Parts of EVE Online have changed radically in the last week, altering the way that some people play the game. Typically, when a player’s ship enters a star system, they’re added to a shared chat channel called “Local.” This channel provides a list of every player who is in the star system, as well as their relationship with one another. For years, players have been able to glance at local chat to see how many players are in space with them and whether they are friend or foe. Last week, that ability went away. EVE’s null security space is experiencing a blackout.
The blackout is part of the storyline of the game’s recent Invasion expansion. It was announced to players in the form of an in-universe news report from in-game news outlet The Scope.
According to The Scope, in the wake of the NPC Drifter assaults against player structures in the null security regions of EVE’s space, the communications networks got overtaxed and had to be shut down to prevent further system degradation. These shutdowns resulted in local chat being switched into “delayed mode,” meaning that pilots don’t appear in the channel until they speak in chat.
Players not appearing in a chat window until they type a message may seem like a small thing, but it has ramifications for EVE. Prior to the blackout, players in a system could see everyone who was there with them. It’s a small amount of information, but it’s powerful. At a glance, players looking to hunt down other players could use Local to determine if their targets were in the area. They could also use third-party tools to learn what kind of ships that person might use, which could help form a plan of attack or narrow down locations where the target might be. If a player is recorded as flying mostly mining ships, for instance, the hunter could start by looking at the asteroid belts in the system.
Local chat also functioned as an early warning system. A sudden influx of new players to a system might indicate a hunted player’s allies were coming to rescue them. This allowed for the hunters to disengage and flee from unwinnable combats. Local chat could also warn potential targets that a hunter had entered their area. They could flee, or, using intelligence networks, warn others, even those in different systems.
After the blackout, null security space is a much more lonely, scary place. Now, when players enter a system, they are not treated to this massive amount of free intelligence. There’s no way to instantly tell if you are alone in the system or if there’s a massive fleet of hundreds of players lying in wait just outside of your visual range, refraining from chatting to keep their location hidden.
Player reactions to the blackout have been mixed. Some players have embraced the changes. Others have threatened to not log in or even that they’ll cancel their accounts until the change is reversed. According to the EVE Offline website, which tracks the number of players logged into the game server, there seems to have been a slight decline in overall players logged in since the introduction of the blackout, but since only around a week has passed, those numbers are far from conclusive.
For my own part, jumping from system to system without knowing what lies in wait has been exciting, but the sense of emptiness is very real. Before the change, it wasn’t uncommon to travel between a few systems without running into another player. Now, some nights, it can feel like you’re the only one in the game.