Friday, April 30, 2010

The Amoral World of Diplomacy

In the amoral world of Diplomacy, [Loyalty, honesty, frankness, gratitude, chivalry, magnanimity] are the hallmarks of the born loser. If a fallen enemy reaches out a hand for assistance, the wise man lops it off. If a friend does you a good turn when you’re down, wait until he’s down, then beat him to death. If an ally asks for your help in planning the next season’s moves, give it freely and copiously, then do the reverse of what you agreed and let him take the counter-attack. Try to surround yourself with people who trust you, then let them down; find an ally who will gladly die for you and see that he does just that.
     -"The game of Diplomacy" by Richard Sharp 1978
For those who haven’t been following the diplomatic maneuverings in Providence, a little backstory:

When Against All Authorities (AAA) evicted Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA) from Providence nullsec and reseeded the space with hand-picked vassal alliances, they did a curious thing. They left Paxton Federation, a close CVA ally who fought alongside CVA during the Great Eviction, in place.

That raised a few eyebrows. Especially in CVA.

I mean, say you’re CVA. You’re being ignominiously defeated by AAA and driven from your 0.0 holdings. You’re locked in hopeless battle for nullsec survival, fighting shoulder to shoulder with your trusty Paxton Federation buddies. All for one! One for all! We stand or fall together! Rawr!

Then the enemy turns to Paxton and says: Look dude, my fight’s with CVA. Paxton, I kinda like. Paxton’s never crossed me and they’ve all got honest faces. So, I’m not going to take over Paxton’s systems and pass them out to my friends. Once the fighting’s over no hard feeling. Bygones, and all that.

Well. It’s one of those moments that test the bonds of trust.

Paxton quickly said it had nothing to do with AAA’s decision and was as surprised as anyone else. Paxton said that no secret deal had been struck under the table. No knife was poised behind CVA’s collective back. Paxton continued the losing fight as CVA’s trusted ally and the whole matter was chalked up as an attempt by the Machiavellian AAA diplomatic corps to sow mistrust between two loyal friends.

But when the war ended, the dust settled and CVA was relegated to low sec space, AAA was as good as its word. Paxton territories were not given away to friends of AAA. AAA even returned the station system D-GTMI to Paxton without evident preconditions. Kirith Kodachi and his Paxton brethren wondered openly what those clever lads at AAA might be up to with this unforeseen maneuver.

Now if you look at Paxton space, it is a line of systems running like a strand of pearls through the center of Providence. And there are two CVA systems (FX-7EM & MVCJ-E) that touch Paxton Space. If CVA decides to let sovereignty on these systems lapse for financial reasons (see “Friends Like These”), who better than Paxton to take them over. Sort of ‘Here. I’ll just hold these for you until you’re feeling better.’

And if CVA pilots longing for nullsec decide to move into Paxton corporations, is Paxton going to turn them away?

So. As CVA languished in lowsec, shedding pilots and plotting a comeback, Paxton appeared to thrive, growing stronger. And while the CVA/Paxton friendship remained solid, you have to think Paxton was relishing its new role as senior partner in the relationship. Its borders were secure and it had a good chance of expanding them if CVA dropped sov on systems bordering Paxton space. Paxton’s fortunes were looking up.

Alas, trouble loves company.

The rule among the alliances now occupying former CVA space is that they don’t mess with each other’s sovereignty. An alliance may not attempt to expand its sovereignty beyond the systems allocated to it by AAA without AAA permission. Period.

Last Monday, Chaos Theory temporarily lost sov in AY-24I due to some internal glitch. Paxton decided to have some fun at Chaos' expense and went in to shoot up the off-lined sovereignty mods and POS. CVA went along for the lulz. And CVA dropped a Territorial Claim Unit in Chaos Theory’s system.

For Paxton, it had to be a face-palm moment.

Supporting CVA would lose them AAA protection of their space. Extracting themselves from the situation would mean an end to the fiction of Paxton/CVA shared interests and the loss of Paxton’s only ally.

They chose (or were forced) to back CVA's play. Now the wolf, in the form of anyone with an interest in Paxton’s demise, is at the door. Unless Paxton’s diplomatic corps can talk AAA into calling off the dogs, the scouring of Providence has begun again – this time on Paxton’s nickel.

CVA had to know their action would be devastating for Paxton. So why do it?

I suspect that CVA took the opportunity to test Paxton’s intentions. In effect, it forced Paxton to either share CVA’s fate in exile, or renounce CVA openly. CVA leaders are known ideological purists – “with us or against us” types. In their minds Paxton’s need to observe AAA’s sovereignty rules in order to keep Paxton systems was in conflict with Paxton’s duty to help CVA recover their lost systems.

By breaking AAA sovereignty rules on Paxton’s behalf, CVA has broken any tacit agreements between AAA and Paxton. CVA has made sure Paxton will not profit from CVA’s losses, and that Paxton pilots are fully committed to the CVA cause.

CVA appears to have found an ally who will gladly die for them, and are in the process of making sure Paxton does just that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friends Like These

The kid is having fun in nullsec.

The kid's a young HellForge pilot who’s made the trip to Providence with me and is having his first experience in 0.0 space since joining the game. He’s having the time of his life. Most corporations in the Lucky Starbase Syndicate are friendly and professional. The kid’s been out ratting and hitting plexes with his new buddies. He’s been having so much pew-pew fun, he burned through half the ammo he brought with him from empire space in the course of an afternoon.

He was downright gleeful when he convoed me yesterday to request I bring BPOs for his preferred ammo type. “I’m never going back to high-sec,” he said.

Good stuff to see. It’s why we’re in new Eden.

The level of cooperation among the alliance corporations is very good. We’re all of us in the same boat – everybody’s made an investment of one sort or another in the move to Providence. Whether it’s a small operators like HellForge or big 100+ pilot corporations with deep pockets, we’ve all put ourselves out on the line. The Lucky corporations seem to recognize we’re invested in each other’s success. After all, this is nullsec and there’s a lot of black hats out there.

Black hats like Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA).

They’ve been haunting the borders of Providence nullsec ever since being evicted by Against All Authorities (AAA). CVA's been making sorties into R3-K7K, a nullsec entry point system held by Systematic-Chaos, but I’ve yet to hear of any major fleet actions. I expect CVA is recovering from the capital fleet losses they took while losing Providence. I expect the light incursions into R3 are harassing actions to keep Systematic-Chaos off balance. Meanwhile, if CVA plans on getting back into the nullsec game, they’ll be building up for a capital fleet strike.

But they have to make their play soon. Time is not on their side.

First of all, time is money.

CVA still holds twelve systems in nullsec. Those are, however, scattered systems. They are islands deep in enemy territory, occupied by Against All Authorities' vassals. As such, they return no income to CVA. Meanwhile, CVA must pay all the sovereignty costs for those twelve systems. That rips big gobbets of money from CVA’s reserves every month – money that can’t be used to build capital ships to use in taking back lost systems. By leaving these systems in CVA hands, AAA has tied a very large financial millstone around CVA’s collective neck.

You’d think letting the systems go would be a no-brainer for CVA. Cut them loose and invest the money in the ships needed to engineer a come-back. But, as has been pointed out, CVA is a role-playing alliance. Providence systems are holy ground. And that’s got to be hard for CVA’s leadership to let go of.

Secondly, time in exile is bad for morale

The longer CVA plays the role of low-sec refugee from null-space, the more corps and pilots they’re going to shed. CVA corporations are holding the line at twenty-five. However, the cracks begin to show when you look at the pilot count.

CVA has shed roughly 350 – 400 pilots since January, easily a quarter of their pre-eviction force.

Now they’ve still got a healthy membership with 1,067 pilots on the roster, however, they continue to bleed pilots, albeit slowly. CVA’s got to staunch that trickle of departing pilots before it turns into a steady stream.

Like the kid, CVA's pilots were having fun in nullsec. Like the kid, they don’t want to leave nullsec. And if CVA doesn’t show them a little nullsec love soon, they’re going to find someone else who can. 'Cause CVA isn’t the only Amarr roleplayer alliance in Providence.

Has anybody else noticed that Paxton’s pilot numbers are ticking up at about the same rate CVA’s are ticking down these last few weeks?

Hmmm. More on that next time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The High Road to Providence

The road to Providence is a long one from my usual haunts. I’m on a survey trip, and have wended my merry way from Gallente empire space, to Amarr lowsec and thence into nullsec Providence.

It’s a fair slog. Note to self: Don’t forget to install jump clones.

Providence has a decided Amarr flavor. I’m neither here nor there on the Amarri. Pretty ships, the clothing drapes well, but it’s hard to find a decent bar. They could do with a little less chanting. Nobody’s perfect.

CVA (Curatores Veritatis Alliance) are Amarri role players, which means they take the whole ethnic purity and smite the infidel thing pretty seriously. I’m an infidel in their eyes, so we’re already off on the wrong foot. Now I’m going down to occupy space from which they’ve been lately evicted. Space which, by the way, they view as Amarri space; and their holy duty to bring back into the greater Amarr empire.  

I don’t expect they’ll be having me over for the Empress’ birthday any time soon.

Our application to the Providence alliance has been accepted and we’re in the requisite waiting period. Meanwhile I’ve been plying the pipelines in nullsec, laying down safe spots, counting noses and getting a sense of who’s who. Beyond intel gathering, there are moon scans to be done and asteroid belts to assess. Overtures need to be made to the CEOs of the alliance’s other member corporations; introducing myself, assessing their relative strengths, and laying the groundwork for future cooperative ventures.

Plans are in motion back at HellForge central. Needful things are being packed for transport. So I need to find out what can be gotten on the local markets, what can be gotten from our allies, and what has to be shipped in from high-sec. Of course I’ll also be looking for critical gaps in the market that HellForge can fill, which will be good for local buyers and profitable for us.

Busy times, but then most beginnings are.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EVE and the X by X Genetic Succession Unit

Controversy is CrazyKinux’s bread and butter.

Eve Blog Banter, a blogging challenge run once a month by CK, invites EVE bloggers to hold forth for a week on a common topic. Obviously, a topic that roils the waters of EVE blogdom will generate more blogs, more buzz, and more hits on CK’s site.

And nothing roils the waters like sex; this month’s topic:

"What could CCP Games do to attract and maintain a higher percentage of women to the game. Will Incarna do the trick? Can anything else be done in the mean time? Can we the players do our part to share the game we love with our counterparts, with our sisters or daughters, with the Ladies in our lives? What could be added to the game to make it more attractive to them? Should anything be changed? Is the game at fault, or its player base to blame?"

The central question here is an eternal one: What do women want?

Like Shae Tiann, my insight into the female psyche is limited. Hey, I can’t even figure out why it’s so important to my spousal unit that I not clip my toenails in bed.

I suspect my fellow EVE capsuleers are no better equipped.

I mean, they play with cartoon spaceships for heaven’s sake. Their best friends are often other men who play with cartoon space ships. Many are socially challenged, and most would cheerfully give away critical portions of their anatomy in order to get their wife or girlfriend to share their passion for playing with cartoon spaceships.

Not fertile ground for deep insight where women are concerned.

Mynxee and a few of EVE’s female capsuleers have weighed in as well. But I take their input with a grain of salt. After all, they’ve self-selected into EVE. In the parlance of social scientists, they are statistical outliers. Sorry ladies, having drunk the EVE Kool-aid, by definition you can’t speak for women who won’t touch the stuff.

So, I decided to consult with a subject matter expert.

Happily I have direct access to a woman with a profound knowledge of the of the Science Fiction/Fantasy oeuvre. She plays computer games on multiple platforms, knows her way around MMORPGs and, at the same time, has never, ever logged onto EVE. She is an intelligent, thoughtful writer, which is to be expected. After all, she is my x by x genetic succession unit (aka, my daughter).

CCP, behold your target market:
We don't like shooters. We hate shooters that also involve a craft of some kind, be it of the air or space or land variety.

While we can get into tactics, we don't like ship or contingent tactics. We prefer individuals.

We must have a customizable avatar. MUST.

We like to see a story unfold, or to create a story. Not a docket of actions, an actual story.

Wordplay! Banter!

Overall, it's a matter of types of escapism. Ladies generally don't fantasize about being successful business leaders or war heroes. And when they do, it's often wrapped up in stuff other than the actual business deals or raids or whatever.

Stuff like relationships, attractiveness, popularity, are often big drivers for lady gamers. That's why a simple game like Harvest Moon works so well for both genders - you get the business tactics of harvesting and mining and stuff, wrapped up in the gradual (if extremely simplistic) relationship game, culminating in having lots of stuff, a spouse, some kids, and high status.

Alternatively, you have Katamari, which takes an absurdist approach to video gaming, where everything is interesting to look at but the goals and the game itself are so silly that they circumvent gender roles.

Or very alternatively, you can look at something like Portal, where the brilliant game concept is topped only by the psychological/atmospheric masterstroke of listening to an insane computer the entire time, while being otherwise entirely isolated and threatened and first-personed so hard as to practically give the player PTSD. :)

All of which is great, but I don't know how it would apply to EVE. I mean from what I understand, it's limited by the very scope that makes it so interesting to people.
So it seems EVE does have what women want. EVE is, in many senses, a relationship game. Success or failure is often dictated by how well you play with others, who you can count on, and who can count on you. An enemy who respects you is often more valuable than a friend who doesn’t. Corporations and alliances rise and fall as much on the strength of personalities as they do on the outcome of fleet battles.

However, if you look at the way EVE is marketed, the qualities of the game many women would enjoy (social interaction, group dynamics, open storylines and asset building) are underplayed in favor of flashy videos that emphasize play factors primarily of interest to men (fleets of spaceships blowing each other to flinders).

More women in EVE? Easy.

Advertise. Go to where women who play games are and tell them what EVE has that they might like. Build some tutorials that focus on those aspects of the game.

And for god’s sake, give the Avatars a decent wardrobe function!

The blog banter rages on at:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Prince of Serendip

As I said elsewhere, it's an ill wind that blows no one good. I'm taking my own advice and buying in a down market.

Just when I resolved to head for null sec, CVA gets pushed out of Providence, leaving a big empty space where their industrial interests used to be. The new owners have put up "for rent" signs, and some of the offers are genuine bargains.

So, instead of slogging around in Syndicate, kicking, gouging and sweating blood to carve out a niche for HellForge. in null sec, a door has opened wide offering just what I wanted.

Serendipity, my friends. A happy accident.

HellForge. is, by the way, my very tiny corporation. Normally we don't generate the kind of isk needed to rent a null sec constellation. But, the rates are very reasonable and, as a member of an alliance with a toe-hold in 0.0 space, I should be able to recruit other small operators like myself who want a piece of the action.

As Bogart said in Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Providence hens come home to roost

Well it's happened. As predicted, CVA (Curatores Veritatis Alliance)has lost its holdings in Providence to AAA (Against All Authorities) and their new vassal alliances that are taking possession of CVA's lost systems at AAA's behest.

As you read in the forums, AAA and it's new friends are all hugs and high-fives for the time being. Meanwhile, the remains of CVA seethes in the low sec locker rooms.

This is where things get interesting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Buying in a down market

Things are getting interesting in the Providence region.

Up to now it's been standard stuff. Push, shove, ships go ka-boom. Yadda, yadda. (Interstellar Correspondents gives a nice write up of the Providence dust up through mid-February (Parts one, two, three and four) if you're behind on the news)

But something has changed. And, unless I miss my guess, we're in for a special, evolutionary Eve moment.

Seems Against All Authorities (AAA)is recruiting a bunch of smallish player alliances to take over systems currently held by AAA's neighbor, CVA (Curatores Veritatis Alliance). AAA provides muscle to push CVA from the system. AAA's client alliance takes sovereignty.

It's an interesting idea:

In essence, AAA is creating a patchwork of null-space kingdoms. None are large enough to threaten AAA, and all are beholden to AAA. If you know your European history, it's sort of like the dozens of little kingdoms and principalities that made up the Holy Roman Empire just prior to German unification - With AAA cast in the role of the Hapsburgs.

Genius, at least in the short term.

Mind, history is full of vassals who got a bad case of ambition and ended up putting a shiv into their liege lord's back. But hey, that's tomorrow. For now, it's all hugs and cuddle-fluff in Providence.

Unless you're CVA.

CVA is rapidly being eaten up in small bites. There are reports of CVA pilots trying to get property out of fallen systems with mixed success. That suggests CVA isn't expecting to take back those systems any time soon. Speculation is CVA will be gone from Providence entirely before too much longer.

Where CVA's component corporations will go after that remains to be seen. If your home's in low sec space near Providence, you'll likely see them rummaging through your garbage cans like an unwelcome family of raccoons while they regroup in your back yard.

But, as they say, it's an ill wind that blows no-one good. CVA's loss may be your gain. The smart alliances will try to pick off one or two of CVA's better endowed corporations before things go completely turtle. And CVA players heavily invested in resources stuck in Providence may be willing to sell them off at fire sale prices in order to re-coup some of their losses.

If you've got the money, buying in a down market is sweet. And markets don't get downer than CVA's at the moment.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Jack of all trades

When does it begin?

Two years and change after my arrival in New Eden. That's when. This morning, to be precise. 10:00 hours Eve time

How does it begin?

With a wake-up call.

I've fought fleet actions in Fountain and run with small gangs in Black Rise. I've flown nullsec, lowsec and wormhole space. However, most of my days in Eve have been spent running solo. And in New Eden, that restricts your options. Nobody has your back and there's nobody on your wing. You get in a scrape, you get yourself out. Mind, the hours are my own. I play in my own time and on my own terms. No politics. No emo.

It's simple. Dangerous too.

Solo PVP is a rich pilot's game, because to be successful you need to be flying the best. Best ship. Best fitting. The best costs a lot, and it's an iron clad guarantee you're going to lose that pricey hardware you're flying. A rich pilot can shrug it off. Siigari Kitawa is rich. He's lost something on the order of eleven tech 3 Proteus - all faction fitted up to the overhead. For those that don't know, that's an awful lot of isk. Siigy takes the losses and laughs.

Me, I'm not rich.

So I find my way in new Eden as best I can. I PVP when I find friends I can trust. The rest of the time I mine, I mission, I build, I trade and I research. Jack of all trades, that's me.

I just finished up a stint with HellFleet, who are as fine a bunch of cads and scoundrels as you'll fly with. Trouble is, they're pirates. And not just your helling-around shooting things up for the lulz delinquent types. HellFleet's the genuine pirate article. They plot, they plan, they lift, heist and ransom. If it ain't nailed down, they'll steal it. If it is nailed down, they'll pry it up off the deck and then steal it. Hellfleet has a roguish style, a certain elan. They're a fun crew to be around when they aren't taking your stuff, and very professional about it when they are.

But I'm not a pirate. Just not wired that way. Don't get me wrong, if I'm supporting NBSI in low or null sec, you'd better be blue. If you're on the other side during a war, I'll hunt you down. You cross me and I'll go after you. Ditto if you attack my friends or my stuff. I hold a grudge and I have a long memory. But I'm not the sort to jump some guy going his own way 'cause I covet his stuff - or just for lulz (see Hulkageddon). Not that I haven't a talent for piracy; I'm just not, as they say, that guy.

So, about two months back I bade Mynxee and HellFleet farewell, and went my way.

10:00 this morning, I run into a week-old player who's trying to mine in high sec with an Imcus. I gave him some advice and a few isk to buy an Atron and send him off to finish the industrial training mission set.

It made me think how far I've come in those two years in change. It reminded me how much I miss the mayhem (if not the thievery) of running with trouble. I've spent a good bit of time learning the game. Time to start playing.

Tomorrow, I head for null-sec again.