Friday, January 10, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

Once upon a time, roughly 1,150 years ago, a pimply teen-aged boy did what pimply teen-aged boys have always done since pimply teen-aged boys first walked the earth.  He screwed up his courage, asked a girl if she'd go out with him, and got shot down in flames.  Then as now, the pimply teen-aged boy ego is prone to bruising and, by all accounts, the girl in question was less than gentle in administering the brush-back.  There is no doubt the young man took it to heart.  However, as I often say, it's an ill wind that blows no one good. 

Thanks to his humiliation we have EVE Online.

Now, some of you may know precisely what I'm going on about and already made the necessary logical leap from a bruised medieval ego to digital spaceships.  For most readers, however, some elucidation is in order.  Pull up a chair.

You see, the young man in question did not have the option of retreating to his parent's basement and treating his wounded ego to a week of non-stop video games, pizza and Nirvana.  In Northern Europe in the 860s there were no video games.  None.  Not even Pong.  Depressing music was available, but monks were required (Ew.);  lots of monks (double Ew) if you wanted to crank it up real loud.  I'm not sure about the pizza, but even if some corollary to pizza existed it would have been topped with stuff like unseasoned mutton or smoked fish.  Tomato sauce was certainly out of the question as was anything we'd recognize today as pizza delivery. 

Lacking the modern balms for a broken heart, he conquered Norway instead.

I am, of course, referring to Harald Hálfdanarson, better known to history as Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway.  Now in giving Harald the heave-ho, the cheeky object of his desire, one Gyda Eiriksdottir of Hordal, said something along the lines of “Sure, dweeb, I’ll go out with you. When you’re king of all Norway.”  

It should be pointed out that Norway at the time was comprised of a number of petty kingdoms, each with its own ruler. They were a proud, fractious and independent lot who, when they weren’t out raiding the rest of Europe, feuded mightily with each other.  The odds of anyone, let along a pimply teen-aged boy, subjugating this fierce collection of earls and petty kings under a single crown seemed so long as to be impossible.  Thus, Gyda was sending Harald off with the 862 CE equivalent of ‘When hell freezes over”.  It was a bit of girlish snark that would profoundly change the course of European history.

Like many young men of today, Harald was slow to take the hint.  As Gyda hadn’t said ‘no’ outright, and, being something of an optimist, Harald felt he was still in the game.  All he had to do, he reasoned, was become high king of Norway and date night with Gyda was on.  And he must have been looking forward to date night quite a lot, because a mere ten years later, at the battle of Hafrsfjord, the last significant opposition to his rule was vanquished.  Lo and huzzah, Harald was king of Norway.

And Harald was all “Yeah baby! How d’ya like me now?”
OK, loose translation.  But as it turns out, Gyda liked him well enough to become the first queen of Norway and bear him five sons.  In fact Harald would father no fewer than twenty one sons altogether (that we know of) with six different women.   So despite inauspicious beginnings, I like to think things turned out well for Herald.  He'd won the throne and he'd gotten the girl. Cue the triumphant end title music and run the credits.

Of course where there are winners, there are usually losers and the unification of Norway was no exception.  Things had decidedly not turned out well for the earls and petty kings who had opposed Harald to the bitter end.  At best they would be forced to submit to Harald and suffer the humiliation of accepting their place in the new order from his hand; a place likely beneath those earls and petty kings who had, through conquest, coercion or predisposition, joined Harald's side in his quest for date night.  At worst they would end up, like Ned Stark, an object lesson on the perils of opposing their sovereign.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the leaders on the losing side were fierce, proud and independent.  Recall that, of all the fierce warlords of Norway, these were the guys least willing to bend the knee and play the game by someone else's rules.  As such, their chances of flourishing under Harald's rule, where the crown administered justice and held a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, were quite poor.   Fortunately for them, in addition to being fierce proud and independent, they were mobile.  Unlike losers in many sovereignty wars before and since, the holdouts to Harald's rule were among the best seafarers of the day. 

Following the defeat at Hafrsfjord, many of what were arguably Norway's most dynamic, colorful and entrepreneurial people packed up such goods and wealth in their ships would hold and sailed away.  They set their courses for viking settlements abroad where they could live according to their own rules.  The Norway they left behind, while more governable without them, would be a much duller place thereafter.

Some of the travelers emigrated West, to the then recently discovered island of Iceland.  There they settled and whiled away the years, farming, fishing and occasionally feuding.  Centuries later their descendents would finally bend their knee to a king, but not forever.  And one day, in a future the earls and petty kings of old could not have imagined, some of their descendents would find the true calling, software development, and go on to create EVE Online.

See?  Butterfly-effect.  The snubbing of a medieval teen results in digital spaceships over a thousand years later.

I often think of EVE Online's nullsec as analogous to Norway in the pre-unification days.  It is comprised of a number of petty kingdoms, each with its own ruler(s).  They are a proud, fractious and  independent lot who, when they aren't out raiding low and highsec space, feud mightily with each other.

As with Norway of old, there are forces in play that seek to consolidate power in nullsec under a single administrative structure; to exercise sovereignty over this patchwork of small kingdoms.  This is an old story, played out again and again over the course of real world history. Perhaps it's endemic to the human condition and thus an inevitable outcome in our digital realms as well.  As events currently playing out in New Eden unfold, we'll see if nullsec's mead-hall paradigm can thrive in competition with Nullsec Inc.  At present, the state of play doesn't look promising for the warlords, but one never knows.

Butterflies are capricious things.

If the mead-hall is supplanted by the board-room, some of the present earls and petty kings will doubtless take a place in the new order.   Others, however, who either refuse to bend the knee or, having bent it and finding themselves ill-suited to PVP in service of a Disneyfied nullsec, would likely leave.  Unlike their medieval counterparts, however, New Eden offers these digital warlords no nullsec version of Iceland, Orkneys, Scotland or Ireland to which they can retreat.   Should they leave, many would likely set their courses for other games.

The nullsec they leave behind, while more governable without them, would be a much duller place thereafter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Seraph Basarab and Org Chart of Doom

Over at EVE News 24, Seraph IX Basarab has written a good post on the organizational structure of Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC).  It is a significant piece and well worth your time. Much of the information was previously available in isolated works floating about in the EVE media cloud.  As such, the article won't raise eyebrows among the more erudite CFC watchers.  However, Seraph has pulled these islands of information into a single coherent work, adding analysis and insights of his own.  The result is a clear outline of CFC's internal clockwork at a macro level. It should certainly be on the recommended reading list of anyone wishing to understand the CFC either as a stand alone entity or as a participant in the economic/sovereignty wars that are presently consuming nullsec.

Much of what Seraph writes is not terribly controversial.  Indeed, many of his observations on the internal hierarchy of alliances and how resources/rewards are allocated can be sourced from CFC leadership itself; in podcasts, state of the alliance addresses and published internal communiques.

Given that, the attention Serpah's article have received from CFC's forum warriors is notable.  CFC posters have laid into it with a vengeance. Their primary accusation is that the article is mere N3 propaganda.  However, few if any of the pro-CFC commenter argue against the facts he presents, or call out facts not in evidence that he's ignored.  In other words, the information Seraph has presented is correct, but that the coalescing of those facts into a clear portrait of the CFC organization comes at an inconvenient time for the CFC.  I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what CFC touchiness on that subject might mean.

So, the article is assuredly not propaganda and well worth a read, despite all the churn in the comments section.  It's a solid add to EVE player lore.  If Seraph has erred, it's in not anticipating the political churn and providing references to primary sources. However, that is a trivial criticism. Such references would not have blocked accusations of bias and most of the information he presents is easily fact checked by those who care to do so.

In fact, Seraph goes out of his way to call out bias on my part in my post Wolves of the Southern Wilds.  It's an understandable rebuke, given how I closed off that piece.  

We'll talk more about that next time. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events

"The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage."
      - Emperor Hirohito
Wars have consequences and the nullsec war in Fountain last summer was no exception to that rule. ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC) finished that war in an enviable position. They rested comfortably in their new region, wearing well-earned victory laurels on their collective brow. The spoils of that war included the extending of CFC frontiers through Fountain and possession of that region's enhanced moon income, as well as the establishment of a new rental alliance to further augment Goonswarm's income flows. 

While subject to light harassment, Goonswarm's home space in Deklein is far from its enemies and well buffered by territories held by other CFC members and Goonswarm allies. Goonswarm, which was comprised of  ~9,500 members before the Fountain war, has increased it's membership to over 11,000 pilots, some of the new members cherry-picked from the losing side of the war. Overall the CFC’s membership count hovers somewhere in the 40K range, up by roughly 30% since the height of the war.

With their borders secure, their fortunes increased and no existential threats on the horizon, CFC's leadership might have been content to watch from a distance for a time as N3 (a coalition led by Nulli Secundi and Northern Coalition[dot]) and Pandemic Legion (PL), who had entered the Fountain war on the side of Test Alliance Please Ignore (Test), feuded with the southern Russian alliances.  After all, a cardinal rule of foreign policy is to never distract your opponents when they are occupied with beating each other bloody at no cost to you. However, as autumn wore on and the N3/PL forces showed no sign of cracking, CFC's movers and shakers grew restless.  At the end of October, two proxies, Solar Fleet and Black Legion, were dispatched to assist the Southern Russians and hurry along the demise of N3/PL.

Two weeks later N3 and PL were still holding fast despite the new fronts opened up my Solar and BL. Indeed, the N3/PL morale seemed to be higher than ever as, confident in their supercapital superiority, they deployed capital fleets in a decisive manner that kept their enemies back on their heels. Thus, Goonswarm's leadership decided that it was time to up the ante and officially involve CFC forces in the conflict, albeit in a manner intended to avoid at least the appearance of a full blown sov war.

On November 15, The Mittani® announced that CFC were entering the southern war as 'honorable third parties' (HTP).  HTP status, you'll recall, is what N3 and PL claimed when they joined Test in the defense of Fountain against CFC's invasion of that region. Ultimately CFC was able to remove N3 and PL from the field by a coordinated attack on the N3/PL rental space by CFC proxies and CFC agents within the rental alliance.  That accomplished, the CFC was able to quickly overrun Fountain, the remaining defenders having been deprived of the supercapital high cover PL and N3 had provided.

According to the November 15 announcement, CFC was merely doing unto N3/PL as N3/PL had done unto CFC during the Fountain war.

Now, by way of fairness it should be pointed out that, in the case of the Fountain war, CFC was the aggressor; invading Fountain in order to forcibly acquire its moons, which had become much more valuable as a result of the moon-goo re-balance.  Further, none of Goonswarm or the CFC's territories were invaded or at risk, with the bulk of the fighting occurring in Fountain.  Nor was Goonswarm already under attack by the combined forces of Stainwagon, Darkness of Despair(DD), Against All Authorities(-A-), Solar Fleet and Black Legion at that time. Thus The Mittani®'s justification of mere tit for tat breaks down fairly quickly.

The Mittani® went on to write that, by declaring HTP status, CFC could pursue the war in the South without risking political consequences. "If your side wins, you share the glory; if your side loses, it was the other guy's fault because you were just a third party", he wrote.  However, the strident tone of the marching orders that followed exuded such confidence in a CFC romp over N3/PL that it undermined any chance of distancing CFC from any blame or blow-back were the new offensive to fail:
"I want nothing less than absolute cruelty and sadism on display. No honor, no fun for the foe, nothing but having their faces smashed in shit over and over and over again until they cry, beg, and plead for forgiveness for what they tried to do to us."
Thus, failure does not seem to have been entertained by CFC's war planners as a plausable outcome of the formal intervention announcement on November 15.  

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Goonswarm's leadership wished to avoid at least the overt appearance of a Southern invasion by the CFC.  Despite the animosity between N3/PL and the Southern Russians, CFC must contend with the possibility that the Russians might put aside their differences with N3 and PL in order to deal with a greater threat to them all pressing from the North.  Such turn-abouts are not uncommon in EVE or real life.  Further, the large scale wars between Northern and Southern nullsec are not so far in the past that the participants, many of whom remain in game, have forgotten them.  Even years later, players on both sides retain many axes yet unground.

So, while the southerners may be persuaded to accept an expanded CFC presence in the south predicated on a mutual dislike of N3, that acceptance could evaporate if CFC pushes its Russian allies too hard or is perceived as a potential conqueror.

Following the HTP announcement, CFC deployed on multiple fronts against N3/PL, their primary force of CFC fleets fighting alongside the Southern Russian fleets in Catch and Curse.  With the main N3/PL forces pinned down countering the primary CFC fleets in Catch and Curse, secondary fronts were opened by CFC against N3/PL, such as Gentlemen's Agreement's (Gents) offensive against N3 assets in Kalevala.  While these enfilading attacks enjoyed some initial success, alliances supporting N3/PL, such as Insidious Empire (EMP) led by nullsec veteran Phreeze, deployed to counter them and quickly slammed the door the secondary fronts. By December 8, all lost ground had been recovered by the N3/PL.

Life as an honorable third party was was not going much better for CFC in the combined CFC/RUS/BL/Solar fleets on the Catch/Curse front.

Despite superior numbers, the combined coalition fleets appear not to have been well integrated, and operated without a unified strategy or command and control structure. RUS fleet participation in joint operations began to drop off, reportedly owing to friction with CFC command. To make matters worse, N3/PL stepped up support of their fleet actions with Slowcats; fleets of spider-tanked carriers armed with sentry drones.  The long jump range of the carriers allowed N3/PL to project both offensive and defensive power over a considerable distance.

Unable to come up with an effective counter to the Slowcats, or to effectively leverage the numeric advantage enjoyed by the anti-N3/PL coalition, CFC command became risk averse when it came to deploying their own capital fleets. The result was a slow erosion of CFC/RUS/BL/Solar supercapital high cover; a capital fleet gap that N3/PL would exploit to devastating effect on Friday, December 13.

On December 13, a fleet of Solar supercarriers was detected operating in 78R-PI.  N3/PL command  quickly coordinated a drop and in short order the 13 supercarriers were tackled and under attack by  N3/PL capital and supporting fleets.  Responding to a Solar call for assistance, Black Legion and Stainwagon rushed to the rescue in subcapital fleets. Goonswarm began to form up but, upon assessing the situation, stood down rather than risking a capital fleet fight for which PL/N3 was evidently well prepared.  Lacking capital ship cover, the BL and Stain subcaps were unable to execute a rescue and the entire Solar supercarrier fleet was lost.

That same night, hard on the heels of the 78R debacle, came the loss of a Goonswarm station egg while it was in transit to a friendly system in -A- space.  Apparently Goonswarm leadership was aware that the freighter carrying the egg was being tracked by hostiles, and had been scanned several times along the way.  Despite this intelligence, and despite repeated warnings up the chain of command, the operation was allowed to continue.  As might be expected, the freighter was intercepted short of its destination and destroyed along with its cargo.

Despite a public mea culpa by The Mittani® for the loss of the station egg, the two events rattled nerves within in CFC and caused consternation among the CFC's Southern allies.  Rank and file members among Southern Russian alliances began asking hard questions about Goon stations being deployed in Southern Russian space.  The repeated set-backs against an outnumbered and supposedly on-the-ropes enemy caused complaints in the CFC ranks against a Goonswarm military doctrine that depended heavily on grinding structures in stealth bombers (the antithesis of fun) and keeping capital fleets on a very short leash, despite that same doctrine's success in the Fountain campaign.

On December 15 The Mittani® announced that CFC was taking off the kid gloves and going all-in against N3/PL in Southern nullsec.  The timing of this second call to arms is notable.

First of all, given the approaching holidays, fleet participation was virtually guaranteed to slump in short order, negating to a large extent the immediate utility of a chest-thumping call to arms.  The Mittani is not normally so profligate with such announcements, knowing that to use them too often is to dilute their impact.  Throwing one away when it is unlikely to rally the rank and file and bring ships to the line, particularly in the face of a month long storm of ill-fortune, carries a tang of desperation. 

Further, the December 15 announcement was made only a month after The Mittani®’s previous call for the destruction of N3/PL by the CFC.  Beyond the announcement of Omegafleet (essentially a dreadnaught blob doctrine intended to counter the N3/PL Slowcats) it added little in terms of content to his previous call to arms.  The primary purpose of declaring war on N3/PL a second time seems to have been to invoke the ‘no political consequences’ clause of the HTP policy announced a month previously.  In short, The Mittani was announcing that the month-old war declaration didn’t count as it wasn’t serious, but in the face of CFC set-backs since then, ‘Shit got real’.

However, the THP policy announced in November was, by The Mittani®’s own admission, a blatant fiction aimed at tweaking the nose of N3.  He was on record at the time calling fervently for the destruction of N3/PL.  In that light he could not reasonably dismiss the previous month’s series of unfortunate events by saying CFC hadn't been serious and were just engaged in a bit of light-hearted hijinks.  ‘Shit got real’ in this context translates as ‘Mistakes were made'. 

None of this, of course, has been lost on CFC's enemies.  EMP and Test have begun a siege of Vale of the Silent and both BL and Gents have been redeployed North to defend that region. This amounts to the first significant attack on CFC territory since the DRF was driven out by Goonswarm and friends. Harassing attacks against Deklein have increased resulting in an uptick of CFC capital ship losses in that region.  Pandemic Legion is rumored to be on the verge of breaking their No Invasion Pact (NIP) with the CFC, which would be a precursor to their participation in an invasion of CFC territory.   
The smart money will remain on CFC, at least in the short run.  It has been one of the best led coalitions in the history of New Eden. Its leadership, when at its best, has operated like a cross between a Wall Street private equity firm and the Prussian General Staff, and the resulting string of successes these last two years have been startling.  However, ongoing success can be as much a curse as a blessing. It can lead to complacency; to an assumption that events will tend to break your way for no other reason than that they always have before. And that, my friends, is a wellspring of disaster.

When you start to try to force events, when you begin to believe your own press releases and think of yourself not as one navigating a sea of events, but as a fixed point driving events, you are in trouble. 

Assuming CFC's leadership hasn't become complacent, this recent series of unfortunate events will serve as a wake-up call for them. If they avoid recriminations and wishful thinking as they plan their way out of the current situation, it'll be Sally-bar-the-door time in Southern nullsec. 

If not, it's going to be a long winter in the North.