PvE carebears/complainers/whiners/literally anything/etc" in the same sentence, I'd suggest you play EVE instead.
Thanks for the feedback. Just bear in mind that this is just a general outline of a concept.. It could be tweaked to allow for other rewards/incentives and the rules could be adjusted depending on the sizes of the warring squadrons.

The main thing that is important is that it be open only, otherwise it falls flat and gets abandoned like Powerplay did.
I can see this being more useful for exploits than for actual "meaningful PvP". You could set up a bunch of one-person squadrons to fight Power vs Power wars, with the squadron for the power you're intending to harm showing up to get killed in a cheap rebuy ship a few times. (Or given that too much CC can be as big a problem as too little CC in Powerplay, you could send a carrier in to attack, deliberately not defend it, and after 9 retreats you're done)

I think there are three challenges with PvP-exclusive mechanics.

1) You need to make it more worthwhile for the other side to show up and lose than to just sit it out entirely. If you base that around a PvE objective (so the PvP occurs while trying to stop them achieving the objective) then you need an extremely large group to provide enough cross-timezone cover that they don't just attack while you're asleep.

2) You also need to make it impossible or at least impractical to exploit by deliberately throwing matches. Squadrons I think are therefore the wrong tool for a lot of this because they have closed membership lists and can be set up at will. Powerplay as currently constituted would be extremely vulnerable to 5C this way.

3) I agree with SushiCW's point that you really need a highly limited number of flashpoints across the entire game so that there's always enough PvPers in one place. Most BGS group fights would have trouble seeing the other side even when both in Open because they're just too small and potentially spread too thin.

The way I'd do it is something like this:
- narrative justification, deposits of extremely rare exotic matter have been discovered in a small number of systems just past the edge of the bubble. The military and economic uses of this matter is unquestionable, and influential groups (start with the Powerplay powers and one "free" slot - see the end) are all wanting a piece of it.
- a cluster of maybe six systems get deposits of this matter at surface locations, detectable in the usual way
- each group gets a HQ system (which doesn't have any of this matter itself) nearby with a station with outfitting and shipyard. I'm thinking a 20LY radius bubble should be more than big enough to contain the lot. The systems should be otherwise pretty boring - no ELWs or anything to attract explorers
- you get points for flying down to the surface location, blasting chunks loose, and transporting them back. Make them corrosive and unshieldable even with CRCR so you can't carry many at once ... and they disappear entirely if you log into PG/Solo
- the HQ systems and the deposit systems are under a permit lock in Solo/PG, and if you bypass the permit lock by jumping in Open then switching to Solo, ATR are waiting any time you enter real space and will proactively interdict. (Also, the deposits only spawn in Open)
- remove defection directly between powers, you can only join or leave a power once per cycle (and not both).
- weekly leaderboard, cash and material rewards to individuals based on their power position, the number of chunks they personally hauled that week, and the number of kills they got.
- facilities at the HQ stations cost chunks to maintain so the more you haul the better the local shipyard and outfitting is for your HQ and the more additional services it gets, because it sells the chunks to fund the station.
- powers which don't get enough chunks to maintain even a basic HQ (which wouldn't need very many) collapse and there's then an empty HQ station. The Squadron which hauls the most chunks to that empty station the next week gets to be the new power (as above, there's one of these empty HQs in cycle 1 to kickstart the process)
- over time you probably get a mix of popular NPC powers and popular PvP squadrons in the 12 HQs ... if it gets really popular maybe Frontier could add some more HQs ... if it's unpopular there might be a minimum threshold to capture a HQ and if no-one gets it the station is removed.
- maybe throw in some wider storyline effects back in the main bubble from time to time e.g. Federal Powers have sold the most material consistently for the last three months, so the Federation as a whole gets some sort of boost.
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Powerplay as currently constituted would be extremely vulnerable to 5C this way.
It's already pretty much dead in the water when it comes to 5C, this thread sums it up pretty well: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php/476469-5C-(Fifth-Column)-strikes-Felicia-Winters-Frontier-needs-to-act?p=7408700&viewfull=1#post7408700

I'm not disagreeing really, just pointing out once PvP gets connected to powerplay it inherits a massive can of worms no pew pew pew'er really wants to deal with.
1) You need to make it more worthwhile for the other side to show up and lose than to just sit it out entirely.
Oh man, this is so very very important. So many player-interaction problems in the game stem from this. It needs to be more fun to try & fail than to sit out.
Considering you can purchase the game on sale for practically nothing I don't thing thats going to be a barrier. Most of the time when people cheat on this kind of level they don't care about being caught because they can afford to replace the banned accounts. Considering the fact that a single account with Horizons costs ~$12 USD (As cheap as CSGO when it actually cost money) then it does actually become feasible to purchase multiple accounts for this purpose. Not only that but apparently there are already a lot of bots in the game (according to the Powerplay crowd) so whats to stop the people who own these bots to simply give them an extra purpose?
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