Friday, April 11, 2014

The Icarus Agenda

"You have no power or desire to lay New Eden low," unbending Hilmar called after him.  "And even didst thou, it is the stage 'pon which your own reputation struts.  Turn off New Eden's lights and you likewise stand in darkness.  Where, Mittani, would you go, New Eden having fallen?"

        Fiddlers Edge - Fever Dream

Every now and then I'm asked why I so dislike Goonswarm, Clusterfuck Coalition's (CFC's) dominant alliance.  The answer, as I've pointed out elsewhere, is that I bear them no particular ill-will.  Indeed, on any number of occasions I've allowed that I have a peculiar fondness for Goonswarm's rascally player base (by which I mean it's core, paleo-Goon membership) and that The Mittani® is much as I'd be if I let my darker self run off leash. 

In fact, regular readers of The Edge readers will recall that I had long foretold the sort of hegemony currently enjoyed by the CFC.

As long ago as August of 2010 I predicted that the Dominion sovereignty changes coupled with the then-nascent supercapital economy would result in the eclipse of nullsec's 'pure' PVP alliances by economic powers; merchant princes of nullsec who would leverage huge cash inflows in order to dominate nullsec's warrior class.

I've touched back on that theme over time as changes in game mechanics and the fortunes of war warranted.  For those of you jonesing for a Wall O' Text overdose, the full set of 'Carebear' posts can be found here: 

Rise of the Carebears
Rise of the Carebears (Part Deux)
Carebears Ascendent
Carebears Unbowed
Carebears Triumphant
Carebear Empires

The ascent of CFC has proven my 'Rise of the Carebears' hypothesis and disproved the 'Carebear Rot' hypothesis, supported by many detractors at the time I published the original 'Rise' posts.  In a very real way, Goonswarm's success has been my success; they have validated a number of key theories of mine with regard to the impact of EVE game mechanics on New Eden's political economy.

At this point, some of you might be scratching your heads and wondering why, if Goonswarm has demonstrated my bona fides as the Hari Seldon of New Eden, our relationship isn't much cozier. How can I claim a degree of commonality with The Mittani®, yet periodically thwap the suits on Goonswarm's leadership team with the rhetorical rolled-up newspaper? As a long time champion of economic complexity in nullsec, why aren't I a Goonswarm apologist?  In short, why aren't I on their side?

Well, that would be because I'm on EVE Online's side. 

At the end of the day the rise of economic power in nullsec was inevitable. The ossifying influence of Supercapital proliferation and consolidation on New Eden has been called out for years by a broad cross-section of the EVE blogosphere. Put the two together and the current state of affairs in nullsec was a foregone conclusion.  Although we told CCP in no uncertain terms what their designers should have seen coming, CCP couldn't be bothered to listen. They, after all, were the 'experts'. Cue a cascade of quite foreseeable macro-level outcomes to which CCP's design team apparently was willfully blind.

Now, it would be easy to get all mad at Goonswarm's leadership for acquiring a choke hold on EVE Online. However, it's important to bear in mind that they are playing the game CCP provides and can do no more than CCP allows.  While it's true The Mittani® and Goonswarm's leadership have a financial interest in maximizing their in-game notoriety and their influence within CCP and EVE Online, their gaming of the game is not new.  It is merely more efficient.  And while one might quibble over whether the advantage a well-managed semi-professional player enterprise has over a recreational player enterprise is 'fair', the presence of the former in EVE Online is not new either.

Eventually, someone with a sufficient insight, business acumen and time on their collective hands was going to take advantage of CCP's blinkered design approach.  If it wasn't Goonswarm sucking all the oxygen out of New Eden it would be somebody else.  Heck, it was almost the Drone Russian Federation (DRF). Recall it was Krutoj the Destroyer who famously coined the phrase 'ISK wins wars'.  They ran the nullsec table back in the Fall of 2011,  and looked to be settling in for a long turn as the big bad of EVE.

However the DRF had several things working against them. First of all, they didn't have an organization structured to cohere in the absence of a common enemy. Secondly, for the DRF, the in-game utility of ISK was limited to fighting wars. Military, not economic hegemony was their game, and ISK and production inflows were a means to that end. Finally, their ambitions ended at the borders of sovereign nullsec.  Once nullsec was won the DRF was rather at loose ends. Boredom set in, old grudges surfaced, and in the absence of external enemies they began to war among themselves. The  DRF's fall from the Technetium throne followed soon thereafter.

CFC is a different breed of organizational cat.

Goonswarm's leadership has structured the CFC as a hierarchy of alliances rather than a confederation of nominal equals. Federations of equals sound good on paper, but are very ineffective when it comes to collective action. As the alliance atop the CFC hierarchy, Goonswarm's leadership team consults with coalition alliances but wields the decision hammer with a firm hand.  For most CFC alliances this is a good thing as, thus far, it returns positive results. Even alliances at the bottom of the CFC reward hierarchy are averse to risking their protected space and income in nullsec's new order against an uncertain future elsewhere.

In order to avoid the sort of internal frictions that consumed the DRF in the absence of external enemies, aggressive tendencies in the CFC must be directed outwards.  With a lock on the supercapital high ground and their movement toward massed capital ship fleets, boredom is Goonswarm's sole clear and present existential threat. And the only preventative for that is new enemies and new conquests. If those cannot be credibly manufactured in sovereign nullsec, then they will have to be found in other parts of New Eden.

Goonswarm's leadership plays a broad-spectrum game of EVE Online. Their approach to the game is an intersection of war, markets, media, industry, intrigue and metagame.  In this sense they access a much larger set of in-game and out-of-game levers as they interact with the game than do their opponents.  And, unlike their opponents in the sovereignty game, Goonswarm's ambitions, both in terms of influence and income, do not end at the borders of sovereign nullsec.

Finally, it's critical to recall that Goonswarm's leadership in its present incarnation delights in playing EVE Online's players more than they do in playing EVE Online. Machiavellian metagame, not digital capture the flag, is their entertainment of choice.  For the Mittani® and his advisers, winning nullsec in and of itself is not winning EVE, though it is an important prerequisite to so doing.  In this extended game paradigm, hegemony in nullsec is merely one stage in a larger game that encompasses the whole of New Eden.  Victory is achieved to the degree that fun in EVE Online is a commodity Goonswarm's leadership can dispense or withhold at their will.

This is not a bad thing. Really.

As I mentioned above, Goonswarm has embraced industrial and economic activities as components of a larger strategy, forcing other in-game entities to think and play in those terms as well.  That makes EVE a more nuanced and interesting game as long as alternate play styles are viable and rewarding.  Further, from a narrative standpoint, the larger Goonswarm story arc with it's transition from Goons as plucky upstarts taking on the Big Bad BoB (Band of Brothers), to Goons as EVE Online's version of Firefly's Alliance, Star Wars' Empire or Game of Thrones' House Lannister is nothing if not compelling.  In a game that depends on player interaction to drive content, the value of a good, neigh-invincible villain cannot be overstated.

However (and you knew there would be a however) I believe certain of The Mittani® and company's out-of-game activities to this end go profoundly against the interests of the larger EVE player community. Thus, bide a moment while I roll up a copy of this morning's Post

In order to realize their in game agenda, The Mittani® and company are pressing for changes to a number of foundational game mechanics.  While pitched primarily as attempts to 'fix' the self-inflicted paralysis in nullsec, the desired effect is quite the opposite.  The primary immediate beneficiaries of the desired changes are The Mittani® and company.  They are intended to make holding sov nullsec even more profitable than it already is, and allow nullsec's dominant entities to further lock in their control of that space.  Further, the proposed changes allow the lords of nullsec to gain a stranglehold on New Eden's means of production and key inputs thereto.

The good news is that, should CCP implement the desired changes, any benefits that accrue to the lords of nullsec are likely to be short lived.  The bad news is that this would be because, at least as described, the desired changes would very likely bring about the wholesale collapse of New Eden.

Now before you set your collective hair on fire and start resorting to reductio ad tinfoilhattium, consider these questions: Would EVE Online re-engineered to be an MMORPG of, by and for Goonswarm be commercially viable?  What would be the consequences if the EVE economy went into a tailspin so profound that CCP could not prevent its effective collapse? 

To put it in classic science fiction terms: The Mittani® and company are meddling with powers they do not understand.  I appreciate they think they do; hubris is part of most tales that end in tragedy. And if they were taking upon themselves the attendant risk, I'd say 'godspeed', take out an insurance policy on them, and let them have their Icarus moment.

In this case, however, every resident of New Eden has some skin in the unintended macro-level outcomes looming in the digital wings. 


  1. What functional game mechanics are you specifically talking about? Are you talking about dictating to CCP to give null sec all the supposed advantages of high sec mfg, so that null has absolutely no need of high sec in any way?

  2. 1st. Dinsdale do you have a RL job? Cause you respond really fast to all these blogs.

    2nd. Mord Fiddle, do you have a proposal for how to make nullsec more varied or broken up? Timer, activity or different structure based sov, something else?

    3rd. Do you have any thoughts on how to protect Eve's newer players for there to be a chance for a new entity to enter EVE in the future?

    1. I'm guessing I have to wait for your next blog post. :-)

      Or do I have to dig through your old ones?

  3. It may not be dactylic hexameter, but it made my day. Thanks, Mord.

    I am woefully (and blissfully) ignorant of Dominion sov mechanics, but here in meat space, the hard counter to the power of an imperial hegemon is typically a strategy of low-intensity, asymmetric aggression (I hardly need to tell you that). That’s especially true when going toe-to-toe with the hegemon (a la B-R5RB) using a highly kinetic approach is either not feasible and/or would quickly result in defeat.

    I know that your idea of “adverse possession” would adjust the game mechanics to make this kind of decentralized opposition part of the sov rules. But what if CCP’s next iteration on nullsec sov mechanics is years away, and things stay pretty much the same until then? Surely there are viable ways right now to develop an asymmetric strategy, to exploit the hegemonic power’s weaknesses and deny them recourse to their conventional strengths. What might that look like? Is it possible that the place to start would be outside the box of sovereignty altogether?

    1. I get what you're saying, but unfortunately, there is a limit to which RL strategy and tactics can be used in this game, precisely because the game world's laws are artificially constructed. Some things, like attacking infrastructure where the Goons (not the CFC, just the Goons) ain't is limited by the sov mechanics and/or requires too much force to qualify as guerrilla tactics. If the Goons' nullsec enemies try sending raiding parties out, they risk awakening the giant enough to cause the Goons to smash them flat within one downtime cycle (and yes, it can be done, the CFC has the force to do it). If highsec groups try it, they get perma wardecced. Of course, folks could disband their corps and all go NPC, but most players feel attached to the corps they've built.

      Unfortunately, I think all that can be done right now is to nibble at the edges. The Goons greatest strength is the game mechanics CCP has provided and the deck is just stacked too much in their favour under those mechanics.

      Probably the one tactics that would work is for the uber filthy rich anti-Goons to try and fund a simultaneous destabalization of the CFC. If the Goons suddenly stood alone, that might change things up a bit.

  4. You could have saved a huge wall of text and just said, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

    So, Dinsdale asked an important question. Don't be a Chicken Little. Answer the question:

    What mechanics are involved and how, specifically, will it bring about the wholesale collapse of the world?

    1. @Mordis - As a member of my well informed and erudite readership, you should be well versed in these matters. However, if you are somewhat out of the touch a good place to begin would be my 'Farms and Fields' series, the links to which can be found on this page.

      As for additional specifics - watch this space.