One of the biggest problems with missions in Eve is that the rewards in the hardest missions largely come from the bounties and loot dropped by the NPC's in the missions, this causes many problems indirectly -
* While agent rewards provide some incentive to find high quality agents in 0.5 sec space they don't make much of a difference compared to the loot/bounties, so pilots still congregate in the same hubs.
* It encourages players to reject missions where the bounties and loot are perceived to be poor e.g. drone missions.
* It encourages farming of missions such as Recon (1/3) where the rat bounties can be collected daily for aweek.
All three of these serve to reduce variety and therefore increase the percieved 'grindiness' of mission running, which in turn will no doubt lead to players losing interest more quickly.
NPC Spam in Missions is counterproductive, from a realism/roleplay (delete as appropriate) perspective it just seems bizarre that a single battleship can lay waste to so many pirates and odder still when you see that these mission rats have lower bounties and less loot and salvage compared to their random asteroid belt cousins. Plus there's the simple fact that mission AI is terrible, the rats almost never switch targets to defend themselves against your drones, or target the non-tanked ships in your fleet. So, I'd like to see CCP mission designers commit to revamping missioning in general to have fewer, smarter, more deadly ships. The bounties and loot can be brought back in line with what you'd expect from non-mission versions of the rats, but I'd anticipate that the mission rewards due to this would still be significantly diminished.
Reducing these rewards leaves more room to boost direct agent rewards in the form of cash, LP and other widgets that sometimes get gifted to bold pilots in exchange for risking their ships. It also gives the rewards system much more room to adjust mission rewards and make those 'crappy drone' missions much more attractive to the dedicated mission runner. As it stands right now there are a number of factors that determine mission rewards
* The Agent's Quality - higher quality means more payout
* The Security Status Of The Agent's System - agents in lower sec systems pay more
* The Average Time Players Take to Run The Mission - the longer players take to hand it in, the bigger the rewards.
This last one is one of the few ways that mission runners indirectly affect each other, it's most obvious with the 'Recon' series of missions, where players like to farm part 1 for a week before handing it in while parts 2 and 3 are quick flythroughs, so the agent rewards for part 1 are 10 times the rewards for the other segments. So when I'm working up standings with a low skilled research alt I'm always happy to see the Recon mission offered because all those people holding on to the mission for a week are pushing up the rewards I get for zipping through it in a shuttle. While farming a mission that respawns awesome rats every day is currently justified by the monetary rewards I don't believe this to be a great gameplay experience.
The Security status scaling in theory provides some incentive to mission in low security space, but it really doesn't have any real effect. Firstly we've already established that the agent reward part is pretty small compared to the loot and bounties, but even if we corrected that with the agent rewards dominating you'd still be left with a simple linear function. Now - let's do a very Eve thing and use a spreadsheet to make some graphs of risk and reward....
Umm well ok blogger wants to reduce the image quality, but nonetheless you can see 3 graphs here - Reward - linearly scaling as we head to lower security status, risk - a step function that jumps when we leave Concord's protection, and the Risk-Reward ratio. Of course I just pulled numbers out of my head here, I'm putting the risk in low-sec as 3 times higher, which is probably only true if you're a pilot who's using scouts and directional to stay on top of things. The point is that the risk reward equation shows this massive dip the instant you step into a 0.4 sec system. So Even if we fudge the numbers and make it that the risk:reward eventually exceeds the peak in 0.5 sec space there'll still be this trough which will act as a natural potential barrier discouraging missioners in low-sec.
I don't believe that missions in Eve should be forcing pilots into low-sec, I do believe that those pilots who choose to take the risks should be rewarded in a way which is consistent with the risk.
So yes, CCP developers could take all these variables and could try to come up with new equations to take account of these parameters, they could collect all sorts of internal metrics on mission running and analyze the data to come up with a reward model that's makes players happy.
Or, and this is where my discussion really departs from Eve's existing mission design, they could let the players decide by opening mission availability up to a market.
How could that work I hear you ask?
The current model of mission offers is a pilot flies to a station talks to an agent and then can either accept or reject a mission (possibly with penalties for rejecting too often). The mission selected is generally random within a set of constraints - such as those described in the courier mission dev blog. No other players get involved in your mission offers unless you ask them, and clearly some agents are very busy with hundreds of pilots working hard in mission hubs like Motsu and Dodixie. This model's very limited choice and lack of interaction with other players means a radical change is required to introduce market forces to the missioning market.
Aha! So instead a mission market is created, or rather more like a mission Contracts system. You'll be able to pull up a list of missions being offered by Agents and choose which one you really want to do right now. The list of missions will be viewable by everyone, but only a subset will be visible to players, a subset that depends on location and standing, you won't be able to see mission offers from an agent if you wouldn't have the standing to accept it. And if you're too far away to accept a mission then there's no point in displaying an offer - devs can of course add a bunch of new skills to improve mission visibility and acceptance range so players will have some more things that need the charisma attribute.
So as a missioner you can pick the mission that's best for you, no more twiddling your thumbs while waiting for your 4 hour timer to expire. So an agent has a mission on offer and you don't like it because the rewards are too low, or the location isn't quite right or any of a million other reasons. Maybe all the other pilots think like you and nobody wants to run The Blockade in pirate central, so, what does the Agent do? Well he does what he's programmed to do, he gets more needy as time goes on, he really needs *someone* to beat back these pirates, so over time he sweetens the deal, increasing the rewards, and maybe dropping the standings requirement in case there's a less reputable pilot that's prepared to take the risk. Eventually, the risk-reward equation for a mission makes it the best choice for some pilot, and the mission gets accepted so it's removed from the pool.
The whole process works something like a reverse auction, and nicely simulates a supply vs demand market, it rewards mission runners who travel off the beaten path and perhaps take some risks. Or perhaps that low-sec mission represents no risk at all, because the player is treating Eve Online like an MMO and has cultured good relations with other residents in the region. Good relations works to reduce risk and therefore bumps the risk-reward ratio in the right direction.
Now obviously some consideration needs to be given to how missions get added to agents rosters, it would be desirable to maintain a healthy supply of missions and ensure that missions would always be available, regardless of how many players are accepting them. My proposal is to have each mission offer respawn upon acceptance but with a different agent either within the faction or corporation, so the mission never disappears it just moves. It may move to an agent that's less desirable because they're in a less popular NPC corp or less accessible part of space. But what's less desirable to one pilot is better for another, so again this rewards those players who step outside the herd, sorry, that should be sloth, which is the collective term used for bears.
One thing that would remain untouched would be the storyline missions, that mechanic doesn't really fit into this model and doesn't need to. I've also been considering the issues related to probing pilots in missions, and would be interested in re-examining the old penalty for scanning ships in deadspace, but tempering this with the introduction of the ability of dedicated salvage pilots to scan down wrecks once the deadspace has despawned.
OK train of though ends here....