The Leadership Problem

Whenever alliances or coalitions fall apart or go through difficult periods in EVE, the blame is usually laid with leadership. This can be observed in the recent crisis of BRAVE, and all the way throughout the game’s history. Whether it was the political missteps of TEST’s Montolio, the absenteeism of Li3’s Jadecougar, the retirement of Gentleman’s Agreement leader Kesper North, Cyvok’s burnout that caused the end of Ascendant Frontier, or Haargoth Agamar’s betrayal which resulted in BoB’s downfall—each time a mistake, failure to act, or deliberate action by one or more leaders was the last straw that broke organisations. Whenever there is a recurring pattern, it points to an underlying principle. In this case, the culprit is how leadership and organisations are generally given form in EVE.

The Old School

According to some researchers in the field of social development, we humans form organisations based on existing or historical models that we are familiar with. Others emphasize human nature as herd animals similar in predisposition to apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas. According to them, we naturally gravitate to a certain kind of group hierarchy even if we are left to our own devices. Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, we can observe that children generally go through an accelerated form of social development on their way to adulthood. Initially, they form gangs, cliques, and affinity groups before they fully grasp the values and organisational principles of the society around them. Usually, they are also taught accepted forms of social organisation in schools, sports clubs, and religious communities. Social organisations during these initial grooming stages are often structured in very simple ways too, featuring clear hierarchies and straightforward leadership roles. Many people never fully graduate from that level and will keep reproducing similar models throughout their lives. Newly emerging social groups often progress through similar stages, starting from simple group structures which ideally develop a trend towards increasing complexity and sophistication. Organisations that exist outside accepted social norms are particularly interesting to study in this respect, as they can not fully integrate themselves into ethical or legal structures of the society they operate in and need to develop their own regulations. Organised crime is often studied for this reason. Some currently existing crime syndicates emerged from extra-legal enforcement gangs, such as the Italian Cosa Nostra or the Japanese Yakuza. Others did form through integration of prior criminal gangs like the Columbian drug cartels or the Russian Vory V Zakone. In all cases they began as rather simple operations but consecutively developed more complex rules, codes and organisational structures as they expanded and flourished. Today, some of them rival transnational corporations or supranational political organisations in sophistication and structure albeit that many still have a classical—often patriarchal—gang or family structure at their core. Marukin_at_Sanja_Matsuri_2 In the sociological petri-dish of EVE, we can observe similar developments. Here we also have a largely unregulated environment where organisations grow organically without being forced to adhere to particular standards, and in most cases they are not formed by professionals in the field of organisation and leadership. I am unaware of any major group in EVE being run by an actual corporate CEO, professional politician or military leader. The significant powers of EVE developed from an anarchic primal stage, and eventually built their own brand of socio-cultural establishment mostly based on familiar real-life models and experience they gained along the way. Since EVE has only existed for hardly longer than a decade, the evolutionary process is of course lagging behind. The player empires of EVE were—and often still are—ruled by dictators, fleet commanders, or aristocratic elites who operate in ways which have long been superseded by the sociopolitical reality of our own world. Most smaller player organisations have hardly progressed beyond the developmental stage of a street-gang or small manufacturing business. There is a reason why social evolution in our own world progressed beyond that point and continues to do so. At the basis of that development lies the quest for a solution to the very problem which causes the often observed failcascades in EVE: leadership. So how did political and economic organisations of the real world develop to achieve higher stability by avoiding an over-reliance on leaders?

The Nation

Following the philosophical precepts of liberalism, a new concept for the individual’s role in society emerged in the 18th century. No longer should every individual be the subject of an emperor, king, or cardinal who embodied the whole of the society they ruled over and demanded personal loyalty—bending the knee, to use a phrase popularised by Game of Thrones. Rather than that, the people were to become citizens of a nation—an ideal that extends to include a territory inhabited by a populace united by an abstract body of cultural values. This social principle formed the basis for the unification of Italy, the liberal-nationalist uprisings in 1848 Germany, the French Revolution and the American war for independence. Most notably, this social construct was much more resilient when it came to changes in leadership. The individual citizen would identify with their country and its constitutional values, rather than a lord. In fact, national constitutions gave the people leave to depose leaders who would threaten the integrity of the founding principles a state was built upon. Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple In EVE, we can witness the development of similar ideas. The main reason why Brave Newbies did not failcascade and actually threw out the people who had attempted to take over the organisation, was based on their membership adhering to the concept of “being BRAVE”. Throughout their short history, they were lead by different people but the commitment of the members is to an ideal rather than the designated or self-appointed leader. Another example is the Faction Warfare militias. In a reflection of real-world nationalism, the multitude of different militia corps embrace the idea of being part of an abstract NPC faction and cooperate across membership lines. Closest to the real-world national identity are the so-called “Russian alliances”. Of course they also have members from Australia, the U.S. and elsewhere, but their core critical mass includes many Russians, Russian speakers, and other Eastern Europeans, who do in fact share a transnational cultural, ethnic, and historical relationship. That lends them a significant cohesive resilience in the game that does not simply depend on specific leaders. Nationalism does have its problems of course, and historically Napoleon Bonaparte was among the first to twist that formerly liberal ideal to suit an agenda of conquest and oppression of the foreign and the unpatriotic. In social history this methodology is called integral nationalism. At this stage the liberal goal of independence has been achieved and a nation can be tipped towards expansion or at least defensive aggression. In EVE, this finds its most prominent manifestation in Goonswarm, who strongly cultivate something akin to national identity, but also embrace the methods of integral nationalism. Examples including such things as forced relocation of populations to strengthen their political control, similar to the Soviet’s policies under Stalin.

The Corporation

The other development that came about to solve the leadership problem was the modern corporation. Up until the 20th century, industry and finance were ruled, for better or worse, by individual tycoons. Several economic crises of the 19th and early 20th centuries were in no small part caused by the fallacies of unaccountable business leaders who triggered collapses not unlike EVE’s failcascades. As a result, modern corporations have changed their organisational models mainly by devolving decision making power to the shareholders who have a stake in the continued operation of the business. This made them much more flexible and created the possibility to depose corporate leadership when it became ineffective. A notable example of that happening was the demotion of Steve Jobs from his leading position at Apple in 1985 when his management style threatened to affect the company negatively.
'You'll learn that our corporate structure is a bit unconventional.'
Not only have modern corporations restructured their leadership hierarchy, they often also have structures in place which are meant to improve the skill and independence of the individual employees. This revolution in human resource management was most prominently pioneered by the corporations of Silicon Valley. In this way they strengthen their organisation internally as a whole rather than just putting leadership on top of an army of corporate drones. A modern corporation can thus keep its brand name alive without relying on a particular company leader. In EVE we can see a similar approach among such examples as Pandemic Legion, Against All Authorities and Triumvirate. Each one of those groups have gone through troubled times, but their operations get taken over by others and their name endures. Furthermore they promote high skill levels among their membership and develop the second line of fleet commanders and leaders constantly. Unlike national identity, a corporation’s policies can change more quickly to adapt to changes. The AAA of today is much different from the organisation it once was, and Pandemic Legion have changed from sov-holder to nomadic mercenaries to rulers of a renter empire and now into nomads again. Barring the case where an individual personally embodies an organisation’s brand, they will remain in existence because there will be people available and ready to carry the torch into the next round.

EVE’s Sociopolitical Future  

As EVE Online evolves, so will its player created institutions in the microsociety of the sandbox. The changes which will come with the new sovereignty mechanics can result in a few gangs and tribes of rather low sophistication to appear on the map and be successful, but recent developments have also shown that more modern organisational models emerge with some regularity and are thriving. I already mentioned Brave Newbies as such an example, but other groups like the Phoebe Freeport Republic or Wingspan Torpedo Delivery Services also rally around unifying ideas rather than a single leadership figure they all pledge allegiance to. We can also see a resurgence of the “Russian” powers and AAA are back again too. In my personal interpretation of EVE’s player history, the era of the old quasi-feudal empires entered its phase of decline with the fall of Band of Brothers, and the current dissolution of N3 may be the last stage of this development. The coming nullsec environment might to some degree favour petty warlords who can rally troops to their cause, but if they do not evolve into a more advanced and abstract form, they will inevitably failcascade as many did before them.
Tags: leadership, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

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.