The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.
Taurean over at Flight of Dragons posted earlier today some thoughts on Bounty Hunting in EVE. It managed to hit that sweet spot of interesting with a dash of controversial and got my own creative juices flowing. If you haven't read his post, you should do so before reading this one, and then prepare for another session of me ranting a bit about game design to whomever will listen.
Bounty Hunting seems like an obvious profession when the topic of Science Fiction is mentioned. I think we can all accept that Star Wars (The Real Star Wars. Back when Jar Jar Binks would have sounded like the kind of thing you might use to un-stick the mayonnaise.) is a bit to blame there. Something about the parallels drawn between the new-found lawlessness as man expands into space and the American Old West seem only natural.
They may seem that way, but something about the discussion of bounty hunting as a profession in EVE has always bothered me. I usually see the topic brought up by people calling for some counter to exist for the Player Pirates in the form of these White Knights. In the past, I've usually dismissed these people as somehow misguided on exactly the difficulties faced by being an Outlaw in New Eden; certainly if they knew how hard we had it they would stop calling for our heads. Of course, my usual dismissal didn't work when Taurean brought it up. As someone with -10 Security Status, he knows all too well what a Pirate faces, so could there be some hidden value in the idea that I've been missing all this time?
Before we get to that, allow me to explain the reasons why Bounty Hunters in EVE never made much sense to me. Let us first examine the concept from the view of the Old West. This feels only natural to me, as Outlaw seems to be the accepted term for players with a Scarlet Strobe about them, and I can't truly separate that term in my mind from its connotations with the Western theme.
I don't want this to turn into a history lesson, but feel free to check out this information on the topic. The basic summary is that Lawmen and Outlaws weren't as easily distinguishable as people seem to want to make them in EVE. The Western Genre of film is positively filled with examples of this, and it makes a certain degree of sense from a practical standpoint. If a bad man has settled in the town, often the simplest solution is to hire a bigger badder man to get rid of him with the hope that new bad man moves on once you've stopped paying him.
In a lot of ways I feel like Low Sec has already functionally replicated this method. My most recent ship loss and my most recent pod loss (Two separate encounters mind you, an Interceptor with Falcon support and a Smartbombing Battleship respectively.) were performed by another Outlaw. This is pretty common for me actually, and I would imagine for other Pirates as well, because it's quite rare that I find myself losing a PvP engagement against some innocent soul who was just in Low Sec for a mission. When I lost that pod, someone got paid for relieving me of my implants and was performing the role of a Bounty Hunter to some degree. It may not have been what the person had in mind when a bounty was last placed on me (effectively funding Piracy, just another Pirate), but I'd argue that they got their money's worth.
Getting away from Cowboys and Spaceships for a moment and back to the world of Space Bounty Hunter à la Star Wars use of them, I run into another problem with the concept. Boba Fett was many things in that movie and a truly amazing character who set my imagination ablaze as a child, but one thing he was not was the good guy. In fact, not a one of them seems like the type you'd want keeping an eye on the kids while you're away. They were scum, even the Empire thought so and they weren't the good guys either.
So, for me at least, the idea of someone in EVE playing the good guys who avenge those wronged by Piracy in the name of justice doesn't fit the theme of Bounty Hunters. When I spot a player with a perfect 5.0 Security Status in local, it's far more likely that he is about to become the next victim of Piracy, not the embodiment of vengeance out to collect a bounty. I think it's somewhat important to remind everyone that the way a player would reach any sort of Sec Status or Corporate Standing requirement is generally by Carebearing it up, and those players are often the least qualified to be a hired gun when you need them.
Now with all that said, here's how I would approach Bounty Hunting in EVE:
Make Kill Rights Transferable. Not a new concept by any means, CCP stated at least as early as 2008 that this was planned for the future. Check out this link to give a listen to a Live Dev Blog where it's mentioned. Around the 9:55 mark, Bounty Hunting is discussed for about a minute, with one of the options being transferable kill rights. Allowing players to sell their kill rights via the contract system (Private or Public) seems like a rather simple way that they could be transferred.
Make Kill Rights Meaningful. Unfortunately, just selling the rights bestowed currently by the game isn't enough. Since I'm talking about using them to replace the current Bounty mechanic, which can be placed on any player with a Negative Sec Status, you'd need more than just the current ways for gaining kill rights. Namely, restrictions such as the player not gaining them for attempting to defend oneself would need to be removed. I would also argue for allowing Kill Rights to be gained anytime a player killed another through aggression after he originates a theft. Meaning that it would be possible to place bounties on the head of a can flipper even if you engaged him and he then destroyed your ship, or you "stole" your own items back and were then destroyed.
Prevent Abuse By Players. This is always a big point of contention since almost any suggestion of restricting who can accept the Bounty, such as no one in the same Corp/Alliance, same account, same IP address, blue standings, etc, is likely to be met with a way it can be worked around through the use of alts or friends so that the bounty's target can turn a profit. My recommendation is that having a bounty on your head reverses the current ISK Faucent from ship destruction by replacing the payout to the player of the destroyed ship currently received from Pend Insurance with a payout from the bounty issuer to the Bounty Hunter for an amount not to exceed that which was paid when the contract was issued.
Since this has surely confused someone reading it, I'll offer a couple of examples of the way I'd envision the process playing out. Of course the sandbox has a nasty habit of not behaving the way game designers try to make it behave, but this should at least clear up some questions that would likely occur.
Ex. 1: The EVE FNG has just destroyed your shiny battleship while you were just trying to run a mission in Low Sec. You fought back, of course, but your PvE fit proved no match for his uber-PvP skills. (No laughing.) Once you get back to your base in High Security Space, you open up your character sheet and, right clicking my name now displayed under your Kill Rights tab, you select Create Bounty Contract. Making your way through the various options of the Contract window, you decide to place a 10mISK bounty on his head collectible for the full 30 days of the kill rights.
Later a player, one of those seedy Bounty Hunter types, sitting at his base-of-operations with a Level 4 Locator Agent is reviewing the Bounty Contracts available and feeding the names to his agent. When he comes across one for the FNG and finds that he's currently in the same region, he accepts the contract. Playing coy, he enters the system where the FNG is up to being an ebil piwate and begins ratting. When the FNG pounces on him and he somehow manages to destroy the FNG's Interceptor, the FNG is shocked to receive a letter from CONCORD explaining why he didn't get his insurance payout, and the Bounty Hunter smiles as he flies away with an extra 4mISK in his wallet. He'll be watching for the FNG for the next month, since he's still got another 6mISK he can collect.
Ex 2. Getting your can flipped for the third time this week in a High Sec belt, you finally decide you've had enough. Firing up your viscous Hobgoblin I drones, you attack the puny Rifter that stole from you. Shockingly, you soon find yourself warping away in a pod. Once the rage clears from your vision, you decide to place a hefty 20mISK bounty to teach that can flipper a lesson. You decide to set the length at only two weeks, so that if the person who accepts it hasn't finished by then you'll gain the rights back, and can hopefully find someone a little more willing to work for your vengeance.
The following evening, a player in High Sec is reviewing the Bounty Contracts when he notices one of the players listed is currently in Local. Accepting the contract, he then undocks (Noticing the player wasn't docked in what was conveniently the only station in system.)his alt in a trusty Anathema and begins deploying probes. Scanning down several ships that turn out not to be his target, he finally emerges from warp to find his Bounty target running a mission in an Armageddon. Maneuvering while cloaked to get the perfect warp in, he finally warps his main right on top of his target. The fight doesn't last long, and when it's over the Bounty target notices his insurance payout was a bit lighter than he imagined. Reading the notification, it explains that 20m of his 55m payout was withheld due to a CONCORD sanctioned Bounty on his head. The Bounty Hunter docks back up, the Bounty Contract now completed, he even sends a polite EVE-Mail to its issuer with a copy of the Killmail.
That's it for me, but we're not done yet. I want to know what you would do if CCP asked you to redesign the Bounty System. Got a blog? Post it there. Don't got a blog? Get a blog...or alternatively, post it in the comments below. I know we may not work for CCP, but I have to believe that presenting them with well thought out ideas for enhancing EVE is a far more constructive method than simply going to the forums to spit forth negativity. Who knows, maybe if we do all the hard thinking for them they'll be more inclined to move forward than if all that they have to work with is, "Bounties are broken. Fix them."