Small changes that are easily accepted as no big deal, because it's, after all, just a small change.
What do all the small changes add up to though?
Mining barge buffs? No big deal. It's just a small change, you can still gank miners, it's just a little harder now, a little more expensive.
Removing insurance on highsec ganks? No big deal. It's just a small change. Gankers should only be profiting on their kills, not the loss of their ships.
CONCORD warp disrupting you from across a system, the moment you open fire. No big deal. It's just a small change. Gankers should only be able to kill on a single grid.
The Crimewatch suspect flag. No big deal. It's just a small change, sure it's harder to make a living on highsec PvP due to suspect flagging when looting the booty. Nobody liked freighter ganking anyhow.
The killright system? No big deal. It's just a small change. Dirty pirates deserve to be free-for-alled by everyone in a system. Their life should be tougher.
The PvP safety. No big deal. It's just a small change. And it stops carebears from doing silly things like PvP.
The dueling system? No big deal. Sure it's consensual PvP, but it's a small change, and outside parties can still get involved.
Hell, I'm guilty of accepting some of these small changes. Mining barge buffs. Removal of insurance payouts. Even I said of those things "No big deal." Small changes can be deceptive.
What little changes are on the way, new little things that will be no big deal, because they're minor changes when viewed in the moment? Perhaps next up will be the inability to drag CONCORD from one grid to another. Perhaps miners will be able to call CONCORD to their grid at the first sign of suspicious activity? Who knows? But there are still lots of small changes that can be made that give the illusion of being able to engage in the old activities, while effectively neutering them forever. Ask Suddenly Ninjas or Ministry of Love about this.
Every little change that comes is no big deal, because every previous little change has already been accepted. Add up all the little changes, and what has highsec become? Is the risk still in line with the reward? Is there any point in doing certain activities outside of highsec now? Mining? Industry? Missioning and other forms of PvE?
I once had a dev tell me "If there was an overall policy to create a near-PvP-free highsec, I would know." Pre-2011, perhaps a dev would know. Post-2011, would a dev have any more of a clue than the players? The leak of the Fearless newsletter and Hilmar's email was from inside the company, after all. It wouldn't be surprising if that event alone changed a lot about CCP corporate culture. Do the people at the top of the pyramid still trust the people in the middle and at the bottom of the pyramid? After summer 2011, do the higher-ups still trust those down the ladder with information on the future direction of their premiere title?
Now, I don't blame devs for any of these small changes. They don't set future policy. Their job is to code the features as decided by the producers. That's it. They do a bang-on job of releasing their features. Devs are not to blame for the initial crappiness of war declarations or faction warfare, they coded those puppies as they were instructed to. Those features were released as the producers wanted. Devs are the foot soldiers, you don't blame the foot soldiers for the machinations of the generals.
Hell, the current producers can tell us, until they are blue in the face, that they aren't going to carebear highsec more than they already have. And we should probably believe them. But that means nothing three, four, five years down the line when some new producer is in place. (Producers don't tend to stick long in the role at CCP.) No particular direction is guaranteed, and the promises of one producer are forgotten with the next. And once all these new little things are in place and accepted, they're an invitation to anyone coming later to expand and develop them further.
So now we have a dueling system coming tomorrow. On the face of it, it really is no big deal. It's net effect will probably be to increase PvP in highsec (even if all that increase is of a consensual variety.) But one step back, is no big deal, if you're already planning the two steps forward. This is a consensual PvP system. The first for EVE Online. Once players accept this new system, is this where it stops? Or does acceptance breed more of the same down the line? Expansions to the system? Perhaps new developments in consensual PvP result in less PvP down the line. So more PvP now results in less non-consensual PvP down the line, a fair trade off if the eventual highsec goal is the illusion of non-consensual, while consensual is the norm.
I have no idea if there's an overall company vision to carebear up highsec, to develop more consensual PvP systems down the line. I don't know these things. You don't know these things. But better to remain vigilant on each and every new little thing that changes the non-consensual balance in highsec. Best to call attention to it now. Make people think about what's happening to their game now, because doing so down the line will be too late.
What is highsec going to look like two years from now? Will it be recognizable? Perhaps, if we start telling CCP "enough is enough" now. Or perhaps it will be completely unrecognizable if we continue to accept all these small changes as no big deal.