Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fly In Amber

"Properly managed, no brand need decay and die - immortality is within the reach of all."
        - Peter Field, Hamish Pringle

The Mittani is dead. 

Which is not to say that he's dead, dead.  I mean, Alexander Gianturco, some-time lawyer and full-time bacon aficionado is, to the best of my knowledge, still among the quick.  He is likely in Wisconsin, happily  deep-frying cheese curds as I write this.  But, while his in-game alter-ego persists in the digital sense, Mittens is no more.  Not in the human sense.  Oh, you might see tweets from The Mittani® or hear dire pronouncements by The Mittani®.  The Mittani® might write an article or be interviewed here and there.

But that's not Mittens.

Mittens has been absorbed; assimilated into the larger The Mittani® brand.  He's given up self-determination in favor of immortality.  Even on those occasions when Alexander himself speaks or writes for The Mittani®, the voice you hear and the prose you see are the gestalt opinions, directives and insights of the collective behind the The Mittani® brand.  The Mittens persona is only alive insofar as it is undead.

I know.  Kind of creepy and science fictiony, isn't it; Mittens shambling about, sort of alive, but in reality driven by some all-controlling hive mind?   It's all sort of Walking Dead meets Return of the Archons.

Being the insightful readers you are, you will of course want to know how I know this. There were two critical tip-offs.

First of all, if you track Mittens' Twitter posts, they've been nearly non-stop of late, going on all hours of the day and night.  They don't often sound like Mittens at all.  There's no tang of originality, snark or even remote malice in them; they are merely blocks of ad copy barked Turet-like into the ether, flogging the The Mittani® website, or some site administrator responding to tweets requesting new features.  Obviously there are a number of hands behind the scenes tweeting in Mittens' name. 

Secondly, go have a look at the The Mittani® logo on the The Mittani® website.

Do you not see what I don't see?  Exactly.  No chin pussy.

Now, given how dearly Mittens holds onto that chin full of pubescent scruff, I'm sure he pointed out to the logo's originators that his chin pussy was not properly represented in the The Mittani® logo.  After some hemming and hawing I'm sure they explained to Mittens that, from a brand perspective, the chin-pussy is...undesirable. It breaks the logo's minimalist tone and clutters its clean lines and (well, lets be honest) is more creepy than it is imposing.  Now, the Mittani I know would have handed said marketeers over to his minions to be jettisoned into space, cycled through the biomass recycler, forced to listen to Mittens' cover of Boyfriend, or some other equally horrific fate.

But no. The logo remains, sans chin pussy.  And Mittens goes gently into that good night, quietly allowing his alter-ego to be so dispossessed in the name of the greater corporate good.  Assimilation confirmed.   

I'm sure Mittens still retains delusions of independent will.  He may well believe he's in control and merely listening to the opinions of others as he decides what course to take.  However, Mittens now represents a brand, and his words and actions and those of the The Mittani® brand are inseparable, each reflecting on the other.  The longer that relationship lasts, the stronger the The Mittani® half of that equation becomes.  His latitude will become increasingly circumscribed as the brand settles into its niche and The Mittani® becomes intolerant of off-script actions and statements by Mittens that might damage or misrepresent the brand.

Eventually Mittens will be subsumed altogether by The Mittani®; immortal but lacking any independent animus.  The original voice behind the man astride the technetium throne will cease to matter.  The Mittani® will join the ranks of Mario®, Micky Mouse® and Colonel Sanders®; a corporate mascot culturally pasteurized and purged of any qualities that might offend or off-put consumers of The Mittani® brand goods and services.  The Mittani® will make appearances at conferences, theme parks, and shopping malls; shilling for the corporate overlords while being kicked in the shins by tots wielding plastic light sabres and wearing Rixx Javix® masks.

Personal branding is all the rage in the corporate world.  Its siren song promises fame and immortality, and would lead one to believe that such things can come at no cost.  However, the very thing that provides a brand its immortality by definition destroys the individuality of the person behind it.  Icons, after all, do not define themselves, but are defined by others for their own purposes.

Trapped like a fly deep within the The Mittani® brand amber, Mittens will very likely survive the destruction of Goonswarm.  He could even persist after the game of Eve Online itself ends; sold, traded and winding up in a dusty corner of some large multinational conglomerate's brand stable.  He will be ageless.  He will be immortal. 

And, if you listen closely, you might hear the screams issuing from deep within. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innocents Abroad

"Infuriating, boring, exciting, fascinating, geeky, beautiful and terrifying all mixed in.  I may be in trouble"
- Day One - Diaries of a Space Noob 
Diaries of a Space Noob is a two month long, day by day, diary of a former World of Warcraft player's early days in Eve Online from the beginning.  It's an interesting idea for a blog.  Ambitious too.  For those of us who are not Ripard Teg, the prospect of putting in substantive time in Eve every day and then faithfully updating an online diary describing the experience would be daunting.

Happily Space Noobs are a wide-eyed, innocent folk who don't know enough to be daunted.  The Space Noob, having begun his project, soldiers through bravely to the end; the last day of the two months of diary entries having been written yesterday.  What I find most interesting about the Diaries is that it is written from the perspective of a new player to a non-Eve audience and speaks to the Eve new player experience with fresh eyes.  It is a portrait of the Eve community written from the point of view of an outsider.

The quality of The Space Noob's writing remains very solid and entertaining throughout, even as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Of course this is Eve.  My darker self warns me it's entirely possible that Space Noob was written by a CCP marketing flack to lure bored dwarves and night elves from WoW.  However that's beside the point.  My darker self enjoyed the read as much as I did (when was the last time I regarded 700,000 ISK as a small fortune?), so it really doesn't matter.  It's a worthwhile read for jaded metagamers, bitter vets and players who've lost the initial sense of wonder that accompanied their first undock.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Carebears Triumphant

"In my experience nullsec changes some CareBears. They become a different breed than their high-sec cousins. Tougher. More efficient. More wily. More ruthless. Far richer. The best of them will become the great merchant princes of New Eden. And PVPers will work for them. "
- The Rise of the Carebears (Part Deux)  August 12, 2010

Once upon a time in Fountain, the combined forces of the Deklein Coalition and the old Northern Coalition (not the alliance of the same name) laid low the remains of SirMolle's by then moribund Delve-based empire.  Both coalitions were viewed by the elite PvP alliances of the day as compilations of carebear alliances whose sole military asset was the ability to bring overwhelming numbers to a fight in order to offset their lack of actual fleet PvP skills.  Thus, BOB/IT Alliance's devastating defeat at 6VDT-H in Querious and the alliance's subsequent collapse was perceived by many in nullsec as a bunch of Carebears from up North kicking over a storied nullsec power practically synonymous with the game of Eve itself.

Panic ensued.  The forums erupted with dire predictions:  Soon NC and Deklein would control all of nullsec.  All nullsec alliances would be forced to set each other blue.  Sov wars would become a thing of the past.  Titans would be fitted for mining.  Delve would be turned into a theme park. Group hugs would become mandatory.

Oh, the humanity.

Galvanized by the carebear threat, supercapital-intensive alliances born out of the IT Alliance collapse allied themselves with the Drone Russian Federation (DRF), adding their considerable firepower to DRF and Pandemic Legion operations against Northern Coalition space.  Forced to respond to significant attacks on many fronts, the Northern Coalition either could not or would not respond with its usual application of overwhelming force.  Further, the invaders employed their supercapitals more effectively and, having supercapital inventory reserves with which to replace losses, more aggressively.  In short order, the NC supercapital fleets ceased to deploy at all.

Without a supercapital umbrella, the NC and Deklein conventional fleets (at that time Deklein had little or no supercapital capacity of their own and relied on the NC for supercapital support), however large, were ineffective against the invaders' combined conventional/supercapital fleets.  The NC defense collapsed. and its space was quickly overrun.  The Northern Coalition was no more, and the Deklein Coalition, left in the midst of enemies and sans supercapital support, appeared humbled.  The carebear threat to nullsec was ended and the IT Alliance veterans had their revenge for the debacle at 6VDT-H.

Or so it seemed.   

As the Northern Coalition collapsed, many of the orphaned corporations and individual capsuleers found refuge with long-time friends and allies in the Deklein Coalition. In today's CFC (Deklein coalition's name was shifting to this around the time of the IT Alliance/NC collapse) most alliances count former NC pilots and corporations among their members. As of this writing, Razor Alliance, the sole survivor of the four primary NC alliances, is a member of the CFC.  Despite pronouncements to the contrary by DRF leadership following their victory over the Northern Coalition's nullsec bears, said bears had not been booted from nullsec. They merely changed the name-plate on the door. And the CFC, though in peril, remained.

As the new lords of the North settled into their recently conquered space it became evident that only three nullsec powers remained that represented plausible threats to the new order. The Southern Coalition (SoCo), who had taken advantage of the DRF's occupation in the North to regain Teneferis (lost the year prior to White Noise and Red Alliance), Deklein Coalition (by then re-dubbed CFC) and the once and future wild-card Pandemic Legion.  Of these, the only genuine shooting war that erupted was between elements of the DRF and SoCo.  While the opening rounds of the conflict had the tang of the 2010 White Noise/PL/Initiative invasion of -A- space, the war lost energy as Summer waned and the Incarna war between CCP and its player base heated up.

CFC, meanwhile, played for time while it assembled a supercapital fleet by making a separate peace with the lords of the North; going so far as to publicly entertain the notion of a larger DRF/CFC hegemony that would control roughly eighty percent of player owned nullsec and the resources therein.  PL maintained a low profile during this time, staying well off the DRF's radar and occupying themselves with occasional fights in Delve and hot dropping pirate gangs in lowsec.

The Autumn of 2011 may go down as the dullest in Eve's history from a SOV warfare perspective.  CCP had capitulated to player demands and were preparing significant "ships in space" upgrades to the Eve along with time dialation (TiDi) to reduce lag during large fleet battles and the much anticipated Winter Supercapital Nerf.  While waiting to assess the impact of these changes, nullsec seemed locked like a fly in amber into the status quo.  Wars were limited and little in the way of territory changed hands by force of arms.  Most fleet combat occurred in Delve and Querious, which had become something of a no-mans land; a place the nullsec powers could go to find fleet fights without threatening each others' established sovereignty.

I've written elsewhere as to what happened next:  As the year turned, internal squabbles within the DRF as a whole and within the individual alliances allowed the CFC and Pandemic Legion to overwhelm White Noise, Red Alliance and Raiden Alliance in Branch while Solar Fleet committed fratricide against their fellow DRF alliance Legion of Death, effectively ending the DRF as a coherent power block.  After consolidating those gains, the CFC struck again, this time driving SoCo forces from Delve and the remains of Red Alliance from Querious and putting the two regions under the control of CFC stalwart Test Alliance Please Ignore.

What is most interesting about the CFC campaigns in Branch and Delve is how quickly and effectively they were executed.  It can be argued that, on a pilot to pilot basis, the alliances recently displaced by CFC were the better PvPers and that CFC merely "brought the blob" and overwhelmed their opponents with sheer numbers.  However, it is widely acknowledged that the CFC pilots are well led in the field and that that the CFC headquarters staff are disciplined and organized; leveraging the coalition's financial, logistical and numeric advantages in order to bring overwhelming force to bear against its enemies.

The paradigm, it seems, has shifted again.  Fighting well is no longer enough.  Elite PvP alliances must now look to their internal organizations if they wish to play the great game in nullsec.  Regardless of their PvP skills, effective managers and administrators are as valuable in nullsec as the best FCs and are likely more rare.  Superior organizations with solid financials, minimal internal friction and clear lines of command and control are essential.  Funding and administering wars has become every bit as essential as fighting them.

Until recently, successful nullsec alliances could simply be bands of brothers out in the dark beyond, living the warrior code.  Now they must be an enterprise; We Be Warriors, inc.

The carebears have won.  The merchant princes are in control.  And the PvPers work for them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wine in the Ruins

I was in Saint Emilion at the end of July, soaking up beautiful weather, the historical ambiance of the town, the region's excellent red wines and way more bread, cheese and terrine than is good for me.

Saint Emilion, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a small hill town in Bordeaux topped by the ruins of a walled medieval fortress. The walls and buildings are made of limestone, which gives the place a golden light under blue skies in the late afternoons and early evenings. The only down side to the place is the number of tourists who make day-trips out from the nearby city of Bordeaux during high Summer, giving the place a theme park quality until the crowds die down in the early evening. Then you can wander alone through the citadel's less-traveled paths, lean against the sun-warmed stone of a gateway built long before Chaucer penned his first words, and watch the stars come out.

Watching a sliver of Moon rise above the ruined walls, I got to thinking about lost cities; ancient urban communities abandoned, overgrown, covered, and lost for a time to outside world.  I've been to three "lost" cities over the years and hope to visit a fourth next Summer.  I find them compelling places.  Relatively untouched over many centuries, they are a tangible echo of the people that that built, lived in, and eventually abandoned them.  In some ways the small, personal artifacts left behind in these places connect most profoundly across the gulf of years. A child's game etched on a floor, or a line of graffiti carved into a wall can speak as loudly as empty temples and broken walls.

Eve, being digital, leaves no traces behind.  We are long on epic events but short on chroniclers of the times.  As in the real world, the landscape of New Eden changes.  Powers rise and fall, pirate empires ply the void for a time and often wink out in a moment, as if they never were.  But unlike the real world, the artifacts left behind in New Eden, being a very perishable collection of zeros and ones, are quickly lost.  The memories and verbal lore of the players provide the main repository of Eve history.  But even that is volatile.  Old players leave the game and take their piece of the overall history with them.  New players arrive with limited view of what has gone before and the verbal history of New Eden shifts to encompass this slightly truncated perspective.  Over time the collective memory of New Eden remakes itself, shifting and degrading what was in favor of what is.  And there are no artifacts and only limited histories left behind to lead players to inquire who and what came before.

There are NPC artifacts in New Eden; abandoned stations and such. Player artifacts, once abandoned, do not persist.  But maybe it's time they did.  There is some discussion of making it possible to destroy player owned outposts.  Maybe their ruins should be allowed to persist until they are replaced.  Maybe a new system upgrade that allows a sov holding entity to leave behind a structure or monument that will not degrade over time, containing stories or a chronicle of who the builders were and what they accomplished; their message to future generations of players readable by those with the archaeology skill.

Just a thought; born of a glass of wine taken in the ruins.