Grand Strategy in the Heavens: How EVE Wars Are PlannedHopeful Turtle
Let’s ask the obvious: EVE is just a computer game – what is the big deal?
A quick retort to that is that EVE Online isn’t a computer game, it’s a community of people.
This may seem like a patently ridiculous thing to say – after all, you play EVE Online using a mouse and pilot a spaceship made up entirely of pixels. However, the game of EVE is far more than that. It is the second largest shared narrative in human history, besides actual history itself, with over 500,000 people participating, forming relationships and undertaking all the normal proceedings of human life – whether shopping, industrial production or, indeed, war.
War in EVE is of a different character to most player vs player battles in other games, and this is primarily due to the scale. Whereas a large guild in World of Warcraft might number at most 1000 players, the largest coalition in EVE could conceivably deploy up to 40,000 people. To put it in perspective, a US Brigade Combat Team numbers approximately 4,700. Therefore, any serious war conducted by a major EVE alliance demands a significant amount of planning and coordination, much of which is conducted before war is even declared. And once declared, this information has to be appropriately transmitted to the relevant parties, and to people who might be affected. In short, it is a remarkably complex process. This series of articles will cover this process, up until when the first shot is fired.
Why would you go to war?
A planned war in EVE starts at the very top of an organisation, where the alliance or coalition leader holds a meeting with his or her senior staff. To take the example of The Imperium as one major coalition, this meeting might include the leaders of constituent alliances, along with military coordinator staff and members of the Corps Diplomatique. They will decide if they’re going to war, and more importantly, why they’re going to war.
The reason for wars can vary immensely, but typically boil down into three categories; content, conquest and strategy. Content driven wars are a desire to engage the player-base with something genuinely exciting and interesting. One example of this sort of deployment was TEST Alliance’s short-lived action in the north in July-August 2017, where they deployed approximately 19,000 players with the intent to have fun and burn through pre-accumulated war stockpiles.
Secondly, there is conquest – either for the coalition to live in or to rent out (letting other groups live in the space for a monthly fee). In particular, this might involve targeting specific pieces of territory, such as moon rich constellations. One example of this was the Imperium invasion of Fountain in May 2013, where incoming game changes made Imperium space less valuable, forcing them to secure the rich moons of Fountain in order to maintain their state.
Lastly, there is war for strategic reasons – this can usually be boiled down to either honouring treaty obligations, or ‘third-partying’ a war with the intent to harass one side or the other with punitive expeditions, designed not so much to take and hold territory as to waste time for their victims and inflict disproportionate fleet casualties. One example of this being attempted was the 20 day Imperium campaign in August 2017, which was mounted to take pressure off of the Imperium allied ‘The Initiative’ and harass Northern Coalition assets in the Tribute region. This success of this operation is a subject of some debate.
What is our capacity?
Running through this list of reasons, the leadership will identify the appropriate points which would necessitate conflict. After this, they would then assess their capacity to meet the challenge. This will typically involve three distinct areas; financial, diplomatic and military.
On the financial side, the senior leadership (along with, most likely someone from the financial department), will go over their war chest and their in-house economic reports. They would then analyse this data and determine whether they have sufficient capital to expend on a war effort. This is especially important in ‘fun’ wars – i.e. those wars which do not concern the vital strategic interests of a group. There is little merit in blowing through pre-assembled munitions stockpiles and funds in a foreign excursion, only to come home to find core economic interests under attack and be unable to defend them.
The other part of the economic analysis to bear in mind will be the capacity to keep earning during war time. EVE alliances are typically citizen-soldier communities – whilst there might be some hundreds of pilots subsidised by everyone else to only fight, for the vast majority, war is a part-time affair – the rest of the time is spent in lucrative mining or ratting (hunting NPCs) endeavours (which is then taxed). This means that when going to war and deploying elsewhere, an alliance will be sacrificing a large chunk of their tax base, along with other income options. Therefore, the leadership team will have to consider whether their war chest can keep them going without access to regular income flows.
Secondly, there is the diplomatic element to consider. Most major alliances and coalitions have a corps of dedicated professional diplomats, and their director will customarily be part of the senior leadership. They will be asked to consider and brief on the diplomatic viability of a war. This might take the role of understanding how neighbours to the coalition will react to a deployment – and whether the enemy network of allies will respond or not. In general, their job is to understand the potential effects of war upon the diplomatic state of New Eden, and counsel the senior leadership – and, ultimately, leader – as to how it works and what the likely moves and countermoves would be.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, there is the military aspect to consider. This typically involves understanding the ability and capacity of the alliance’s armed force – the quality and availability of fleet commanders, the different doctrines available for fleet operations and the quantity of capital/supercapital ships. Moreover, understanding the military capacity of an alliance also means working out the attitude of line members. EVE, at the end of the day, is something people do for fun. If they’re not having fun, they will go and do something else. Therefore, military staff have to understand the general mood of their alliance/coalition. Where line members are bored and restless, then a war would probably garner quite a lot of engagement. But where line members are content, or tired and overstretched, there will be lower fleet participation leading to a significant shortfall in combat ability.
All of these factors would be brought to the attention of the leadership and understood in context, in order to build a comprehensive picture of the alliance. From there, informed decisions can be made. Without this picture, the leadership can blunder and enter into wars where there is a significant chance of limited player involvement, and subsequently humiliating defeat.
What is the enemy capacity?
Once this assessment is made, the next and obvious assessment is that of the enemy and their close allies. This can broadly be divided into two categories: enemy capacity to fight and enemy willingness to fight.
The capacity of the enemy to fight is very important, and covers core metrics such as the numbers and, where possible, deployment patterns of enemy capitals/supercapitals, in addition to the size of the enemy war chest. Other logistical matters such as the extent of the enemy jump bridge network, key travel routes and so on are also useful in understanding areas they are likely to defend.
Gathering all of this information can be somewhat difficult – while all major alliances do maintain spy networks, they also maintain effective counterintelligence services. Some things, such as the location of the enemy jump bridge network, are freely available to any line member and therefore easy to access. However, alliances tend to closely guard their financial situation and capital deployments, and learning those in full requires deep penetration of enemy command networks – this is not an easy feat.
In contrast, the willingness of the enemy to fight does not demand the same level of intelligence work – it can be found through AAR’s and contact reports from skirmisher commanders, along with looking through the forums and fleet participation. However, interpreting this data into actionable intelligence does demand a great deal of experience playing EVE and understanding how people react to specific events – and how to separate forum bluster in peace from actions under fire in war.
With all of this intelligence gathering done, an informed choice can be made about whether to go to war or not. But if war is chosen, a great deal more preparation is required before it can begin.