Pod and Planet: 2017DireNecessity
Being a 14-year-old player-driven MMOG, EVE Online has developed its share of prestigious player-run competitions. For the battle-frenzied Capsuleer there’s Theomachy. For the immortal poet there’s Telegram Sam’s Pod and Planet. Though I can’t recall how I ran across the first Pod and Planet in 2012, I have happily competed every year to middling success. Before this year’s mid-September official announcement, I interviewed Pod and Planet’s principal huckster Telegram Sam and his treasurer MysteriousAlt. (Interview edited and condensed for clarity.)
DireNecessity: Kindly introduce yourselves.
Telegram Sam: I joined Eve in 2008. In recent years I haven’t had much uninterrupted time to play, so I’ve mostly been playing solo. Currently I’m going through destroyers pretty quickly doing solo PvP in Faction Warfare.
MysteriousAlt: I’m an alt, who is mysterious.
Telegram Sam: MysteriousAlt is wise to conceal her main’s identity. If we knew the source of her ISK faucet, we’d probably go after that money as well.
DireNecessity: Care to tell us about Pod & Planet?
Telegram Sam: Pod & Planet is an Eve fiction writing event that we’ve done every fall since 2012. It has three categories: lore-faithful stories that are set in the New Eden world; freeform (stories about in-game events, stories that don’t strictly conform to the lore, anything else); and humor. There are around 24 prizes across the three categories, usually ranging from around .5 bil isk (for Honorable Mention) up to around 7 bil (for Grand Prize). There’s also a Best New Writer prize, and this year there’s a new category for very short stories (750 words or less). All of the details are here: Pod and Planet.
The point of the event is for people to have fun creating fiction stories and to have a place for sharing them with the community. We always encourage everyone to write something up, even if English isn’t their first language or if they’ve never written fiction before. Those who have, have always said they enjoyed doing it. It’s amazing fun and extraordinary challenge dreaming up a story and putting it down in words.
MysteriousAlt: Beyond Sam’s cursory description, 2016’s Crossing Zebras interview does a decent job filling in the details. I refer you there.
DireNecessity: What’s changed from last year?
Telegram Sam: The biggest change for us this year is the elimination of third party gambling sites. This caused some alarm, angst and panic, because those sites have always been our major source of prizes for the writers. Fortunately, our treasurer MysteriousAlt took it on herself to donate 50 billion ISK from her personal funds making everything easy and single handedly ensuring that there will be a Pod & Planet for 2017. Her donation reduces the need for me to be a huckster touting the contest to potential donors, hyping the public relations benefits of being a sponsor, all of that.
MysteriousAlt: Behind the scenes 2016’s Pod & Planet grew exciting. Venerable sponsor EVE Bet generously donated 23 billion ISK worth of prizes 10 billion of which consisted of gaming credits. Being prompt as well as generous, we had their entire donation in hand long before contest completion. Then CCP declared third party gambling against the EULA making our 10 billion ISK of gaming credits unredeemable. We probably could have hit EVE Bet up for something other than defunct gaming credits but that felt like kicking an already podded Capsuleer so we covered the shortfall in house. In addition to EVE Bet, we’ve had a number of faithful sponsors over the years: Clueless Space Nerds, DomanarK, The Angel Project, High Drag Eve. While I may have grown into our largest individual prize donor, I’m not the only one and never have been.
Telegram Sam: As always, we are accepting donations from anyone who would like to sponsor. The community’s participation in the event as donor/sponsors has always been one of the exciting things about it.
MysteriousAlt: I’d add that all I do is throw a little ISK around. There’s lots of ways to support the competition and many other people like judges, competitors and Telegram Sam himself are the ones devoting serous time to the contest. They deserve the genuine praise.
DireNecessity: You mentioned there will be 750 word or less ‘Short Fiction’ prizes this year. What brought about the new category?
Telegram Sam: Last year’s collection of story entries was a little different than in the previous four years. We had some epic tales by returning writers who just keep always getting better and better. And we had all kinds of amazingly good, full-length stories by newer writers. A lot of those broke some traditions about themes, outlooks, and the way a story set in EVE/New Eden is traditionally done.
We also had a few stories that were comparatively short and didn’t come close to reaching the 5,000 word limit. All of these were from writers who’d never entered anything in the event before. Some seem to have been newer players hearing about the event from the EVE forums, but most came from Eve reddit. With those stories, it seemed like the writers had a story they wanted to tell, and they just sat down to bang it out. No frills, no styling, no blah blah blah – the writer just got excited about the idea of people in Eve writing Eve stories and wrote one up.
So that’s the idea behind the short fiction prizes. If people want to just bang out a good quick story, they ought to be able to, and still have a chance of winning a prize. The prizes will be smaller than the general prizes for stories of up to full-length. But, you know, everybody wants and expects work to reward ratios to be fair and proportional.
MysteriousAlt: Crafting a quality piece of very short fiction is no easy thing. That’s the ground poets walk. Introducing three Very Short Fiction prizes this year creates space for these writers to shine. In the past, a fine piece of very short fiction had to compete with several thousand word opuses and rarely fared well falling prey to “Good, but short.” We found this unacceptable. 750 words or less is tight. I look forward to seeing contestants wrestle with it.
DireNecessity: For the last couple of competitions P&P has assembled prizes around a theme. Will there be a theme this year?
MysteriousAlt: Yes. In 2015 we assembled venery critter packs: Pack of wolves, murder of crows, clatter of jackdaws, etc. 2016 flaunted a vampirism theme: Skill point extraction/injection, capacitor sucking Blood Raider ships, etc. This year we’ll be attending to contestants’ artistic needs: Each major winner will receive their own private ‘Writerly Retreat’ Astrahus Citadel.
Telegram Sam: I’m hoping MysteriousAlt will be nice and not drop them all in C6 wormholes.
DireNecessity: This will be Pod & Planet’s 6th year. How do you explain its longevity?
Telegram Sam: It really helped that the event got off to a great start in the first year. Actually the event didn’t just start, it was shot out of a cannon when CCP Community Devs Falcon and Eterne agreed to judge, wrangled up a $400 video card prize donation from CCP, and got it announced on the client login page. Every Eve player got notice of the contest and we got flooded with story entries. People were gunning for that top prize, and the stories were of unbelievable high quality overall. The competition between epic tale and epic tale was really, really intense. And when it was all over, everyone had had a good time, there were good feelings all around. I think every player-writer felt like, whether having won a prize or not, they had created something from out of nothing and accomplished a lot.
After that first year, people knew about the event. Or if they didn’t, we could point them to information about it and the excellent stories from it. So it was pretty easy to get prizes sponsorship and another round of very high quality stories. A high bar had been set for the player-writers, which might have inspired them, or at least challenged them to take their writing to the next level. So I think the writers themselves established a tradition of submitting really imaginative, creative, finely crafted stuff. There’s been kind of a virtuous spiral that has carried over from year to year.
MysteriousAlt: I’ve played EVE for several years and been involved with P&P since 2014 beginning with a 6 billion ISK donation. 2015 saw that increase to 25 Billion. 2016 grew to 36 Billion. 2017 will be 50 Billion. Somewhere along the way I became P&P’s official treasurer. It’s not unlike EVE itself progressing from frigates through cruisers into battleships and onto capitals while simultaneously working one’s way up the corporate command structure. I’ve aptitude for accumulating ISK. It’s satisfying to put that skill to work over time. EVE is a long term game. So are its contests.
Telegram Sam: Speaking of longevity, you [DireNecessity] have written for Pod & Planet every year since it started, and your stories have consistently competed for top-tier prizes despite or because of being kind of quirky, nonconformist, and full of wry, somewhat ghastly wit. And they’ve been unique in the contest, because the characters have carried over from year to year. Do you have any comments on why you’ve written for the event each year since the start?
DireNecessity: Hmmm. There’s something about expansive sandbox games like EVE Online that highlight motive. The large nullsec blocs expend a great deal of effort generating narrative. Who backstabbed whom and what for seems very important. For a solish player like myself it’s not that different. EVE arrives at our doorstep with extensive lore and equally extensive player generated history. Nearly every player is doing what they are doing for a reason.
With a role-playing background (I played a lot of paper and pencil Dungeons and Dragons back in the day), my characters were bound to grow distinct personalities. Measuring by skill point acquisition alone, each character evolves. At the same time, both the game mechanics and the player generated meta evolve too. Everything’s always changing meaning, as time passes, we players find ourselves doing things differently and/or doing different things – all for a reason. We’ve got motive driven narrative all over the place.
I’m genuinely surprised to hear that few returning writers have carried the same set of characters along with them over the years. This game we play is a story generating machine. Pod and Planet is place for those stories. Doesn’t everybody do this?