The War Dec
War decs are useful solely in high sec. No one who lives anywhere else cares at all about the mechanic, and that's a shame. Activity-based sovereignty has been a hot topic lately, but war decs are a necessary component to making that type of sovereignty control a reality. Let's use CVA to illustrate this example, simply because they're the easiest to showcase. In Providence, currently, anyone is welcome as long as you're not on the Kill on Sight list. New players, old players, players who have never been in nullsec; it doesn't matter who you are, you're welcome to use Providence. As I wrote in my earlier post, Providence offers a great opportunity for people to try nullsec - even in today's EVE. In a purely activity-based sovereignty system, CVA wouldn't exist, they'd be overwhelmed by all the unaffiliated people messing up their sovereignty. But not if war decs are involved.
Adding war decs to an activity system would mean that you're actively announcing your intent to take this space from someone else. Then you'd have to go take it, one way or the other. I was speaking with Ali just before writing this, and she made me realize that it's important to have some form of militant action involved in the taking of a system. Other activities, such as mining or ratting or industry or whatever could bolster your claim, but you'd have to kill something. This is EVE after all, and violence has its place in nearly everything. It's just not a fun system where you can out mine a ratting group, for instance.
Going back to CVA, this implementation of war declarations means that people could use Providence freely, like always, without CVA having to worry about their goodwill having adverse effects on their sovereignty claims. Likewise, renters can still exist, but the actions of those renters will have no effect on the control bar if someone else comes in.
The Control Bar
You've seen this before in other MMOs and games, not just faction warfare in EVE Online. It represents a tug-of-war between, typically, two opposing forces. The side that fills the bar up wins. There's been a lot of talk about taking mechanics from faction warfare and putting them to use in nullsec. Frighteningly, most of that talk has been about buttons. Yuck! That would be absolutely terrible. However, implementing a system where a control bar is filled by doing various activities would be a very nice mechanic. Even without getting into details about how the bar is filled, it has advantages. For starters, if the specific mechanics or methods of altering that bar are changed, the overall concept remains the same. CCP can make changes that reflect the current state of the game without altering the entire system. Also, the bar gives a nice visual incentive to players. There have been studies done about the psychology of games, how certain game mechanics interact with the brain, and one of the things that keep people playing and invested is the experience bar. That same concept applies here, and it would be a small, subtle side-effect to encourage people to actually play.
The control bar is a good way to visualize and measure activity-based sovereignty control. Mining in a system will add or subtract from the bar as appropriate. Taking another small page from faction warfare's book, the bar can even be used to show advantages for having the bar at a certain level.
Like I said, the details of what moves the control bar can change as needed. Right now, we want a game where smaller alliances can compete, where every battle doesn't turn into a 2,000 man dog pile, and where big battles aren't guaranteed to end in who has the most super capitals. If things change, and we want one or more of those things - or completely different things - added back into the system, the control bar is still a useful indicator of control.
In this environment, a mercenary organization would be very useful for someone trying to maintain or remove control from another. In the past, Noir. had been hired quite often to disrupt the day-to-day lives of those living in one area or another. We regularly provided asset denial contracts where we shut down certain areas from all activities: no ratting, no mining, no missions, and no undocking. We were hired to do regional assaults where we just killed other combat fleets. These activities would be useful to a group in the sort of sovereignty system discussed here. War decs could be allied on to, a feature that's underutilized I'm sure.
New mercenary corporations are vital to a healthy merc community, and having smaller objectives that have a smaller entry of barrier would only be a good thing for up-and-coming mercenary groups. An organization wouldn't need to hire a huge mercenary group to fend off a group that's raising the control bar via ratting, for instance. It would be just as important of a job as fighting off enemy fleets to the owner of the system, but with an objective that's achievable by a smaller organization both the employer and the mercenary benefit: the employer doesn't have to pay as much, and the mercenary outfit has another job, and one that doesn't require a huge up-front cost.
The IncumbentThis assumes that there wouldn't still just be three major coalitions in nullsec, of course, but I can't imagine that it would be possible for those organizations to control as much space as they do, or remain free from their border systems being constantly in flux if they maintained a large domain. Instead, it seems more likely that we'd see a lot of asymmetrical warfare to try and prepare a system for final conversion. And that's the kind of system we need to work for: one where the large organizations still have a place, a purpose, and a reason for being there, but one where they don't destroy the ability for small organizations to exist independently.
Independence is a strong underlying theme in EVE: be your own man, forge your own empire, be infamous, be lawless. That attitude needs to be supported by the game in a way that is coexistent with large, unified groups. Everything should have its price. The bigger you are, the more wildfires you're having to put out, for instance; the more vulnerable your borders are. This is the price you pay for a larger area for your members to work within so no one crowds others while trying to live and make ISK.
Being independent means you're more secure, more centralized, aren't beholden to rules, orders, and regulations that don't concern you. You don't have to listen to anyone but yourself if you're independent, but you can lose it all if you're not careful.
Luckily, I know an organization you can call if someone comes huffing and puffing to blow your straw house down.