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.