In my post, I pointed out that (a) faster computers aren't going to help, and (b) more efficient code is helpful, but not helpful enough. The fundamental problem is that because it's never a bad idea to bring more people to a fight, "fleets expand to fit the lag available."
Fixing that is a hugely difficult problem that will touch many areas of the game. But perhaps there are some significantly simpler game design changes that can, if not solve the problem, at least buy us more time in which to deal with it. This is what I'd like to address in this post.
As with the previous post, all the examples given below are very simplified for purposes of explanation. And I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not involved in Sov-warfare, so I am sure that there will be many flaws in the example I give below. This is just an exercise in identifying the problems that need to be solved.
At the most basic level, what causes lag is that everybody has to fight in the same place at the same time. Since every object on a grid can potentially interact with every other object on the same grid, the amount of computation needed to process a fight increases non-linearly -- doubling the number of objects more than doubles the horsepower you need.
The key thing to keep in mind is that the important variable is "number of objects that can interact". For purposes of illustration, let's say that the computation load increases as the square of the number of objects; twice as many objects means four times as much computation.
As is well known, one of CCP's secret weapons is that their servers are powered not by common everyday electricity, but by genetically-engineered hamsters. Let's say that with the hamsters running flat-out in 10% TiDi, CCP's best server can handle 2000 players fighting it out on the same grid. 2000-squared is 4,000,000, so the server can be rated at 4 million hamsterpower.
If you draw a graph with # of players along the horizontal axis, and # of hamsters required along the vertical, you get something that looks like this:
The technical term for this situation is "Hamster Abuse."
Alas, when the line hits the top of the graph, we run out of hamsters even worse, all the hamsters are working so hard that they catch on fire. As the aroma of roasted rodent chokes CCP's server complex, two things happen: soul-crushing lag descends upon New Eden, and tomorrow's lunch menu at CCP gets an additional "meat dish".
But all is not lost; if we could split the fights up into 1000 player battles in the same system, then each battle only requires 1000-squared, or 1 million hamsterpower. Running flat out, the faithful hamsters can handle 4 of these battles simultaneously on a single server.
And even better, if we could spread out the fights to different systems, then each could potentially run on its own server, with its own set of hamsters.
So this is the first thing we need: Sov-warfare should take place on a constellation-wide basis, and require multiple simultaneous fights in multiple systems. And to discourage people from just jumping and bridging around to create local concentrations of force, Force projection by cyno must be cleverly nerfed.
Another thing to consider is that at present, battles are focused not only in space but also in time, thanks to the timer system. This is one consequence of the fact that Sov is a binary state; you either have it, or you don't. So timers have to go, and that means that Sovereignty must become a continuum.
Finally, Shooting structures is boring, so let's get rid of it.
I spent a few hours and came up with a humble suggestion that tries to incorporate all of these concepts:
Sovereignty is determined on a constellation-wide basis. In each system in the constellation, there is a Sovereignty Control Monitor (SCM).
The SCMs give out Political Points (PP) for ratting, mining, and just plain being in space, but they also give points for any kills that took place in the system. These points are given to the player who struck the final blow, and the amount depends on the value of the kill. SCMs that are giving out more than the constellation's average amount of PP reduce their awards, to encourage multiple fights. Obviously, this has to be structured so that sitting in a big blob in one or a few systems while your opponent hangs around in all the other ones is a losing strategy. I'll be the first to admit that figuring out a PP-awarding system that is resistant to abuse is a challenging problem, but I don't think it is an unsolvable one.
During peacetime, and periods when one side has timezone dominance, people can do stuff and get some points, but the real payoff happens when you fight and win multiple fights.
And yes, a super-rich alliance could descend upon a constellation and AWOX themselves to generate PP. Good for them, they are demonstrating their awesome economic might in a massive space Potlach!
Each ship has a PP accumulator. The accumulator records how much PP the ship has, and what constellations they are valid in. Every day at downtime, 25% of your PP drains away, so it's use it or lose it. You can transfer your PP to another ship if you do not have an aggression timer, and you can also siphon PP off a wreck by salvaging it. If you have PP that is valid in a particular constellation, you can go to any SCM in the constellation and deposit them to either increase or degrade Sov, which is now a continuum -- let's say from 0 to 10. If your deposit is the one that drives Sov to 0, then Sov resets to 1 and the entire constellation belongs to your alliance.
Depositing PP takes a little time, and everyone in the system will know you are doing it. Stealing an idea from the ESS, the SCMs have bubbles around them.
When Sov is low, it takes more PP to degrade it than it does to improve it; when Sov is high, it takes more PP to improve it than to degrade it (and a certain amount just to maintain it). The closer you are to either 0 or 10, the harder it should be to push it there. Sov battles become a tug of war, with the emphasis on war.
Finally, we need to nerf force projection. We want to make both caps and subcaps useful and important ships in combat with distinct roles, and in particular, we don't want cynos and bridging to be used to leap around the constellation playing whackamole, because that stresses out the hamsters. So how about this? Ships get a new aggression counter; if they cyno or bridge within an hour of committing an aggressive act, they trigger a cooldown that does not let them cyno or bridge again for an hour or two.
So you can cyno and bridge across the galaxy, and you can cyno and bridge into a combat, and you can cyno and bridge out of that combat, but then things get a little interesting.
As I said before, I am sure there are many awful problems with the above, but perhaps it will inspire someone to come up with something that will work.
The hamsters will thank you!