Sometimes, the meme “EVE is real” becomes more than just a marketing phrase. One metagaming aspect where this is particularly true is the field of conspiracy theories. Like the real world, EVE Online is full of them and in that aspect, unique amongst its MMO peers. Certainly, players of other games will have their assumptions and theories why developers of the game do one thing or the other, but there is nothing comparable to the richness and diversity of conjectures that make the rounds in the EVE community.
The Origin Of Conspiracy Theories
Sociologists and historians have long studied the emergence of conspiracy theories. Many different analyses have been submitted by those academics, but they boil down to two particular factors which all agree upon: asymmetry of information and the false attribution of causality.
The first one means that two parties are in a relationship where one appears obscure to the other. That may be intentional – and often is – or a simple result of lacking insight. Intentional obscurantism can be found in the Catholic church, for example. The dealings inside the Vatican during a papal election are kept secret from the public by design.
The unintentional variant can be observed in relation to science and academia. University lectures are publicly accessible (at least in all countries I am familiar with) and all textbooks are openly available. Still, for many people academic circles remain absolutely incomprehensible because they are not involved with them. If restrictions for participation with a certain group are added to information asymmetry, the chances increase that conspiracy theories are developed about them.
Regarding the false attribution of causality, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expresses it succinctly through the words of his protagonist Sherlock Holmes:
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
The conspirationist will always make the mistake that Holmes warns about. In a well-known example, something crashes near Roswell, New Mexico. Military and government are quick to cordon off the area and suppress all evidence. Assuming a false cause for that urgency, theories begin to make the rounds that it must have been an alien spacecraft.
With that event, everything was in place that is needed for a good conspiracy theory to develop. Intentional obscurity on the side of the government, agencies shut off from the general public and a number of witnesses who happily twisted facts to fit their theories because of a lack of data.
In EVE we can see the same thing happen.
Conspiracy Theories In EVE Online
The metagame of EVE Online contains all the necessary ingredients for conspiracy theories to form. There are many groups within the game that have asymmetric information about each other. The intentional variants exist in the form of internal communications, plans covered by opsec, closely guarded theorycrafting designs for the Alliance Tournament, the proverbial smoke-filled backrooms and more. On top of that are the CSM and CCP itself. Both have knowledge about plans for the game but are bound by an NDA.
In addition to that there are many unintentional obscurities which result from the complexity of the game and the high grade of organisation among veteran players. How does a major alliance actually manage to have the ISK and production capacity for large numbers of supercapitals? How do they stay ahead of the game’s developments? How does a tournament team manage to bring a perfect counter to face their opponents? There are often factual explanations for such things, but lack of knowledge about the internal workings lends itself to the development of conspiracy theories.
Of course there is enough grist for the rumormill when it comes to EVE.
Conspiracy is an integral part of the EVE metagame. The assumption that there is one behind any given event is not completely unfounded.
Historically, there have been collusions between CCP and entities in-game. That creates a precedent which keeps the assumption alive that such things might still be going on.
The tendency of CCP to hire people from among the playerbase provides a fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. Especially when they are recruited from groups that are successful beyond the comprehension of outsiders. 
Activities that would otherwise be considered illicit are commonplace in EVE. Alliance Tournament matches get fixed. Ponzi schemes are conducted. RMT does occur. Awoxing, spying and corp-theft are regular practice. It is not surprising that people believe in hidden agendas and duplicitous plots.
All of the above are just examples making one thing clear: mistrust and paranoia are strong in EVE Online, and not without reason. Under such conditions, conspiracy theories thrive. That effect becomes exacerbated by the information flow and player attitudes.
The (Dis)Information Maelstrom
Many among the EVE Online playerbase are very quick to process information and develop their own responses to it. A significant number of those people are also very keen on sharing their conclusions. In relation to the amount of people playing the game, EVE Online has spawned an incomparable number of blogs, podcasts, forums, subreddits, hashtags and even news sites. Information travels fast and the discussion around it develops even faster. The output ranges from fervent agitation to philosophical discussion, from personal stories and fiction to technical manuals and practically scientific analysis. The EVE meta is a dynamic online environment with many channels and a high number of players who have a strong desire to participate in it. That leads to a competition of ideas where each individual tries to outdo all others in terms of contributions. In that competitive discussion environment, outrageous claims also gain a certain popularity. Whether this is because people enjoy the trolling or whether they actually do believe in those outlandish theories is not always obvious. Whichever it may be, there will be those who take them seriously. The EVE subreddit and EVE forums are particularly notorious for spawning such escalating tinfoiling competitions.
In addition to that, spin and propaganda are openly practiced. Major alliances basically count on their important meetings and communiques to be leaked anyway, so they publish them. In the paranoid environment of EVE, that begs the question of whether those public “revelations” were not designed to mislead. The Mittani recently commented on that, noticing that opponents of the CFC would not “even notice when we [The CFC] highlight one of our many weaknesses.” The assumption that a CEO update contains spin and lies is just too deeply seated. In all fairness it has to be said, that at least the CFC updates are preceded by a paragraph stating openly that they are propaganda. That makes it even harder for outsiders to make up their minds. It is often easier under such conditions to believe in the conspiracy theory than to analyze thoroughly what the facts could be. It is more complicated and seemingly boring to follow the analyses of Nosy Gamer, so why not latch on to the tinfoiling of Dinsdale Piranha instead?
Clearly, EVE online will inevitably have its conspiracy theories. No matter who is most rich, most powerful or most successful in the game, others will conjure weird ideas why that might be the case. Neither the intentional obscurity and well-known duplicity of player organisations nor the recurring communication blunders of CCP make it less likely that devious plots are identified as the root cause of many things.
The best thing we can do is to watch and enjoy the development of those strange hypotheses.
 As a funny story on the side, I once made Goonswarm director Darius Johnson, formerly CCP Sreegs, completely lose it by pointing out that people will inevitably develop conspiracy theories about Goonswarm – CCP collusion for as long as ex-Goons hold prominent positions within the company. The resulting argument ended up with me getting banned from TMC. Now I could of course theorize that I was banned because I made a prominent Goon lose face. Who knows?
Tags: conspiracy, meta, 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.