We quickly realised that while we each had our own opinions, neither of us had really tested it to find out for sure. To settle the argument once and for all, I decided to jump onto SiSi and do exactly that!
Drones vs Stationary Target
The target of this test was a fairly standard t1 frigate - a rifter with a medium shield extender, giving it a signature radius of 42m. As the aggressor, I used non-bonused drones from a pilot who had all relevant drone skills at 5 (with the exception of the racial drone specialisations, which are at 4). Both thermal and explosive drones were tested, since these are the types most commonly encountered in PVP.
Each drone was giving three consecutive periods of one minute in which its damage output was recorded via combat lots. Since the combat log lists actual HP damage, these figures were then corrected based on the rifter's base shield resists to give the drone's actual damage output.
For the duration of these tests, the target was to remain completely stationary. To avoid increased or decreased damage during the drone's approach, recording did not begin until each drone had achieved its initial orbit.
Drone Type Test1 Test2 Test3
hobgoblin 1025.7 1026.3 965.8
hammerhead 252.8 300.3 274.0
ogre 396.4 1013.9* 399.1
warrior 895.9 738.4 901.6
valkyrie 535.0 448.6 656.8
berserker 0! 826.6* 442.2
garde 3357.6 3424.1 3961.4
* During both of these tests, the heavy drones got a single wrecking shot each (wrecking shots as you may know are achievable regardless of angular velocity, since they occur on the lowest 1% of hits rather than the highest 1% as you would expect). These wrecking shots both did over 600 damage per single hit, and explain why these particular results are so far above the others.
The garde was included as a joke since it's obviously unrealistic - given that sentry drones are effectively stationary, they should in theory deal perfect damage against a stationary target - this is a situation which would rarely occur in practice. What this result does show however is just how much of their potential dps output the two heavy drones are losing due to tracking difficulties.
Drones vs Moving Target
After I produced these results, another corpmate pointed out that while medium drones performed worse against a stationary target, they were more effective if the target was moving slowly (for example under web) since the drones would train behind and orbit more slowly.
I decided to test this hypothesis (in retrospect, this would have been a more appropriate one to test initially). Due to time constraints (in other words, because I was starting to feel bad about the amount of time I'd already spent on SiSi instead of actually PVPing), I only ran these tests for hobgoblins and hammerheads, and only for a single minute-long period each. Given the results, it may be worth repeating this further.
The aggressor for this test is identical to the first, as is the target with the exception that it was now running a t2 afterburner (all navigation skills at 5) and moving with a stable orbit at 4km. An initial reading was taken with no webs applied, followed by one and then two webs applied to the target ship (I used meta 3 webs, since these tend to be the most commonly used in PVP). In addition to the results of the test, I've also included my observations on the behaviour of the drones in each instance.
During this test, both drones would catch up, shoot, drop back, and repeat. The hobgoblin seemed to drop back less frequently, and return to range more quickly each time.
Rifter orbiting at 4km, AB on, 1 web
During this test neither drone dropped back noticeably, however the similarity between the rifter's speed and the hammerhead's orbit speed (both in the region of 500m/s) caused the hammerhead to orbit more slowly, exactly as the hypothesis stated.
Rifter orbiting at 4km, AB on, 2 webs
Neither drone dropped back at all during this test, and the hammerhead began to orbit more quickly, although less so than in the original stationary test.
While the second set of experiments could stand some additional testing, both sets appear to support their respective hypotheses. If we were doing this scientifically, I'd also test other combinations of drones and fits before drawing any conclusions. Thankfully Eve is a game, and I've already spent too long on SiSi to do that! Instead, I feel I can tentatively conclude the following:
- Light drones are likely to be more effective than medium drones against unwebbed AB frigates, dual webbed AB frigates and single webbed, scrammed MWD frigates (which would have effectively the same speed as dual webbed, AB frigates).
- Medium drones are likely to be more effective than light drones against single webbed AB frigates, and unwebbed (but scrammed) MWD frigates.
- The best way to avoid drone damage if you can't out-run the drones, is actually to sit perfectly still!!!