In the past week, I listened to a discussion on a recent Podside episode (#350) and participated in one that happened on our own Crossing Zebras Skype channel. Central to both discussions was the role large power blocs play for content creation within EVE. Do they enable players to participate in great events because they lift them up to levels they could never have achieved within a smaller organisation, or are they more of a barrier to the possibilities individual players have in the game?
Before I begin to examine this question, I want to provide a disclaimer. If you have read more of my articles here, then you are probably aware that I am highly critical of large nullsec power blocs. Because of that bias, my opinion will be slanted towards a particular perspective, but on the other hand I do not want to simply dismiss any viewpoint that stands against mine. In the discussions that I will refer to, there have been viable arguments on both sides, and I want to examine them on an equal basis, even if I am going to position myself against them.
Additionally, I want to make clear that any focus on Goonswarm or the CFC/Imperium is not a result of my preoccupation with that organisation. It is the simple truth of today’s sov nullsec that they represent the last power in the game which operates on a scale that is relevant to the discussion. If the Drone Region Federation (DRF), the old Northern Coalition (NC), the Honey Badger Coalition (HBC) or N3 remained active as large organisations in the game, I would not view them differently.
With that out of the way, let me begin.
Great Wars And The Lack Thereof
When it comes to content created by large organisations, the great wars of EVE history are the first thing most people will think of. Massive campaigns that shift the balance of power across several regions simply can not be undertaken by organisations of a few hundred players alone. In the era of the great wars when Band of Brothers fought for supremacy, such organisations were still a lot smaller in numbers, but back then EVE also had a smaller player base and nullsec in particular was much less settled. In proportion, those early empires were just as large as the nullsec powerhouses of today, not in player count but in relative strength. During that period of relentless struggle, EVE lost its innocence if it ever had any. Metagaming tactics became ever more prevalent. That included propaganda and espionage, but also in-game exploits and harassment directed at players or their out-of-game communications. Succeeding in nullsec became less of a game and more of a serious effort that required ruthless leaders, strategists and operatives to a degree that is beyond anything we have ever seen in an online game. The nullsec we have today is the result of that development.
“People would rather not fight their direct neighbours if they can avoid it.”
In the Podside discussion, Snotshot of Dirt Nap Squad pointed out that the Goons, and by extension all who follow them, have previously gone through the experience of being devastated by a major war at some point in time, and they do not want to go through this again. The CFC/Imperium members in that discussion confirmed that they do not want to have war on their doorstep, and I have heard similar things from other nullsec players. People would rather not fight their direct neighbours if they can avoid it. The only way to prevent that is further expansion and consolidation until the core membership can live safely behind large buffer zones. Thus, coalitions formed and started to develop a level of integration that became ever more advanced, but even that wasn’t enough.
There were coalitions that held large territories and were well organised, but they could still be brought down by an opposing force of sufficient strength. During the winter of 2012-1013, Pandemic Legion and NCDot managed to break through the defenses of the Drone Region Federation. In the spring of 2013, Solar Fleet, the last large alliance of the DRF, got evicted from the Drone Regions, and for two years the whole east of the map remained under control of PL and N3 until they effectively gave it up earlier this year. The DRF had been large in numbers, vast in resources and powerful in military assets, but by taking the fight they still lost.
Numbers, wealth and proper organisation do not complete the list of ingredients necessary for the ultimate defense against an invasion. The defender also has to use more subtle ways, and the CFC/Imperium have perfected methods to do just that. Central to their strategy of warfare are tactics which demoralise the opponent, ultimately sapping their willingness to even continue the fight. The defensive application of that strategy is something every highsec mining or mission running corp learns eventually after a few wardecs: deny your enemy fights until they get bored. However horrible one may find that tactic, it is very effective in defense.
The CFC/Imperium are not the only ones who employ a demoralisation defense. Provibloc uses a variant that is no less deterring, at least under the old sov-system. By building large amounts of structures in their space, they have created a massive hit-point barrier that every would-be invader has to overcome. Most do not want to deal with that extensive grind through multiple timers. Interestingly enough, it appears that the CFC/Imperium now want to test how that strategy holds up under the new sov rules.
Offensively, the opponent’s morale is equally important but more difficult to influence because denial of fights or setting timers is obviously not an option. In those cases it still remains the declared, and successful, CFC/Imperium strategy to eventually break the willingness of opposing players to log in. The last time we have seen this in action was during the Fountain War between CFC and HBC in the second half of 2013. At every possible opportunity, the CFC discredited opposing leaders, publicly mocked the HBC for every failure and sowed seeds of dissent among coalition members. They even managed to have a significant portion of N3 sov holdings sabotaged which forced some of the most powerful fighting forces to withdraw and take it all back with great effort. At every step of the way demoralisation and exhaustion of the enemy was the goal, and eventually they succeeded. The HBC fell apart and only TEST alliance remained. Wracked by internal drama, they eventually lost their last allies and had to concede defeat.
I will not deny the effectiveness and ingenuity of those tactics. For a significant time in my own EVE career, I worked on that very same sort of operation, and I was inspired to do so by the shenanigans surrounding the dissolution of BoB. It can not be denied that this form of gameplay creates its own unique sort of content. How many games out there allow people to play spies, diplomats, propagandists and politicians who actually influence the outcome of a war?
Unfortunately, the aftereffects of those tactics are somewhat self-defeating.
We have to acknowledge that the majority of players are not engaged in this sort of gameplay and succeeding with it only delivers satisfaction to the few who see their plans come to fruition. The majority, however, will remember that feeling of demoralisation, and whether they have been on the offense or defense, the next time they consider a war against the CFC/Imperium they will think of it as being “no fun” and turn to an opponent who is more willing to indulge them.
“’We wanted to bring the great war, but you [the CFC] made it so terrible that nobody wants to have another one’”
If one of two chess players manages to make the opponent hate the very idea of playing against them, then no chess game will take place. The CFC have managed to achieve exactly that result. As a TEST player on Podside said (I paraphrase) “We wanted to bring the great war, but you [the CFC] made it so terrible that nobody wants to have another one”.
The way nullsec shifted after the Phoebe jump-changes illustrates for me just how much that stalemate is affecting conflict in the game. In the months since Phoebe, we have seen large changes in the east and south. Perhaps coincidentally, these are the areas which are furthest away from the reach of large CFC forces. Pandemic Legion and N3 have given up renting out space and even sovereignty. Various new and old alliances have emerged and are carving the map up into new pieces again. The northwest, however, remains stable and its border regions are mostly uneventful.
In the real-world such a large region of peace and prosperity would be a commendable achievement, but EVE is not real. It is a game revolving around interstellar warfare on different levels. Since we do not lose ships due to wear-and-tear or have to replace them because they become obsolete, perpetual conflict and destruction is the motor of all production and consumption and therefore the source of all content.
Developing methods to neutralise conflict is therefore counterproductive, but coalitions are a fact. So how do they solve that dilemma?
Work And Play In The Game
Players who are embedded within such a large and successful organisation still want to experience more in the game than ratting with a carrier or fueling reaction towers all day. If the leaders are not completely obtuse, they will acknowledge that and make sure everybody has something fun to do in their “spare time”. Burn Jita, the different Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and recently Karmafleet are an effort to make sure there is fun stuff going on.
This leads me to the discussion we had on the Crossing Zebras channel. Its starting point was the thesis that The Imperium is creating content for virtually every player in the game. Not only through the diverse activities they conduct under their own name, but many of them will also have alts in Red vs. Blue, Brave Newbies, Factional Warfare and elsewhere. Considering the large number of players united in this coalition, the six degrees of separation theory alone is enough to assume that each one of us has experienced some content in the game that results from the actions of an Imperium player.
It is a fair assumption, and after some consideration I would not dispute it. Even in my lowsec ghetto I have achieved two of my very few solo kills in fights against a Goon and I had a great 1v1 fight against another one which I lost. Last summer, RAZOR deployed to lowsec and we had a lot of fun fights with them. Without argument I can say they have provided me with content. What I would rather dispute is whether such content needs the existence of The Imperium. In our discussion this boiled down to the question whether a coalition of 30.000 provides the same amount of content as thirty coalitions of 1000.
In my opinion, it is impossible for them to achieve that even if they wanted to.
To keep an organisation of that magnitude running smoothly, sacrifices have to be made. Some people have to do the paperwork, others have to disseminate information and maintain the communication channels. Internal affairs have to be settled and every so often coalition infrastructure has to be rearranged. With increased size, all that organisational work becomes more complex and the role of administrators becomes even more important. To facilitate that administration, rules have to be put in place, and those inevitably reduce the degree of freedom every individual player enjoys. In a smaller organisation there will also be rules and red tape, but to a much lesser degree if they are not ridiculously overmanaged.
Again, some people will enjoy the gameplay involved in running a vast space empire, but many EVE players already have desk-jobs and do not necessarily want to play at one when they come home. The majority will do the chores as they become necessary and then they will join up with their SIG or log in with an alt to go on an NPSI roam. In the end, however, they will not be fully available to create any content except keeping the organisation running while they are going through their tower refueling schedule or read through the latest management directives. It seems obvious to me that a player in a smaller organisation will be less burdened by such tasks and can therefore dedicate more game time to interaction with other players who are not part of their alliance, whether that be trade, providing targets or shooting at others.
It may easily be the case that one of the Caldari pilots I shot at yesterday have their main in Goonswarm, or maybe one of the guys in my own fleet is the alt of a player in FCON, but I would rather have them as full members of Caldari or Gallente Militia. At least then they potentially provide content for me and mine every hour they spend logged in. In any case, the very fact that someone feels the need to have an alt elsewhere already shows that the content they are provided within their own organisational structure does not sufficiently satisfy them.
Furthermore, I find it rather bizarre that people first have to put work into the game before they can actually play it. People who fly with SIGs or support Karmafleet at least stay within the organisation, but those who fly with alts in other groups (the intention to spy being an exception) effectively unwind from their in-game “day-job” by playing a game within the game.
All in the name of not having to fight a war at the home front.
Is This Going To Change?
With the series of new mechanics which were implemented throughout the past year, CCP appears to follow design goals which are at least partially intended to reduce the need for such large organisations and maybe even create incentives against forming them. As I have already mentioned, some of the former power players have already decided that sovereignty is not worth the effort and left that stage. Others have taken the opportunity to (re)establish themselves on that field, but it already seems like several of those groups operate on a smaller scale now. The two remaining large sov holders are now The Imperium and what appears to be a cautiously forming coalition between xXDeathXx, Triumvirate and Solar Fleet in the northeast. Maybe we will eventually even see a new “Russian” coalition taking over the whole east of the map again? Goonswarm, and by extension the Imperium, steadfastly maintain their doctrine of weaponised boredom. This time the main tool shall be renters who will happily grind all sov-indexes to the maximum and make Entosis hacks as tedious as possible. As long as there are enough players who will play along with this in exchange for a low-risk existence in nullsec, large coalitions will not vanish.
It remains to be seen where this new set of rules will take us over time, but I am quite sure that even without massive coalitions, alliances of a certain size will remain indefinitely. Some forms of gameplay are simply impossible to achieve below a critical mass. Apart from holding any significant amount of territory in the game, a major collective effort is needed to build up a large capital ship fleet and conduct the major battles EVE is also famous for, but many groups can do that these days. Pandemic Legion, Black Legion, Triumvirate and many other mid-size alliances can and will deploy caps and supercaps. Power blocs are not needed for that anymore.
The great conflicts in the future of EVE may not be decided by single gigantic clashes that last for 20 hours, but the new sov-system encourages strategic warfare more akin to what we know from recent real-world history. Campaigns will be fought on broad fronts as a series of objectives that drive the war-effort further with some major battles in between. In sov wars that work in this way there is still room for massive locust swarms and supercap fleets, they will just have to spread thinner over a number of systems. Escalating a fight up to supercaps is its own sort of content, and we want that in the game for those who enjoy it, so I don’t think it will necessarily go away. Even in lowsec people drop supers on occasion for no other reason than simply wanting to have that sort of battle.
So, will The Imperium or the concept of power blocs in general stay with us for the time being?
I wouldn’t be surprised.
Will they synergistically increase the amount of content in the game?
I very much doubt that.
Tags: cfc, Imperium, nullsec, power blocs, sovereignty, tarek
Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.