Navigating the CommunityTarek Raimo
The EVE player community is one of the most fascinating and complex aspects of this already challenging game. While I am sure that other games have longstanding fanbases with their own sites, blogs, subreddits and twitch channels, I would dare to claim that none of them will be like what has developed in and around EVE.
This game’s unique nature as a continuous sandbox which is shared by all players worldwide (except the Chinese unfortunately) allows for the development of something that goes far beyond the usual affinity groups of fans. EVE has its own living player-generated history and social evolution which has developed throughout the years since 2003, and there are still people around from those days. This can be incredibly fascinating and gratifying to explore, but at the same time the vagaries of the EVE player community can also be highly frustrating for those who are unfamiliar with it.
With the introduction of the Alpha Clones last year, EVE has seen an influx of new players that is unprecedented, but one thing that EVE is notoriously bad at is player retention. Next to the steep learning curve, the often obscure and complex gameplay mechanics and the severity of loss that can happen all too easy – especially for new players -, I would identify the complex and often difficult to navigate community as one of the main reasons why players quit in frustration. With this article I would like to address one of those obstacles and hope that it finds an audience among those who have only started recently and can make little to no sense of what is going on around them.
Entering EVE as a new player is not unlike moving to a new town or neighbourhood in a major city where you know no-one, heck in can be like moving to an entirely new country with its own customs and cultures. You will come into the game mostly unnoticed while there are wars going on, rivalries being played out, playstyles competing with each-other, alliances made and broken, friendships formed and goals pursued. It is a living game environment where few things stay the same for long. To find your way as new player can be daunting and confusing, and it can happen easily that you make mistakes which can sour the experience for you.
The Faction Trap
Sticking with the analogy of moving to a new home, you may find yourself merrily having a few drinks with the man who had an affair with someone’s wife, so suddenly that guy and all his friends look at you negatively without you even knowing why. Personal grudges like this exist between EVE players as well, and they may have existed for years prior to your arrival. With some, those grudges can run so deep that you might feel like you have ended up in the Northern Ireland of the 1980s and made the mistake of going to a protestant pub while living in a catholic neighbourhood. Since you are here reading this, we can start with this very site. For you as new player it will appear just another fansite with articles and podcasts you may or may not find interesting, but for some longstanding EVE players you may already be marked as belonging to a certain clique or told off if you mention that you like the site. The same goes for the other two media sites EVE News 24 and Imperium News.
EVE players can be very factionalistic and declaring affinity for the wrong faction can cast you in an unfavourable light for some. It may even go so far that you will be maligned for not being explicitly dismissive of others.
Last year saw a rather public example of such a scenario when the new player and twitch streamer Crasskitty ran afoul of the sometimes exaggerated faction rivalries in EVE. Being unfamiliar with the social demarcation lines that some players have drawn between themselves, she indiscriminately invited guests from all over the game to talk to her live on twitch. It did not take too long for her to become the target for individuals who did not appreciate her non-partisan behaviour. It takes a very subtle approach and good social engineering to pull off a live program for this community without becoming the target for some group or other, comprised of obsessive-compulsive EVE players, who feel you misrepresented them or favoured others over them. Even seasoned media personalities have their difficulties walking this tightrope, and some snap under the pressure of constantly being pushed to choose a side. If you look over a list of the who’s who among prominent EVE players with a public face, there are few who will never have been involved in some drama related to the constant pressure to pick a side.
Now, since you are reading this, I assume you are a rather new player and not necessarily poised to become a public media personality within the EVE community, but those are just salient examples for the purpose of demonstration. You should be aware that joining with any group of marginal significance will mark you in the eyes of older players, and that mark can lead to different treatment depending on how entrenched they are in their own ways. If you join a highsec mining and mission-running group you will be labeled a carebear. If you end up with a group that hunts that kind of player you will be called a griefer. Many of the more peacefully inclined EVE players will even think ill of you if you engage them in legitimate combat-zone PvP like camping lowsec gates.
Faction Warfare features an explicit divide by game mechanics. You will lose standings with the opposing NPC factions (Amarr & Caldari vs. Minmatar & Gallente) and can not enter their space without being attacked by NPCs. Interestingly enough, the Faction Warfare players are often among the least factional, maybe that is the case because the game mechanics already provide a clear separation between them. Like football players of opposing teams they will play hard during the match, but when it’s over they will swap t-shirts and pat each other on the back.
The strongest form of factionalism and therefore the most social baggage you will potentially acquire exists among the nullsec alliances. Granted, these days many leading players who live in nullsec have played EVE for many years and mellowed out a bit, but there are still a fair share of players around who will declare you anathema if you are or have been with the wrong group. Today you may be contemplating joining TEST, Karmafleet, Brave Newbies or Pandemic Horde, but with the friends you gain that way, you also bought yourself a whole lot of enemies you didn’t even know about.
As a new player you have the advantage that you are not yet entrenched in one area of the game or another. Far be it from me to deter you from choosing whichever group suits you, but I would advise you to get your bearings. Listen to podcasts, read articles, check out the EVE subreddit and get a feeling for the group you have joined. If you see and hear excessive vitriol, I would not recommend staying or joining. Those who isolate themselves too strongly and vilify others excessively also tend to be disliked, and doors that would otherwise be open might become closed for you if you end up with an overly factionalist group of players.
The Social Media Environment
EVE has a number of adjunct social media environments which all have their own pundits or those who think they are. There are of course the EVE Online Forums which are run by CCP themselves, but besides that there is also tweetfleet (a twitter hashtag dedicated to EVE Online) the Tweetfleet Slack which is obviously running on the Slack platform and includes a number of channels on different subjects, and the EVE subreddit. There are prominent individuals on each one of them, and many are active cross-platform. Since this is the internet, there is a fair share of trolls, inane rubbish and other aggravating online behaviour. The social media environment adds another layer to the in-game community which can be both helpful and even more confusing.
Here players can choose to obfuscate their in-game affiliation or fake it. Players employ forum posting alts, reddit flairs that do not reflect their actual affinity and usernames that are not related to their main in-game persona and so forth. In my personal experience it is advisable to stick to the people who are consistent across the board. No matter how crazy their point-of-view is, at least they are committed to it and do not play insipid online obfuscation games. Xenuria – to use a prominent example of a controversial person – uses the same handle on twitter,
If you are new and you think you can use the perceived anonymity of the web as some sort of smokescreen, don’t be too sure. EVE players count a good amount of rather proficient intelligence gatherers among their number. There are people who will cross-reference posts, account information and metadata just to check you out. Again, this might not ever happen to you if you stay under the radar and do nothing spectacular, but once you engage with other players you might be caught in a net of mutual distrust. You might do well by hiding your identity behind multiple accounts, but if you are found out you can also count on a level of repercussion.
In EVE there are two things more sensitive than anything else: reputation and trust. Many players think they can escape their reputation and garner new trust once they have made enemies, and many succeed – for a time – but eventually chances are that their past will catch up with them. The same goes for interaction in the meta-environment of the game. The factionalism I mentioned above often motivates players to go to such lengths and find out which aliases their “enemies” are hiding behind. Playing internet-hide-and-seek can easily make you appear suspicious to them and you might get flagged as a potential spy, thief, troublemaker or just a pain in the ass. To avoid ending up in such a situation I would also advise here to observe and study before rushing into action. If you don’t say or do anything too outrageous early on, you will not feel the need to hide behind posting alts and sockpuppet accounts. If you build a consistent reputation by small steps in the beginning, you can benefit from it later. It will still be difficult enough. Many of those social-media environments have their own explicit and unspoken codes of conduct. In years I have been unable to determine exactly how the preference dynamics on the EVE subreddit work and why people there celebrate a “quality shitpost” while they shoot down a qualified and level-headed comment.
EVE related social media content always carries a certain twist with it. How to stay out or how to properly engage in a conflict ties in very much with your own game experience. Pushing each other’s buttons is a widely practiced activity online as it is, among EVE players all the grudges, the factionalism, the personal histories and conflicts become part of that. Again, even seasoned community veterans are not immune to missteps there. The latest outburst between Rixx Javix and Grath Telkin are testimony to than.
The Serious Business
All of the above may sound like the stereotype: EVE is a game full of sociopaths, autism-spectrum disorder cases and other basement-dwelling nutjobs. While there are those people in this player community, and although some of them are very loud and out-there with their obsessions, there is a large majority who are just genuinely intelligent, interesting and compassionate human beings from many different places around the world. If they are long-standing members of the EVE playerbase, they enjoy this game for its opportunity to forge your own path, no matter how humble it may be.
I often remind myself of this statement (I paraphrase from a voice conversation) “In all my time playing this game I have mostly received support and appreciation from other players” Something to this effect was said to me by Greygal, a great community member who is running an organisation that dedicates itself to offering players from all over the game easily accessible PvP fleets – Redemption Road. (no I am not sponsored by them) Everyone is welcome but expected to leave any political baggage at the door. In their fleet you are an EVE player enjoying the game with others. Things will get blown up, underhanded tactics will be used, local chat will be used for smacktalk, boastful posts will be made on the occasion of a remarkable kill. This is what happens in this game and that is all fine.
Many out there will differ with me, but I think this is close to the essence of EVE: to realize that you can share this communal experience, and if you fight you switch t-shirts and pat each other on the back in the end. There will always be those who will build walls between themselves and others, antagonise players on a personal level or just the usual internet trash in its EVE-player manifestation, but the real world has enough problems. Why should we create new ones in our spare-time escapist sci-fi game?!
As such as I can not tell you the way you should play EVE, I can also not tell you how you should navigate its community. All I want you to know is that between all the rough waters, the typhoons and tsunamis, there are also great seas to sail on the way to unexpected destinations.