Friday, October 11, 2013

Highsec POCO Predictions for Rubicon

A dev blog is out on the plans CCP has for highsec POCOs in Rubicon (coming, Nov. 19!).  Here is the summary in bullet points:

  • Highsec POCOs will be attackable only while at war (that is, via wardec).
  • Highsec POCOs will not be transferable while at war, or with war pending, to cut off the obvious shell-game counter to wardec.
  • Highsec POCOs will still have 10% taxes to NPCs.  However the rate can be halved by the player by training the new Customs Code Expertise skill, 1% per level.  Also the assumed base value of PI commodities will be dropped somewhat, resulting in further reductions in effective taxes.
  • POCO owners can set their taxes freely, in addition to the NPC tax.

I have been thinking about how this will play out.  Consider the wardec requirement.  Presumably anyone can take out Interbus COs, so there will be an initial gold rush.  But once a POCO is in player hands, it will be permanently.  And to even have a shot at it, you'll have to pay Concord for a war.

What's the cost for wardecs?  From CCP's wiki, Wars:
It costs 50 million isk, plus an additional cost for each member in the target corporation/alliance above 51. It will now start to increase with the 51st member and reach the ceiling of 500 million ISK at 2000 members.
I have seen people say the wardec cost would have a big effect, and initially I agreed with them.  It seems plausible that a 10x cost difference for war would matter a lot.  But after thinking about it, I feel it will affect only small corporations.

Consider a medium sized corp with 25 pilots.   In a battleship, each pilot can do about 1000 DPS.  POCOs have 10m shields and reinforce at 25% shields.  Thus this corp can hammer one into reinforced in just five minutes.  Killing a POCO after reinforcement is easier.  They have 250k armor and 200k structure.  So it would be very fast.  In a week of war, and unopposed, a corp could reinforce or destroy 20 POCOs a day.  Since POCOs cost about 100m ISK, the cost of the wardec is a small percentage of the capital at stake.  The cost of the fleet is much more than the POCOs it destroys.

I still expect large alliances to dominate POCO ownership.  But that is not because of wardec costs, rather because of the blobbing advantage in fleet combat, and the advantage that will accrue to any entity which can field fleets in all time zones.

It's worth discussing the time zone issue more explicitly.  POCOs reinforcement timer works differently than those at POSes.  At a POS, the reinforcement exit time is determined by time when attackers push the shields below 25%, and the amount of "reinforced mode fuel" (strontium clathrates) in the tower.  So a tower's exit time will be fairly unpredictable, but an attacker can always hope for the exit to happen at a time which is advantageous.  With POCOs, the owner specifies an exit time-window, a zone of a two hours.   Reinforcement mode lasts for a day at least, then enough time to get into the zone.  The timing of the attack has nothing to do with the exit time beyond fixing the day of the year.  Thus, a POCO's owner can set his times so that his POCOs always come out of reinforced at his best time.

One can imagine a seesaw battle between two large entities, both of which can prevail militarily at separate times during the day.  During the Australian evening, an Aussie alliance bashes all the POCOs it can get at, and defends its own towers coming out of reinforcement.  A European alliance does the same thing in its own evening.  Only on weekends can progress be made, which would be easily undone the next week.  The endgame here is all POCOs are killed and not replaced.  "They make a desert, they call it peace."

The situation would appear to be very unstable militarily.  This is especially true given that many highsec wardeccers would love to be able to wardec people and force a fight.  They would not necessarily care about actually killing your POCO, just getting you out to fight for it.  If you show up and fight, even though you lose, maybe they don't kill your POCO.  But if you don't show, they certainly do.

One other very important aspect of the economics of POCO is their return on investment.  Mabrick has a post with some relevance here: he estimates based on one player's reported PI that at 10% taxation, a POCO that is being used will earn about 19m ISK per user per month.  Unfortunately there is no hard data on how much PI actually goes on in highsec.  I would guess that most P4s are made there, though, because of their prices and the relative advantage highsec has for making P4s.  Potentially there is a lot of ISK to be made.  But it may be happening only in a very few places; hundreds of pilots make P4s in Sobaseki, one jump from Jita.  A POCO there would be golden if managed well.

But what is well?  If many Interbus COs persist, with their effective 8.5% taxes (half of 17%), then to compete players will not be able to set their POCO taxes above about 4%.  As such, their earnings per user are less than half of Mabrick's estimate.

My guess is that most POCOs in most highsec systems will not be worth much, because of the low tax rate they can command, and because very few pilots do PI there.  As such, POCOs are marginal investments.  They are risky, because always subject to wardec and cannot be taken down to escape loss like POSes can.  And they don't really pay well.  Individual corps will put them up to exploit places they are living better.  Then they will be wardecced by a larger corp and lose them, and learn not to do that.

If any group is to own any large numbers of POCOs in highsec, it will have to fight for them a lot.  Guerrilla action will make it very hard to hold onto large numbers of POCOs.  The only way I can see a single or handful of groups dominating highsec is an alliance of the vast majority of the wardeccers in highsec.  And that seems unlikely, to put it mildly.  Outsiders like the Goons simply will not be able to do it, because they will have to occupy highsec nearly continually to secure their assets, and even with a fleet in being, they are vulnerable to wardecs from guerrillas.

I do have an idea for how to make money off of highsec POCOs, but it's rather speculative, and this has gone on long enough.

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