The Cost of Leadership

 

Eve has massive player run organizations than exist both in-game and out. Leaders can have out-sized personalities and huge impact on the way that thousands of players enjoy the game. If we saw such leadership in other sports or hobbies we wouldn’t think twice about them receiving compensation for their work, but in Eve this is strongly taboo. What does it mean to have leadership in a hobby at various levels of professionalism, and what would it mean for Eve if we no longer assumed that leadership was done for free?

For the Love of the Sport

Many of you have kids in community baseball/soccer/etc. teams. If it’s like my neck of the woods, the teams are run by the hard work of volunteers, usually parents, who get no compensation but perhaps for a small thank-you gift at the end of the season. Having seen plenty of these, I can tell you there can be lots of stress and drama that goes with this unpaid role, as well as great high points and joy. In other words, not all that different from the high contributors to many Eve corporations.

“They put in many hours to develop the doctrines, talk through the diplomacy, work out strategies”

This is where we currently expect our corp leadership to exist. These players are motivated by their love of Eve, love of their organization, love of (most of) their line members. There certainly can be a streak of ego that comes from being space famous for many of them. They put in many hours to develop the doctrines, talk through the diplomacy, work out strategies – and hopefully they can mostly be driven by enjoying these activities. They are playing the meta game, and in that sense they are still just players.

As a community we have no taboo at this level – this is barely within notice. We notice that leaders rise, burn out, and unsub for a while and maybe come back for another turn under the spotlights. These leaders may get kudos or hatemail for their work, or maybe a beer at Fanfest, but that’s as much of a transaction as they have with the people they provide content for.

Keeping the Lights On

The next step up are the people who are putting money as well as time into their organizations just to keep them moving. In the sports analogy, consider the kid’s coach who puts out their own money for gas and accommodations for travel games, state tournaments, or maybe some end of season participation medals for the kids. In my own life I train at a karate studio that is run by a couple because they love the art. We pay fees to keep the studio rent paid and the lights on, but the owners and instructors take no salary. They do it because they love it.

“However, as an overall community we balk at paying the content provider for their own time.”

In Eve, perhaps those corp leaders pay for the corp website and killboard out of their own pocket. They administer the forums and deal with the inevitable headaches of upgrades and hardware and that damn hacker who tried to use your server to host kiddie porn. Maybe they pay for storage and bandwidth of a podcast. At this level the leaders may turn to the membership when a server needs to be replaced or the domain hosting bill comes due. I expect many readers have donated to support Dotlan, Tripwire, or your favorite streamer or podcast. Patreon is a new favorite with many for getting something resembling a regular revenue stream coming in. We are quite willing to voluntarily pay for our content on this level, where our money is paying for the means by which the content is delivered. However, as an overall community we balk at paying the content provider for their own time.

Professional Content Generation

At the level above your local sports team are the organizations that run the leagues, not at the level of tens of kids but tens of teams. These are the paid professionals who take care of determining the schedule of games, hiring the refs, negotiating the use of the fields or courts, and perhaps the uniforms for the players. In short, the leadership, organization, and logistics.

When you pay your fee to play for a season, part of your money goes to paying these people, even if you may never meet them. The leaders of your kid’s team work with them through websites and meetings to make the whole thing flow so there can be a fun season of your kid’s favorite sport. This whole thing evolved because while someone might be willing to sign up to coach your kid in how to kick a soccer ball, you probably can’t get them to negotiate with all of the participating towns to get fields, as well as all the other coaches to work out the schedule for the season. It’s a lot of work that isn’t directly connected to the love of the sport.

My karate studio is part of a wider organization, and part of my fees go towards paying for that organization to function – including some nominal pay to those leaders. In the real world we accept that someone putting in at least part-time hours to give us value deserves pay for that work. But here is where we’ve hit the taboo when it comes to Eve.

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Eve grew out of the original world of MMOs where small groups of people played a game for a couple hours a week. That’s kind of like the pick-up sports game moving slowly towards being an organized community team. However, that’s not where Eve is now. Eve corps, alliances, and coalitions are far beyond such a casual organization in terms of scale and sophistication. Eve players expect that when they join even a medium-sized corp they’ll have websites, forums, comms, and other such services outside of the game. Once in the game, a competitive corp may have hauling services, LP buying programs, regular PVE or mining ops, and doctrine ships on contract. As you move up into the bigger nullsec organizations you have jump networks, moon mining, and POS management.

Yet somehow, the only acceptable level of professionalism is still at the volunteer level. Talk of real money for leadership and organizational support remains taboo. Yes, we hear of richer groups offering PLEX for FCs, logistics, etc. but these seem pretty unusual and frankly are still tiny compared to a low-skills, minimum wage job. Any suggestion of real compensation to leaders who pour in effort comparable to a part-time job (even at low wage part-time job levels) causes the pitchforks to come out. (Yes, there’s a reason I sat on this until after we had some space between the present and the Kickstarter-related brouhaha).

Why the Taboo?

There are two major drivers for the taboo against real money compensation for content creators: the campaign against RMT and (lets face it) the personalities involved in the current organizations that could feasibly support any such professionalism.

Eve has long fought against RMT, and some of the biggest scandals of the recent years have been around this topic: the rise and fall of Somerblink, game and policy changes that attack botting, and the latest swirling accusations around IWantIsk. Mention of real money taint discussions about subscriptions for streamers and ad revenues on Eve media sites.

The very prospect that The Mittani and other top Imperium players might get some real money has been enough to bring out the torches and pitchforks. This is as much about the polarizing nature of these individuals and the power of the Imperium in the game. If Mittani had the level of goodwill as Chribba, would we hear people complaining about TMC making money from advertisements?

Why Change What Isn’t Broken?

So why not leave it at the level of players who put their time and treasure into Eve for the love of the game? We clearly have a large number of people who are willing to put themselves out to make content happen. Yes, they burn out (sometimes spectacularly) but putting some money on the line isn’t going to change that. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to flip the relationship here.

Right now it’s easy to see how leaders feel that their line members owe them for all this hard work. This feeds into the draw of leadership for ego-fulfillment rather than for professionalism. Leaders who are effectively selling content are beholden to their customers just like any other producer, and vulnerable to competition to others who provide better content or a better price point. The best price will continue to be “free” so this would by no means drive out the current amateur enthusiast model. Would having that flipped producer-consumer model provide better content for Eve? It certainly is debatable, but we won’t know until the community is willing to try it.

Shouldn’t we be worried about content providers abusing this to scam players? Certainly this is a potential problem, and one that CCP could be worried about getting drawn into. If we were talking about normal business software, it seems unlikely that the software publisher would be involved if one of their customers felt that an independant consultant failed to deliver according to an agreement. However, if the publisher was seen to endorse or promote that consultant they might be seen as considerably less than independant, hurting the publisher’s reputation and potentially opening themselves up to liability. CCP has a rough history of promoting third-party community groups that they might later regret, with SomerBlink being the prime example.

“We hear community members speaking out that they wish the leaders hated each other just a bit more so we could have a good war.”

What impact would this have on the meta? Two paid content-producing leaders could certainly conspire to have a forever-war (or Thunderdome) to provide content for both of their customer groups. Players might find this to feel fake, taking away from the serious internet spaceships culture that many find sets Eve apart from other MMOs. We hear community members speaking out that they wish the leaders hated each other just a bit more so we could have a good war. It is not just that loss is real, but that the objectives and the victories over the opposition is real. If the ops and the wars were agreed upon between content-businessmen, is there any real victory to celebrate?

Changing the Cost of Leadership

All of these possibilities would require a lot of cultural change, and the positives and negatives would cause waves of disagreement in an already fractious Eve community. Yet at the same time these are things that in many cases could happen tomorrow – they don’t require CCP to adopt a new policy or a broad group of players to agree to anything.

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You may not get a chance to agree to whether or not you will find yourself fighting against an opponent with professional leadership. Arguably the opponents of the Imperium already have been. Perhaps it is time that we had a more open conversation about the role of leadership in Eve, and this conversation can include what benefits leaders gain outside of the game.

Tags: Jakob Anedalle, leadership

About the author

Jakob Anedalle