Friday, December 20, 2013

Wolves of the Southern Wilds

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

      - C.P. Cavafy - Waiting for the Barbarians

The word 'barbarian' was coined, to the best of our knowledge, by the Mycenaean Greeks.  It is an onomatopoeic word, intended to reflect the sound of barbarian-speak as the Greeks perceived it.  Seems Agamemnon and his lot found the speech of non-Greeks to be coarse, guttural and rather silly; they mocked it as sounding like” Bar, bar, bar".   It was pretty funny at the time, or at least everybody who spoke Greek thought so.  And they all had a good laugh at the expense of these benighted outsiders.  Mind, the joke lost a little of its jolly when the bar-barians sacked Pylos and the other Mycenaean citadels sometime around 1200 BCE.  

Who the barbarians are has always been largely a matter of perspective. It is an exclusionary word, intended to draw a distinction between persons outside a group and persons inside a group.  In particular, the word is loaded to underscore the relative superiority of the insiders and, especially, the inferiority of the outsiders.

To Goonswarm, we are all barbarians.  

And that's a bit ironic since, upon a time, Goonswarm itself was viewed as a bunch of pubbie barbarians; their tactics at the time depending on overwhelming the enemy with a mass of inexpensive ships flown by inexperienced pilots.  But, as they say, the only constant is change.  Band of Brothers (BoB), nullsec's major power of those early days is no more, laid low by the very barbarians they scorned.  And now Goonswarm sits in the seat of empire, enjoying a degree of hegemony unseen in nullsec since the founding of New Eden.

Indeed, Goonswarm has completely rewritten the character of nullsec and the playbook for holding and extending sovereignty here.  Wherever Goonswarm and its proxies in the ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC) hold sway, nullsec is a relatively risk free place where the living is easy.   Wars are imposed on others and are fought elsewhere, allowing ISK to be easily harvested and flow without interruption in to the imperial coffers. As CFC member Razor Alliance’s leadership recently pointed out to its membership, it “… doesn’t have to do anything but joining fleets and making ISK”.  

Having ‘won EVE’, one would think Goonswarm’s leadership could rest easily 'pon their starry beds.  Alas, one can do anything with bayonets but sit on them.  And. for some reason, empires tend to evidence a strange compulsion toward controlling populations for whom they historically express contempt.  As in life, so in EVE.  For Goonswarm, the elimination of meaningful threat is no longer the point.   All barbarians (i.e., non-Goons) must be either be domesticated or eradicated. 

Thus the empire assembles a vast host and marches south in all its strength.  The wolves of the south wait for them, and sharpen their knives the while. 

We are all barbarians. It’s only a matter of whether or not you’re wearing Goonswarm's collar.  That is the narrow choice before free nullsec.  You can be Goonswarm’s dog, or you can be a wolf.  But you can’t be both.

Choose well, my friends.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Spies Among Us

Seems that when an Pakistani nuclear scientist, a Venezuelan embassy driver or a senior member of Iran’s republican guard knock off for the day they, like many of us, are in the mood for a bit cartoon mayhem.

Beware, my children, for there are spies (or at least high value Sigint targets) among us.  And where those targets go, the British and American intelligence community follows.   

The tone of the article is a bit mocking; sort of a sneer that the NSA is using tax-payer dollars to hunt for spies in MMPORGs.  I can, of course, understand the humor angle here: The image of a bunch of mouth breathing NSA interns logging on to WOW in order to hunt down enemies of the state among wood elves and goblins is… intriguing.  I can’t tell if it’s comedy or drama. Maybe both.  It’s like someone has announced new entry in the FX Spring series line-up. Sort of, Homeland’s Carrie Mathison and Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper as real world spooks stalking each other through Second Life.  

Still, can you really blame them?  I mean, if it was found out that an international conspiracy was successfully launched against the developing world from an MMPORG, there'd be hell to pay. Just imagine the hearings on Capital Hill. Our spymasters would be slow-roasted in public for allowing our enemies the MMPORG high-ground. Congress would be all: "Help me understand, Director Brennan. Why wasn't America logged in with special-ops dark elves to prevent this debacle?" 

Sigh. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it seems.

EVE Online isn’t named in the article, which surprises me. I would have thought that EVE would be hip-deep in spies of every stripe. Heaven knows we’ve got the digital analog of them down cold. And EVE, to my mind, draws a more worldly and nefarious crowd than other MMPORGs.   

Then again, spies, turncoats and masters of international intrigue may find it difficult to relax by playing EVE at the end of a long day of deception. Time among us might a little too much like their day jobs.     

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Let's imagine that everyone's worst nightmares about EVE and RMT are true.

What if RMT (by which I mean the trade of EVE's in-game currency, the ISK, for for real world currency) is not only being done on large scale by EVE online players, but has become the primary reason for EVE Online's existence.

Let's just say for argument's sake that major in-game sov-holding entities and alliances, EVE gambling sites, EVE web hosting sites and a parade of EVE services purveyors, both in and out of game, are taking big stacks of ISK and systematically rolling them over into real world money.  And heck, as long we're blue-skying here, let's say that CCP is not only unable or unwilling to stop EVE's RMT trade, but are actually knowing participants and beneficiaries of the trade.  Let's say that CCP is colluding with key RMT interests for a percentage of the take and in order to optimize CCP's RMT yield.

Let's say EVE Online is no longer an entertainment for spaceship geeks of all ages and nationalities. Let's say it merely exists as a money spinner, a machine for generating game world transactions that, in turn, generate real world transactions, thereby making real world money out of thin air.

After all, it's not like this sort of thing is science fiction. It's commonplace in the financial world. Wall Street is chock a block with financial organizations whose stock in trade is turning over transactions that have no point beyond the transactions themselves. The firm takes a small cut of each transaction, adding nothing of value to the item transacted. In such cases, the item and its value (or lack thereof) is not the point; the transactions, not things or services that provide utility of any sort, are the product.

Spinning money, it's called.  Right? OK, so let's say for just a moment that all this is happening in EVE,  and CCP (or key elemens thereof) are hip deep in the trade of real money.

Would it make a difference?

Think about it. Would you stop playing? Go play something else? Would it change the game for you?  Would you be less entertained? At the end of the day, does it matter? And if not, should it?

Just something to think about. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Little Night Music

[Highsec] industrialists will clamor and fight over single-percentage-point margins... and null industry will not exist when it's essentially raw cost plus shipping to get it to front lines.
   - Lockefox, quoting The Mittani®

Here's a little thought experiment:

It's morning. You roll out of bed, wander down to the kitchen. You put on the coffee (this is my thought experiment, so we're drinking coffee) and while the staff of life drips into the carafe you turn on the computer and log into a website that earns you $600 an hour. Between sips of coffee you look up from your newspaper to make sure the website is doing its thing. Once in a while you have to set down your newspaper and enter a few keystrokes, but otherwise it's pretty light work. After two hours you check your bank account, note that the anticipated $1,200 has been deposited, and log off the work site. You rinse out your coffee cup and put the newspaper in the recycling bin.

The rest of the day is yours.

In this way you earn roughly $312,000 per year for a two hour work day.  In fact, everybody in your town has the same sweet deal and earns money in pretty much the same way.

Being the thoughtful readership you are, you're probably already thinking, "What about inflation, Mord? After all, if everybody makes that much money that easily, shouldn't inflation kick in and the cost for goods and services rise to reflect the town's access to such easy money?"  

Happily, while some things do cost more in your town, your town is largely untouched by inflation. Why? Because there is a class of people who cannot make money the way you do. They don't live in your town, they live ... elsewhere. However they are very, very interested in selling goods and services to the prosperous folk in your neighborhood.  In fact, they compete aggressively for the opportunity to do so. They compete so aggressively that the price of most goods are kept very, very low.

And that's a good thing for you and your neighbors. Despite the fact that your money is very easy to come by in your town, your income retains its value. Which is, you must admit, a pretty sweet deal.

This is, to a large extent, the situation in nullsec today.

Nullsec's population is, from an economic consumer's standpoint, sitting in the catbird seat. ISK are easy to make and there are all manner of people competing aggressively to make and sell stuff to nullsec buyers. In fact, they compete so aggressively to be the maker/seller of choice that profit margins for many items are razor thin. In some cases the competition is so fierce that producers heavily discount their own in-game labor as a production cost. 

Of course, this might be a bad thing if it were putting nullsec players out of work. However, the fact that these producers are falling all over themselves to undercut each others' prices has no impact on a nullsec player's ability to make 60M ISK an hour ratting in a semi-AFK Ishtar. Indeed, most nullsec players regard the fact that someone else is willing to grub ore at 7M ISK an hour as a public service rather than a stolen opportunity; particularly if it keeps the price of ratting Ishtars low.

Thus an economic symbiosis has evolved over time, a product of basic labor economics and player preferences. While it's been a particularly sweet deal for nullsec, it's been pretty much a win-win for all involved. 

Alas, every party needs a pooper, and certain lords of nullsec are determined to put a floater in the punch bowl.

Hopefully while I was away you had an opportunity to listen to Xander's interview of CSM Mynnna and Eve Prosper's Lockefox (both of Goonswarm) on Crossing Zebras last September.  If you haven't it's certainly worth your time.

First of all, you get to hear Xander, a genuine Scottish roughneck, practically a-giggle with delight over Mynnna's participation in the interview. It's truly eyebrow-raising and not to be missed. See if you can listen without the words 'man-crush' coming to mind.

You will also hear Mynnna admit that nullsec industry is indeed suffering from a labor shortage.   Despite the Odyssey improvements to nullsec mining, there hasn't been a parade of industrial bears lining up to fill Mynnna's hangers with low-end ores and/or minerals.  And it seems that parade won't form up until the hourly wage for mining and hauling Tritanium is competitive with the 60M ISK per hour (as Mynnna reckons it) that one can earn doing far less onerous tasks in nullsec.

Yeah. I was right. Mynnna was wrong. All right, move along. Nothing to see here.

Then there's that lovely rendition of The Mittani®'s favorite aria from La fanciulla del Deklein.  My Italian is a little rusty but, roughly translated, the lyric goes something like this:  
Woe is me! Behold the rapacious merchants of highsec.
They vie like raging beasts, one against the other,
For the honor of selling me my hearts' desires.
See how their prices fall, how their profit margins dwindle!
The market-house is like unto the floor of an abattoir; 
So awash is it in blood-red ink. 

But ah, my poor heart!
Though I delight in low prices, yet do I sorrow.
For Nullsec industry shall n'er quicken and grow,
Lest I pay in excess for my purchases, and lavishly so.
Alas for nullsec bears, who live piteous lives of penury
While greedy highsec bears grow rich by mining ore for free

Which is, of course, a big, wet load of Puccini. 

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there is a lot of industry going on in nullsec. It is primarily industry in which nullsec enjoys a competitive advantage and where the large returns on investment compensate for the high cost of nullsec labor inputs.  For nullsec industry to dominate manufacturing in product families that don't offer those advantages some combination of the following must occur: 
  1. The price of the finished goods must go way, way up
  2. The cost of nullsec labor inputs to the finished goods must come way, way down
That's it. One, the other, or both at once. Every possible plot, plan or scheme I've heard on this subject to date pushes one (or both) of those two buttons once you get past the wishful thinking.  Most push button number one. However, pushing either button results in a nerf to nullsec player income: They either make less ISK per hour, or the hourly ISK they make buys less. Or both. It's a pay cut either way you slice it.

Given the benefits of the status quo, the real question isn't whether the lords of nullsec can compete in the manufacture of commodity goods, but why they would want to.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Watch This Space

Yes, I know. It's been two months and change. Apologies for that.

Life in real-time has moved at a blistering pace. It does that, at times, without much in the way of warning. Between new corporate clients, dead EVE Online clients and gazelles (yes, gazelles), there's been little wherewithal for on-line play. But that time is drawing to a close. All work and no play make Mord a dull boy. Now the dull days of Autumn draw to a close and it's time to have some fun.

There's change on the wind at Fiddler's Edge.  While I haven't been writing, I have been planning.

More on that anon.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Tyranny of Choice

Undead Again was intended as a good-natured tweak at the noses of some fellow bloggers (you know who you are) over their premature predictions with regard to the fate of -A- back around the turn of the year. The piece got quite a bit more attention than I'd expected and seems to have stirred a few long-simmering pots. Obviously the subject is one that has wanted attention by the EVE community but hasn't been getting it from elsewhere.

As I hadn't been following events in the deep South after the breakup of Honeybadger Coalition (HBC) earlier this year, and didn't have the bandwidth to do a proper job of researching it (Note to self: Must hire a staff of research assistants), I didn't try to chronicle the resurgence of the Southern Russians following the break-up of HBC in 2013. 

However, in providing a brief, high-level background to events leading up to -A-'s near terminal fall from grace at the turn of the year, I wrote the following: 
A schism within Red Overlord (ROL), which was at the time providing some of the most effective resistance to the Northerners, resulted in the collapse of ROL and the defection of certain member corporations to the newly formed Darkness of Despair, which was aligned with the PL, Test and the Honey Badger Coalition (HBC) cause.
As a number of you pointed out, the now defunct Unclaimed[DOT] was the alliance of corporations that broke away from ROL and aligned itself PL and HBC in October 2012.  Darkness of Despair was formed in January of 2013, a full three months after HBC and PL persuaded Sacred Templar Knights to turn on ROL and undermine the Stain Russian defense of the South.

A serious misstatement on my part. I've made the correction in Undead Again and offer my apologies to the lads at Darkness of Despair for doing such a poor job of fact-checking.

However, it's an ill wind that blows no one good. Along with the above-mentioned correction, there's been an influx of information describing the Southern Russian resurgence from both sides of the conflict. Most of the accounts are surprisingly even-handed and are more or less in general agreement on major points in the timeline. As I pointed out in EVE Lore and Wine in the Ruins, EVE is short on unbiased histories. This may be an opportunity to develop such a chronicle describing events in the South over this last year.  

If you would like to contribute to such a project, either by providing a narrative of events, or by assisting in the research needed to distill the collected of narratives down to a single coherent story, please contact me at via my hyperspace com uplink (AKA mordfiddle[at]

There's a lot of other writing in the pipeline as well.

If you listened to Xander's interview with Goonswarm's Mynnna and Lockefox, you'll have heard Mynnna admitting indirectly that that I was right and that nullsec does, indeed, have a labor shortage. Seems that when you can make 60M ISK an hour ratting in a semi-AFK Ishtar, there's little motivation to mine any but the highest value minerals. I'll be writing a reaction to the interview, asking pointed questions, proposing solutions and discussing the economics of the current nullsec fetish with 'bottoms up' alliance funding.

I also have a Rixx Javix a story in the works. Why? Well, because there's nothing Rixx loves more than a Rixx Javix story. But beyond that, I'm writing the story to underline what I perceive as a weakness in official EVE fiction. 

In my humble opinion, official EVE fiction to date is its own worst enemy. It is self-conscious and far too mindful of its humble origins as the spin-off of a cartoon space ship MMPORG. It works overtime at being taken seriously, to portray New Eden as cynical and bleak; an unrelentingly noirish dystopia. I mean, look at this:

"From the murky depth of madness, reality churns and boils over in my head, a great distance away. Like a pair of entangled protons, my actions seem hopelessly enslaved to a new consciousness that many, including myself, would consider depraved. "

- Tony Gonzales:  EVE Templar One

More than a page of this sort of prose and I'm reaching for the Xanax. 

There's only one remedy for self-important, overwrought writing, and that's an injection of fun, a bit of whimsey: A little touch of Javix in the night. Given the goal of the story, it's got to be right on the page before I post it. So there's a bit more hand wringing over that piece than usual, which has tested Rixx's patience no little bit. No worries, Rixx.  It'll get there.

Of course I haven't given lowsec attention for some time. I've promised a piece on why the lowsec's population tends to cluster in certain areas leaving some lowesc constellations relatively low on population and uneventful from a PvP point of view.  I also want to follow up on lowsec's spheres of player influence which, though they exist, remain largely undocumented.

So much choice. So little time. But it's a good problem to have. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Undead Again

"Call it mental toughness. Call it 'Too dumb to die'. Call it zombification. Whatever.  -A- have an annoying way of not knowing when they're beaten.  You can knock them down, shoot them execution-style, knife the body a dozen times, rub their collective face in the dirt and dog-shit, and walk away from their mangled corpse with their lunch money jingling in your pocket while you whistle tunes from 'Aida'.  A week later -A- will be back, nailing the dismembered body of your beloved family pet to your front door."

            - Fiddler's Edge, The Edge Awards

You'll recall that last week I wrote in response to a Ripard Teg post that, while I am not given to gloating, I am not above the odd victory dance when the occasion warrants it.

You may consider Against All Authorities' (-A-) recent return from the dead such an occasionous occasion.

Now, if you'll recall, way back in the spring of 2012, there occurred a gradual escalation of commitment in Delve by various parties that resulted in a pan-nullsec clash for control of that region. The final step in said escalation was the entrance of Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) into the conflict on the side of Pandemic Legion and Test Alliance Please Ignore against Nulli Secunda, Raiden and -A-.  CFC's leadership pitched this as an all-in, no-quarter-given war aimed not merely at defeating the enemy, but eliminating their capacity to pose a future threat. As The Mittani® stated at the time:
“We – and ‘We’ means ‘Everyone’ – are going to Delve, and it will burn. No mercy, no respite, no ‘freeports’, just brutal conquest – conquest which will not stop until this threat to our bloc is extinguished. If that means that we must set all of Catch on fire to remind this ex-NC, ex-IT, ex-BoB excrement of their proper place in the universe, so be it.” 
The Southerners, already outnumbered by Test Alliance and PL, were swamped in the subsequent tidal wave of players from CFC joining the fight against them, and were quickly driven from Delve. The war followed the retreating forces South into Catch and the domains of the Southern Coalition (SoCo). By October the Southern Coalition, which had long supported -A- during times of trouble, itself began to unravel. A schism within Red Overlord (ROL), which was at the time providing some of the most effective resistance to the Northerners, resulted in the collapse of ROL and the defection of certain member corporations to the newly formed Unclaimed[DOT], which was aligned with the PL, Test and the Honey Badger Coalition (HBC) cause.

Resistance from the Southern alliances collapsed shortly thereafter, and -A- took refuge in NPC nullsec.

Now, -A- had retreated to NPC nullsec during previous wars only to return and retake its old space from the interlopers. However, in those cases -A- had managed a planned and well ordered retreat that maintained the alliance's organizational integrity and kept its combat assets largely intact. In this case -A- had been routed. Its membership's morale was at low ebb, its supporting coalition was in tatters, and the monolithic forces of the HBC and the CFC stood firmly in the way of any return to Catch.

As 2012 drew to a close, -A- remained in NPC nullsec exile and what had been a trickle of defections to other alliances slowly became a persistent stream. On January 6, Russian Thunder Squad, who'd been with -A- since 2007 and, along with Rage and Terror, were regarded as the most critical of -A-'s corporations, announced their departure for Darkness of Despair.

With that, the writing appeared to be on the wall for -A-.

As bloggers and podcasters closed the books on 2012, eulogies were being written for Against All Authorities, many of them dismissive and unkind.  The common wisdom among the EVE media was that -A- was as dead, and their failscade was foregone conclusion.  However, as February turned to March, the flight of members from -A- slowed at around the 1,000 membership mark, and then bottomed out in the mid-800s. At that point the common wisdom in the blogosphere shifted somewhat. Pundits stated that, while -A- might not have failscaded outright, it was still effectively dead. -A-, they said, was spent as a sov nullsec power, incapable of taking and holding space or driving events. They were, its eulogizers held, a hollowed out shell that just happened to wear the -A- emblem.

As I wrote last January, -A- has been prematurely eulogized so often in the last few years you'd think they had a Summer home on the River Styx and rented jet-skis from Charon. -A-'s enemies and critics have an appalling habit of walking way from -A-'s 'mostly dead' body, assuming that 'all dead' will follow in due course. Having seen this scenario play out before I counseled those celebrating -A-'s demise to caution.  Wait and see, said I.

And sure enough, as Spring gave way to Summer, there were signs of life in the cemetery as -A- once again clawed their way from the grave. By June, -A- had rebuilt a large portion of its membership. Of particular interest was the addition of some solid sov warfare corporations, including Anzac Alliance, which spoke to -A-'s long term plans. By mid-August -A- had quietly returned from NPC nullsec to occupy the C45-9Ya constellation in Feythobolis. Using that base as a springboard, -A- began re-occupying systems in Catch, taking possession of systems in the 9HXQ-G constellation in Catch from The Initiative as late as yesterday. GE-8JV in that constellation, generally regarded as -A-'s traditional home system, was among the systems taken.

It's certainly likely that -A- is getting by with a little help from its friends. This is, after all, the age of the coalition and there are very few alliances that can take and hold sovereign nullsec without some backup. And there may be a degree of defensive indifference involved in the recent take-overs, but there's no doubt that -A- is taking Catch systems by force of arms.   There are many questions that remain to be answered, but on one point there is no doubt:

Against All Authorities is undead again. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Carebear Empires

"When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

             - Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Over at Jester's Trek, Ripard has been looking at the post-Odyssey Technetium market findings written up in Lockfox's recent TMC article.   The long and short of Ripard's post is that, owing to Odyssey changes, the price of Technetium has crashed. Thus, he writes, Goonswarm is in dire financial straits straits that mere R64 moons cannot remedy, which in turn means that Goonswarm's existence is threatened; their current dominance of nullsec being utterly dependent on an unbroken flood of Technetium-based ISK. This, Ripard says, has driven Goonswarm to announce they will be renting nullsec systems to pubbie scrublords; an act of apostasy in Goon culture that has turned its leadership into philosophical contortionists as they attempt to reconcile their present financial plans with past moral preaching. 

For reasons beyond my understanding, Ripard has gotten the impression that I am given to gloating and that this news will provide an occasion for me to indulge.  While I'm not above the odd victory dance when the occasion warrants it, schadenfreude is not my drug of choice.  Gloating is a leading indicator of sloppy thinking. Further, gloating tends to pre-suppose that all the chips have fallen where they may; that all the shoes have dropped.

In this case nothing could be further from the truth.

Ripard may be referring to a post I wrote in July of 2011 called The Wealth of Nullec, in which I pointed out evident flaws in the reasoning behind what I call CCP's "One Percent Solution" (1%) design paradigm for nullsec and called for the elimination of nullsecs large-bore ISK faucets. 

Assuming the Technetium numbers are correct, CCP has taken an important first step in turning nullsec toward their long-held vision of a larger number of entities in possession of smaller patches of nullsec real estate. This would mark the defeat within CCP of the 1% paradigm, which assumed the presence of a limited number of exceedingly high value resources would provoke running sov wars as nullsec alliances battled for ownership of them. In fact, as many bloggers and members of the player base predicted at the time, what happened was quite the opposite.

It turned out that the large-bore ISK faucets, Technetium in particular, merely bestowed upon their posessors an overwhelming strategic advantage which they then leveraged to ensure their hold on those income streams was unbreakable except through internal upheaval. Entities incapable of internal stability or prone to sov aggression were quickly weeded out of the Technetium-holding population. The result was the Technetium cartel and the so-called Blue Doughnut that actively suppressed sov warfare in the majority of nullsec.

At the end of the day, the cascade of ISK pouring down on selected bits of nullsec real estate proved so valuable they provided a strong incentive against the very sov warfare and power diffusion CCP's designers expected them to promote.

Unlike Ripard, I don't believe the Technetium nerf or its impact caught Goonswarm's leadership flat footed. Nor do I find the idea that The Mittani® was completely in the dark as to the income generating potential of system renting remotely credible. 

The Technetium nerf has been in the works for some time as evidenced by last December's CSM minutes. The Mittani® has long been an advocate of the Farms and Fields (F&F) paradigm for nullsec and, last Autumn, Goonswarm's financial team published a series of articles in support of that paradigm on TMC. Nullsec's CSM7 reps lobbied aggressively for industrial buffs to nullsec infrastructure and minerals as a replacement for the anticipated loss of Technetium income, which CCP largely obliged in the Odyssey release.

Now, in order to develop a robust industrial economy capable of replacing a substantial portion of the income lost through the Technetium nerf, nullsec must have a key asset that is beyond CCP's power to bestow: F&F requires that a large industrial workforce migrate to nullsec and ply their trade in that space.

While Goonswarm's membership includes a healthy number of industrialists relative to its peer nullsec alliances, they are in no wise sufficient to generate the industrial activity needed to jump-start F&F to the degree needed to offset lost Technetium income. Further, in order to sell the presence of a large industrial population in nullsec to its rank and file, the Goonswarm financial team is on record as casting this population primarily as a nullsec underclass: peasants or cattle to be used for financial gain and slaughtered for the amusement of the PvP elite. For obvious reasons, standing members of Goonswarm cannot be asked to lower themselves to fill that role. Thus, this underclass must be recruited and, in the minds of Goonswarm's leadership, the role of renter could have been tailor made for that purpose. Renters are being hawked to the Goonswarm's membership as a lower life form whose presence, while undesirable, is financially necessary.

Of course I would not be the first to point out that calling your intended clientele cattle, sheep and pubbie scrublords while talking enthusiastically about the vast swarms of enemies that will come and try to blow up that intended clientele's stuff once they arrive is, quite possibly, the worst rental ad campaign ever devised. Switching gears from the virulent pubbie hatred Goonswarm's leadership has cultivated over the years to promoting and providing competitive services for said pubbies will not be an easy cultural transition. It will, however, be a necessary one if  Goonswarm expects to command the rents it needs to maintain its present life-style and develop itself as an industrial power-house.

For F&F to be successful, Goonswarm will need to attract the industrial subset of the carebear community. While ratting renters' money spends as well as an industrial renters' money, the former do not generate the secondary income streams and market activity that the latter do. Further, Goonswarm's desire to become independent of highsec markets cannot be accomplished without a critical mass of industrial players.

Industrialists tend to be a pragmatic lot and don't place a high value on their landlord's affections. They do, however, expect efficient management, services at favorable prices, limited restrictions on their activities and a reasonably safe environment in which to ply their trades in exchange for their coin. And they will respond positively to targeted production incentives should Goonswarm choose to offer them. But, that pragmatism swings both ways. Unlike technetium moons, industrialists are mobile. If Goonswarm cannot provide these essentials the industrialists will go elsewhere. 

Goonswarm has foreseen this, of course, and will game CCP, the renter community and competing landlords aggressively in order to make alternatives to renting from Goonswarm less desirable. The next war in Nullsec has already begin and will have a heavy economic component, whether Goonswarm's competition realizes it or not. Those competing renter alliances unschooled in business, lacking accomplished spreadsheet warriors and without skilled diplomats would do well to shore up those skill gaps in a hurry. This war will be fought as much from the boardroom as on the battlefield. 

Many large-bore ISK faucets remain in nullsec, and the loss of Technetium should have no-one crying poverty.  However, in order to maintain spending habits acquired during the Technetium bubble, renters have become a necessity. Now Goonswarm intends to build their empire into an economic powerhouse independent of New Eden's empire markets. And for that, the industrialization of nullsec is a prerequisite. In such a game, well organized and efficient lords of industry are no beggars, but princes in their own right.

And their fortunes shall be writ 'pon nullsec's very heavens.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

EVE Lore: Blog Banter 48

This month's topic is a request from CCP Sisyphus who wants to know how important is Lore in EVE Online?
How important is “fluff” in Eve online? Would eve online be the same if it were purely numbers and mechanics, or are the fictional elements important to the enjoyment of the game? Would a pure text, no reference to sci-fi or fancy names still be an engaging game? Should CCP put more or less emphasis on immersion?

For more entries, see here.

Eve, being digital, leaves no traces behind.  We are long on epic events but short on chroniclers of the times.  As in the real world, the landscape of New Eden changes.  Powers rise and fall, pirate empires ply the void for a time and often wink out in a moment, as if they never were. ... Over time the collective memory of New Eden remakes itself, shifting and degrading what was in favor of what is.  And there are no artifacts and only limited histories left behind to lead players to inquire who and what came before.

    - Fiddler's Edge: Wine in the Ruins

Strictly speaking, game lore isn't lore at all.

Game lore is commonly understood to refer to a game's back-story, the larger narrative framework in which a role-playing or video game is played. Depending on the game, that framework may be more or less rich and detailed. It may also be more or less important to the execution of game play depending on 'attitude and latitude'; the attitude of the player and/or the latitude the developer allows the player when it comes to their in-game actions.

By necessity, game lore is documented and maintained by the company that owns the game. This is done both in order to provide a consistent framework for all members of the player base and to maintain the integrity of and control over the intellectual property represented by the game's back-story.  The result is an official (or 'canonical') version of a given game's lore. New game lore that does not conflict with existing lore can be added easily. Making changes to established game lore is, in most circumstances, undesirable for financial and aesthetic reasons.  

Lore in the real world is, on the other hand, less given to consistency. It is an informal body of traditions, stories and knowledge held by a particular group and traditionally transmitted orally. Often the details of lore matter less than the larger stories or lessons they transmit. As such stories in lore traditions are rarely fixed, changing over time and distance as they pass to new generations of a group or to new groups altogether.

Real world lore is, by definition, public domain. Once it becomes property, it ceases to be lore. This is quite the opposite of game lore, which is not game lore until it has been recorded and formally identified as such (and, by coincidence, copyrighted) by the owning entity. 

EVE's game lore provides the origins and political/social structure of New Eden and the context for play. It provides narrative texture, particularly for groups of role players and PvE players. For most players the framework influences early skill establishment and, from a design standpoint, the strengths and weaknesses of the four major ship families. However, in large part EVE game lore has little impact on player decisions in game and player decisions in game have even less impact on EVE game lore.

Consequently, for most long term EVE players, game lore fades to the background and provides little more than a bit of color on EVE's starry backdrop. EVE players have developed a culture and lore completely separate from that written and controlled by CCP.  This is EVE player lore and, from a practical standpoint, EVE player lore has superseded EVE game lore in importance to the larger player community. 

Player lore occupies a middle ground between game lore and real world lore.  In games where the players' freedom of actions is limited and acts are closely integrated with game lore, player lore tends to consist mainly of tips and tricks for navigating the game and odd bits of game-related filk-music, fan fiction and fan labor.  In EVE, however, players have exceedingly broad latitude in their decisions and actions, and this has resulted in an exceptionally rich body of player lore completely detached from official EVE game lore.

I tend to break EVE player lore into three major categories: Player instruction, player entertainments (Fan Fiction, Videos, Songs and Whimsey) and player chronicles.  Each type of lore informs the larger EVE player culture in its own way.

EVE's legendary steep learning curve, coupled with CCP's decision to bypass providing sufficient documentation of play mechanics has resulted in the creation of a great deal of player lore in this area. In short, CCP relies heavily on fan labor to maintain nuanced how-to instructions. Player instruction lore is diverse in its depth, quality method of delivery. A great deal of instruction is delivered player to player in game. Hints and tips can be found in some player bios. There are websites and blogs that are either dedicated to the ins and outs of a particular aspect of of EVE play, or provide links to player-created instructional content. And, of course, there's the odd meme, story, joke or bit of song that delivers nuggets of instruction in a more oblique manner.  

The entertainments a culture produces provides important insight into culture. In this sense, EVE player entertainments are a body of player lore in their own right. They provide functional value to EVE players as transmitters of instruction or history. Above all, our entertainments speak to the EVE player culture and give insight to who we are as a community.

Unfortunately all but the most large scale events in EVE Online tend go unchronicled and even then there is only a small body of lore that describes such events in a comprehensive (as opposed to episodic) fashion.  Lore having to do with player deeds and politics outside of nullsec are largely maintained orally within the player populations of corporations and alliances. Consequently as time goes by and older players depart to be replaced by new players, this lore is lost.

This is particularly true outside of nullsec where activities that are chronicled tend to be limited to individual encounters, lacking a larger backdrop to provide them context. As Rixx Javix recently pointed out, both on his website and in his Crossing Zebras interview with Marc Scarus, lowsec PvP entities may fight for and effectively control territory, but there is no mechanism in the game that records their achievement. Further, written histories that provide the larger picture of who's who (and where) in lowsec and the battles and relationships between various PvP entities are few and far between. Again, the player lore is often maintained orally or diffused across many sources and incomplete, making such lore exceedingly transitory.

As  I wrote in 'Wine in the Ruins' it would be good for both the players and CCP if CCP were to provide a means to leave histories and artifacts behind to tell future players who and what came before. At the moment, the wall between EVE game lore and EVE player lore is impermeable. Perhaps it's time for CCP to recognize the value it receives from the latter and allow selected player lore to cross over that wall.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


If you hang out in nullsec long enough, there's going to come a day when the barbarians get inside the walls. They're going to pillage and burn. They're going to perform unnatural acts with the livestock. They're going to laugh at you and call you all manner of impolite and impolitic names.

It's never a good day.

Mord Fiddle - The Golden Hour
Ask Not for Whom the Fat Lady Sings
The Fat Lady sang for Test Alliance, Please Ignore's hold on Fountain last Monday. It had become evident to Test's leadership that help would not arrive from their N3 allies in the East soon enough. And the strains of the long defensive war in Fountain along with a series of unfortunate events had taken its toll among Test's soldiers and leadership alike. Unable to counter-punch against the CFC offensive and with the writing on the wall, Test's evacuation to Delve was announced.

Poetic Stanziel, having drunk deep of the CFC kool aid, has suggested that the time has come for Test Alliance and it's 12,000 members to go softly into that good night; to quit nullsec for a time and ponder deeply the trials they've just been through, and to consider, mayhaps, a quiet failscade off in lowsec where no one can see their shame. 

Heh. I'm loving Stanz these days. He's turning into the CFC's Tokyo Rose. He's all "Give up American GI. Why struggle? Why bleed on a distant beach for Roosevelt while he cups your girlfriends' ample bosoms back home?"  Next thing you know Stanz'll be flying over Delve on a broomstick skywriting 'Surrender Dorothy' in black smoke. 

Sad, really. Hope Stanz didn't sell his integrity cheap. 

Of course I wrote last week as to why CFC cannot tolerate Test Alliance's 12,000 members wandering nullsec off-leash: 
If Test stands with CFC's foes on the field of battle, Test's numbers make a genuine contest possible. Thus, if Test can be brought to heel and made to submit, or its numbers significantly reduced through failscade, it will remove an essential component from any opposition to the CFC's hegemony over nullsec. 
With Test unwilling to be assimilated into the CFC, Test's dissolution is now high on the CFC list of things to do. While Test remaining on the CFC's new frontier would be better for the CFC in terms of the providing good fights, CFC's leadership's places a higher priority on securing an unbreakable hold on nullsec's wealth. For CFC's leadership, the only good fight is a fight you cannot lose, and that means the CFC's overwhelming numerical superiority over the remainder of nullsec cannot be left to chance. 

Sources within CFC have said that preparations are already underway for the invasion of Delve. Test's leadership were hoping for breathing room while the CFC paused to consolidate their winnings in Fountain. However the CFC is well organized to the extent that the two activities are not mutually exclusive. If matters continue on their current course, Test will be called upon to defend themselves sooner rather than later. If Test's leadership is wise, they will not prepare for the same the same sort of hunker-down defense of Delve as failed them in Fountain.

It's possible that Test and Tribal Band's Eastern allies have committed to the defense of Delve, in which case we'll likely see a more conventional sov tussle. Even if that's the case I don't expect Pandemic Legion to show up in Delve on the Test Alliance side of the line. Since Black Legion baited and destroyed a PL supercapital fleet (doing unto PL as PL has done unto so many others) the vaunted bad boys of nullsec seem to be suffering a crisis of confidence. It's possible they'll regain the mojo that Black Legion stole, but a more likely case is that they'll continue to keep a low profile and watch from a distance.

Thus, even with allies, Test and Tribal will likely be at a numeric disadvantage. Standing alone, Test and Tribal are unlikely to have recovered sufficiently to endure a classic sov grind for long. In either event, fighting for Delve on the CFC's timetable and getting drawn into pitched battles on CFC's terms will not keep Test pilots coming back for more. Never forget that CFC's war doctrine is first and foremost a war on fun.  Trench warfare in Delve is no fun.

Barbarian hordes, on the other hand? Way fun.

For regular readers of The Edge it will come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of barbarian hordes. Barbarians are a fun loving lot. Oh sure, they can seem unpleasant, or even outright and cruel when they're swarming over the walls or setting an axe to your head; barbarians have a rough sense of humor. But, at the end of the day, they're a pretty jolly lot. Barbarians have more fun. And 12,000 barbarians? Well, that's an awful lot of jolly.

CFC has already shown the way stealth bombers can be used to destroy structures coming out of second timers. With their extended post-Odyssey bridging capability, Black Ops can give barbarian raiding parties a long arm when it comes to making mayhem deep within enemy territory. 

If Test can take the initiative and mount an active defense; combining sharp attacks using inexpensive fleets with deep strikes at key resources in CFCs backfield, they have a chance at keeping the CFC off balance, while providing Test and Tribal pilots with fun fights. And nothing brings pilots back to your fleets and allies back to your side like the sight of you having a good time tugging your foe's chin pussy.

As this next phase of the war for nullsec develops, the goal of a CFC invasion of Delve is not to possess Delve, but to tip Test Alliance into failscade, or at lease to drive off the larger part of its members. Test and Tribal's goal is for their pilots to enjoy the fight, and retreat in good order with their membership intact should the need arise. If, once all the dust has settled, Test and Tribal remain in nullsec to trouble the CFC as they sleep 'pon their starry beds, Test and Tribal may claim victory regardless of the territorial exchanges.

For Test Alliance Please Ignore, this will be a fight where the old maxim holds true: It's not whether they win or lose, but how they play the game.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cost of Kingdoms

The recent birth announcements for Britain's new little Saxe Coburg Gotha princeling have gotten me thinking about Richard III and those who pay the cost of kingdoms.

Richard, of course, died at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, by some accounts taking a halberd to the back of the head as his horse foundered in the mud a mere sword's length from Henry Tudor, whom Richard was doing his level best to kill at the time.

It is telling that this was the last time a king of England would actively take the field to defend his crown. Five hundred twenty-odd years later the cost of kingdoms is far less than the price paid by Richard. The royal line has moved so far from warrior kings toward its current collection of Disney characters that, when Richard's remains were discovered and exhumed from beneath a Leicestershire car park in 2012, the current royal family's DNA could not be used to verify his identity. A London cabinet-maker turned out to be a closer genetic match to the last Plantagenet king than the current Prince of Wales. 

All of which is excellent fodder for a novel or two, but you may well ask what it has to do with Eve Online. It's a bit of a stretch, I admit, but hang with me.

Over the weekend the war in Fountain took a profound turn in favor of ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC). Test Alliance, Please Ignore and Tribal Band's allies, Northern Coalition[DOT] and Nulli Secunda are once again drawn East to defend their territories from Solar Fleet and friends. This has provided CFC with a clear numeric advantage and stripped away the Allies' supercapital high cover that has heretofore prevented CFC from deploying its own supercapitals extensively in Fountain during final timers.

Seeking to make hay while the sun shines, CFC is driving fiercely on the military, psyops and diplomatic fronts to bring the Fountain campaign to a quick conclusion and, if possible, to neutralize Test Alliance as a future enemy before Test/Tribal's allies can return. Sole possession of the supercapital field of play has allowed CFC to extend their previous weekend's gain in Pegasus constellation into Manticore and Sphinx. This move effectively cuts off the Wyveren and Taurus constellations, which provide Fountain's sole empire access route, from the rest of the region. It also isolates from the rest of Test's holdings in Fountain the Chimera and Unicorn constellations which contain seven Test station systems.

Outnumbered, with fewer effective FCs than CFC and lacking a coherent supercapital force, Test and Tribal leadership have called 'balls to the walls' for their members. Their hope is to pull out all the stops and bring sufficient numbers to keep the fight for Fountain alive and make the interlopers pay a price for the systems they take.  However, despite an uptick in Test/Tribal fleet participation, their FCs are having to pick and choose which timers to defend.

There is a certain irony to an alliance with twelve thousand members and a reputation for overwhelming its enemies with sheer numbers finding itself on the wrong end of the numbers game against a coalition that can claim in excess of twenty-six thousand members.  Still, CFC cannot allow those twelve thousand members to roam free in New Eden. No other known nullsec alliance or combination of alliances, however skilled, however well endowed with supercarriers, can come close to matching the CFCs numbers unless Test stands with them.

It has been shown time and again over the last year or so the advantage CFC's numerical superiority gives them.  However, if Test stands with CFC's foes on the field of battle, Test's numbers make a genuine contest possible. Thus, if Test can be brought to heel and made to submit, or its numbers significantly reduced through failscade, it will remove an essential component from any opposition to the CFC's hegemony over nullsec. Once that is accomplished, CFC can rule nullsec relatively unmolested and the rest of its enemies can go whistle.

This speaks volumes as to the motive behind CFC leadership's recent 'Testie, Come Home' campaign.

You'll have noted through various CFC media outlets that the party line is that CFC never wanted this war; that it was backstabbing by Test's leadership - first by Montolio and then BoodaBooda - that brought Test and CFC, once best friends forever, to blows. Come back to the fold, goes the siren song of CFC psyops, and we can all be friends again. All we want is Fountain and your friendship. Give us those and we can have peace for our time.

Of course the cost for Test of such friendship and colloquy would go well beyond Fountain. The undermining of Test as actor co-equal to and independent from the CFC was well underway before Test withdrew from the Honeybadger Coalition.  Test and Tribal's members appear to have no illusions as to what bending their collective necks to the CFC would mean. Indeed, both Test and Tribal appear to understand that this is not a war over Fountain. It is a war over the future and spirit of nullsec.

The CFC vision for nullsec has a decided corporate tang to it. It is nullsec leashed, controlled and sanitized for your protection. Admission to the CFC's nullsec is controlled by its governing members, as are nullsec PvP events. It is nullsec as an industrial and economic power, with all the order and institutions that implies. Think of it as Nullsec, inc., where l33t administrative or political skills are a more certain path to lordship than one's abilities on the field of battle. 

The nullsec vision of Test and its allies is a much more visceral, less secure place. In their vision warrior kings hold sway and battle for their place. One's reputation is measured in the blood of one's enemies and if the little grey men from the corporate office get out of line, they are quickly minced and thrown to the dogs. Empires rise and fall, barbarians swarm the gates, and princes of nullsec put their very selves on the line to purchase their kingdoms.

I am, I confess, somewhat torn between these visions. The CFC version of nullsec has demonstrated itself to be much more efficient than the old PvP-centric model, just as Britain under the industrialists proved more efficient than England under its warrior-kings. From a political economy standpoint, the evolution of nullsec in this direction was to be expected eventually.  Indeed, as a sometime industrialist, I've wished to see that aspect of the nullsec game more fully leveraged.

Having said that, I don't log onto Eve Online in order to continue my RL work day.  Eve Online is an entertainment; a work of fantasy and science fiction in which I can play a small part of the larger story. In such a work there should be warrior kings and barbarian chieftains who lead vast fleets into battle. And the consequences of such battles should be more than just entries in an ISK ledger or bragging rights over kill-board scores. I've no desire to see the better part of nullsec tamed and turned into a theme park and moon-goo cartel controlled by a small minority of the Eve player-base.   

In Real Life, warrior kings are no more, having been replaced by the more predictable and compliant likes of the Saxe Coburg Gothas; men and women pleased to reign without the burdens of rule. They are as much king as our modern age can bear.  Yet the aura of the old kings still clings to their crowns, commanding our attention, however dull and uninteresting the current wearers have become.

However impractical they are today, the raw and bloody-handed kings of old fire our imaginations in ways the thoroughly sensible Duke of Cambridge cannot. Good or evil, we will likely remember Richard III long after the Saxe Coburg Gothas are forgotten.  He knew the cost of kingdoms, paid it in full, and inhabits his still. 

Happily for Test Alliance Please Ignore and Tribal Band, they exist in game, where impracticality is the order of the day. Whether Fountain stands or falls, much in New Eden hinges on their actions in the next few days and weeks. This is a rare gift even in the digital world of MMPORGs. The individual pilots will collectively choose how their alliances will be remembered.  They may diminish or disband under the CFC assault and no one would blame them. They may bend to the yoke and accept a place in the CFC's new order; an undeniably easier road than the current battle against long odds. Or they may choose to stand to their tackle and pay the cost of kingdoms.

The ends of such purchases are never certain and often go astray, but they are rarely forgotten.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Perils of Prognostication

 "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."
    - Ralph Carpenter
The Fabled Kodachi Snow Globe

For the most part Kirith Kodachi is a conservative writer.

Which is not to say he goes clubbing with Anne Colter or sits down to poutine with Glenn Beck. No, what I mean is that Kirith is a thoughtful writer, not given to fiery rhetoric and an excess of hyperbole.  Kirith thinks twice before clicking on the "Publish" button over at Inner Sanctum of the Niniveh.  He has become something of a senior statesman among bloggers; a sane voice of reason when tempers flare and egos collide in the Eve Online community. 

Heck, he even has his own snow-globe.

However, even Plato stepped in the rhetorical dog-shit now and again. And when that happened his buddies at the lyceum didn't just pass the wine cup around again and pretend they didn't smell the logical fallacies. No, indeed. When that happened a philosophical throw-down would ensue and Plato would be called upon to either defend his thesis before his peers or go outside and scrape said thesis off his metaphorical shoe.

In that same spirit, I must take issue with the Canadian Sage's recent post 'Prognosis' with regard to the ongoing war in Fountain between the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) and the allied forces of Test Alliance Please Ignore, the N3 coalition, the Retirement Club and small host of other alliances. Kirith had spent some time looking over the situation and came up with a template for victory - a performance checklist of sorts, describing critical ways in which the Allied forces must execute in order win against the CFC:  
  • Excellent participation rates
  • Ship reimbursement program humming along
  • Finances in good shape
  • Allies committed and coordinated
  • Enemies distracted by attacks from third parties
Holding his assessment of the state of the war and the Allies' execution of it against this template he came to the following conclusion:

"Test is screwed."

I know. Not the sort of utterance once expects from a man usually given to nuance. In fact, Kirith was so bearish on the Test's position he recommended they cut their losses and extract themselves from the war lest they lose organizational integrity. 

"If I were TEST leadership, I'd be thinking about my exit strategy at this point before this war grinds your alliance apart."

Now, it should be pointed out that before doing his research for this piece, Kirith wasn't convinced an actual sov war was going on in Fountain at all. As recently as a week ago he was wondering whether or not Fountain wasn't just another Delve 'Thunderdome' with the combatants using the region as a playground for good large fleet fights; sans any desire to actually contest sov or any meaningful enmity between the combatants. Sort of the 'controlled PvP' concept put forward by PL and CFC as an alternative to sov warfare in the pre-Odyssey days.

Anyone who's been paying close attention will have known what Kirith discovered last week: There is an honest to goodness sov war going on in Fountain. In fact, a key point that Kirith seems to have missed is the nature of the war in progress. This war is not merely a push for additional space or interstellar goodies. Leadership on both sides of this fight want nothing less than the extinction of their primary enemies. This, my friends, is a death struggle. Neither side is going to let the other walk away to fight another day. For the principles, there are only two ways out of this war: With your shield, or on it.

The leadership of Test and Nulli want Goonswarm dead. Dead, as in no longer among the quick. Dead, as in singing with the choir celestial. Dead, as in making smores over the flames of a burning Mittanigrad. Test and Nulli's rank and file seem highly motivated toward the same end. This is not a case of senior leadership driving a personal fight of which the membership want no part. Kirith rightly points to the internal fund raiser Test recently held to stabilize their finances as an indication of weakness. However, in so doing he misses entirely the enthusiasm Test's rank and file showed for the effort and how quickly and successfully it met its goals. These are not players ready to turn tail and run. These are highly motivated foot-soldiers with a fierce and personal grudge against Goonswarm.  Nulli Secunda, for it's part, has been quite upfront with their position on Goonswarm: Their self-proclaimed raison d'etre is Goonswarm's destruction. 'Nuff said.

Likewise, CFC leadership does not merely want Fountain. They want Test Alliance well and truly obliterated as a rallying point for anti-Goon resistance.  CFC leadership has had both Test Alliance Please Ignore and Pandemic Legion firmly in their cross-hairs for some time, and that has not changed. Goonswarm will not abide the presence of any entity capable of challenging their hegemony over nullsec; a hegemony that is an essential prerequisite to their longer term plans for economic dominion over New Eden.  At present, Test is the lynchpin of any such challenge to CFC, and must therefore be extirpated. Further, by having the temerity to challenge Goonswarn directly, both Test and Nulli must be utterly laid low in order to serve as an object lesson and cement the CFC's reputation as an irresistible force in order to discourage future challenges from other quarters. 

Under the heading of 'Allies committed and coordinated' Kirith makes much of public statements by Pandemic Legion representatives, particularly in the context of a Crossing Zebras podcast, as to the degree to which PL is committed and how well they're coordinating with the rest of the Allies.

First of all, as I commented on Kirith's website, it should be recalled that the hosts of Crossing Zebras are CFC members who have a vested interest in the outcome of the current conflict.  Thus it is notable that their departure from the fairly dull and mostly harmless CSM/CCP interviews, which have the virtue of being safe and CFC content free, is an interview with Pandemic Legion members saying uncomplimentary things about Test Alliance and leading one to believe PL is ready to abandon the war against CFC should PL stop having fun. This is not to say that propaganda was what motivated Xanfer and Jeg (who I quite like, Zander's fashion sense notwithstanding). In fact the content itself doesn't deliver much in the way of new information for those who've been paying attention (see below). However, the timing of its delivery is of interest, coming as it did in the midst of a CFC push to take a second constellation in Fountain, following a series of set-backs for Test and its allies.

Secondly, as I've reported previously, Pandemic Legion has not been terribly committed to the Allies from the the get-go. Their participation to date has been, shall we say, episodic, and not merely due to a lack of coordination. Pandemic is now and has always been in Eve for the 'pride parade'. While they play hard and are very good at what they do, they are grasshoppers as opposed to Goonswarm's ants, preferring to gambol in the glades of Summer and move on at the approach of Autumn's chill.  Mindful of this, CFC's diplomatic corp will have been working tirelessly to emphasize how cold the Winter will get for PL should they dedicate themselves more than marginally against the CFC and end up on the losing side. Unless and until the present tide turns again and the trench warfare in Fountain turns into a march on Deklein, I don't anticipate Pandemic Legion will battle in earnest for the Allies. If, on the other hand, Fountain turns into a route for the Allies, I expect PL will pull out altogether.

Having said all this, there's no doubt the tides of war have been running in CFC's favor. The Allies continue to fight the war on CFC's terms which, as I've written previously, has allowed the CFC to concentrate their forces in the Fountain staging areas and given the CFC diplomatic and psyops corps plenty of time to do their work. At the same time, the fall-off in secondary enfilading fronts against the CFC has permitted the CFC home-front to operate relatively unmolested and avoid the sort of perception of vulnerability that brings on the dog-pile.

But barring unforeseen misfortune for either side, the 'Fountain' war is far from over. Despite recent CFC successes the Allied forces have prevented the fight from becoming a rout and and have limited their losses to the Centaur and part of the Pegasus constellations. Pegasus is heavily contested at present; CFC having just today burned through ten Territory Control Units in a close-run attempt to take 9-VO0Q.

If the status quo holds, who wins this war may be decided by who has the will to stand against the other and keep punching the longest.  In such a fight, who is best led and best coordinated matters far less than the collective will of the rank and file pilots.  It is the sort of fight in which the clock could as easily run against the CFC, where to date it has run primarily against the Allies.  Offensives in which the invaders are not heavily invested in the outcome, particularly those against a determined foe, tend not to end well for the invader in the long run.  Despite their leadership's desire for an end to Test Alliance and access to Fountain's moons, the CFC rank and file are generally quite comfortable and well-fed in their existing territories.  The war's justification on CFC's side is primarily financial, aimed at acquiring additional income streams.

"More money for the Mittani", while an honest battle cry, is not one that's going to keep the CFC pilots enthusiastic about fleeting up for grinding sov fights. 

But status quos can be fragile things, and Test and its allies are battling with their backs to the wall. There is no exit strategy for Test Alliance in this war except kill or be killed and if CFC can score a knock-out punch or open a significant second front against the Allies, resistance in Fountain could collapse along with Test Alliance itself. 

Time will tell. The clock ticks. The winds of war blow ever unpredictably; their small, subtle winds the pins 'pon which the great outcomes swing. Meanwhile, somewhere in the depths of nullsec, a fat lady checks her watch and waits patiently for her cue. 

Tricky things, prognoses.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Harm's Way

While the battle at Z9PP-H was unable to complete due to node crash, it's a singular fight in that capital ships came out to play in force, and both sides in the fight have said that they had additional caps and supercap fleets on stand-by waiting to enter the fray.

Given the number of players in the system and the degree of TiDi encountered by players on the ground, it's not surprising that neither side chose to deploy their back-up fleets. Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) has justifiably claimed victory based on the number of Test Alliance Please Ignore and allied capital ship kills. Further, the CFC forces had a large Test capital fleet bubbled and in trouble at the time the node finally went down.

However, the peril of the bubbled Test capital fleet doesn't necessarily mean that the node crash saved Test, Pandemic Legion (PL), and N3's collective bacon. In fact there are reasons to believe that the opposite may be true. 

As I've written in a number of prior posts, large-scale sov warfare is won or lost when one side cedes the supercapital high-ground to the enemy. When one side of a nullsec scrap becomes risk-averse when it comes to deploying supercaps, the other side simply rolls over them, dropping SBUs in system after system while the defenders retreat; their subcapital fleets effectively useless absent credible supercapital cover. 

Until now, the ongoing war between CFC and the Test, PL and N3 allies (TPN), both sides have been cautious about large-scale capital and supercapital deployents in battles over final timers. The battle at Z9PP-H indicates that the TPN allies have changed their posture and are willing to put substantive capital ship fleets in harms way in order to draw CFC's capitals and supercapitals into a stand-up fight. That would mean the allies are confident in their ability to win a cap/supercap war of attrition even if the CFC shows themselves capable of holding their own, or even pulling out marginal wins in supercapital slapdowns.

Given the outcome in Z9PP-H, we may see CFC adopt the tactic of attacking bait capital fleets and then rushing additional players into the system, slowing the node down sufficiently to make jumping backup capital fleets into system a high risk option for the allies. 'Crashing the node' was a common tactic employed by the old Northern Coalition in their battles with the Drone Russian Federation upon a time and those lessons will not have been forgotten by Goonswarm. However, it is a tactic that can backfire if the CFC is unable to anticipate where the enemy capitals will strike, if they strike at multiple locations at once (preventing CFC from pre-positioning the numbers needed to crash the node), or if CCP is able to reinforce the node sufficiently so its performance doesn't degrade enough to keep TPN allied backup fleets out of the fight.

If the allies follow Black Legion's example and begin deploying capital fleets agressively, CFC will be put in a position in which they're forced to respond with their own capital ships on the enemy's time-table, or abandon their Fountain beachhead.  In the former case, CFC will have to go all in and bet the house on a series of large-scale battles that will likely decide the outcome of the campaign. If, however, CFC chooses to let the Fountain beachhead collapse, they virtually guarantee that the TPN allies will invade CFC space and begin a march on Mittanigrad. That would gain the CFC more time to attempt diplomatic manuverings to distract or divide the enemy camp, but would be seen as a sign of weakness and an admission that the CFC supercapitals cannot contest the ultimate high ground with the enemy.

There is a certain irony to CFC's situation at present. Their foreign policy since ascending to nullsec's technetium throne was heavily occupied with the elimination of any entity that might pose an extintion level threat to the CFC. This was supposed to bring in an era of stability in which the CFC could rest easily upon their sovereign territory and orchestrate a new economic sphere of influence in nullsec that would allow them to project power across the whole of New Eden. However, in their attempts to eliminate or emasculate potential external threats the CFC has created the very extintion level threat they most feared; and one singularly dedicated to the CFC's downfall.

The CFC's campaign to take Fountain's moons has stalled.  Instead of annexing a rich income stream next door, CFC's leadership is faced with a well armed and well led enemy on their own doorstep. As diplomatic means deliver diminishing returns, CFC will have to win the day by force of arms if they are to avoid invasion and the subsequent dog-piling it will bring. CFC's supercapitals will have to go into harm's way or go home.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ebb and Flow

I write this from a hotel room overlooking the Bosperous. Istanbul, once Constantinople, lynchpin of empires and synonympous with international intrigue, seems an appropriate venue for holding forth on the current state of affairs in nullsec.

My apologies for such a long gap between posts. My current location may give you some idea of the whirlwind June has been.  I've been keeping my hand in events but there's been precious little time to write a finished piece and, as those who regularly labor through my dense walls of text will attest, short posts are not in my DNA.

Most of you will have been keeping up with events in nullsec through other venues. However, just so we're all on the same page, a brief summary of events in the current nullsec dust-up:

If you were keeping up with The Edge through my last post, you would have been unsurprised with ClusterFuck Coaliton's (CFC) sudden shift away from operations in Delve to their announced invasion of Fountain.

In so doing CFC left the reduction of Delve in the hands of Northern Coalition [DOT] alliance (NC). This would indicate that Delve's income generation capacity was not enhanced sufficiently by the Odyssey moon-goo lottery to warrant CFC's attention. Further, CFC obviously hoped that the NC invasion of Delve would bleed off Test Alliance Please Ignore (Test) forces that might otherwise oppose the CFC in  Fountain.

Things did not go quite according to plan.  More on that anon.

Now, "Why Fountain?', you might well ask.

Much was made at the time of Goonswarm's announcement that the motivation for the current offensive against Test was financial rather than payback for real or imagined past slights, or a war of survival against some existential threat.  Personally, I was surprised at the Eve community's surprise. I commented on EN24 at the time that this was likely the first time The Mittani had been criticized for telling his followers an evident truth.

Goonswarm's larger strategy for some time has been to move beyond the military and diplomatic aspects of the game and develop themselves as nullec's dominant economic power, thereby providing themselves another means of projecting their will in New Eden. The Technetium Cartel and CFC's ongoing campaign for Farms and Fields are early steps in the implementation of this policy. Thus, controlling a large share of rare and critical nullsec resources is crucial to Goonswarm, not only as as a means of financing military operations, but as part of Goonswarm's larger economic dominion strategy.

In addition to posessing a large number of desirable moons, Fountain has the advantage of being adjacent to CFC sovereign space. Cloud Ring's B-DBYQ, the region's sole entry point to Fountain is also a terminus of the Goonswarm jump bridge network through CFC space.  In friendlier days B-DBYQ was a common through-way for CFC convoys supporting Honey Badger Coalition (HBC) activities in the South. It connects directly to the HBC jump bridge network in Fountain's J5A-IX system and a few bridge hops later, into Delve.

For conventional ships without the benefit of a jump drive, the B-DBYQ/J5A-IX gate is the only direct road between Fountain and Cloud Ring. It is, in military parlance, a choke point, and its strategic value is attested to by the scale of the fighting that has taken place in and around those systems during the last month.

The first week of post-Odyssey fighting in and around Fountain was all CFC. Test appeared to have difficulty pulling together sizable fleets and those that formed up seemed heavily skewed toward Hurricanes and Stealth Bombers. CFC quickly took station systems in Fountain's Mermaid, Minotaur and Manticore constellations as well as several systems around J5A-IX in the Centaur constellation. This last reavealed their desire to lock down that gateway in order to facilitate their own flow of subcapital reships and reinforcements while blunting Test counterattacks in the other direction.

Events in Fountain seemed to be following the classic CFC playbook; grind down the enemy's will to fight, and then roll over him in a large scale assault. As the first week closed, things were looking grim for Test. Test leadership began putting out calls for the rank and file pilots to stand to their tackle and hold fast, promising that heretofore secret allies and reinforcements were on the way. As similar pronouncements had been made in the waning days of BoB/IT Alliance, EVE pundits began proclaiming this to be a desperate last-gasp effort to keep Test pilots in the fight and a harbinger of doom.

Then Test's secret allies and reinforcements arrived.

On June 10, Pandemic Legion, who had left the campaign in Delve a week early to pursue other unspecified options, and NC, who CFC had assumed would continue their offensive against Test in Delve, took the field against the CFC in J5A-IX and B-DBYQ. Coordination between the new allies proved a bit spotty during this first outing, allowing CFC to rally and end the fight with a draw despite the unexpected presence of Test's allies and the sharpness of the defense.

In the following week, the war between CFC and Test escalated into a pan-nullsec event, with almost every alliance of note falling on one side of the other of the conflict. In a key development Nulli Secunda's coalition N3 joined the fight on the Test Alliance side.

For a time there were signs of a second front being opened against CFC in the North.  Black Legion (BL) and The Retirement Club (401K)  upped their game in the North, taking the Q-CAB2 system in Tribute, taking down station services and camping the CFC relief fleet of dreadnaughts inside, aborting two supercapitals under construction in-system, and causing a number of pod-killed CFC capital ship pilots to wake up in empire space clone vats.

CFC has called these actions minor set-backs, however there is no doubt that the tail-twistings BL and 401K were beginning to take a toll. The attacks in the North by Black Legion and The Retirement Club had gone from small, harrying raids, to successful strikes against CFC capital ships in Deklein to a successful system take-down in Tribute. And the entry of Rooks and Kings into the Northern front against CFC at the same time could not have been comforting.

CFC kept matters in Tribute from escalating out of hand by paying BL a ransom in exchange for safe passage out of Q-CAB2 for their station-bound capital fleet as well as making a side deal (acknowledged by BL) to not attack CFC in Tribute for a time. While that deal seems to have somewhat blunted the immediate threat to CFC on their home turf, it provides an indication as to how seriously Goonswarm's leadership takes the threat of a second front against the CFC opening in the North.

As of this writing, CFC has managed to keep the bulk of the fighting down in Fountain, at arm's length from Deklein and of CFC regions and resources. To the extent the've done so, CFC can claim to be holding the initiative. The longer the primary front remains in Fountain, the longer the CFC Intel/Covops and Diplomatic corp will have to attempt to pry away Test's allies in this war.  While the recent mass sov drop by S2N Citizens, a Nulli associated renters' alliance, did not meet its goal of drawing N3 away from Fountain, it stands as an example of the sort of mischief Goonswarm can make to distract Test allies in order to undermine resistance there. 

However, the tide in Fountain appears to be turning.

In the last week Test and its alies has increased the pressure on CFC, collapsing their early beachheads in Fountain's Mermaid, Minotaur and Manticore constellations and taking back a number of high value moons the CFC had rolled in the second and third weeks of the conflict. Fighting in Fountain now appears to be centered in around the choke point of J5A-IX and adjacent B-DBYQ Cloud Ring. Losing that strategic objective and the movement of the fight into CFC space would be a significant morale blow to the CFC rank and file, would embolden their enemies, and increase the probability of multiple fronts opening up against the CFC as entities across low and nullsec seek to participate in 'Burn Mittanigrad'; a 'must attend' in-game event.

As usual, Pandemic Legion, having taken up Test's cause, retains the tang of a wild card.

While PL has been seen in some engagements, they have not often shown up in strength down in Fountain since the second week of the conflict.  The absence of Titans in engagements involving final system timers suggests that PL, while not grinding structures (yet), is providing its allies with high cover against CFC Titans.  One wonders, however, where the bulk of the PL fleets are. It is possible that PL are preparing for a coordinated strike against the Goonswarm homeland, with support from The Retirement Club and (possibly) Black Legion, while Test, Northern Coalition and Nulli Secunda increase pressure on the last CFC beachhead in Fountain.

In that case Goonswarm and it's allies may find themselves caught between the hammer and anvil and, as Doc Brown once said, we are going to see some serious shit.

On the other hand, PL has tended to hedge their bets where the CFC is concerned and may be playing both ends against the middle. A worst case outcome for the Legion would be a CFC triumph over forces PL enthusiastically supported. No doubt CFC diplomats are heavily focussed on PL, offering both eternal friendship and heady amounts of cash should PL abandon Test, N3, Nulli and company. Despite the threat so recently posed by CFC to PL, it would not be uncharateristic for the latter to temporize; entertaining offers while waiting for the outcome of the struggle to be more clear before striking decisively for one side or the other.

At this point it appears that the Test and Allies strategy is a brute-force push to collapse the CFC bridgehead in Centaur and Pegasus constellations, punching through to Cloud Ring. From there, Deklein can be invaded by way of Fade.  As stated above, expect to see a second front opened elsewhere against the CFC as well as attacks against the CFC jump bridge networks to disrupt fleet movements. 

The sooner the anti-CFC forces move out of Fountain, the better for Test's fortunes. It is always more fun to tear down an enemy's systems and assets than it is to defend systems and assets not your own. Test's allies will enjoy the fight much more once they're breaking CFC stuff rather than defending Test Alliance stuff, and CFC will enjoy the proceedings far less. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Amores Perros

"War in New Eden is not about e-Honor. It's not about "good fights". It's about ruining the play experience for the other side; a deliberate peeling away of any enjoyment the enemy gets when they mess with you. It is a war of attrition on fun."
      Fiddler's Edge  - For Texas and Miss Lily
If you're a regular reader of The Edge, you weren't surprised by the break-up of the HBC and you weren't surprised that Pandemic Legion (PL) stepped over to the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) side of the line when the subsequent shooting started.

If I haven't written about the fights in Delve, it's because there hasn't been much to write about. With regard to the battles themselves, the only interesting factors have been the absence of interesting factors to date. Oh, I'm sure its been fun for the participants, who've been starved of fleet fights lo these many months. A few good battle reports were written up, but there's been nothing eye-popping.  Generally its been CFC, PL and NC[dot] subcapital fleets setting up against Test Alliance Please Ignore and Tribal Band subcapital fleets. I regard the battles to date as sparring rounds; warm-ups to a main event which is, I think, unlikely to occur in Delve.

The most interesting thing about the current action in Delve is the absence of Raiden[dot].  Seems they are undergoing internal conflict with regard to alliance direction, which is not uncommon during transition times. When significant moments of change come to a corporation, alliance or coalition, there is a near inevitable evaluating of options among its members, be they pilots, corporations or alliances.  There have been rumors that Raiden has given up the ghost and will soon disband. If that happens I expect much of their supercapital strength will align with Black Legion and The Retirement Club. More on that in a bit.

Raiden being a supercapital intensive alliance, their absence has diminished capital fleet high cover on the Test and Tribal side of the line.  With Test not reimbursing capital losses at present, they are effectively ceding the supercapital high ground to CFC, PL and NC.

Normally this would signal the beginning of the end of the war. When one side of a nullsec scrap becomes risk-averse when it comes to deploying supercaps, the other side simply rolls over them, dropping SBUs in system after system while the defenders retreat; their subcapital fleets effectively useless absent credible supercapital cover. As the defender pulls back the phenomenon known in nullsec as 'dogpiling' begins to occur. Previously uninvolved alliances from across nullsec are drawn to the carnage. Some are opportunists looking to profit from the defenders' ill fortune or curry favor with the soon-to-be victors. Some are administering payback for old grudges and insults. Some are there because the fall of the mighty is an in-game event they don't want to miss. And some are only there for a taste of schadenfreude served up with fava beans and a nice Chianti. 


However, you'll note that Test's sovereignty in Delve remains intact. CFC, PL and NC have left their Supercapital edge at the door. They have dropped SBUs to provoke fights, but seem more focused on humiliating Test's FCs than in taking Test's space.

And that, as Jack Sparrow would say, is very interesting.

It is, perhaps, a reluctance to abandon the No Invasion Pacts (NIPs) of the recent past. However I think it is more likely that these fights are for CFC and company, sparring rounds; an opportunity to provide good fights for the rank and file and to practice large fleet doctrines left unused during the many months of peace and plenty. If Supercapitals have not been employed in one place, it is likely because they are wanted in another place. Soon enough the CFC will find employment for them. But not, I think, in Delve.

Oddly enough, the most interesting events in nullsec are occurring in Deklein, in system VFK-IV. This is Goonswarm Prime, home to Mittanigrad station. As such, it has long been a target for small gang incursions as various nullec players seek to harry, annoy and, to the extent possible, tweak the nose of the mighty swarm. Chief among the Deklein raiders has been Black Legion.

Of late, Black Legion has upped their game considerably and have begun targeting capital ships in the Goonswarm home system.

The raiding fleets are generally comprised of twenty to thirty t3 battlecruisers, particularly the hard-hitting Talos. Some of the early kills were jump freighters and very pricey losses. Not surprisingly the jump freighter kills dropped off quickly as the threat to them became apparent. However a steady parade of capital ship losses in the Goon home system has continued, particularly in the carrier class, amounting to a rough average of a kill a day.  For an alliance with Goonswarms resources these are minor losses. However, they are an embarrassment to the Swarm, occurring as they are in the very core of the hive-land. And they serve to burnish Black Legion's reputation as Goon-killers.

That reputation has been proven in large fleet combat as well. In recent weeks Black Legion, with the support of The Retirement Club (SirMolle's current home), have proved the most effective of the nullsec entities when it comes to bringing the fight to the CFC.  They've chalked up some nice victories, including one in Venal MCA-5J on May 23  in which they traded a fleet of Dreadnaughts for a CFC Titan, two CFC supercarriers and a side-order of supporting CFC Dreadnaughts. From an ISK standpoint it was a clean win for Black Legion, albeit likely a phyrric one as the CFC will have replaced their losses from standing capital/supercapital reserves while Black Legion will have had to buy and fit a replacement Dreadnaught fleet.  Nonetheless, Black Legion and The Retirement Club followed up with an encore the next day, destroying fifteen CFC capitals in Syndicate TXW-EI with no recorded losses of their own. 

I'd venture the CFC losses are attributable in part to their capital fleets' surprise at the Black Legion attacks. Owing in part to their metagame success, the CFC has become accustomed to opponents who are risk-averse when it comes to deploying capital fleets. This has allowed the CFC to deploy capital fleets with impunity and to control the time, place and tempo of capital ship combat.  However, in deploying their capitals in a bold and effective manner, Black Legion and The Retirement Club have forced the CFC into a stand-up fight on the capital ship high ground; and it's been a while since the CFC has had to play that game. 

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't put Black Legion's recent activities in perspective. They are not large enough to present what CFC's leadership would call an 'extinction level threat'. The losses Black Legion and Retirement Club have inflicted on the CFC to date can easily be replaced. And with CFC positioning themselves to take advantage of the Odyssey release changes, slapping down these upstarts will be low on the CFC do-do list. However, the CFC would be wrong to dismiss the two alliances out of hand.

'Why?" you ask. Well, because Black Legion and Retirement Club are having fun fighting the CFC while the CFC is having far less fun fighting back.

Much of the CFC's diplomatic game is based on the common wisdom that fighting the CFC is not fun; that doing so is, in fact, a sure path to having the opposite of fun. As I've written elsewhere, the core of the Goonswarm war doctrine is making war on the enemy's ability to have fun. If you deprive the enemy of enjoyable play, they won't want to play.

So far, Black Legion and Retirement Club have put the CFC on the wrong side of the fun equation.

A corollary to Mord's Maxim is that if your guys are having fun, other guys will want to join you. That is the threat Black Legion presents to CFC. If the above common wisdom gets turned on its head and becomes that fighting the CFC is crazy good times, there's a lot of folk in nullsec who'll want to join that party. And there's nothing like watching who joins the dog pack circling you, noses in the air and sniffing for the scent of blood, to show you who your friends are. 

If Burn Mittanigrad becomes a more popular in game event than Burn Jita, the correct answer to 'Who killed the CFC?' will be 'fun'.