Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The CareBears Who Killed Atlas

There's been a lot of speculation as to why Atlas Alliance fell from the full blush of strength to it's present state so abruptly.

The most common theory is that Bobby Atlas micro-managed Atlas to death; that his inability to delegate decision making led to an inflexible organization incapable of functioning effectively in his absence. As a result, this theory goes, during key events leading up to the invasion of Atlas space by Legion of xXDEATHXx, Red Alliance, White Noise (aka the Russian Coalition, or RUS), critical decisions were not made due to Bobby's lack of attention to Atlas.
This may have been a contributing factor. But, I'm not buying it as wholesale cause.

The more I look into it, the more convinced I become that Atlas Alliance was laid low by Real Money Trading (RMT) and Atlas' own CareBears.

The Atlas Invasion was not fought over old grudges, e-honor, or the reclaiming of "traditional" territories. It was a battle over Titan-class ships and the CareBears who build them. It was a fight over money; real money, and the future role of that money in EVE at large and nullsec in particular.  

Bear with me a moment while I lay a little groundwork.

As I wrote in Money Comes Whithal, there are a lot of ways to make real money via EVE Online. Currency trading is the most common. Selling characters or in-game items for real money outside the context of the game is another.

CCP's PLEX sales program has been effective in putting a ceiling on the value of in-game currency (ISK) at roughly $70 per billion isk. However, that success has been at a price. It's driven real money traders to focus on sales of user accounts, characters, and other more lucrative in-game items in order to extract their dollars from EVE online. In the latter category, the best money is made on in-game items that are scarce, expensive and (most importantly) a means to making even more money.

Super Capital Ships, Titans in particular, are the jewel in that crown.

The skills, resources and time needed to produce Supercaps make them a high-ticket item to start with. Further, Supercaps can only be made using a Capital Ship Assembly Array (CSA), which can only be deployed in a nullsec system by members of the sovereignty-holding alliance. What do you need to conquer and hold nullsec space? Super Capital Ships. The more nullsec systems you hold, the more Supercaps you can make.

All of the above have driven the RMT market for Supercaps skyward. At present, a Mothership runs for around $1000 on the RMT market. A Titan? $7,000. A Titan-ready toon to fly that new ship? That'll bring in another $1,000.

Given the current level of demand, and assuming it takes eight weeks to produce a Titan, just ten CSA's can generate $35,000 in real dollars every month. The buyer, of course, has to pay in-game isk for the ships matching roughly their build cost in order to hide the real money transaction from CCP (Yes, selling in-game items for real dollars is against EULA - the EVE User Licensing Agreement), which means the resulting RMT dollars are pure profit. And that's just the tip of the RMT iceberg.

According to my sources, a piece of that money goes to the leaders of the CareBears who do the building.  Some of the money goes to the middlemen - the brokers and the people who manage the black market infrastructure. The alliance in charge takes a big cut as well, and that money flows down to pay alliance leadership as well as key fleet commanders, corporation heads and spies.

Getting back to Atlas Alliance:

At the onset the invasion of Atlas Alliance space by RUS and Pandemic Legion, Bobby Atlas ordered a halt to the single Titan in production and put a stop on any new Supercap production. This directive was ignored by the Supercap producers who appear to have actually ramped up production. By the time Atlas surrendered a number of Supercaps were near ready for sale, and RUS seemed very well informed as to how many in-production Supercaps were available to be claimed as part of the surrender terms. Surrender terms under which Atlas surrendered not the Supercaps, but the right to buy them from Atlas producers.

Yeah. You heard me. Atlas lost and the terms of surrender were that the Atlas Supercap producers got a massive payday, while the Atlas Alliance rank and file got screwed. Bobby got the blame, both deserved and undeserved.

In a convo released by The Mittani, Bobby Atlas accuses his lieutenants of cutting a deal with RUS in the interest of the Supercap producers, at the expense of the rank and file Atlas membership. I think that's precisely what happened, and I don't think it was an accident on the part of Bobby's lieutenants. One of the most shocking parts of the convo is that, with the Alliance falling around their ears, the main concern of said lieutenants is that the Supercap producers are paid.

Now, my sources tell me that Atlas was one of several alliances that had banned RMT by its member corporations. Assuming this is the case, Bobby Atlas would have cut a number of his Supercap producers off from a steady flow of real-world cash.

Funny thing about cash. People like it. People get used to it. When you take it away, they get angry and start working out how to get it back. If they can't get around you, they may try to remove you.

Assuming Atlas' RMT ban was  genuine, I believe some of those Supercap CareBears decided that it was easier to remove Bobby Atlas than to pack up and relocate to RMT-friendly space. I think some back room conversations took place, some Atlas higher-ups were bribed and the rest, as they say, is history. I may be wrong in some particulars, but that's the direction the evidence seems to be pointing.

Pernicious stuff, money. 

Now, if EVE-ON or PC-Gamer or some game hardware manufacturer wants to sponsor an alliance or corporation for marketing purposes I don't see a problem provided it's all in the open and done in accordance with the EULA. However, RMT isn't legitimate money. It's gotten by breaking EULA, and players who take dirty money are, by extension, dirty. They drive a cycle of demands on nullsec and the players therein to generate ever more real money income for themselves and their backers. They turn the course of EVE from an entertainment for the many to an income generator for the select EVE "professional".

Once upon a time, way back in May, I wrote:

People don’t pay CCP every month for a bummer. They pay to have fun.
While that may not be true for the professional EVE player, it's still true for the rest of us. Unchecked, the real money mill nullsec is in the process of becoming will not be fun. Feeding the maw of the money mill will get old quickly. One day, perhaps soon, the recreational player will take his subscription money and recreate elsewhere.

And that's an unsustainable business model for CCP.


  1. Wow. Controversial stuff - a heady mix of corruption and betrayal

    So you're suggesting that some of the major alliances are motivated and organised around real money profit? They're all space mafia?

    I wonder if that was predicted emergent behaviour?

  2. I've had a worrying thought...

    Mord, please say something or I'll assume everything you wrote above was correct and they've got you sleeping with the fishes in your veldspar slippers.

  3. I read the Convo as well. You are just drawing between the dotted lines alreadt seeded in my mind regarding the Atlas debacle and I thank you for your insight in opinion. I really look forward to your blogs Mord and GL.

  4. I wonder how deep this goes. Are all the nullsec alliances involved in this, or was it an isolated issue?

  5. I wouldn't be surprised if this has been going on for a while now, now I read this it seems not more than normal that this has been going on for an extended period of time.


  6. Just a small problem, who would pay the insane amount of 1000$ for a SuperCap or even 7000$ for a Titan.

    Especially considering CCP would probably trace it down and remove it.

  7. @ Xeross
    That's assuming that they would. There are stories of various MMO-running companies allowing controlled amounts of RMT to persist since they, too, pay subscriptions. Not CCP specifically, but other companies, so it's not impossible to think so.

  8. @Xeross - The cash transaction occurs outside of the game as does any related communication. Isk is paid for the item in-game as usual - enough to make it look like a reasonable transaction.

  9. Please don't shut down this blog, its this type of stuff that makes it so amazing. I learned about this from one of the guys in the blog pack and I'd just like to say... PLEASE STAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thank you :P

  10. Must echo Jason's above comment...
    This was one of my favorites and I went back a ways to find it just so I could point out one of the many GREAT posts you've made..
    Good to know I'm not the only one thinking along these lines...