Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Man Who Wasn't There

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...
     - Hughes Mearns

CVA has a talent for getting its friends to piss in their own Corn Flakes. 

A few weeks ago rumors began circulating in various forums of a vast capital and super-capital fleet was assembling in Misaba, poised to take Providence from the New Providence Holders installed there by Against All Authorities (AAA) after the Great Eviction.  Sometimes the fleet was Northern Coalition. Sometimes it was Pandemic Legion. A second rumor, that Atlas Alliance was joining the Northern Coalition and would open a second front against the NPH from its systems in northern Providence, began to circulate soon after.

CVA partisans were gleeful, assuming AAA's vassal alliances would soon be driven from the region. They weighed in with the odd "Ammar Victor" and waited expectantly to  for deliverance from AAA. 

Now, sensible folk would take such rumors with a grain of salt. The absence of any uptick in Misaba of NC or PL traffic or other activity might be taken by some as a sign that the rumors of a five hundred ship capital fleet in that system were, in fact, rumors. 

Sensible, it appears, is not in Opticon Alliance's vocabulary.  

Opticon Alliance was one of the New Providence Holder alliances. Several of its larger corporations were formerly of Aegis Militia, which had held space in Providence from CVA prior to the Great Eviction. Rather than follow CVA into exile, Aegis' corporations merged with Enforcers of Serenity (EOS) to form Opticon Alliance, and were granted a constellation in Providence by AAA under the New Providence Holder terms and conditions. 

It appears that, with rumors of the phantom fleet and Atlas' defection swirling in the forums, CVA leadership managed to convince some of their old Aegis friends in Opticon's leadership that the New Providence Holders were about to be swept from Providence and that the smart money was on switching sides while there was still time. Casting aside common sense, Opticon bet the house on CVA. Opticon renounced all agreements with AAA and the New Providence Holders and declared themselves CVA allies. 

And immediately shed half their membership. 

It seems some of the Opticon corporations are well aware of CVA's track record where its friends are concerned, and were not swayed by unsubstantiated rumors of super-cap armadas. Within a week of the internal announcement, twelve of Opticon's twenty-five corporations left the alliance, taking 405 of the Opticon's roughly 750 pilots along with them. Several of the larger departing corporations, such as Leather Knights, were former Aegis corporations, indicating a sharp split among former CVA allies as to how far CVA could be trusted. 

Needless to say, the vast invasion fleet never materialized, evaporating into the mists of political fiction. When an NC capital and super-capital fleet did appear, it was in Venal rather than Providence. That fleet, lagged and caught in an apparent log-off bug, was badly mauled by it's opponents. Meanwhile Atlas Alliance has made no move to join the Northern Coalition.

Opticon, having cast aside the sovereignty protection of its AAA agreements is under attack. As of this writing it has lost one of its systems and, with its membership fractured, doesn't appear to be well positioned to defend the rest. As with Paxton, CVA has been able to convince a friend to sacrifice itself on the altar of CVA's ambition. 

Why would CVA do such a thing to friends? 

For one thing, I suspect CVA's leadership would rather see its friends destroyed than to see them prosper in a Providence controlled by CVA's enemies. Further, in order to stave off its growing irrelevance, CVA seems determined to exercise any control it retains in Providence affairs. If that control is limited to persuading friends to self-destruct, so be it. However, CVA is running out of friends to throw on its own funeral pyre. 

As I've pointed out elsewhere, CVA's combat effectiveness is limited, even by the standards of much smaller alliances. On paper it boasts nine hundred members, however pilot activity and fleet sizes indicate a large portion of those members are alt or inactive pilots, left unculled in order to keep up appearances. CVA members themselves admit that retaking Providence is a distant dream. And that dream slips further away as CVA continues its slow, relentless failscade.

Even CVA's sole hope of regaining Providence; that a major nullsec player, in order to spite AAA, will retake Providence and re-install CVA to its former place, has all but evaporated.

Let's say the stars totally align for CVA's ambition. Let's say AAA becomes completely occupied with matters elsewhere, implodes or is otherwise unable or disinclined to intervene in Providence. Let's also say cooperation among the New Providence Holders in the face of a mutual threat breaks down and those alliances are at each others' throats. Finally, a major player in EVE nullsec decides to twist AAA's tail, comes down upon Providence like the wrath of god, and sweeps the New Providence Holders away.

Ammar victor? Not bloody likely.

The assumption that an alliance like Pandemic Legion is going to hand Providence over to CVA, who's leadership has already pissed away one nullsec empire, betrayed CVA friends, and generally shown themselves to be incompetent, both militarily and administratively is, to be polite, idiotic.

Even if this weren't the case, CVA is not the alliance they once were. One could argue that they haven't been that alliance for some time - even before the Great Eviction. Empires tend to rot from the inside out. They survive on reputation long after their ability to back up that reputation has been spent. Finally events conspire to expose the internal weakness; the empty vessel CVA has become. Given Providence on a platter, CVA could not hold it. 

Incapable of anything but minor mischief, more a threat to its friends than to its enemies, CVA has become the proverbial "man who wasn't there"; doomed to in-substance, but unable to leave and rebuild its fortunes elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Molding Young Minds - The Summer of Gank

It’s Hulkageddon time again.

Hulkageddon III (Summer of Gank) is ramping up for July. For those of you unfamiliar with this unofficial EVE event, Hulkageddon is a celebration of unbridled griefing. The rules are fairly straight-forward. As the Hulkageddon website puts it:

During the event contestants vie with each other to see who can destroy the most mining vessels within a given timespan.

That’s pretty much it. Kill mails for exhumers – and pretty much any mining-related ship - are tallied. Winners are announced. Prizes are awarded.

The prizes are donated to Hulkageddon by veteran pirates, griefers and sundry fans of exploding exhumers. Some are tasty enough to tempt even the most retiring of miners to park his Hulk for the week, train up an alt and start ganking his fellow care-bears. For example the first place prize for exhumer kills by an individual is a capital ship of choice with skill books, plus 250 million isk.

In addition to prizes for sheer volume of kills, there are prizes for regional kills (the “Let My People Go” award for the most exhumer kills in Amarr space, for example) and “special achievement” prizes such as the “DISCO BONANZA!” prize of 500 million isk for the first pilot to kill 50 exhumers with smart bombs.

Now, for nullsec miners, every day is Hulkageddon. Miners keep their eye on the local and intel channels and know how to respond when hostiles enter system. Ganking miners in nullsec is not easy, much higher risk for the ganker, and certainly not the way to generate the number of exhumer kills one needs to compete in Hulkageddon.

For Hulkageddon, you need high-sec kills. Lots of high-sec kills.

Last year’s event claimed on the order of 12,000 exhumers, most of them in high-sec space. The classic attack gang is composed of a neutral scout and a strike team. The strike team flies cheap, insured t1 destroyers which, with their high dps to cost ratio, can take down an unwary exhumer before Concord can arrive and destroy them, and are cheap to insure/replace. Once Concord destroys their ships, the strike team saddles up a new flight of destroyers and hunts down their next victim.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Of course, what really interests me about this periodic orgy of industrial bloodletting is not the event itself, but the impact it has on the EVE universe.

I’d love to get my hands on some of the market data leading up to, during and following Hulkageddon. Though the Hulk is the most-flown ship in all New Eden, the loss of 12,000 of them in a week must make an impact. Some indy players mine heavily before Hulkageddon and leave their exhumers in dock during the event on the theory that, with all the bloodletting out in the belts, the price of minerals has to go up by the end of the week-long grief-a-thon. Traders tend to stock up on exhumers and mining mods, hoping to sell replacements to unlucky care-bears.

I’m not sure the dent in the mining community made by Hulkageddon is as large as some think. I would expect to see a slight uptick in the number of exhumers purchased, but given the number of them on the market, I don’t think there’s a lot of upward pressure on the price. There will be increased demand, but not so much that the existing supply of exhumers won’t comfortably meet the need for replacements.

By the same token, prices on most high-sec minerals have been depressed for some time. Unless the changes brought online for Tyrannis have had a significant impact, the loss of 12,000 exhumers across New Eden, most of them quickly replaced, shouldn’t cause much of an uptick in prices. 

However, the most interesting effect of Hulkageddon is on the pilots.

Seems once you’ve started ganking high-sec mining ships, it’s hard to stop. For well over a week after Hulkageddon II ended and prizes were awarded, the blood-letting continued. Was this particularly true of newer pilots who were getting their first taste of griefing? Is there an uptick in the number of new pirate/griefer corporations? Do existing pirate/griefer corporations see a surge in membership applications?

When Hulkageddon ends, how many care-bears leave mining altogether and hoist the Jolly Roger, never to return to asteroid belts except to gank their former comrades. 

That, I suspect, is where the true impact of Hulkageddon lies; not in the loss of property, or the price of minerals, but in the mind-set of the players.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Of Two Alliances and Billy Joel

You’ll recall the closing lines from my post The Amoral World of Diplomacy:
By breaking AAA sovereignty rules on Paxton’s behalf, CVA [Curatores Veritatis Alliance] has broken any tacit agreements between AAA [Against All Authoriries] and Paxton [Paxton Federation]. CVA has made sure Paxton will not profit from CVA’s losses, and that Paxton pilots are fully committed to the CVA cause.

CVA appears to have found an ally who will gladly die for them, and are in the process of making sure Paxton does just that.

More prophetic words than even I realized at the time.

Evicted from Providence, Paxton Federation’s member corporations were unable to agree on a direction forward. After an extended debate on the question, and faced with member discontent at the lack of movement, Paxton Alliance went into failscade at the end of May. As of two days ago only Paxton Industries, last as it was first, remained in the alliance alongside the three-member executor corp.

This caught most Providence watchers by surprise. Paxton had the reputation of a well-run alliance that managed the difficult feat of doing both industry and pvp exceptionally well. Despite their eviction from Providence, they’d had much advance notice of events. They’d fought well against overwhelming odds and, when the time came, retreated in good order with their heads held high and their morale intact.

Alas for the best laid plans of mice and men.

A lot of Paxton pilots appear to blame CVA for bringing the Providence house down, and burying Paxton in the rubble. The degree to which that’s true can be seen in absence of Paxton orphans making the jump to CVA in any numbers.

Where Paxton’s fall was like a lightning bolt, CVA seems content to flicker out slowly, like a guttering candle. CVA’s slow but relentless decline continued with the departure of Davy Jones Locker and its 72 pilots. That leaves CVA with a pilot count hovering just above 900, down from between 1,400 and 1,500 at the beginning of the Great Eviction.

900 (914 as of today, to be precise) still seems like an awful lot of pilots. However, the kill-board numbers, along with the size and composition of the fleets CVA is able to field, suggest the active pilot count is much smaller and of poorer quality than their total player count would suggest. 

Some of that attrition may be due to financial constraints. A communication from a purported CVA member stated:

“…if we feel we can do enough damage to warrant the cost of SBUs, you can bet we're going to drop them.”
As per my reply to him, a 900+ member alliance that frets over the cost of SBUs is an alliance in deep trouble financially. That CVA does so while paying upwards of 1.8 billion isk per month for sov costs on nine systems that return little strategic or financial value brings the quality of their leadership into question.

While CVA continues to hold sovereignty of station system X-R3NM, this appears to be a function of defensive indifference on the part of the New Providence Holders, who seem to perceive CVA pilots as a convenient source of pvp targets rather than a threat.

In other words, CVA’s relevance in Providence has slipped to the level of a null-sec resource to be harvested. Scary stuff that, if you’re a CVA pilot.

So we arrive at the end of an amazing story arc. The much admired Paxton Federation goes out with a bang. Meanwhile, scorned CVA persists; whimpering its way toward irrelevance.

It seems Billy Joel was right: Only the good die young.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taste the Rainbow

They’re called Skittles Alliances.

If you look on the sovereignty maps, you’ll find the Providence region broken down into a tumble of small spaces owned by minor alliances. Compared to the large mono-color swaths of space in null-sec regions held major alliances such as IT, Atlas and their ilk, the patchwork of small Providence holdings resemble nothing so much as a clutch of Skittles candy.

The name, originally bandied about the forums as an insult, has caught on and you’ll sometimes hear a New Providence holder referred to as a “Skittles alliance”.

The “Skittles” model, initiated by Against All Authorities (AAA) came into being as a result of the Dominion sovereignty mechanics initiated in December of last year. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, under the new sovereignty rules taking systems is a much easier proposition than under the old POS-based scheme. Consequently, a null-sec alliance must garrison hostile frontiers with sufficient force to respond quickly to attacks and turn back an invader.

Further, the higher costs involved with the new sovereignty scheme (a minimum of 180 million per system per month) means any systems not producing a return on investment become drains on alliance resources. Alliances are heavily incented to hold sov only in systems that deliver either a financial or strategic advantage. An alliance indiscriminately gobbling up systems it cannot exploit takes on a significant financial burden.

After removing CVA from Providence after the Dominion upgrade, AAA appears to have recognized the disadvantages of holding and administering the region themselves. Instead AAA handed the systems off to a number of small alliances that, even together, do not pose a significant threat to AAA. In this way, AAA secures its frontier without having to spend resources maintaining sovereignty over space it couldn’t (or didn’t wish to) exploit.
A look at maps of Catch, Querious and Delve illustrate how the new mechanics are impacting the use of null-sec real estate.

If you check sovereignty history on systems in these regions, you’ll see that they were almost universally held by an alliance prior to Dominion. This pattern changes significantly post Dominion.

Roughly a third of Delve’s systems remain unclaimed, even though (with the exception of a single system) IT alliance is the sole player sov holder in the region. Querious, after Goonswarms breakup in February remains largely empty. The region is largely within IT Alliance’s sphere of influence, and IT controls most of the strategic systems. However, roughly 70% of Querious systems are officially unclaimed by any alliance and, one assumes, are largely unexploited.

Catch, on the other hand, is a hive of activity, with relatively few unclaimed systems. AAA rents out systems in space it controls to renter alliances. When a system becomes available, industrial corporations within renting or friendly alliances may bid for use of the system. The winner pays both a monthly fee to AAA for the right to claim sovereignty over the system, as well as outright sovereignty costs. In return for the monthly fee, AAA guarantees and enforces the renter’s rights to the system and its assets.

In this way, AAA receives income from systems within its sphere of influence without having to pay sovereignty costs. Thirty systems within an alliance's sphere of influence, rented for as low as 250 million isk, return 7.5 billion per month. Under Dominion rules, holding a sphere of influence, rather than holding sov in the component set of systems, is where the value lies for a PVP alliance.

 AAA appears to have been the first alliance to realize that unused systems represent a potential source of passive income. Other large alliances appear to be catching on, and this is reflected in the sovereignty maps where new skittle alliances are beginning to pop up in the corners of regions that were once monochromatic.

We may be on the verge of a financial arms race.

With the additional passive incomes, owners of spheres of influence may pile up huge war chests to be used in preparing for, or during the execution of a military campaign. By the same token, encroaching on another alliance’s sphere of influence can reduce their access to the income needed to wage a long-term war. 

Even tiny Noir Mercenary Group, a Skittles alliance itself who were given control of the H-KW4A constellation in Providence by AAA after CVA’s eviction have joined the game. They have farmed out sovereignty of TXJ-II to Lucky Starbase Syndicate rather than take sov (and the attendant costs) from CVA themselves.

If large passive incomes become a strategic necessity for null-sec PVP alliances, their ability to attract and retain high performing industrial corporations within their spheres of influence may become as important as PVP strategy and tactics.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


My prior post, For Whom the Bell Tolls, got a fair bit of off-line reaction. Most of the CVA (Curatores Veritatis Alliance) folks I've communicated with are admitting that their Reclaiming of Providence has downgraded from a short-term inevitability to a long term goal.

Since Bell was posted, CVA has shed another thirty pilots, taking them under the one thousand mark (986 as of this morning). They've been able to hold their corporation count but it's evident that, with their glory days gone and no reasonably secure null-sec space to offer, pilots are voting with their feet against CVA's current direction.

As I've said before, role-play or not, people don’t pay CCP every month for a bummer. They pay to have fun. Any corporation or alliance ignoring this basic fact, does so at their peril.

Happily for CVA, the incessant pressure from U'K and AAA (Against All Authorities) may be about to come off. AAA, has reset most of its blues, apparently discontent with having to slog so far from home for their pew-pew. Victory it seems, can be as hard on the winners as the losers. Without the threat of an enemy at the gates, friction develops among the troops, old grudges surface and cracks in alliance unity begin to show.

Rather than submit itself to the perils of peace and stability, AAA has reset the game.

If CVA had spent its time since the Great Eviction rebuilding and waiting for this opportunity, rather than alienating solid allies and grinding down its pilot base, it might have been well placed to take back some of it's old space it a week or so. However, a cascade of bad decisions haunts them. Their ship and pilots base is thin and battered. Their remaining systems in Providence are vulnerable to takeover by carebear renter alliances (TXK-II); the vassals of AAA's Providence vassals.

Even if AAA supplies the lumber, CVA appears to lack the tools needed to rebuild their house.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The long (US) weekend was a bit of a sitkreig in Southern Providence. No systems changed hands. Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA) still holds X-R3NM and can be found in R3-K7K, camping the Misaba gate and battering in vain at Flying Dangerous' sovereignty over the system.

Two notable items, however.

First of all, fleet's in. The big alliances appear to be back from war.

With rare exception, most Providence fights since the Great Eviction have been absent the big hats - Pandemic Legion (PL), Against All Authorities (AAA) and their ilk. Now, with the big war down South between the Northern and Southern coalitions ground to a halt, the AAA pilots are taking a little R&R in Providence. This weekend saw the first engagement that featured both a significant AAA and PL participants in strength.

Secondly, the CVA appears to be on the slippery slope toward either regime change or a failscade.

CVA's "reclaiming" of Providence sputtered to a halt just out of the starting gate. Nonetheless, their leadership continues to press the fight, determined to grind down the infidel's resolve with CVA role-play religious fervor.

However, it is the CVA pilots who are being ground down.

CVA leadership's strategy of relentless uphill fights in R3 and X-R against overwhelming odds is taking a toll on CVA personnel. They are having difficulty mustering fleets of any size. In one engagement, the CVA-block fleet amounted to 22 ships against a New Providence Holders/AAA fleet of 140; the NPH/AAA capital ships alone outnumbering the CVA subcapital fleet. 

When an alliance with 1016 pilots can't pull together a fleet larger 40 ships over a weekend, its a sign that pilot morale and bank accounts are in the bucket. Postings by CVA pilots confirm this, with one pilot referring to such engagements as "Fail, but fights are better than spinning in station."

Not all pilots agree about losing fights being better than spinning in station. The fleet numbers suggest many CVA pilots are either leaving ships in station rather than bringing them out into an obvious no-win fight, or are simply unable to replace lost ships.

Another CVA pilot writes:
As for retaking provi, I don't see that happening any time soon. Of course we will continue to mess with the new provi alliance's sov, but we barely have enough people to fight them if they put up a CTA

Even messing with new provi is getting difficult for CVA. Their R3 gate camp, once a deathtrap for ships entering Providence via Misaba, has become a stalking spot for roaming New Providence pvp gangs looking for CVA targets.

CVA leadership seems utterly oblivious to the fact that their campaign is being fought on their pilots' collective nickle. When that burden gets too heavy, when too many ships are lost and the isk aren't there to replace them, pilots pull ships back from the line.

When a 1000 member alliance comes to this state, you can be sure those pilots not busy sacrificing themselves on the alter of their leadership's egos are either planning a coup, or looking for better options.

Therefore, ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for CVA.

As it does, I remain fascinated by CVA leadership's relentless use of "we're a role playing alliance" to justify epicly poor strategic and diplomatic decisions. The two are unrelated.

Role-play only justifies idiotic decisions if the role you play is an idiot.