Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Infinite Reach

"Always with the writing," she said with, I thought, a slight strain in her voice.

"Always with the writing," I affirmed quietly.

    - Interlude Terminales

As I commented in my last post, and in response to a few of the emails I've received since, the writing goes on.

I've been working on a new website. That should be ready for prime time in a month or so and, until then, I've set up temporary digs at a new blog site, The Infinite ReachThe Reach is dedicated to  scribblings about Fantasy and Science Fiction and will include commentary, essays, reviews, reports from the odd convention field trip and the occasional story.  I would be pleased and honored if those of you who've enjoyed your time at The Edge would stop by now and again for high tea and a wall of text.

The Edge has been a little blog.  The new website will be a bit more ambitious - certainly not something one writer can accomplish on his own.  Knowing you for the talented and insightful readership you are, please feel free to contact me if you develop the writer's itch and wish to propose or submit an essay, interview or review for the new site.  I can be reached at my usual mordfiddle gmail address or via my Mord_Fiddle handle on Twitter.

As to the Fiddler's Edge site, some of you have asked that I keep the dormant archive active as a player lore artifact.  I'm disinclined to do so for a number of reasons.  However, I'll leave it up for a few additional weeks while I have a think on the best way to sunset the site.  

Thanks once again for your thoughts, good wishes and parting shots.  Post-hoc rationalization is not uncommon when someone we know leaves the EVE Online community.  So let me leave you with a few assurances: 

My departure from EVE Online is for the reasons I outlined in That'll Do; no more and no less.  I have thought very carefully about the decision and have simply decided that EVE Online is no longer a game I can support financially or through my writing. 

Anyone who says otherwise is itchin' fer a fight.

My reasons for leaving have been off-putting to a few members of the EVE community.  Some have, for reasons of their own, attempted to dismiss my departure as rage-quit or burn-out.  The former is mere projection.  As to the latter, mine has been a very eventful life this last year and, to the degree I have had the quiet time needed in order to write, Fiddler's Edge has been a welcome refuge from my daily cares and no burden at all.

Monday, April 21, 2014

That'll Do

As Ripard Teg wrote in a recent blog post, CCP has undertaken to break the back of industry in EVE's highsec and lowsec space in order to make nullsec the center of gravity for most of EVE's industry. To the degree the current changes do not achieve that end, we may expect follow-on changes to further make industry anywhere but in sov nullsec non-viable. In effect the message for the casual player is 'go null or go home'.

This will make sov nullsec far more rich than it already is.  As entry to nullsec is controlled by a small subset of the player base, they will control who is allowed to immigrate to their industrial nirvana. And they will be able to eject any industrial players or entities that do not play according to such rules as the lords of nullsec lay down.

To the extent that lowsec is able to compete with sov nullsec, the latter has demonstrated both the willingness and the the ability to reach out using overwhelming capital and supercapital superiority and burn their lowsec competition to the ground.  Burn Jita, ice interdictions and the routine ganking of freighters at transit choke-points has already shown the lords of nullsec's intentions viz highsec.  Player control of POCOs and the removal of standings as a requirement for highsec POS has enhanced sov nullsec's ability to harrass any highsec industrial competition.

There are some players who have said that this will result in a healthier EVE; that the richer sov nullsec is, the more attractive it will be to pirates seeking to pillage and burn.  This is nonsense.  Nothing that is of value in Sov nullsec will be unprotected. The lords of nullsec are already wealthy and making them moreso will not make them more vulnerable.

Quite the contrary.

Though I spend most of my time in NPC nullsec, I believe diversity of play is financially beneficial to EVE Online. It results in a larger audience for a decidedly niche game and is vital to EVE's in-game economy.  I believe the casual player who prefers the sort of play available in lowsec or highsec to the high opera of nullsec are of value to the EVE community.  Indeed, it is that very diversity of play that makes us interesting as a community.

Now, the contempt with which the 'elite' sov nullsec players regard the rest of New Eden has become CCP's official policy.

For myself, I cannot continue to support a game in which my monthly subscription dollars are used to benefit a small subset of the EVE player base, both financially and in terms of quality of play,  to the detriment of all others.  I have no illusions that my departure from EVE Online will change minds or alter the present course of the game. Mine is, after all, a little blog; a tiny niche within the niche game that is EVE Online, with admittedly little resonance within the larger EVE community.  

I will leave The Edge up for a while longer to allow those of you with an interest to browse a bit before closing the site down. 

As I wrote earlier this year, I have found those of you who are regulars at Fiddler's Edge to be a satisfying audience to write for.  You have not only put up with my particularly esoteric and particular prose style, but seemed to enjoy it as well.  You have not been off-put by the esoteric, and have had the patience to follow what might at first glance seem impenetrable, trusting it would lead you somewhere worthwhile.  I have found you a worthwhile audience to cultivate, and you have repaid my poor efforts many times over with your encouragement and reader loyalty.

Godspeed, you capsuleers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


"Any industry feature must be balanced around our risk versus reward philosophy."
      - CCP Ytterbium
For those of you who missed it, the value of nullsec real estate went up the other day

As more comes out about the changes I'll weigh in.  However, at first blush this strikes me as a high-risk strategy that rests on some very wobbly assumptions with regard to what the industrial actors in the EVE economy will do. I would very much like to hear what Dr. Eyjog's opinion of the changes were, assuming he was closely consulted.  He expressed misgivings with such a direction during the CSM7 summits and seems notably quiet on the matter during the CSM8 summits.  But then, more immediate concerns than the health of the in game economy may be driving design at the moment.

As Drackam over at Sand, Cider and Spaceships writes, this beneficence occurs on the heels of CCP's 20 million dollar write-down, and the collapse of their World of Darkness development project.  Meanwhile Dust 514 continues to perform poorly in the market, it's player base languishing under the 4,000 mark.

These dismal tidings are made all the more ominous with the departure of  Jon Lander, CCP Unifex,   who Ripard Teg credits with saving EVE Online after the Summer of Rage. CCP Unifex's departure is only the latest in an exodus of talent that has seen some of CCP's best and brightest seek greener pastures elsewhere.  Indeed, Poetic Stanzial commented yesterday on Twitter that all of the good CCP employees are jumping into life boats, and that none with any vision remained.

But perhaps visionary designers are, at the moment, superfluous to the situation on the ground.

With all of CCP's eggs now in the EVE Online basket, CCP seems suddenly and profoundly dependent the upon the good graces of sovereign nullsec.  Sov nullsec is, after all, home to many of EVE Online's 'elite' and high-profile players, and nullsec is the part of EVE Online that receives the most publicity from both the gaming and mainstream media.  With this in mind, CCP's sudden willingness to risk their game by handing the keys of the in-game economy to the sov nullsec player-base is not surprising.

Highsec and lowsec may pay the bills, but they rarely make press.

And I suppose, if there is an advantage to be had in any aspect of EVE Online, sov nullsec should have it. CCP's design philosophy says that a player's reward opportunities should be closely tied to the risk they face.  And as every capsuleer knows, life in sov nullsec is, without exception, one long unending roller coaster ride of heart-stopping peril and certain doom. Those who survive there are the steely-eyed masters of New Eden, the two-fisted heroes of EVE who eat lightning, shit thunder and before whom the very gates of Jovian space tremble.  Who among us would gainsay these digital demi-gods an absolute advantage in all things industrial?

Lowsec? Please! Doing industry in lowsec is for risk-averse pussies. 

With CCP's business model weathering recent set-backs and their design team apparently betting the farm on CSM Mynnna's nullsec-centric vision of EVE Online as their last best hope, one should not be surprised that CCP's visionary employees are seeking employment elsewhere. 

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.