Monday, January 16, 2012

The Moment that Falls Between

Fiddler's Edge has had quite a run.

This is the one hundred fiftieth post for this site and, while that is hardly a match for my more productive colleagues, for me it is a significant mile marker. This last year has seen a lot of change in New Eden, and by the look of things there's plenty more to come.

Nullsec has been shaken up, though so far this is only the existing nullsec club members trading deck chairs in first class while the rest of us watch from steerage. A large supercapital fleet is still the cost of entry for nullsec and only those holding the vast wealth nullsec bestows can afford them. The only way a young and hungry alliance can establish themselves in nullsec is to attach themselves as vassals to one of the existing powers. Unfortunately most of those slots are filled by formerly storied nullsec alliances that are now little more than retainers for the two or three large powers that hold sway in sovereign space these days.

With any luck, the nullsec center will not hold and in the chaos that follows the barbarians will loot the vast hoards of ISK and warehouses of supercaps. I hope to see a bit more of a free-for-all in nullsec by the latter half of 2012. 

Change is coming to lowsec as well. Pirates and griefers are forever, but I think as lowsec becomes more valuable we'll see a consolidation of power in certain pockets of that space. Some of those pockets will be carebears carving out a places to build industrial empires. Others will be groups of pirates banding together to form criminal cartels that provide protection in exchange for a percentage off the top. Not that this portends the death of small gang PvP by any means. Rixx Javix and his naughty ilk will still be there, happily podding each other and the unlucky stranger who wanders across their path. But I expect lowsec will become a much more diverse, textured slice of Eve-play.

However, those will all be tales for another to tell.

This seems a fitting time to gather up the used tea cups and the left-over cucumber sandwiches, sweep the crumbs from the table and put away the good silver. Even high tea with Mord has to end sometime. I said my farewells a year ago and won't repeat them now. Suffice it to say that those of you who've kept coming back to wade through the walls of text here at The Edge have been great company these last two years. Thanks to you all and I'll see you in game.

Fly true.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pride Goeth

A good many residents of New Eden may be impressed with Mittens, but none so much as Mittens himself.

Mittani has declared Mission Accomplished in Branch, and claimed the victory, the fastest region turn over (so he tells us) in the history of New Eden, for all Goon-kind. Of course that other alliances than the Goons did about 80% of the fighting and structure bashing is no never mind to Mittens. If he's to be believed, he is the victory's father, mother and second cousin twice removed. He gives some credit to a nameless cadre of military and economic advisers, but he leaves no doubt that he's placing the victor's laurels on his own head.

Gearing up for the next CSM election, he goes on to award himself credit for victory over CCP in the Incarna wars, while heaping derision on Mynxee and the membership of CSM5 who turned the CSM from passive bystanders to an honest-to-goodness Eve stakeholders and player advocacy group. And apparently all those Eve players who expressed anger and dissatisfaction with CCP in individual, unsung acts were mere marionettes acting out Mittani's will in a grand puppet circus.

A wiser man would not stand on the shoulders of others and brag about how tall he is.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

State of Decay

Because that's how every single part of New Eden that was lost in 2011 was lost....All of it was due to internal rot.  - Ripard Teg: "Didn't Want that Space Anyway"

'Rot' is the most common diagnosis given to explain the collapse of an Eve alliance or coalition. It is also the most useless. It is a term so generic that it can have entirely different meanings to the speaker and listener depending upon what's in their minds at the time. Further, in one sense or another it is so broadly applicable to almost any failscade that has ever occurred in New Eden that in most cases it is not a very meaningful indicator of root cause.

But it has the advantage of being safe.

Anyone from the bitterest vet to the most callow pubbie can look at the wreckage of a nullsec alliance, nod their head knowingly, say "Well, this was obviously a bad case of rot."  and be reasonably confident their thesis will not be disproved. You see, if one defines rot very loosely as, for example, a loss of organizational integrity, the word describes the very phenomenon for which it was intended to provide a causal explanation. It becomes tautology; The loss of organizational integrity invariably accompanies organizational collapse because organizational collapse is, in effect, the loss of organizational integrity.

When Atlas Alliance failscaded in the Summer of 2010, the cause was largely attributed to internal rot. Which is to say that Atlas Alliance failscaded and nobody could be bothered to take a close look at the root causes. Looking at their collapse in hindsight, it's evident that a number of factors were in play. Atlas was structured with responsibility for major decision, particularly military decisions, in the hands of one person and the rest of the leadership tasked with caretaker/maintenance roles. This created a single point of failure in their leadership structure. Secondly, the advent of the Dominion sovereignty mechanics along with the supercarrier buff had profoundly altered the strategic and tactical nature of nullsec sov warfare. The Atlas military leadership was slow to recognize adapt to this new military reality. Finally, in the absence of attention from the leadership, key industrial interests within the alliance had become distanced from the core interests of Atlas.

Soon after the collapse of Atlas, Against All Authorities came under attack by White Noise, Pandemic Legion, The Initiative[DOT] and IT Alliance. Once again, the defenders appeared to be quickly overwhelmed by the invaders and, with -A- retreating from their space and a failscade appearing imminent, it looked very much like a repeat of the Atlas collapse. With -A-'s demise assumed, the blogosphere and podcast universe wrote and broadcast the alliance's obituaries with 'rot' as the cause of death.

Of course we all know in hindsight that -A-'s leadership had decided to to retreat the bulk of their PvP strength into NPC nullsec and nearby Stain Empire space rather than allow those forces to be ground down in an unlikely defense of Catch, Teneferis, et al. -A- gambled that their organization was hardy enough to hold the troops together in exile until the enemy had dispersed and could be attacked and destroyed piecemeal. It was a daring move that flew in the face of nullsec strategic orthodoxy of the time, and its success can be attributed in no small part to the strength of the same -A- organization the blogosphere had declared shot through with rot.

Now, in taking back their lost territory, -A- faced primarily The Initiative[DOT] and their two vassal alliances, Dead Terrorists(DT) and CO2, along with an attempted "all in" intervention by IT Alliance. The fates of those four alliances are instructive when discussing rot as the exclusive cause of territorial changeover and alliance failscade.

After the invasion, DT and CO2 were settled into former -A- space between Initiative's new home in Catch and the Southern Russian alliances in order to serve as a buffer between the Initiative and the potential hostiles on the southern flank. DT and CO2 alliances were relatively new to nullsec, CO2 having prior experience in Providence and DT fresh out of lowsec. The Initiative appears to assumed that -A- was done for, Stain Empire and Red Overlord were only a marginal threat, and that CO2 and DT were capable of dealing with any trouble coming from that direction. 

When the -A- counteroffensive, supported by Stain and Red Overlord, did occur, it became quickly evident that the Initiative had completely misjudged the strategic situation. As I described in Noblesse Oblige, Initiative compounded that error by a complete mishandling of events at almost every level. DT, new to nullsec warfare and fighting against the seasoned Southern Russians, were quickly overwhelmed and failscaded. CO2 held on longer but was forced to evacuate Impass soon after when their defense of that region collapsed. While CO2 managed to avoid a complete failscade, they were no longer effective as a combat unit by the time the order to bug out was given, and their organization was crippled by internal turmoil in the immediate aftermath of their loss. 

Rot as its conventionally understood assumes decay of a mature organization over time owing to a neglect of organizational qualities that made it successful in the first place, or by an accrual of factors that serve to break down or undermine the qualities needed to maintain a robust organization. Both CO2 and DT were relatively young alliances, and neither had been sitting complacently in their new territories for very long before -A- and Stain struck back. They lost territory to the counterattack and their organizations lost functional integrity, but neither suffered from 'rot' as it's conventionally understood.

The Initiative, while it made strategic and managerial blunders, did not do so because of deterioration in their organization due to rot. Relative to their opponents they were a young alliance and had, only months before, been a key player in the successful invasion of -A- space. The leadership of a young and healthy organization made mistakes and bad decisions. However, that doesn't mean the organization has succumbed to rot, but speaks pre-existing organizational weaknesses having to do with factors such as inexperience and nothing to do with the decay of a formerly robust organization over time.

Which brings us to IT Alliance.

As most of you know, IT Alliance was cobbled together from the wreckage of Band of Brothers (BoB) after the latter was disbanded from within by a turncoat director. Though regarded as effectively the same organization as BoB,  IT Alliance's structure and personnel included fundamental changes from that of its predecessor. Over time internal reaction and response to those changes downgraded the overall effectiveness and coherence of the alliance. By the time of their "all in" intervention in support of The Initiative, nominal loyalty to SirMolle was the only thing holding IT Alliance together; although his effective control of that organization had diminished over time. A  number of factions with incompatible agendas had developed within the alliance; their leadership largely at odds with each other and more interested in their rivals' failure than in IT Alliance's success.  

Meant to force the alliance to pull together, IT Alliance's "all-in" intervention in December of 2010 on behalf of The Initiative served to exacerbate schisms within the organization and revealed the dysfunction beneath IT Alliance's facade of strength and unity.  Within a week, Test Alliance's invasion of Fountain supported by Goonswarm forced IT Alliance to abandon The Initiative to its fate. IT Alliance's loss at PQNY-Y in the Fountain campaign showed how undermined SirMolle's alliance had become. The subsequent debacle at Z3OS-A was, for all intents and purposes, IT Alliance's death stroke. Though the enemy had not taken Delve and the alliance formerly known as BoB lingered on paper for a time, IT Alliance had come to its end.

In the case of IT Alliance one can reasonably call out rot as the reason the alliance lost its nullsec territory and dissolved. However, rot is still a symptom. If one wanted to understand or communicate meaningful information as to why IT Alliance folded, 'rot' as a stand-alone diagnosis doesn't deliver much in the way of useful information.

When confronted with events for which we don't know the precise cause, humans tend to assign causes in very broad and sometimes misleading terms.  Bygone diagnoses like "brain fever", "vapors" and "humour" may have been more or less meaningless, but they made the people of that time feel a little less helpless in the face of illness or death. However, at the end of the day they meant little more than "I don't know" when it came to determining a cause.

"Rot" has become a convenient shorthand used when we wish to forgo deeper analysis, or lack the inputs or insight needed to do deeper analysis. It has become a one-size-fits-all diagnosis that is, more often than not, ignorance or indolence masquerading as insight. Next time someone tries to palm it off as obvious unvarnished truth, politely ask them to define their terms and defend their argument.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Guns of January

As we move into the new year and the player community get their collective hands around the impact of the Crucible changes, the ice-flows of sov-warfare that have locked nullsec in place for so long have finally begun to break up.

Despite the delay of the promised Time Dilation functionality, Goonswarm, Test Alliance and a flock of vassals and allies have begun the first large scale invasion of the post-Crucible era. As most of you are aware, White Noise is the target of the invasion, owing to a window of opportunity opened by a schism in that alliance's leadership. An alleged threat against Goonswarm by a leader of one of the factions within White Noise served as a pretext for the invasion.

Of course why Mittens felt he needed an obviously transparent pretext in order to initiate an invasion he'd likely planned since midsummer is a bit of a mystery.  Maybe he breaks out in hives if he goes more than ten minutes without channeling the Medicis or Borgias. Anyway.

Although supported by Raiden[dot] and Red Alliance, White Noise was caught off balance and unprepared  for the invaders' initial strike at White Noise's holdings in Branch. White Noise has avoided committing their forces to a pitched battle for Branch, instead opting for a strategy of giving ground early in hopes of regrouping while the enemy spends themselves grinding structures in overrun space. Thus, the better part of Branch has fallen quickly, with only the Northwest constellation of KWCZ and a few scattered outposts nominally in White Noise hands as of this writing, and those appear to be falling without resistance.

Unfortunately for White Noise, the bulk of Clusterf##k's forces did not linger in Branch. One arm of the invading forces led by Goonswarm continued to press the Raiden and White Noise forces; following them into NPC Venal where they were attempting to regroup. Meanwhile, Test Alliance and Get Off My Lawn led a secondary force on to attack White Noise and Raiden holdings in Vale of the Silent.

This last may prove problematic for the invaders. Though largely occupied by White Noise and Raiden systems, Vale of the Silent includes real estate owned by DRF and DRF-friendly alliances who haven't come to White Noise's aid yet. Thus, unlike Branch, the attack on Vale could be construed as an attack on the greater DRF and an attempt to impose a Clusterf##k hegemony over the Technetium-rich regions formerly occupied by the old Northern Coaliton. A Solar Fleet presence has begin cropping up in Vale defense fleets, indicating that the rest of the DRF is beginning to perceive the Clusterf##k invasion as a common threat.

Despite their set-backs to date, the only corporations to bolt White Noise to date have been three that joined toward the end of December - two of whom are former Northern Coalition refugees from Morsis Mihi who have switched sides and joined the invading alliances. That White Noise's baseline corporations have held fast speaks to the resilience of the Drone Russian alliances. 

Speaking of Solar Fleet, they've continued cheerfully nipping off Shadow of Death systems. As you'll recall, the set-to with fellow DRF alliance Legion of Death began in early December and was heralded as a replay of the Punic War with Solar Fleet in the role of the Romans and Legion of Death standing up as Carthage. As I wrote at the time, this supposedly epic fight got off to an uninspiring start.

If a knock-down, drag-out nullsec sov fight is great sex, the Solar Fleet and Legion spent the better part of December holding hands. Most of the actual punishment was directed at Shadow of Death, Legion's tenants, as if both Legion and Solar were loathe to let matters get out of hand over a rather minor diplomatic pissing match. By the time Christmas rolled around, Solar had claimed four outposts from Legion Proper in Outer Passage without significant resistance. The rest of the territory taken by Solar Fleet has come at the expense of Shadow of Death.

But that territory is significant, spilling over from Outer Passage into Perrigen Falls.  And while Shadow and Legion of Death is occupied with Solar Fleet, Intrepid Crossing has been busily knocking over Shadow systems in Oasa. The fact that even after losing so many systems Legion's tenant alliance still has the third largest portfolio of outpost systems in nullsec speaks volumes as to how vast Legion's real estate holdings had become during the Incarna wars.

With Solar beginning to cast an eye in the direction of the Clusterf##k invasion, they may decide they've extracted their pound of flesh in from Legion of Death in terms of humiliation, declare victory and turn their attention to the goings on in Vale.Thus, Mittens may have inadvertently prevented the Solar Fleet /Legion of Death conflict from escalating into a death struggle.

Of course the wild card in these fight is always Pandemic Legion. Apparently no one had bothered to contract them until recently, and if there's one things the boys in the Legion can't abide it's being ignored. So, wherever a large fleet fight breaks out within arms reach they've been summoning their new sidekick, Northern Coalition[dot] alliance, dropping into the middle of the battle and crashing the party by attacking both sides.

Ah, those crazy kids. Every day's a day at the circus for the Legion.

Happily, this seems to have gotten the attention of an employer. Pandemic Legion and the boy wonders of NC[DOT] have started a concerted campaign against Against All Authorities in Catch and have taken the critical systems of HED-GP, that region's main access point to empire, and GE-8JV, -A-'s main trade hub. The most likely suspect  when it comes to hiring the Pandemic boys to rough up -A- is Goonswarm. -A- had taken advantage of the Goon's "all in" invasion of Branch to launch an invasion of their own against Goon space. Hiring Pandemic to make an enfilading attack against Catch will kick the props out from under the -A- offensive as -A- falls back to defend their home turf.

And no, I've not forgotten lowsec.

Seems some elements of Eve University have pinned a shiny tin star on their vest and formed the Coalition of Anti-Pirates (COA). The collection of alliances that Comprise COA have been taking the fight to the pirates and griefers in Heimatar and Metropolis, apparently with some success. Around the turn of the year one of their folks posted a progress report in the Eve forums, and it makes for interesting reading. While the thread has a fair amount of smack talk and "Oh no you didn't" from the pirates, there are ample griefer tears and posts bemoaning the end of small gang PvP to be found as well. This, along with killboard comparisons, indicate that COA is making life harder for the pies and driving a number of pirate organizations into the adjacent Aeman constellation in Sing Laison.

War is busting out all over; an auspicious beginning to 2012. My, I've missed the smell of cordite.