I like this post by Jester about highsec refining and production, and it brings up an aspect of the game that I think many misunderstand: the highsec player. Or rather, that “the highsec player” does not exist as a single entity. In my opinion there are two distinct groups of players who occupy high-sec space in EVE: those who enjoy highsec life itself, and those who are in highsec because it’s the best place to be for their needs.
The first group can’t (at least through pure game mechanics changes) be moved out of highsec into low/null/WH space. The only place they will move is to another game if forced, and much if not all anti-highsec arguments fail to recognize this. Simply put, if you make highsec too undesirable, these players will not make the move to other areas, they will simply leave. They enjoy highsec for what it is, a mostly non-PvP space devoid of the troubles that plague other areas, be it random PvP roams, sov-loss, WH invasions, whatever. They like the game CCP has created in highsec.
How large this group is I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to bet it’s substantial. Furthermore, while this group has no interest in other areas of EVE, this does not mean they simply take up space and don’t influence low/null/WH space. They do, and in many ways. Be it filling up markets, producing goods, buying PvE-based goods, or any number of smaller impacts, highsec players ‘count’ just as much as the average Goon or AHARM member in the grant scheme of EVE. They also need content updates like everyone else, and I hope CCP is aware of this (I’d argue that the CSM is not, just based on what I’ve read from them).
The second group in highsec are those who would be or are interesting in other aspects of EVE, but live or operate in highsec because it’s the best location for what they want to accomplish. As Jester accurately points out, in many ways, highsec is better than all other spaces for certain activities, and so those who intend to take the path of least resistance find themselves in highsec. This is where the design flaw exists.
When Incursions where overpaying (or were perceived to be overpaying, depending on who you believe), those who wanted to generate ISK with the least resistance ran highsec Incursions, even if they were nullsec alliance members or lowsec pirates. Yet even at this point, Incursion income still did not top C6 WH income, which is why for those willing to take the risks and deal with the troubles (not the path of least resistance) the space was still worthwhile. Had Incursions been as imbalanced as highsec production, few if any pilots would be running C6 sleeper sites, and everyone interested in making ISK would own a specifically fit Nightmare.
The key to moving this second group out of highsec is not to crush highsec itself, but to make the other spaces offer rewards equal to their risks. If production is harder in lowsec because of pirates, it should also be better when done successful, much like C6 WH sites are compared to lvl4 highsec missions or, to a lesser degree, Incursions. Nullsec ores vs highsec ores is an attempt at this, but due to mineral values and the risk/reward ratio, things are not working as well as they should. The same goes for nullsec PvE content, or lowsec PI.
If the areas of the game that are deemed not worthwhile get a boost, the players who currently operate in highsec would move, much like they have with the current imbalance around Faction Warfare sites. At the same times, those with no interest in non-highsec would continue to play and enjoy the game they currently have. The key to any solution is to influence the second group, without crushing the first.
(And as I’ve personally experienced, with the right social structure, motivation, and incentive, even some of those “highsec-only” players can learn to expand their horizons, which I think long-term is why EVE has been so successful.)