Thursday, 29 September 2011

Bounty Hunting: Competing Visions

What should bounty hunting look like?

One of the concerns people have repeatedly expressed about my proposed fix for the bounty system, best articulated by FNG, is that it does not allow for the kind of bounty hunters that we all grew up reading/watching in our scifi, typified quite neatly by Boba Fett from Star Wars.

Well, they're right. As I say in my initial post, I envisage bounty hunters more like Judge Dredd, a futuristic, wild-west style law man. Competing visions; it happens.

However, I think my vision has the edge here. Not because it's "cooler", but because it's more workable. Let's take a closer look at Star Wars.

Star Wars

Finding work: When Boba Fett gets up in the morning, he does not log into some galactic bounty network to find a target. Why? Because he's a bad guy, and what he's doing is illegal. This means that people who want him to do something tell him personally.

The client base: The only people who hire Boba Fett (Jaba the Hutt and Darth Vader) are also bad guys - they are telling him to kidnap or kill people, after all.

How he gets paid: Because of the shady nature of what they are doing, there is no escrow system, no contract, and no guarantees. His employers have to hope Boba Fett does not scam or double cross them, and Boba Fett has to hope that he gets paid at the end of the day. The only "security" they each have is their respective reputations and the knowledge that each party is a dangerous, dangerous individual.

You can conduct this kind of bounty hunting in Eve right now, and I know of some people who do. All it involves is someone promising to pay you some ISK for an API verified killmail or a corpse.

If it sounds risky, like you might not get paid or your bounty hunter might try to scam you, it's because it is. Welcome to the shady world of underground bounty hunting; I hope you enjoy risk, uncertainty, and forging personal relationships.

Marketing Star Wars

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars model requires no implementation by CCP - this is the sandbox, right? - let's look at the difficulties that CCP would have trying to "sell" the idea to existing players.

Finding work: Unlike Boba Fett, who lives his life 24-7, most Eve players spend a limited amount of time online. A full-time bounty hunter would need to spend much of that time cultivating the contacts he needs to actually find work. This would be a bar to many would be bounty hunters, who would rather spend their time pew-pewing.

The client base: Dangerous men in New Eden don't need bounty hunters. There, I said it. The vast majority of combat pilots have the skills they need to settle their own scores, and many industrialists have sufficient in-corp muscle to do the same. The people who need bounty hunters are new players or socially isolated players. Exceptions will exist, to be sure, but I've never heard a Tusker complain that he can't find a reliable bounty hunter; if he wants something dead, he just advertises a fleet.

Getting paid: Eve is full of scams. Not many people, bounty hunters or potential employers, are going to trust someone they don't know when large sums of ISK are on the line.

In short, I don't see the Star Wars model taking off in actual game play. I'm cheating here, because I can already say it hasn't taken off - CCP does not need to implement a thing to duplicate the Star Wars model.

Marketing Judge Dredd

Finding work: My proposal would have bounty hunters and potential employers linked up by an automated system; bounty hunters fly around looking for fights, and when they kill someone with a bounty, they get paid. This model works; I know because it's based on piracy, which has many adherents.

The client base: Any victim can easily place a bounty, regardless of time in game or social connections.

Getting paid: By ensuring value for money, this is as risk free as it gets in New Eden.

Wow, that looks pretty easy to sell to people!

"But wait!", I hear you say. "Why not just use your system without the high security status requirements? This will allow us to play lowlife bounty hunting scum. Surely the best of both worlds!"

Sadly, I disagree. The first point of disagreement is on principle; if you want to play lowlife bounty hunting scum, then go ahead, nobody is stopping you. Just don't expect all the trappings and advantages of respectability to boot. That would be like me complaining that being -10 comes with disadvantages; it's part of the choices I've made.

However, I actually have a more important reason for disagreeing; I don't think it would work as well.

Perception is everything

My proposed model is very different, largely because I make it respectable. This isn't about vengeance, it's about justice.

Instead of paying some lowlife to kill some other lowlife, and hoping the new lowlife is a little better than the old lowlife, I'm now paying a Concord sanctioned law-man to deal justice to the asshat that ganked me.

This change in perception is, in my view, absolutely critical. The people who want to hire bounty hunters are not pirates like me and FNG. They are not hardened nullsec warriors.  They are carebearscarebears.

As awesome as Boba Fett is, there is very little market for his services. The Lone Ranger, though, is going to be in high demand. I'll bet a good 50%+ of anyone suffering from a suicide gank would happily place a bounty under my proposed system.

For the system to work, it needs to be used, and the people that will actually place bounties are, in my view, far more likely to do so in a system that they feel fits with their "moral code". Argue all you want about bringing real life values to New Eden, the fact is that many people do (including me, incidentally, and anyone following the Tusker Code).

Other comments on the proposed system

Looks good! Only problem I see is determing the values: A fitted rifter can cost anything from 500k to, well, anything, really. My regular Rifters set me back approx 10-15 mill. So who should determine value? And how?

There would need to be some kind of automated system that determines values. I'm not sure how this is done, but I know that most killboards have a program that does this, and CCP clearly has one that determines insurance payouts. Accuracy is not terribly important, only consistency. Undervaluing or overvaluing is fine, as long as everything is overvalued or undervalued in the same proportions.

I guess one question to consider is, are there any ways in which an experienced player could trick a new player into unintentionally giving them kill rights (and thus place a bounty on the newbie which is trivial to them, but is enough to effectively keep that player out of ships and ultimately drive them from the game)?

The noob would have to kill someone, without getting concorded, and without them fighting back or aggressing in any way. That's only going to happen in low sec, and only under some pretty strange circumstances. While possible, I think it unlikely. Perhaps something that could be dealt with via GM petition?

There is still no reason not to have a bounty, you lose a ship and someone else gets paid, doesn't affect me as long as I get my insurance payout.

You are right, having a bounty ought to be a bad thing. This is another reason to limit bounty hunters to high security status pilots. Lowsec dwellers fight each other all the time, and the bounty would be a bonus, not a cause. We want bounties to cause loss that would not have otherwise happened. As for insurance, it's been a very long time since I lost a ship where insurance came close to covering the true cost.

Make it so the bounty is on the clone used at the time of killing somehow? that way they cant change out of expensive clones.

This system does not revolve around killing clones, just quantifiable ship loss.

In terms of who can collect -> registered bounty hunters, the person who placed the bounty (who per the rules you stated must have kill rights), as well as a member of the corporation (at the time of the bounty) of the person who posted the bounty.

An interesting suggestion. However, a person or corp capable of avenging the loss in the first place probably won't place a bounty in any event; they'll just go out and kill the target. In the interests of keeping this simple to implement, I'd probably limit bounties to just the bounty hunter.

Cool idea. Making the sec status requirement high for bounty hunter qualification, means there would potentially be fewer bounty hunters. Too many hunters and not enough prey would really curtail PVP in Empire, unless that is the plan?

There is certainly a balance to be struck, and any qualifications for registration (including security status) would be designed to keep the number of bounty hunters down. The lawbringer model does not encourage casual or opportunistic bounty hunters. This would mean that dedicated bounty hunters should be far better able to support themselves.

Would bounties immediately become active or would they take 24 hours to become active after an evemail to notify the criminal (like an individual war dec)? IE, I could slap a bounty on someone while my alt sits in space right beside the criminal. As soon as I submit the bounty, my alt alphas the criminal before he even knows he has a bounty on him.

War decs are actions against a potentially unknown third party, and thus require notice. In order to receive a bounty, you must have killed someone, so you have already had effective notice of a possible bounty. I have no problem with "surprise" bounties, but in reality bounties would probably become active only after each downtime.

Farming bounties:
I take my alt and derp around where I think I will have a good chance of getting popped. I run, like, quad reppers on my boat or something, hoping to get as many dudes, to come help the criminal pop me, as possible. My ship is insured, and I put full bounties on all the people I have kill rights on. If all goes well, I take my main hunter, go pop them, collect the bounty, salvage/loot the wrecks, and funnel the money back to my main.

You could do that, sure. But at best, you recover the exact amount of money that you put in; ie, you recover the bounties that you placed. There is also a fair amount of risk, here, as you might end up losing the fight with your bounty hunter, or some other bounty hunter gets there first. I don't see this as an exploit. They still needed to decide to kill you, after all.

I like the idea of bounty hunting corps. Maybe integrate this with FW by creating a CONCORD militia, where people can register themselves or their corporations as bounty hunters.

Indeed, I could see this being very popular with pvpers that want to be "good" guys. The more people into pvp, the better for all pvpers. Perhaps registered bounty hunters would HAVE to be in registered bounty hunting corps; this would allow pirate corps to wardec the bounty hunters! Then they would know how it feels to be hunted!

Under your proposal, unless I missed something, a griefer could can flip someone and then lose knowing he'll now be able to post a bounty with no expiration. It also still seems to encourage vengeance-seeking, wealthy carebears who lose their pricey ships and then can unload a walletful of hurt on their aggressors. Please let me know if there is a solution.

My proposal revolves around killrights. These are not awarded if any aggressive action has been taken, so can flippers that get blasted can't then place a bounty.

I'm also a HUGE fan of asymmetric warfare. It's something that I will eventually post about, but in my view the problem with lowsec revolves is that it penalises carebears; they have to invest skillpoints into their industry AND combat skills, whereas the pirates only have to focus on combat skills. Allowing carebears to use their wealth to fight back is going to encourage them to actually venture into low sec. And that's a good thing.

Currently I think you only get killrights if you don't shoot back.

True, and I have no problem with this. You are either a combatant, or you are not.

I can see a way for a criminal to bypass your proposed bounty system. Lets' say a pirate has a $100m bounty placed on them, they can simply purchase a $100m ship, fly to a safe spot and have an alt char kill them. Bounty is paid and the pirate breaks even or close to it. Now there's no more bounty hunters chasing them through space. Does this sound right?

Assuming the alt is a registered bounty hunter, yes, you got it right. There is very, very little you can do to stop collusion between two people, or one person with multiple accounts. Another reason why potential clients need to have confidence in the bounty hunters as well as in the system.


  1. As a person who would like to play a good guy and still PVP a fair bit more. I really do like this idea :)

  2. "We want bounties to cause loss that would not have otherwise happened."

    Unless I'm misunderstanding something bounties under your system still won't cause a loss that would not have happened. Sure us folk with the bounties won't be able to collect them, but we rarely get a chance to right now.

    "As for insurance, it's been a very long time since I lost a ship where insurance came close to covering the true cost."

    Sure it doesn't cover the ship cost very well, but it's still something in return for a loss.

    I still like your ideas, just think there should be some kind of downside to getting a bounty.

    Equincu Ocha

  3. Ill have to get my high sec pve alt to become a bounty hunter, then offer up a sercive to pirates, giving them half the reward if they let me kill them... JK

  4. Yes, playing a "good guy" should be awesome, maybe even being able to call for Concord support if things get too tough -- nothing beats to be able to Concord a blob of pirates.

  5. I always kinda liked the bounty hunters in Freelancer. Except that their ships sucked.

    In EVE I think really my *favourite* system would involve something along the lines of FNG's contracts, where you (and presumably a few other people so that competition happens in space instead of according to who can click accept on the valuable ones the fastest) would go out and look for a specific individual, and destroy their assets.

    That just seems a bit more fun: instead of wandering through space killing a bunch of unknown pirates who happen to have bounties (God-tier ratting?) you would need to seek out an individual and plan specifically for how to deal with them and any support they may have.

    On the other hand, I could almost see that working better if the contracts were just "assassinate so-and-so" and worked like a personal wardec where the one who placed the contract covered that cost as well, but I think that idea would scare the crap out of people who prefer being suicide ganked when someone really wants them dead (even though either one is just paying a price to kill you). Ah well.

    Anyway, while that would be more fun to me, I think the less specific God-tier ratting would encourage more people to actually go out there and fight. However I don't understand why anyone would be placing a bounty at all in this case.

    Suppose we're saying these people are sanctioned by CONCORD, upholding honour and the law and all that, why then are they only after folk who a third party pays them to attack? Is it revenge instead of justice? Is CONCORD too broke to pay them?

    I honestly kinda wonder what would happen if each time someone committed a crime they weren't in a position to be annihilated by CONCORD for, CONCORD just placed a bounty on them (going here with the automated damage-done idea). Then, in essence, CONCORD would still be moral... well... no less moral, and the bounty hunters they sanction would be basically their attempt at enforcing the law outside highsec.

    Functionally, you'd be making an application to CONCORD to be allowed to go God-tier ratting. Any pirate would get you something, but those who go a long time un-hunted and those who are very good at killing expensive stuff (or just lucky) would be worth more. It would be more consistent a job than requiring players to place a bounty, and while it sort of injects money at random into the economy, it does so in a way that encourages a lot of things to go BOOM.

    /thinking out loud

  6. @Annon123
    "Functionally, you'd be making an application to CONCORD to be allowed to go God-tier ratting."

    And what is going stop a pirate alt or friend to apply for Concord contract and then collect bounty on an easy kill like that?

    Good guys do not work just for ISK, if the game would allow to PvP for a good cause, do you know how many carebears will be polishing their swords right now? I do not want to PvP just to cause someone grief, I want PvP to have some valid meaning.

  7. "And what is going stop a pirate alt or friend to apply for Concord contract and then collect bounty on an easy kill like that?"

    Ultimately if you want to stop that entirely rather than just make it inconvenient, the pirate must lose more than the bounty hunter profits.

    The trouble with bounty hunting in EVE is that bounty hunting itself comes from a system where once someone is killed or captured, that's more or less "it". They have no reason to work with the people who hunt them to game the system because that requires that they not be in a position to spend whatever they gain.

    In EVE, if your dying is profitable, you can be around gain from it. Which means we can either have a system where that's possible and just make it as inconvenient as we can, or make the loss of life and/or ship necessarily more detrimental to the pirate than what the other party gains. At the same time, though, that means the bounty hunter isn't going to have much more incentive to PVP than someone who just loots and salvages while performing the same task.

    "Good guys do not work just for ISK, if the game would allow to PvP for a good cause, do you know how many carebears will be polishing their swords right now? I do not want to PvP just to cause someone grief, I want PvP to have some valid meaning."

    This part confuses me... what's stopping them now? They can already fight criminals if fighting criminals is its own motivation, as far as I know. I would assume all those people who would do it regardless of profit are doing it already.

  8. "what's stopping them now?"
    There is no point to do so, and avoiding crime is easier than fighting it. There is no law, no cops, just thieves and robbers. Would you like read a book where everyone is a bad guy and justice never wins, ever?

    Faction Warfare could have been it, but it is meaningless in its current state as well. There is no benefit or recognition in fighting criminals, because it makes no difference within the game.

  9. Well, that's sort of why I was thinking the bounties would need to be a bit more encouragement. If it's worth less than the destroyed ship without anything on it (which would stop them being able to profit with a friend), it's probably worth less than what you risk to kill that ship as well, unless somehow their fittings counted too.

    At least, that's what bounty hunting implies to me: that the bounty itself is all the encouragement you need. Maybe a FW type setup would be a better way of getting people into it and still making things profitable enough to keep them doing it, after all. Unfortunately I've never had much to do with FW so I can't say much on that.

    It'd certainly give me something to laugh at if the traditional low-sec systems became contested between pirates and CONCORD operatives, but while it might be nice to get more people out there fighting I guess it really does nothing for bounties themselves (not that this is a loss from where they are now).

  10. First off, I just wanted to say these couple of articles were quite interesting to read. It's a topic which apparently has many people interested in discussing it.

    I liked your idea of limiting placing bounties to those who have kill rights. Also, the idea of bounty hunters being able to engage players with kill rights on their heads regardless of where they are located is an excellent idea.

    To refine the method of payouts. Ship kills would pay out a percentage of the insurance to the bounty hunter. This amount would be deducted both from the normal insurance payout the player with the kill right on their head would receive from a lost ship and the total bounty on their head. Also, bounties could be collected on pod kills based on a percentage of their clone cost. Pods could be killed in highsec by a bounty hunter without concord intervention. Perhaps, make it so in order to redeem a pod kill... the hunter would have to turn the corpse into the bounty office which would in turn give it (via contract) to the initial victim who activated the kill right.

    player has bounty on their head of 1 mil.
    player ship gets killed by hunter.
    insurance = 100k
    player receives 50k
    hunter receives 50k
    bounty reduced to 950k

    I like the idea of the kill right being like a personal war dec but it shouldn't be infinite. Maybe it would last for as long as a normal war dec lasts (or if the total bounty is depleted.) A player who has access to the kill right would then have to choose when to 'activate' the kill right by placing their personal bounty on the offending player. Once The kill right is over, any remaining bounty stays on their head but they can not be aggressed in highsec without the normal concord protection. If multiple kill rights are activated at the same time, the time they're able to be shot at stacks on top of previous allotted time. Ie: if a kill right lasts one week and 3 of them are activated... they would have to go 3 weeks without concord protection from hunters.

    I'm also thinking bounties (not kill rights) could be added by the system. Gcc aggression 10k, kill 100k, pod kill 1 mil. So if you did all of that to one player, you would incur a total bounty on your head of 1,110,000 isk. That might be a bit much (or too little) but you get the idea. This could of course scale up and down with peoples individual sec status... perhaps those with positive sec wouldn't incur bounties from concord.

    In any case... I think my idea is balanced in such a way where players who have bounties on their heads can't extract that money for a profit due to their clone costs and the bounties on their ships being taken directly from their insurance payout.