Saturday, April 2, 2011

Creatures of Light and Darkness

A few weeks ago a corporation named Therapy left the alliance Wildly Inappropriate (WI) for R.A.G.E, another Northern Coalition (NC) alliance. In the process Therapy insisted that the technetium moons under its control exit Wildly Inappropriate with the corporation, removing a valuable asset from WI's control. Therapy cited inadequate compensation for stations it had built in Wildly Inappropriate space as a justification for holding onto the moons.

Needless to say, the loss of such high-value moon goo and the ISK that go with it did not sit well with the lads at Wildly Inappropriate. Therapy was given a week to hand over the moons. Failure to do so would result in military action by Wildly to re-appropriate the technetium moons. The week went by without resolution and with rhetoric heating between all parties involved. Unpleasant words were exchanged and all parties involved commenced with the saber rattling.

There was a lot of excitement out on the Forums and EveNews24 at these goings on. Spectators grabbed popcorn and beer, and took their seats to watch two NC alliances enter a dust-up over a scarce and valuable resource. With any luck, the thinking went, the drama would escalate into an all out Northern Coalition civil war; and likely put an end to the BFF crew. At the very least the internal rift would weaken the NC's defense of Geminate and allow the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) an opportunity to roll over the region. 

Then, as quickly as it began, the crisis was over. RAGE and WI officials working behind the scenes defused the situation, and the contested moons were passed over to WI. Spectators looking forward to seeing a large coalition tear itself to rags over a couple of moons were left disappointed as Wildly Inappropriate issued a conciliatory press release:
Positions were rethought and of course the moon has been transferred in a peaceful manner. WI would like to thank RAGE alliance for taking the time to make sound negotiations and as far as WIdot are concerned this issue is closed. We wish RAGE and Therapy. as allies, the best of luck going forward.

One unsatisfied poster on EveNews24 denounced the outcome in a single word: "Boring".

In that single word, the poster put his finger on a growing schism in the game of Eve. Despite the flexibility of the game, despite the vaunted sandbox which allows people to take whatever path they choose within the game, CCP is afraid that play-patterns not of their own design will occupy their shoot-em-up spaceship game. The flavor of the month in CCP-think seems to be that building is boring. Destruction makes for much better advertising.

The common thread that runs through the Deklein, Northern and Drone Russian coalitions, at present the three largest coalitions in nullsec, is internal stability. All three have developed a means of resolving internal conflict in a nonviolent manner and keeping inter-alliance frictions to a minimum. All three have developed distinct internal cultures that attract like-minded players and corporations. If you look to the large alliances that fell this last year and read the analysis about their collective fall, the common diagnosis is rigidity, internal instability full if dueling egos, conflicting agendas, petty grudges, e-peen waving and lots and lots of drama. In short organizational dysfunction.

Organizational dysfunction is exciting stuff. However it's...dysfunctional. By definition unstable, dysfunctional organizations tend to die off. Functional organizations tend to survive and thrive.  Boredom tends to make one's organization dysfunctional; idle hands being the devil's playthings and all. So if the nullsec population has increased while PvP in nullsec is falling off (so CCP claims), then the players in those big coalitions have to be doing something else with their in-game time. And lo, so they are.

Listen: Something amazing is happening in nullsec. Civilizations are being built.

Now, this turn of events has made a lot of players with a piratical bent unhappy. It's sort of like the plight of the outlaws, gunslingers and train robbers of the old American West. You're living a life of banditry, mayhem and abandon. It's a good life. A few settlers and sod-busters show up, and that's good too, cause terrorizing them and taking their stuff is pretty good times, and way less scary than getting shot at by your fellow outlaws, gunslingers and train-robbers.

However, as with any frontier, sooner or later the settlers arrive in numbers. They put up their buildings, their banks and their institutions. Next thing you know the whorehouse has been replaced by a schoolhouse and they get all snooty about bandits robbing their banks and shooting random citizens. Violence is channeled toward external threats - like outlaws, gunslingers and train-robbers. 

Cowboys like Rixx Javix want to ride into a nullsec town, shoot it up, bully the bartender, burn down the livery stable and rape the schoolmarm. Time was, naughty boys could get away with that. However, times have changed. If Rixx and his boyos ride into coalition country looking for a bit of mayhem, they often find the townspeople armed with repeating rifles and shooting at the bandits from the rooftops. Then the cavalry and the Texas Rangers arrive and the brutal curb stomping of Rixx and his merry band ensues apace.

If you're an aspiring gunslinger like Rixx Javix, this is just plain wrong. After all, how can they call it null security space if the only people who are insecure are the outlaws? Isn't nullsec space supposed to be less safe than lowsec space?

In a word, no. Nullsec means that the only security you have is the security you can enforce. That is pure sandbox.

PvP is a central component of Eve and always will be. It figures heavily in CCP's advertising campaigns and, to the mind of many players and some CCP game designers, is the only reason for playing the game. However, a while back, the lads at CCP were considering how to extend the topped-out market for Eve. One idea they dabbled with was attracting players to nullsec who would go to war when war is necessary. but preferred building to tearing down. The idea was touted in CCP's marketing video for Tyrannis, the Eve release that introduced Planetary Interaction.

That idea seems to have been detoured into CCP's dustbin. The building of empires, it turns out, requires stability, which makes for lousy marketing. Creatures of darkness have always sold better than creatures of light. Ask John Milton. However, some players seem to have had other ideas. They've come to nullsec in a rush and embraced the vision of a science fiction universe that allows more subtle complexities than any other game on the web. Rather than embrace and cultivate that audience, CCP seems minded to turn nullsec into World-of-Tanks in space.

If builders and destroyers cannot both ply their trades in the same space, simply altering the game to favor one style of play over the other is a poor business strategy for CCP as it, by definition, rejects part of their customer base. It is a false choice, and unwise at a time when they're trying to expand their player-base. Rather they have the ability to accommodate both styles of nullsec play. The beauty of digital space is that you can always make more. As Kirith Kodachi suggested, the time has come to expand nullsec. 

There should be room in nullsec for both creatures of light and creatures of darkness.


  1. Swee Jesus you are dead on. Folks go on and on abou the NC being a carebear NAPfest, but emergent behavior is what it is.

    If empire is the city, then the north is the burbs, and the rest of null and low is 'rural' space. In truth, wh space is the only frontier.

  2. 1. The NC isn't so much a sandcastle being protected anymore. It's now become a fortress and the barbaric hordes at the gates don't have their own Big Bertha.

    I'd like to see the builders get their piece of the game play, especially more reasons to build in the first place other than "Yay area's to kill pirates and mine on our own!". But at the moment, simply from a PVP point of view, the builders in the NC have the distinct advantage.

  3. Damn straight, we build this sandcastle with blood and sweat. No girls allowed!

  4. In a long series of excellent blog posts, this is the best you've ever written. Bravo!

    Interesting question, though: if the current trend continues, think this means that the bandits will be pushed into low-sec?

  5. Emergent behavior. 'nuff said.

  6. @Jester-

    What makes you think the bandits haven't already been pushed into lowsec and NPC space? Those areas have pretty much been defined as pirate space.

  7. Emergent behaviour is exactly it. One of the major reasons most of us play MMOs, I think, is because we want more than the straight jacket the typical game used to offer; go here, do this, go there, profit. Games like Oblivion became popular because to some extent you could wander right off the map. Eve is this, with tens of thousands of other people along for the ride. Get enough people in a place and you have a society, and societies, much to CCP's shagrin, have their own rules and follow their own patterns. The key word here is pattern. Given enough time, even the vaunted NC will collapse upon itself and give CCP the Visigoth inspired anarchy they seem to desire. When the collapse happens, I think the game will be better off if it happens because the actions of players and the pressures of societal models are the cause rather than constant dev prodding. The players can gather up the pieces and take the steps in the next direction.