Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Azure Sea

As I mentioned a few entries ago, my short term plans included a beach. Ol' Mord's planet-side, looking out over an azure sea with distant islands on the horizon. The orbital up-link here is a bit spotty, but I'm finally able to post a place holder.

For those of you who aren't aware, I've posted an article at Eve-Tribune on the importance of public relations and the social network in New Eden. Ignore the last paragraph in brackets. That's Finn, the editor tacking his two cents onto the end of my column. Hellofa guy, Finn, and smart as they come. Just a bit wanting in the courtesy department.

When I get back in a few days I'll be posting something for the current blog banter, a piece on the current goings-on in CVA (you knew I couldn't let that lie), and Part Two on renting in nullsec.

Fly safe 'til I get back.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Renter's Guide to Nullsec: Part 1

The entry costs to the nullsec sovereignty game are quite high. Taking and holding of space requires skills, ships, infrastructure and money that most highsec and lowsec corporations and alliances with nullsec ambitions don't have.  Further, as I mentioned last month in The Initiative at Bay, sovereignty warfare is an acquired taste.  Taking and holding space is the stuff of classic space opera in concept, but in reality it can be hard, frustrating work and is not for everybody. 

Nonetheless, nullsec's siren song of adventure and untold riches calls to many high and lowsec corporations who are not, as yet, the stuff of which galactic overlords are made. Fortunately for them, conquest is not the only road to nullsec. With the coming of Dominion sovereignty rules, holding nullsec space became a cash intensive business. Alliances must pay a sovereignty fee for each system over which they claim ownership. The more upgrades a system has in place, the higher the monthly sovereignty fee. This means in order to hold space, a nullsec alliance must have a cash flow.

This need for cash has created a robust nullsec rental market. For most alliances, renting some of their sovereign systems is an important source of income. For the aspiring nullsec denizen, renting space allows their corporation to get their foot in the door and build a network of nullsec contacts without as much up-front commitment. This is a particularly attractive option for industrial corporations who want to work in nullsec, but are not steely-eyed PvPers.

Rental Alliances:

Many nullsec alliances operate separate alliances to facilitate the renting of their space. This allows the sov holding alliance (or landlord alliance) to manage their renters using Eve's alliance construct while keeping their renters outside of the sov holding alliance's organization proper.

There are two major reasons for segregating renters like this. First of all, as the purpose of renting is income generation, the bar for adding a corporation to the renter alliance is usually lower than it is for entering the alliance proper. Keeping renters in a separate alliance lowers the chance of a spy getting access to the sov-holding alliance's communication channels. Further, many sov holding alliances want to avoid "carebear rot". This is a phenomenon much dreaded by nullsec alliances in which too many industrial players, whose needs and concerns are often in conflict with their PvP-oriented brethren, are admitted directly to the sov-holding alliance, causing a softening of the alliance's PvP orientation and focus.

There are some nullsec alliances that will admit renting alliances independent of their own renters alliance but most first-time renters end up joining a renters alliance.

Know Your Needs and Shop Around:

Do your homework. Do not jump into bed with the first renter's alliance that crooks a finger at you. As I said, this is a rental market and should be approached as one. This means you should be doing some comparison shopping. You'll find that there's a lot of variation in the market both in terms of rents, how rents are calculated, service fees and activity restrictions.

If you are a corporation with industrial interests you'll want to rent in a less trafficked part of nullsec where you can ply your trade without being constantly interrupted by raiding parties and roaming gangs with ganking on their minds. On the other hand, if you're an aspiring PvP corporation you'll want to be near the action. A quiet backwater system is going to be a poor fit for you. If ratting will be your primary means of earning income, you'll want to avoid regions with low-value pirates and anomalies. However, if mining or industry is your primary aim, you might be able to get a deal on such a system which will have less appeal for ratters and PvPers.  


Rents from one renter alliance to the next can vary wildly. Landlord alliances are typically run by PvPers with limited time or patience for business. They tend to base rents and fees on what they want or need to earn off systems rather than what the market will bear. As a rule, they don't keep tabs on market prices. Consequently, rents from one nullsec alliance to the next can seem almost arbitrary at times.

For example, when I wrote Galactic Landlords back in October, one alliance's rent scheme for drone region systems ran something like this:

- Base rental for all systems is 300 million ISK per week
- For each level of sovereignty a system holds, add an additional 100 million ISK per week "sovereignty tax'

This translated to a monthly rent of 1.6 billion for the least profitable Sov 1 system in the drone regions. A Sov 5 system there would have run you 3.2 billion per month.

On the other hand, I have encountered much more reasonable rents, running in the 500 million to a billion ISK per month for systems in relatively quiet parts of nullsec. I've seen rents as low as 200 million per month.

The point is that there is a lot of range in nullsec rents and you have to approach your nullsec enterprise as an entrepreneur. As many rental alliance reps will tell you when your eyes pop out at their monthly rates, there's no reason a good corporation can't make enough ISK in a good system to cover that rent.

The question is, however, not how much rent you can afford to pay, but what rent will optimize your profit margin. Your goal is to move as quickly as possible past the break even point and transition from making ISK to pay your landlord to making ISK to pay yourselves.    

Service Fees and Activity Restrictions:

In addition to rents, many rental alliances charge for services like ore refining, manufacturing and research/copy slots well over and above what you're accustomed to in high and lowsec NPC stations. Taxes on Jump Bridge use, monthly fees for POS anchoring and docking fees are less usual, but not unheard of. Ask about them up front, and be sure to keep them in mind when estimating your costs.

In addition to higher costs, a rental alliance may impose restrictions on what activities you may do. They may restrict the deployment of POS refineries, labs and manufacturing facilities in order to ensure traffic for their own fee generating station facilities. They may forbid the export of high-value minerals or refined ores in order to promote local refining and manufacture. The bottom line is that you want to know this before you've ponied up your rent and gone to the expense and trouble of moving your corporation out into in the lawless deep.

Understand What You're Getting:

Get a clear understanding of what resources you have exclusive access to in systems you're renting. If you're paying a premium for a high-end system, you'll want to be sure that it's not open season for all the neighbors on your rich ores and anomalies.

Likewise, understand how system improvements are handled. If you go to the cost and trouble of installing and iHub, building a station or otherwise improving the value of the landlord's real estate, you'll want to know how that affects your rental agreement and what your rights are viz the aforementioned improvements.

Understand your home defense obligations. Most sov-holding alliances provide protection only in the event of a serious sovereignty challenge or a sovereignty dispute among renting corporations. Occasionally renters participate in landlord calls-to-arms, pick-up gate camps or fleet operations. However, it is rarely required for renters and, due to the aforementioned security risks coupled with landlord contempt for the quality of renter PvP, some alliances actively discourage the practice.

You may be required to participate in rental alliance home defense operations, or organize a posse with the neighbors to trap some pesky roamers looking for easy ganks. But, unless you're an aspiring PvP corporation, hunkering down and avoiding giving up easy kills is the common response to random incursions.


Above all, don't be afraid to negotiate, particularly if you bring skills or assets of value to the table. The worst thing the landlord can do is say 'no'. OK, technically that's not true. The worst thing they can due usually involves your corpse floating in the vacuum of space. On the bright side, in that case you wake up in your clone vat knowing said landlord is not someone with whom you care to do business.

Seriously though, some rental alliance reps may get impatient or start yawning, or lack the power to cut you a special deal. However, this is business and you have to look out for your best interests. It's not out of line to ask the representative if he can match a deal offered by another rental alliance. Again, do your homework. The more you know about going rates and agreements among rental alliances, the better armed you'll be for this discussion. Don't whine, get snotty or try to strong arm the rental alliance's rep. Be polite. Be professional.

Ask Around:

As you narrow down your options, make a point of contacting corporations in the renter alliances you're considering and getting their take on the landlord and life in the alliance space. If a landlord treats his tenants badly, reneges on agreements, has misrepresented his policies, or is outright hiding something, this is a good way to find out up front. Likewise, if you find everybody's raving about the landlord and the renter alliance is one big happy family, you might consider paying higher rents in order to to get in on that situation. 

Data, Data, Data: 

Alas, to my knowledge, no one maintains a table of renter alliances rents and terms, or ratings of landlords. So there's no central clearing house of information to guide renters new to nullsec, or existing renters looking to improve their circumstances. It would be an interesting project and the nullsec rent market is one that would benefit from the competition that sort of information sharing and transparency would generate. If one of you are inclined to take up that challenge, it's an effort that would likely get a lot of attention and appreciation from the Eve community. Do let me know if you take that project on or know someone who already has.

Until such a database comes along, doing the research will be up to the individual renter. It's a lot of work, but it'll go a long way toward saving you money, pain and sorrow in the long run. It's the sort of due diligence you owe your corporate buddies if you're going to lead them down the road to nullsec.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unanticipated Macro Level Outcomes

While my last post centered on CCP Greyscale's version of a nullsec utopia (petty kingdoms at constant war, populations clustered around strategic strong points, scarce resources, transport and trade as high cost, high risk activities and high barriers to cooperative action) much of the reaction to the posting focused in on logistics in the form of jump bridges and jump freighters.

And that's not surprising given Grayscale's expressed opinion that "all this [logistics] stuff" has made players lives too easy. I've held forth elsewhere on the outright elimination of jump bridges without a profound corresponding nerf to supercapital ships. However, Greyscale should also bear in mind that CCP aggressively pushed the Jump Freighter at an Eve community whose initial reception to the ship was tepid at best. A little bit of background is called for on that subject.

The Jump Freighter was first introduced to New Eden in the November 2007 Trinity expansion. According to CCP Nozh,  Jump Freighters were developed by CCP to be "the ultimate low security and 0.0 transport ships".  However, a slight snag was discovered soon after their initial release.

Nobody wanted one.

The original Jump Freighters were a bit faster and more agile than conventional t1 freighters and had 20% more hit points in each of the hull, armor and shield categories. However, while able to use both jump drives and star gates, the original Jump Freighter had only 30% of its t1 cousin's cargo capacity. Not so bad, you say. Certainly better than trying to schlep that much freight across low/null sec via many industrial or a transport runs.

Trouble is, those crazy kids in the Eve sandbox had already come up with workarounds for the low/null sec schlepping problem. By the of the Trinity release, players were already using cargo fitted dreadnoughts and Rorquals for moving large volumes of freight. Such ships were nearly as good at jump haulage as the new Jump Freighter, were cost competitive, and could be re-tasked for their original purpose when not doing freight work - a very important consideration given capital ship costs. Despite the Jump Freighter's ability to use star gates and enter high sec, which the other capitals could not, the cost/benefit trade offs weren't enough to make Joe Capsuleer shell out the big pile of ISK required to buy one.

Frustrated by market forces, CCP  could have simply cut bait on the Jump Freighter; leaving it as it was, or retiring the ship altogether. Instead, the CCP designers (who tend toward escalating commitment - see Incarna) doubled down. They buffed the Jump Freighter with abandon to increase demand by giving it a competitive advantage over its jump-capable competition. They upped the Jump Freighter's cargo capacity by 25%, made it more agile, survivable and fuel efficient than its first iteration. They boosted Jump Freighter production by giving their blueprints a maximum of ten production runs. I don't think they worried overly about the impact of these improvements on the game. After all, this was just a freighter, not a combat ship.

The buff worked like a charm. A bit more than three years later, the Jump Freighter is standard equipment for low and null security operations. It has profoundly changed the economies of low and nullsec - as CCP should have known it would.

Now they're unhappy with it. 

CCP has a tendency to introduce changes without thinking through their long term ramifications. The evolution of the Jump Freighter is a case in point. For all his talk of "desirable macro level outcomes" and "the higher systemic view", CCP Greyscale doesn't seem to be putting much thought or serious research into how his proposed changes would impact Eve's economy, politics and game play. He sees only the input factors and outcomes he wants to see, forgetting that Eve is a sandbox where even modest changes, like a Jump Freighter, will be seized on by players and change the game in ways the designer never intended. 

At the bottom of CCP Nozh's post there's a very interesting statement:
Of course [Jump Freighters] are still a very role specific and expensive ship [that] should be considered a tool for corporations and alliances rather than individual players.
In other words, CCP assumed at the time that Jump Freighters were such a big ticket item that they would be out of the reach of the individual player. Of course we all know there are any number of individual players with Jump Freighters in their garage today. Make a ship attractive enough and those pesky players will find a way to afford it.

Likewise combat-oriented capital ships were supposed to be big ticket items exceedingly hard for individual players to afford - supercapitals even more so. However, by making capitals a must-have ship for null and lowsec and turning supercapitals into an "I Win" button unless countered by a larger force of supercapitals, CCP has turned the market for these ships white-hot. Much of nullsec's production capacity is focused on them as corporations, alliances and coalitions work feverishly to increase the number of supercapital pilots and ships at their disposal.

The proliferation of supercapitals is so out of control that they are commonly used for ratting by PvE players. Titans, once rare enough that the number of them in game were actively tracked, have become commonplace. Where the loss of a capital ship used to be a profound hardship, they are now considered a disposable item and their loss only causes comment when it occurs in large numbers.

It is interesting that when CCP Greyscale speaks of "desirable macro level outcomes" and "the higher systemic view" he does so almost exclusively in terms of Jump Freighters and Jump Bridges. While these have had an impact on the game at the systemic level and adjustments may be warranted, their impact has been neither as sudden nor as profound as that of supercapitals, which have single-handedly reshaped the economy and political landscape of nullsec. Still, Greyscale is profoundly tentative when it comes to more than minor tweaks on those ships. This blind spot in his higher higher systemic view of Eve is troublesome. It is a leading indicator of other such blots on CCP's field of vision; each a guaranteed driver of unanticipated macro level outcomes.

Design driven by wishful thinking does not end well in the Eve sandbox.  

By now one would think that CCP's designers would be aware that there's been an acceleration of unintended consequences resulting from changes introduced over the last few years. It has not, by all appearances, made them more cautious. If anything, its made them impatient and prone toward "macro-level" changes without stopping to consider how the human factor in the Eve sandbox will play hob with their intentions and planned outcomes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

CCP Greyscale's Vision

The harder we can make logistics, the better for the game viewed as an abstract system. It would be much better for the game if we got rid of freighters, but we have to balance what is good for the game at a higher systemic level with making the player's lives a living hell. Forcing people to do convoys with lots of industrials would, from a higher level systemic view, be awesome. But for the individual players, it would suck balls.

[CCP has] gone [too far] in the direction of making players lives easy – we've got jump freighters and jump bridges and all this [stuff] – and I think there is an agreement here [at CCP] that we want to pull back from that. We would like to pull back as far as we can get away with. But how far can we go?” The underlying point is the need to get a balance between avoiding frustration and getting desirable macro-scale outcomes.

--CCP Greyscale - CSM Minutes, December 2010

Desirable macro-scale outcomes.

It's one of the things that CCP holds fairly tight to the vest. Greyscale spends a lot of time talking in terms of what is good for "the game at an abstract level", or "a higher level systemic view". "Desirable macro scale outcomes" sounds quite impressive. What it actually means, however, is "Play the game we think you should play, not the game you want to play."

If you sort through Greyscale's comments in the CSM minutes, you get hints of what he thinks an "awesome" nullsec would look like.

Alliances would be very small from a geographic standpoint. Dominion has made a good start on the alliance reduction program in its first year and I think we'll see further reductions in the second year. The fall of some larger territorial alliances such as Atlas, IT Alliance and Against All Authorities has resulted in a redistribution of their former space, largely into smaller parcels. The Initiative attempted to recreate -A-'s expansive empire and failed primarily because it was more space than they could control. The Drone Russian Federation has quietly scooped up large swaths of territory lost by those alliances. Given their current PvP population, I'd say they're occupying more space than they can hold should they be attacked on multiple fronts. 

What the optimal size of an alliance is remains to be seen. There's a lot of experimentation going on, however CCP seems too impatient to let that play out. Likely because of the rise of the coalition.

No matter how small alliances get, as long as they can band together effectively to protect their collective interests, Greyscale and company are going to be unhappy. They appear to favor small, pocket kingdoms incessantly fighting over scarce resources to moderate-sized alliances collaborating in a manner that supports industry, trade and a common defense.

Greyscale wants logistics to be hard. Really hard. So in addition to small kingdoms at constant war with each other, his desirable macro scale outcomes involve making trade in nullsec a cost and labor intensive activity, fraught with risk.

Now. Petty kingdoms at constant war. Populations clustered around strategic strong points.Scarce resources. Transport and trade as high cost, high risk activities. High barriers to cooperative action.

Sounds like Europe around 400 - 500 CE. In effect, CCP Greyscale's nullsec wonderland is a highly dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic society that has suffered a major economic collapse. Cool to read about. Not a fun place to live unless you're the local strong man pissing all over the peasants. And even then....

As Dr. Eyjólfur might be able to explain to his game designer, robust economies require institutions that keep the means of production and transportation secure. CCP did not provide those institutions to nullsec, so the players have evolved them over time. Despite the insecure nature of nullsec, a player can move with relative safety within the boundaries of space with which his alliance has a non-aggression pact. Dangers are there, but the coalition works together to minimize them. This makes some nullsec coalitions a good place to do business. In fact an ongoing concern with lowsec is the tendency of non-PvP players to leap over lowsec, where space is nominally less dangerous but harder to control, directly to nullsec.

Take away the ability of nullsec players to provide those institutions and the producers and traders will leave nullsec for places where they can ply their trades. This is what happens when businesses can no longer operate in safety. Some brave souls will remain as high risk can result in high profits, however the local economies will become largely non-functional.

It would certainly be awesome from a systemic level if Iceland had to go back to importing goods from off-shore using Viking era Knarr ships. Especially if we forced them to sail through various choke points heavily populated by pirates. Mind, it would totally "suck balls" for people living in Iceland. But then, they chose to live out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

If someone in the EU suggested that scenario were a desirable macro-scale outcome, I'm sure a few folk in Reykjavik might object. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fiddler's Return

There are opportunity costs to writing.  Time spent writing a story, or a blog or even a tweet can't be spent on another project. Despite a number of dedicated readers who are all generous with their feedback, one sometimes sits on this side of the blogging software and wonders if what you're writing matters, or if your words disappear into the digital abyss once they've passed through that small circle of friends. All the while, other projects beckon.

In deciding to close up Fiddler's Edge, a key consideration was whether or not the blog delivered - whether it stood out in what is, after all, a field crowded with talent. I'm aware, as I've mentioned elsewhere, that Fiddler's Edge is a bit of an outlier when it comes to blogs - high tea in a world of digital rave parties. As Parity Bit suggested in a recent post, I was very much of two minds with regard to continuing The Edge, and used Crazy's selection process as a tie-breaker. And I have to apologize to Crazy (with a C) if disclosing that has caused him any grief. I couldn't do what he does so well and have a lot of respect for his contributions to the Eve player community. 

I expected Fiddler's Edge to quickly sink without much of a trace, so the reader response caught me by surprise. Then, this morning I received an email from CK, mirroring his very generous blog post

You all have me, as they say, at a disadvantage.

So, I'll hunt down the key and reopen the offices at the Fiddler's Edge think tank. Jenny has, alas, moved on, but you'll be hearing from her by way of her larger stage. Posts will likely be less frequent as I owe time to those other projects I've mentioned and Fiddler's Edge will eventually merge with the larger web site I described. However, I'll keep door open, the lights on and do my best to justify your kind support.

Once more, with feeling: Fiat lux.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Looking back over the last year of writing about New Eden, I thought I'd revisit a few of the posts on Fiddler's Edge that stand out over time.

In some cases, they are of special interest to the Eve community and are referenced well past their original publication date. The Carebears Who Killed Atlas is one of those. Combining the dramatic collapse of a storied alliance with insights regarding greed and corruption, it continues to draw hits, even today, five months after its original publication date.

Tickling the Dragon's Tail is a much younger piece, but has rapidly risen to the number two spot on the overall Fiddler's Edge hit chart. It was a tidy piece of analysis that predicted the revelations of hollowing-out and internal conflicts that were occurring within IT Alliance.

Player churn over the Incarna upgrades continue to roil the waters of New Eden, even as they are released. That accounts in large part for the ongoing popularity of Fashonista, the first and only fiction post at The Edge. The story introduced Aldo, fashion rock star. It also anticipated fashion upgraded strategic cruisers with 10,000 m3 walk-in closets, motorized hanger rail systems and on-board dry-cleaning. Totally lock and load, baby.

 Noblesse Oblige, Galactic Settlers and Galactic Landlords have long tails as well, garnering hits well after their publication dates. Taken together they serve as a primer on key nullsec relationships between landlord and renter, and lord and vassal. They also reinforce the importance of the personal relationship in nullsec alliances - a key and oft overlooked driver of events in New Eden.

Finally, there are two posts that deserve mention because they're personal favorites.

Vox Populi was a reflection on epic player rage that followed the announcement that CCP would be providing minimal upgrades to the ships-in-space part of Eve in order to focus on Dust 514 and Incarna. It was fun to write and the only Fiddler's Edge post that garnered a comment from Crazy Kinux.

Finally, there's The Amoral World of Diplomacy. An early piece that events have long since passed by, it no longer receives many hits. However, this was the post where Fiddler's Edge found its purpose and its voice, and I look back on it with special affection. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


First of all, thanks to all the regular readers of The Edge. Your kind words and encouragement over the span of Fiddler's Edge has made the work worthwhile.

As I wrote last October, in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics, I began writing about nullsec as a courtesy to some friends in Providence who were having trouble filtering forum spam in order to get timely news and analysis viz ongoing hostilities. Since then, a lot of options have emerged that fill that need, including Hallan Turrek's Eve News Now, the newly revived Eve-Tribune, a wealth of Eve Online podcasts, thoughtful bloggers like the sage Kirith Kodachi and, of course, Eve News 24.

In attempting to carve out a place for Fiddler's Edge in the Eve Blogosphere, I've focused on in-depth content delivered at least twice a week, which takes a good bit of time and research (not to mention a lot of hand-wringing) to write. The readers of Fiddler's Edge have rewarded that time and effort by bumping this site to over 6,000 page hits per month.  Thanks to all - you're the best - and the reason my work days usually start at 5:00 AM .

Having said all that, I've a number of other writing projects that have been on the back-burners while Fiddler's Edge was in flight (more on those in a moment). I've been thinking this last month or so that it might be time to take The Edge off the stove and put other efforts on high boil. Frankly, I was a bit torn about it.

So I decided to let Krazy Kinux make the call for me.

As most of you know, his Krazyness is the patron saint of Eve bloggers. One of his means of promoting the Eve blogosphere is The Eve Blog Pack, where he provides linkage to the blogs he considers the best of the best. He recently posted that he was revising the list and that Fiddler's Edge was one of the blogs under consideration for inclusion in the pack.

I decided that would be the test. If Fiddler's Edge had improved enough to make Krazy's blog pack I would continue the work. If it fell short, it would be time to move on. Krazy announced his new blog pack yesterday and, as most of you know, Fiddler's Edge remains unworthy.  The arbiter has spoken.

The good news is that Fiddler's Edge is going to expand its horizons. A new web site with a broader focus on things Science Fiction/Fantasy is in the works. I've asked Rixx Javix to do the graphics and am working on a content and web-page outline. Expect that it will have a special page dedicated to Eve Online, with links to Eve blogs, podcasts and general cartoon spaceship content. I may even hold forth now and again on critical events in New Eden.

I know many of you are accomplished writers in your own rights, and if some of you are interested in providing content please feel free to contact me at my mordfiddle gmail account.

A few things before I go regarding my prior post:

À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu:  An inside joke directed at fans of Jenny, who will recall her last run-in with a non-Proust-reading United Express delivery man. One of my back burnered projects is the first in what I hope will be a series of short stories featuring Jenny post Fiddler's Edge. She's wanted a larger stage for some time. Now she'll have her shot.

Fiat Lux: Let there be light. Always. Read between the lines. Ask inconvenient questions. Light candles before you curse the darkness. Go forth and illuminate.

And, once again, thanks for all your kind support.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Interlude Terminalis - Fiddler's End

"That's the last of them," said Jenny, my research librarian.

She closed and locked the seal on the climate controlled shipping unit. A burly United Express delivery man picked up the silver, suitcase sized box and stacked it on top of four others just like it. He tipped them back on a dolly and wheeled them out though the front door at Fiddler's Edge and down the hallway, whistling as he worked. I noticed a dog-eared copy of À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu in his back pocket.

The offices at Fiddlers Edge were empty. Books, office furniture, computers and all fixtures of a think-tank had been taken away and put into storage. Nothing left but dust bunnies, the odd paper clip and a spent shell casing. I walked to a window that looked out on the National Mall. Jenny followed me and our footfalls on the wooden floors echoed hollowly in the cavernous room.

We stood there together, watching nothing in particular for a while.

"You have plans?" she asked, finally.

I nodded.

"I have plans," I said. "The most immediate involves a week on an island in the Caribbean. After that I have a few writing projects in mind."

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

"Always with the writing," I affirmed quietly.

She kept her back to me, apparently making a careful study of the Smithsonian Castle.

"They packed up the tissues," I observed after a short silence. 

"Shutup," she answered through a low laugh.

She pivoted away from me and strode to the door. Her purse lay on the floor next to it. She picked it up, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and puffed it out again. Then she turned back to me, eyes dry and, as ever, under control.

"Did the National Archives get back to you?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said. "Some guy named Sturlison." She raised an eyebrow at me. "He's head of Special Acquisitions?"

"Yes," I said. "That's the guy. I gave him your name. Said you might be coming available."

"You know there's no Special Acquisitions department at the Archives."

"Oh there is," I said. "They're just not listed on the website."

"Or in the budget," she observed.

"Well," I said with a grim smile, "Think of it as the only covert ops unit made up entirely of librarians. Their special acquisitions are very special. Sometimes dangerously so. And the acquisition part of it is often...challenging."

She held her breath and asked, "Is there gun-play?"

"At times," I nodded. "And worse."

"You," she said, "Are the best boss ever."

This time I'm sure there were tears.

She turned away again, walking out the office. I heard the elevator ding its arrival, and then I was alone.

I took my coat and hat off of the hooks next to the door. It was a cold day in DC, raw and overcast. I pulled on the coat and checked the pocket for my keys. Then, as I settled the hat on my head, I took the doorpull in my hand and gave the office one last look.

Then I pulled close the heavy oak door to Fiddler's Edge.

Fiat lux

Size Matters

With IT Alliance circling the drain, Czech Lion of Eve News 24 has turned his attention to branding the Northern Coalition (NC) as the next big nullsec bugaboo. Hegemony by the Northern Coalition, he holds, threatens to unbalance the great game altogether.

However, if you've taken a look at the nullsec sovereignty maps recently, a startling fact jumps out.

The Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and their renting affiliates are in possession of over half of nullsec.

As of yesterday, Legion of Death, Red Alliance, Solar Fleet and White Noise own between them 359 systems. Their renter affiliates, Shadow of Death, Red Associates, Solar Wing and White Angels hold an additional  358 systems.

That's a total of 717 systems controlled solely by the DRF.

If we look at the traditional NC membership, Morsis Mihi, Razor Alliance, Magesta Empire and R.A.G.E alliance, they collectively control 211 systems, less than half those owned by the DRF and affiliates. By scraping together systems belonging to the smaller NC members and "guest" alliances, we can tick that number up to about 275. Even adding the Deklein Coalition's Goonswarm and Test Alliance Please Ignore to the NC numbers adds only 102 additional systems for a total of 377 - about half the systems controlled by the DRF. In fact, even if you dropped the DRF renter affiliates out of the picture entirely (the Northern Coalition don't employ the traditional renter aliance model used by the DRF), the core DRF alliance systems are close to parity with the NC and DC together, 359 to 377.

Where these  numbers get really interesting is when you look at them in the context of alliance population.

The population of the core DRF alliances number 5524 as of this writing. That means the DRF has roughly 15.5 players for each system to which they hold sovereignty. The core NC alliances, on the other hand, have 11,918 players controlling 211 systems. That's 56.5 players per system owned.

Now, one must bear in mind the differences in organizational structures between Northern Coalition and the Drone Russians. As described above, the DRF uses the renter alliance model favored by traditional PvP alliances in order to create a firewall between the alliance and renter organizations. This allows them to maximize rent revenues as they can adopt looser security standards for admitting corporations to the renter alliances than for the PvP alliance.

In the Northern Coalition, renters are carefully selected and incorporated into the member alliances or invited into the coalition as small, independent "guest" alliances who participate in the defense of NC space in exchange for the space they hold.

While the DRF renter alliances have larger populations than the controlling PvP alliances, even they fall well short of the high player to system ratio of the Northern and Deklein coalitions. Adding the DRF Renter systems and  population numbers to the equation only increases the DRF player to system ratio to about 22 players per system.

One item that's largely escaped notice during the collapse of IT Alliance has been White Noise and Red Alliance going about and quietly taking space from the conflict's losers, such as The Initiative, and adding it to their own real estate portfolios.

In effect, half of nullsec has become a massive ISK farm feeding into the relatively small population that is the DRF proper.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Hollow Men

This is the way the world ends
This is the was the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

    - T. S. Eliot
To nearly all outward appearances, the debacle at 6VDT-H has paralyzed IT Alliance's command structure. Alliance operations are not being announced or coordinated. Calls for assistance from renters and allies alike go unanswered. Fountain and Querious are being gobbled up with little or no resistance.

Babylon 5 and Nulli Secunda are the latest of IT's renters/allies to pull up stakes. Babylon has dropped sov in all but one Querious and two Fountain systems. Their former holdings in Fountain's Skaven constellation have been snapped up by Deklein Coalition member Test Alliance Please Ignore (Test), while Fallen Angels Alliance (Fall) has occupied Babylon's abandoned systems in the Querious 9NP-AR constellation. Nulli Secunda, under pressure from the new AtlasDOT alliance (which includes Bobby Atlas' Di-Tron Heavy Industries), has abandoned LI-BA0 constellation in Querious. Whether the two alliances will pull back into Delve or seek greener pastures elsewhere remains to be seen.

Pandemic Legion (PL), hired by IT alliance to harass the Deklein Coalition home systems, appears to be suffering from the IT Alliance's operational doldrums as well. Word leaking into the forums indicates IT has stopped paying PL for their services. The timing of this is particularly bad for Pandemic Legion given the recent loss of 80 billion ISK to internal theft and rumored member discontent with taking an IT Alliance contract in the first place.


IT Alliance continues to avoid a failscade. While the Black Nova and Destructive Influence corporations have handed all their systems back to IT Alliance and appear headed for the door, they remain in the alliance as of this writing. IT has lost player population in a steady trickle since the departure of FinFleet and X13, but there doesn't appear to be a rush for the doors. Curious that, given the various leaks about IT dysfunction.

This suggests someone is at the controls in IT Alliance central slapping hands away from the panic button - keeping things calm and orderly despite the lack of outward communication.

It may be a case of attempting a passive defense where an active one has failed. Keeping a low profile and feeding rumors of dysfunction might be intended to bore the enemy into careless mistakes; cause them to stop to grab systems rather than entering Delve to administer a killing stroke. By not offering fights in regions already lost, IT may be gaining valuable time needed to replace the ships equipment lost at 6VDT-H and prepare the defense of Delve.

For now, Delve itself remains intact and that will be the test of matters. Until one of the invaders wanders up that way gives Delve a solid poke with a big stick, no one will know if they've got a hornets nest on their hands, or an empty, hollowed-out shell.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Storm Warnings in Delve

As I wrote in SirMolle's Stand last week, the IT Alliance plan to turn the tide, both on the military and morale fronts, was dependent upon their ability to make Fountain the front line in the war against the Deklein Coalition. To that end, SirMolle directed his forces to make a stand in that place, keeping the enemy off the Delve Doorstep.

And it all went badly.

IT Alliance forces in Fountain staged themselves in 6VDT-H. Apparently believing they had time before Deklein coalition (DC) could organize themselves for a new assault, most of the IT forces were concentrated in the station and staging POS in that single system. Learning of this, Goonswarm's leadership quickly assembled a large force, and besieged the system. IT Alliance forces were largely caught in their station and POS, which the Deklein Coalition quickly "rapecaged", bubbling the station and POS locations to prevent warp outs and camping them heavily. Several break-outs were attempted to little avail and IT was apparently unable to call up and deploy additional forces to relieve the siege. 

Their enemies effectively bottled up, the DC took 6VDT as well as the station system 7BX-6F next door, with little effective resistance.

Meanwhile, Against All Authorities (-A-) and Stain Empire, with pitch-ins from several other alliances have undertaken the reduction of Querious. -A- and the Fallen Angels alliance have taken two critical gateway systems in the region, 49-U6U and A2-V27 respectively. What is interesting in the Querious campaign is the relative lack of resistance to the invaders. Defenders calling  for help from IT Alliance have received little in the way of response, let alone assistance.

Word on the street is that IT Alliance leadership, aware that several critical corporations, such as Destructive Influence (DICE.) are planning on departing the alliance, have realized they do not have the numbers to hold three regions. In that case, with the Fountain line broken and the Southern Russians invading Querious, it would make sense for SirMolle to cut loose those regions, pull his remaining forces back to Delve and set up a new line of defense there. IT Alliance corporations unwilling to deploy to Catch and Fountain these last months, may be more inclined to step up to the line if that line is on their home ground.

That would account for the phone ringing unanswered when Fountain and Querious based allies call. SirMolle is not given to sharing his strategies outside of the IT Alliance boardroom. Rather than betray weakness by telling allies they're on their own, IT leadership are more likely leave allies and enemies alike to interpret silence.

There are, however, a few breaks in the clouds gathering at Delve's borders.

Earlier today a number of  IT Alliance supercapital and capital ships were able to escape from 6VDT-H when the Goon's left an opening in their coverage of that system's siege. It's unknown at this point whether this was a tactical error on the Deklein Coalition's part, or simple indifference. 

Additionally, despite all the bad news, IT Alliance has not gone into failscade. This suggests that SirMolle and IT leadership have been able to keep their retreat to Delve from becoming a rout.

However, a number of corporations within IT Alliance have been hedging their bets for some time now. Much will depend on whether SirMolle can count on those corporations to hold the line if and when the invaders arrive at Delve's door. Assuming resistance remains at its current levels in Fountain and Querious, how much breathing room IT Alliance has to prepare its defense will depend on whether its enemies wait to reduce those regions fully before staging for an assault of Delve.

In either event, the storm warnings are up and the skies around Delve grow darker.