21: Surviving a Failure Cascade

2009-07-27

While a detailed theory of how alliances disintegrate may provide some academic amusement, it doesn’t offer any practical guidance, except for the rare few who find themselves in a position of leadership. Yet all alliances die; if a pilot is going to get involved in 0.0 (and why not, since Empire is a criminally boring place) he will be faced with the eventual decline and fall of his organization. If handled with naivete, alliance death wreaks untold personal personal destruction. Asset stockpiles become trapped in stations with no hope of retrieval and personal wallets are emptied to fund a hopeless war effort. Far too many pilots find themselves fighting and dying for a lost cause, and when the war is over they are penniless and without the means to recover. Yet this worst case can be easily avoided if a few common sense steps are taken, and some foresight applied. You have to learn how to recognize when your alliance is in trouble, and then know what to do about it.

Recognizing an alliance in trouble is made simple by the fact that most alliances are structured in roughly the same way, and face nearly identical issues over the course of their life cycle. When bad things happen, spaceship nerds react in a predictable fashion, even across cultural boundaries. Just as a running nose and a fever indicates a cold, these symptoms reflect organizational distress for an alliance. These occur in no particular order, meaning that you could find an alliance which begins howling about ‘wolfpacks’ at the first sign of trouble, when for others ‘wolfpacks’ are mentioned only after a complete breakdown.

Indicators of an Alliance Under Stress

Wolfpacks: Warfare in 0.0 is about accomplishing strategic objectives: seizing space, blowing up control towers, capturing R64 moons, and blowing up capital ships. If you are an aggressor, there’s something to be said for sending small gang raiding parties into your target’s territory to disrupt member operations such as ratting or mining. But if your alliance is on the defensive and losing ground, nothing sets off the warning alarms quite like calling for small gangs of fast ships to harass the invader. These gangs are almost always cast in terms of ‘wolfpacks’, as if invoking submarine warfare from World War II is a good model for success. Hint: Submarine warfare didn’t prevent Berlin from being sacked, and wolfpacks won’t prevent hostile capital fleets from ravaging your control towers. Wolfpacks are a sign of desperation from an alliance who cannot defend themselves at the strategic level, but feel compelled to ‘do something’.

Forum Censorship (Lotka.org): Lotka Volterra cornered the market on overt forum censorship in EVE. Since their downfall, their name has been ‘verbed’ and now describes heavy handed moderation of dissenting views. Example: “Oldma lotka’d the Intrepid Crossing forums, they’ve been scrubbed clean.” Some alliances will censor dissent only when under extreme duress, others are so sensitive to criticism that anything not pro-leadership will be nuked immediately. This sort of behavior is something that a wise pilot will be very suspicious of, as it indicates an inability to confront problems directly.

“We Didn’t Want That Anyway”: Certain types of excuses crop up over and over again in EVE. “We didn’t want that anyway” goes in the same bucket as “It was just holding us back,” “Now we’re really mad,” and any reference to wounded tigers. These feeble rationalizations have become such stereotypes that they are often used as jokes. If you see any of these deployed unironically with regards to a significant strategic asset, that’s a problem. If your leadership is saying that they didn’t want that chromium mining tower anyway, it’s probably a fair statement. When they start talking about R64s and stations, run; it’s only a matter of time before they start announcing that losing everything has “freed [them] from the shackles of pos warfare.”

Red Pen: This category covers any kind of op announcement or “Call to Arms” which includes negative reinforcement as a motivator, demanding that pilots show up and fight “or else.” Threatening people to play a voluntary and sometimes tedious spaceship game is not a winning strategy when your alliance is on the defensive, and it inevitably reduces participation and defensive capability – even if in the short term it seems like things perk up. Red Pen announcements are a good indicator that your alliance is being run by mongoloids. Note that alliances will frequently make use of threats when going on the offensive, and that this isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness; an offensive Red Pen is used as an excuse to purge corporations or individuals who aren’t pulling their weight.

Denial, a la Waagaa: In the midst of BoB’s downfall in the Querious campaign, one of their members penned a thread outlining some of their problems in hopes of finding some solutions to their predicament. While the leadership didn’t go so far as to Lotka the entire thing, they vehemently denied that anything was wrong, doubling down much like the Republican Party on their core principles – it wasn’t that BoB was doing something wrong, it was that they weren’t doing the wrong things hard enough. When Yaay, one of their primary fleet commanders, pointed out that this was idiocy, he was castigated and then kicked out of the alliance for his temerity. If your alliance leadership is in a similar state of denial, things are bad. If the response of the other low-level members of the alliance to this state of denial is fawning sycophancy, things are even worse.

Blaming CCP/GMs/Exploits/Hacks: It is undeniable that EVE can be a catastrophically buggy piece of software, particularly after a patch deployment. CCP screws up, the servers are occasionally plagued with ghost towers, GMs can be unreliable if not outright incompetent, and there are even hackers out there who may be trying to ruin your day. But when confronted with these issues, some alliances keep moving, while others fold up. If your alliance is on the defensive, whining about how you’ve been screwed over by a bug, a GM, or a hacker doesn’t change the strategic situation. If the alliance stops whatever it’s doing and waits for a fix from the GMs to solve their problems, odds are they’ll be waiting for a long time; this isn’t a good idea.

Absentee Fleet Commanders: This kind of problem is impossible to hide. If fleet commanders don’t show up for ops scheduled in advance, things are bad. Not only does it kill future participation by the membership, but a FC probably has a better idea of how good or bad things are than you do; if he’s given up, you should consider securing your assets. If you somehow fail to notice FCs going missing, look for forum posts from the leadership of the “Don’t wait for a FC to start an op guys, start one yourselves,” variety. FCing is a difficult task and fleets in EVE have a chain of command, so if the alliance leadership seriously expects the line membership to step in and lead when a FC vanishes, they’re deluded.

Separate Corp Meetings: A sure sign of late-stage cascade is when corporations begin having meetings separate from the alliance. Meetings are pain in the ass and usually are only done to enable a CEO to take the pulse of the membership or to announce a change of plans. If your alliance is on the defensive and you notice that several of the main corporations are having meetings by themselves, odds are good that they’re planning to escape the situation.

Fire Sales: Keep a watchful eye on the market and on the contracts in your region. If you notice items popping up for sale at prices significantly under Jita value, odds are good that your fellow alliance-mates are busy firesaleing their assets as a precursor to a full evacuation.

The Blindingly Obvious: A catchall for things which I shouldn’t need to point out. Keep an eye on your alliance’s membership numbers on Evemaps; down is bad. Are your key leaders announcing that they’re going away on vacation just when things get really awful? Bad. Are line members or the leadership posting ranting threads in which they lash out at scapegoats, dissenters, or enemy spies? Bad. Are ops not being posted as frequently as they once were, or are ops being cancelled outright? Is there a sudden spike in theft from within the alliance, or an ‘every man for himself’ attitude spreading? Keep an eye on all these factors.

How to Survive a Failure Cascade

Common sense isn’t common, if the ever-increasing flow of iskless refugees from collapsed alliances vowing to quit EVE is any indication. If you wish to come out of a failure cascade with your dignity, assets and wallet intact, here are a few simple guidelines.

Trust No One: One of the most dangerous mistakes pilots make is having an excess of credulity; pay attention to the signals and prepare, don’t believe everything that your leadership or fellow corp-mates are telling you. No one wants to admit that their alliance is in trouble, but if you hope to come out of this unscathed, you must be able to see clearly. When things begin going horribly wrong, don’t assume that your corp mates are trustworthy; they could be spies, or simply decide to steal whatever they can as everything goes to hell.

Only Fly What You Can Afford to Lose: This should be plastered on the login screen, if you ask me. Defensive war means losing ships repeatedly. You need to moderate your losses and take future attrition into account. Make sure that your warships are of a hull class which you can afford to lose. Flying one HAC, losing it, then going broke isn’t going to save your alliance, but flying five battlecruisers and maintaining your balance might. If you have a particular ship that you’re an expert at flying, make sure the fit is standardized such that you don’t waste time dithering after you get blown up. Expect to die and don’t be upset when it happens.

Don’t Hoard: The natural tendency of players appears to be to have one station as a home base where assets and ships accumulate. In a conquerable station, this is a terrible habit. If your ‘base’ station is captured, you lose everything you’ve stashed in it. Keep a few (2-3 tops) combat ships which you’ve selected for affordability and efficiency in different stations in your space such that you can never be denied a combat vessel by a hostile camp. Keep clutter to a minimum; your extra loot should be regularly sold or ferried out to Empire or NPC 0.0.

Jump Clones: You should have Infomorph Psychology trained to four. Install a jump clone in each of the stations where you have a stash of combat ships. This will allow you to access your assets if the station is captured before you can evacuate, just in case.

Cultivate Untouchable Income: Empire is a boring, terrible place, but having your income stream entirely dependent on 0.0 isn’t wise if your alliance collapses. There are a number of ways which you can use your 0.0 earnings to set up backup income streams in Empire while times are good. Popular options: A PvE-fit battleship parked at a mission-running hub, an invention bpo/decryptor set, or a rack of four R&D agents constantly providing passive income from datacores. Make sure that you have one of these set up long before your alliance comes under stress, such that you can use your Empire income to fund your ship losses in defense of your space.

Anticipate the Enemy: As soon as your alliance comes under attack, you should commence researching your foe. Who are they, and more importantly, what do they normally do while on the offensive? Being surprised by the predictable is an act of criminal stupidity. As an example, Goonswarm recently got a hold of an account on Scorched Earth’s forums and ‘rushed’ it, with many members logging in and posting offensive images (goatse.cx, etc). Scorched Earth members loudly expressed shock and horror, even though the exact same thing occurred to Scorched Earth’s neighbor, Aggression, less than a week previously! Red.Overlord is infamous for camping jump beacons with battleship gangs or suicide capitals, so no one fighting them should be surprised when these tactics are deployed against them. Do your homework.

Chart the War Yourself: If something is going horribly wrong in your alliance, you can’t trust your leaders to tell you; they’d probably prefer you not to know. You also can’t trust the line members to tell you; odds are a lot of them don’t keep track of things at the strategic level, and even if they do they might have been cowed into sycophancy. Charting the progress of a war isn’t difficult, and the best way to judge if you need to make a quick exit is to figure it out yourself. Use Evemaps to chart sovereignty changes and keep a close eye on your alliance and corporate forums. Focus on strategic necessities like R64 moons, stations, and jump bridge networks. Come to your own conclusions, then compare those conclusions against the ‘official line’ being promulgated by the alliance leadership. In EVE, thinking for yourself is always the best defense.

If you keep your wits about you and keep an eye on the warning signs, even a total alliance collapse won’t make much of a personal impact on you. The enemy is trying to destroy your assets to the point where you give up and quit EVE entirely; with a modicum of intelligence, you don’t have to give him that satisfaction.

Commentary

The funny thing about these Failure Cascade-related columns is how absolutely little has changed in the past three years. EVE has a new sov system, many new alliances, and is fundamentally a different game – but the rationalizations for loss are immortal. Our wulfpax will blot out the stars, we didn’t want that space anyway – it was holding us back, we’re now free from the shackles of sov war, blah blah – same excuses, different era. This is psychological, of course; the rationalizations of loss are a core part of how people cope.

About the only thing I’d add to the list today is “blaming allies”. A lot of dead alliances blame their allies for their own failures on the way out – BoB, IT Alliance, Raidendot, et cetera. It wasn’t our fault we lost, it was our allies! Naturally, this makes the ability of a cascaded alliance to recover all the harder, as you need your allies the most when you’re at risk of cascading – they’re the ones who still have space and might be able to bail you out (“the couch”, in modern parlance) after all.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by The Mittani.

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