For the last few years, Pandemic Horde has become one of the largest and most prominent player-run power organizations in EVE Online. Due to its associations with one of the game’s most powerful and experienced alliances, Pandemic Legion, it has cover and protection from other rival alliances even if that means it is often conveniently pigeonholed as a meatshield, a puppet, or just a stepping stone. Regardless of opinions on the matter, Pandemic Horde is not going anywhere and its leadership under Gobbins, seems as solid as ever.
The End of HERO, Beginning of Horde
Today’s EVE Online is a much more friendly place for new player than the EVE of 4-5 years ago. A lot of that is because Brave Collective, via its main corporation, Brave Newbies Inc., helped spark an interest in getting new players into PvP fleets and showing how useful they can be at a time when the powers in the game had become polarized and closed off towards new blood. By the spring of 2014, Brave Collective was the most popular new-player organization in the game and decided to flex its muscles by forming a coalition of other new-player friendly organizations (including TEST) and invading and occupying a little-loved region of nullsec in Catch.
Despite some rough patches, Brave occupied Catch relatively easily until the fall of 2014, when skirmishes with ProviBloc caught the attention of Pandemic Legion. In typical fashion, PL ‘third partied’ these skirmishes, which resulted in tilting them in Provi’s favor. Their actions started to take another tone however when Brave’s sovereignty structures in northern Catch began being flipped by PL one after another. By the end of autumn, PL was headshotting Brave’s staging systems in HED-GP and GE-8JV and the once unstoppable newbie organization was beginning to crumble.
While the fights with Pandemic Legion were not based on outright hostility, animosity began to grow in Brave’s ranks as stress from PL exposed weakness in Brave’s leadership in how they’d been handling the conflict. Scapegoats for Brave’s failings were everywhere and as the coalition lost system after system, things began to unravel. By the end of the year, TEST departed, taking with them some of the more experienced and higher SP pilots. And in January of 2015, disaffected members of Brave’s leadership,split from the alliance to join Goonswarm and start KarmaFleet.
For the next few months, throughout the rest of the winter and early spring of 2015, Brave continued its downward spiral. Karmafleet grew rapidly as refugees from Brave departed in droves. At the beginning of April, after a very dramatic February and March, the creation of Pandemic Horde was announced. As a partnership with Pandemic Legion, former leaders from Brave would create and shape a pandemic-branded newbie organization to do what Brave could not, provide a content-rich safe-ish place for new players to learn how to fight in EVE Online.
Interview with Gobbins
The idea for a series of articles on alliances in EVE was something I’ve been working on since departing my leadership roles in Goonswarm. I have always been fascinated by how other organizations in EVE Online work and have always found something to respect or admire in how they operate. While Pandemic Horde and the corporation I started, KarmaFleet, are rivals in almost everything we do, I respect and admire their ability to attempt one of the hardest tasks in the game – training new players.
I met Gobbins through Horde’s first CEO, Travis Keikira, who directed me towards him when it came to coordinating fights between our two groups. Gobbins even gave my jump freighter pilot standings so I could use their staging system as a mid point on my way back and forth from Deklein. We met in person at EVE Vegas in 2015 and again 2016 (both times in the elevator of Planet Hollywood). While sometimes we antagonize each other about decisions our groups are making (The Casino War) there’s usually a polite and respectful conversation afterwards once tempers cool. With this in mind, I decided to share the entirety of our chat about the history of Pandemic Horde and to hopefully go beyond the rhetoric in various media outlets.
Porkbutte: Horde and KarmaFleet basically started around the same time and I’d like to think that for the most part, I’ve always viewed it as a friendly rivalry. While some folks get more into disparaging and pointing out the differences between us, the reality is that we both want the game to be better for new players. So, I want to do a profile on Horde, how it started, how it’s evolved, and what it’s up to currently.
Porkbutte: Who came up with the idea for Pandemic Horde and when did you start putting plans in motion for it?
Gobbins: I came up with the idea of forming a Pandemic brand of newbie corp after great frustration dealing with Lychton, the leader of brave newbies back then. This was March 2015. The way it went, at that time Elise had been contacted by an unknown party to take on a contract against the Imperium and was willing to share it with Brave. The prospect of a core of elite PL combined with swarms of newbies from Brave was a very exciting idea to me so I tried to build bridges between PL and Brave.
I started by contacting single Brave FCs, Dojo members, CNM (Council of Newbie Management aka Brave’s leadership) members to see if they would be willing to work with PL to begin with. The responses were surprisingly positive, all the way to Lychton. It looked like it was really going to work Then suddenly something happened.
Brave had been given a cease fire as a show of good will and was allowed to repair their GE ihub uncontested (or was it the station?). Penif couldn’t help himself and cyno’ed in, doomsdaying a single [SOUND] carrier, left. The repairs went on as normal. Lychton however completely lost it and from there completely refused to work together. So in a way, Penif’s mischief also set in motions the events that led to the creation of PH.
Porkbutte: So, at that point, let’s also remember that Brave was failing and had been failing internally for months. Pandemic Legion’s harassment of Catch, which had started mostly in good fun, had turned sour, and frustrated a lot of us in Brave’s upper leadership.
Gobbins: I remember at that point I was very frustrated that all the work I had done building bridges had gone to waste. So we sat down with a few ex brave that had joined PL (TravisK, Brood alpha, Cyberking, Sting, who else?) and a few volunteers from PL and decided to try making our own newbie corp.
PL offered to support us with IT services while isk and resources came from private PL member donations, Phalanx III being the biggest contributor.
The initial plan was that these ex-brave guys, who had all the experience, would in fact run PH. Originally it was just called “The Dojo Project”, on April 1st we picked the name for the alliance and went with TravisK’s suggestion of “Pandemic Horde”.
Porkbutte: You didn’t start out the leader of Pandemic Horde. When did you become the official leader of it?
Gobbins: The original plan was for me to setup up the alliance then gradually step away from the organization as Travis Keikera would run the day to day. Travis was the official CEO since the inception. Basically I would get the boring stuff out of the way then leave it to him. However the boring stuff never ends and Travis liked FCing more than running an alliance so he eventually stepped down and rejoined PL. He still stayed as a director until recently. Personally my initial hope was to help with this for 3 months or so then completely leave it in the hands of the ex brave guys but things did not go that way.
Porkbutte: What were your goals in the early days? I remember you guys roaming around Catch a bunch and then heading over to Aridia and Cloud Ring. You did a lot of meandering.
Gobbins: It wasn’t Aridia, it was Black rise – Saranen. We actually staged in Saranen for a long time and even called it “forever home”. My original goal was to make PH into the newbie corp I wish existed when I first started. A place with no sov at all, completely nomadic, living off the land / FW / looting and causing the most expensive damage using the least expensive ships.
During these days we had very high emphasis on piloting skills with regular classes and guests like Chessur and Sweetonia coming in and giving lectures. We also organized regular t1 brawls against other newbie groups such as karmafleet.
It turns out nobody wants to join such corporation. The numbers were flatlining and in general it felt like we were busting our asses running several roams every day but not getting much excitement back from the members at all.
Truth is people say they like those things but they lie, only few really do. They want three things:
- Convenience: maximum fun for minimum effort.
- A great narrative: frags for the sake of frag is not enough for most players.
- To win: just overall being successful.
Porkbutte: Very true. Something I’ve abused with spies and also sorta admire at the same time is your open-door recruitment policy. Why did you decide to go with an open door recruitment policy and what makes you stay with it?
Gobbins: Most groups in EVE take for granted that API checks are a necessity but for a new player coming to the game they actually look pretty crazy – because they don’t understand the spy game and security issues. To many, API checks and elaborate application processes come across as some power trip by space nerds at best, and at worst a draconian practice that impinge on their privacy.
Not to mention, who wants to type out an entire application and then spend days sitting around waiting for an answer.
These days many newbies go to reddit and see the usual recommendations for newbie corps, so they apply to all 4. By the time other corps have processed the app, the newbie has already been accepted in horde for few days and likely getting settled.
Another thing I’d like to mention is I’ve spent a lot of time awoxing and spying back in 2009-2011 (mainly in goons) – and the way I see it, API screening at the line member level for a massive alliance is basically a waste of admin time. A spy will always get in. When designing an organization from scratch (like in horde’s case) I felt it’s much stronger to have a low-security lobby so to speak and then a number of compartments with their own independent API checks, vouches, and other security measures. Horde’s opsec design is heavily based on the things I learned and observed when I playing a space-spy. And to be fair it may be trivial to get intel from horde’s public channels, but anything above it hasn’t really hasn’t had leaks since the alliance inception 2 years ago.
Anyways this could be its own standalone topic.
Porkbutte: Agreed. KarmaFleet started as an open-door organization but we tightened up. While on the one hand it’s necessary, on the other, I see it as a bit pointless as anyone with ill-intentions and enough cleverness can usually get in – even if we have some of the best application/security measures in the game.
Porkbutte: What sort of opportunities do new players have in Horde?
Gobbins: New players in horde can enjoy a facilitated start of the game by taking advantage of the free ships and skillbooks, the forum guides, the video guides, the skill plans, the internal help channels and the mentoring programs. They can also enjoy pvp from day 1 due to our daily dessie-down roams as well as the fact that all our doctrines include an option for alpha pilots (ewar frigs, t1 logi, ecc).
After passing the first hurdles, the corp also offers a path of progress that walks through several key doctrine ships and pve ships all the way to capitals. This includes an api-gated capital group and capital srp.
Truth to be told though, I think all the big 4 newbie corps do the above and do it pretty well.
One of the advantages of horde is that it’s designed to quick-start all the above for the minimal effort on behalf of the new player: no API required, no activity requirement, and low pressure in terms of external threats as well. Also Horde is particularly welcoming to new FCs since anybody is free to ping and run fleets from day 1.
The other advantage is that the entire alliance is designed around recruiting and training new players, rather than the new players corp being a part of a bigger entity. That means the whole agenda of PH can focus on new players.
Porkbutte: I don’t keep up with you guys as much as I used to, but it seems, since the start of 2017 you guys have settled down a bit since the Tribute War. How’s it going up there?
Gobbins: The north is very peaceful these days, for better or worse. We did have the INIT war after the tribute war, even though that war might not have had as much resonance in the propaganda.
Anyways until some great changes are made to fundamental mechanics of sov warfare, I think it makes little sense to deploy, or to make grand plays and plans for invasions.
There’s also an obvious arms race to dreads and above. Dreads require skillpoints. Newbies can buy skill injectors. Injectors cost isk.
So everyone is trying to help their members make isk so they can supersoldier serum themselves to +1 dread more quickly. Thus the settling down.
Porkbutte: What are some things you’d like to see CCP do to help new players?
Gobbins: There are many aspects, I think, in which CCP could improve the experience for new players.
1) Economy: the rift between isk/hr of a veteran and a new player is too wide right now, especially until that first VNI. There should be a lucrative and engaging activity for new players or groups of new players, something that is almost impossible to dual box, which matches the VNI income but without the convenience and scalability of VNI afk ratting.
For example exploration is a step in the right direction but it can be incredibly frustrating for a new player to do sites in a non-cloaky frig and lose it all on his way back.
2) Fleet fights: people like shooting stuff. Most new player roles are Ewar, which is unfulfilling and also rather boring (assign TDs, orbit, afk). Stuff like anti bomber t1 dessies sounds nice on paper but in reality just end up sitting there waiting for bombers and then dieing to the bombs anyways half the time.
This point is probably hard to balance, but unless there is a way for new players to feel like they are actually killing stuff and doing damage in these large battles, they will always feel disinvested.
2b) Capital fights: once dreads are dropped, any new player basically becomes a spectator and an unwelcome source of lag. Not sure how this can be fixed.
3) Fix some shitty bugs: sloppy stuff like corp mails not being tied to a role, or awoxers not kickable while in space, small bugs that somehow still haunt the game after 14 years
4) Make the newbies taste blood! at the end of the NPE, have the newbies teleported and be randomly matched against another newbie in a quick fight to the death. The winner gets to loot the field, and the loser gets some insurance isk or something. Just give every players that’s stuck with the tutorial until the end, the chance to experience that thrill of fighting another player.
Guaranteed to boost retention!
Porkbutte: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Gobbins: The campaign against SMA was an epic story of underdogs for us. At the time SMA was the second biggest alliance in the game, and well entrenched. They had been part of the Imperium push that evicted us from Cloud Ring and forced us to relocate South in Querious.
We deployed north well before WWB got under way, and at first it was just ganking and interdiction together with TISHU, but it sort of gradually paced up turning into full warfare. A lot of work was put into entosing Fade again and again until the first cracks appeared, very exciting days when SMA started to crumble and we could roll into Fade taking the stations.
One of my fondest memory from this campaign was sitting on comms with the whole alliance listening the SMA’s emergency sota being broadcasted, everyone cheering as SMA announced pulling out of Fade and consolidating in pb/saranen with the rest of the Imperium.
That’s when we decided to go all in, moved into o1y, and started getting hit hard by the goon counter push until citadels came out and we were able to anchor our first Fort. Even on the sov timelapse map, you can see horde getting pushed back into this tiny nugget then pushing back out. It was an epic campaign to be part of, because for us WWB was always action, and gave us a new home which we fought months for.
Porkbutte: What are your biggest challenges?
Gobbins: Right now I must say, the biggest challenge is how to create meaningful content within the disastrous state of the core mechanics. Sure, we can keep farming up a warchest and roaming/memeing like everyone is doing, but then what? Any real conquest is prevented by citadel vulnerability issues and asset safety denies any potential for real damage. Essentially, it feels like I am trying to do CCP’s job of marketing and convincing folks to play the game, like a girl scout peddling stale cookies which someone else made. But people are catching on and asking why buy more cookies. That’s the challenge.
Newbie Corporations – CCP’s Crutches
As it stands, while the number of corporations and alliances that cater towards new players has increased in the last few years, the actual ingame “New Player Experience” is still in an abysmal state. What’s missing is a bridge to get players from their first hours in the EVE universe where they are learning how to navigate around – to a place where they are interacting with actual players in the game and what the game is really about. If “killing is a means of communication” then the developers at CCP need to do more to communicate that, instead of holding hands and creating an elaborate theme park ride only to discover that the game itself is not a theme park.
On the other side of the NPE are player-run organizations who are partaking in various forms of emergent gameplay in order to solve problems created by CCP’s ingame training vaccuum. These players offer mentoring, skillbooks, ships, and content that might even help that alpha clone (not a paying customer) become an omega clone (paying customer) and they’ve dealt with issues left unaddressed by the NPE for years. While all this is great, and surely, PC Gamer will write an article about how EVE is still a shining example of emergent gameplay, the truth is, there is not enough good press or newbie-friendly corporations in the world to overcome the fact that most players will quit before they are even a few hours into the game.
Despite the issues with game design, dwindling player logged-in numbers, Pandemic Horde chugs on. They will certainly be at the forefront of any and every conflict and while critics will pan them as “meatshields for PL,” that criticism has no effect on Horde itself. One thing seems certain: as long as the “pandemic’ brand has a cachet in New Eden, and Horde continues to provide its members with an experience they find enjoyable and valuable, Pandemic Horde will endure.