In the run up to the CSM12 vote I've spent a lot of time debating various perceived issues with other candidates and invested parties. I'm a strong believer in the Dialectic and it's allowed me to clarify in my own head a few ideas I've been chewing on for ages. One of those in particular is the issue of Vulnerability Windows as a game mechanic, mostly in relation to Structures but also with Aegis Sov.
By far the biggest division in the playerbase is that of Timezone. While EVE has players from every nation on earth, it can mostly be split into US, EU and AU TZ. With the exception of a strong Russian community, these divisions far more than language or international borders define a group. CCP would have the true figures but my perception is a roughly 40/40/20 split by actual player count.
The corollary to this is that at any given point time in, you are unable to shoot at or otherwise interact with (ingame) over half the playerbase. So what happens when there is an ingame asset you want to attack owned by an entity outside your timezone? Well to go back a bit, I'd show Black Legion (a primarily US TZ group) looking to take the moons in Aridia from LSH (a primarily Russian i.e. early EU TZ group). If LSH time their towers correctly, they'll be aiming for 1400-1900 EVE. That's 5-10pm in Moscow, but the middle of the night anywhere in the US and a bit too early for most folks in Western Europe.
So how do you get around this? Weekend timers. A max stronted tower outside of sov space has a timer of 1D 17H. If you take out a fleet at 0300 on a Thursday night to RF some towers and generate timers, that max stront timer will exit at 2000 EVE on Saturday which is absolutely perfect. That's 2300 in Moscow, 2000/2100 in Western Europe, and 1500/1200 on the East/West coast US. All invested parties from all across the globe can quite easily - with a little forward planning - be around at those times for a huge and awesome fight. The defenders get a chance to fight for their assets, and the attackers get a chance to claim it for their own. Everyone has fun and the better man takes home the trophy.
Thursday/Friday night RF ops used to be something of a ritual in BL and talking to a lot of older particularly low sec guys there was a lot of "oh yeah I'd sorta forgot about that". Unless one side was vastly more powerful than the other, it was guaranteed content.
To a lesser degree this was also the case with Dominion Sov. Dropping SBUs and RFing the IHUB/Station early in the week then following up with a second RF on Thursday would lead to huge fights on Saturday and Sunday. It wasn't quite an arcade level of "push button receive fight", but you knew what you were getting.
That's what we've lost with the new vulnerability windows on Structures. Being able to control the time is extremely powerful, but being able to control the day as well is quite broken.
Take the same situation with an Astrahus. If I'm a US TZ group and scared of a nearby EU TZ group, I can time my Astrahus for 0500-0800 on a Tuesday and there is absolutely no possibility whatsoever of that group being able to make a serious attempt on it. It doesn't matter how big or small my group or their group is. The fact is no one in Europe is going to turn up at 7am on a Tuesday morning to kill a virtually disposable structure. Also, unlike the POS where they'll need to turn up once in my prime time to attack, they need to turn up three times to do so.
Thus we end up in the scenario where the asset is defended not by any credible military threat, but simply by the fact that the attackers have jobs.
So what's the solution? Well that depends on how safe you feel structures should be. There's a strong argument that all this timer control combined with the asset safety mechanic removes all meaningful risk from null sec, but I'll leave the details of that debate for another blog post since I'm talking about this exclusively from a content generation perspective. Needless to say, it's an argument that'll need to be had long before we see Outposts removed.
In my view we already have a perfectly workable mechanic elsewhere in the game to transplant: POCO timers.
To explain it for those who aren't familiar, a customs office is vulnerable to be shot 24/7 from the moment it anchors. When setting it up, you choose a 4hr window of time in which it will exit. So say we choose 1500-1900, it'll exit at a random time within that window 24-48hrs after it's RF'd. So either the following day, or the day after.
So let's look at our Astrahus example again. I'd pick a vulnerability window of 0100-0500. They turn up on Friday at 2000 to RF it, and it gets a random exit timer of 0125 on Saturday night (Sunday morning). It's a late but reasonable night for the EU TZ guys, and the perfect time for my US TZ group to come defend. Like before, everyone get's a great fight and the better group takes the objective.
That's something we've been lacking for major timers partly since Aegis sov hit, and even more so since Citadel. I think applying the poco model to Structures would alleviate most of the content generation issues we've seen so far. It also has the nice side effect of resolving silly edge cases like the 20 day invuln loop in high sec and reduce Wormhole evictions from the potentially 10 day long extravganza they can sometimes be if done right, back down to the 2 day long weekend events everyone enjoyed.
The point of a timer is to give you the opportunity to prepare and fight on your terms, not circumvent the fight entirely. We just need to nudge things a little back in that direction.