Andrew Groen’s Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online, Volume II continues the story of the wars in New Eden, and provides some excellent insight both into the game’s history and also into human psychology. It’s an outstanding “must read” for anyone playing EVE Online, but also for those readers interested in social psychology, especially as it relates to digital environments and gaming. EVE Online is like no other game, and hence, this fine book fills a niche that no other work can ever duplicate. In the wrong hands, having that kind of power (Groen is building what amounts to a monopoly on serious EVE history) could be detrimental to the game, but Groen avoids partisanship and gives voice to a vast array of the game’s most notable players.
This volume picks up with events in 2009 and continues through the Bloodbath of B-5BRB in 2014. But the book goes beyond just the history of events and people, and provides, in the introduction, a lens through which to view the history. The book begins by outlining the ideas put forth in Richard Bartle’s essay “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs.” According to Bartle, MMOs attract four personality types and their interactions among themselves are as predictable as human behavior in any other large social group. The four archetypes are the Achievers, Socializers, Explorers, and Killers. Ironically, Bartle notes, while the groups have completely contradictory interests, and often fight both amongst themselves and with the game designers to intervene, the four ultimately need each other for the game to continue.
Considering these four groups, Groen notes, “The magic of EVE is that it seeks to find a balance between these types of players, and provides a grand interstellar stage for that human social ecology to play out. CCP Games vowed to judge no one’s playstyle. The universe was a sandbox, and whatever you decided to build with the sand was your choice. It was even your choice whether to build with the sand or throw it in someone’s eyes and smash what they were building” (p. 16).
With the frame established, Groen then begins to discuss the history of warfare in EVE Online. The reader must intuitively note, for Groen does not make this point clear, that massive wars in EVE take place in nullsec involving a large number of “Killers,” to use Bartle’s terminology. So, Groen’s work cannot be seen to be even close to a complete or thorough history of EVE Online. It covers nullsec space, almost completely avoiding the interesting actions that take place in lowsec, Empire Space, or wormhole space. Further, there is no discussion whatsoever of EVE lore or PVE-type engagements or the various developer events that occasionally crop up.
With that caveat, Groen launches into a quick recap of EVE’s warfare history from 2003-2009, which he covered in Volume I. Therefore, one could pick up this book, Volume II, and have some idea of the major players and organizations involved, though I would not recommend that. The history is too complex; however, his rapid summary does make clear the rise and fall of several organizations that reappear in Volume II.
The succeeding bulleted list charts, in broad strokes, the following major events (note: the list does not denote chapters, as Groen often devotes multiple chapters to a single event).
- The rise of Redswarm after the collapse of Band of Brothers (BoB)
- The near demise of Goonswarm under the leadership of Karttoon
- the emergence of Test Alliance Please Ignore, coinciding with a massive internecine feud between several great Russian-dominated alliances
- the second rise of Goons in the north, taking advantage of the Russian squabbles to expand their space, especially at the start of the Dominion expansion
- Several offline events that dramatically and traumatically affected the game, including The Mittani’s infamous speech at Fanfest 2012, the death of Sean Smith (AKA Vile Rat), and ProGodLegend’s dust up with Sort Dragon at Fanfest 2013
- The mammoth battle in Asakai, starting with a misclick by DaBigRedBoat
- The rise of the Honey Badger Coalition, which rose quickly and then sputtered due to internal dissension
- The Fountain War, in which the ClusterFuck coalition engaged several of their former allies, as well as former enemies, ending with TEST’s dramatic final rush to Valhalla glory in 6VDT-H
- The Halloween War, in which N3/PL’s seemingly impregnable “Wrecking Ball” was first displayed
- The Bloodbath of B-R5RB, which changed the game for years
But the events are primarily interesting due to the captivating way Groen puts his narrative together. He highlights the players involved, so along the way the reader is introduced to a Who’s Who of important players in EVE Online, many of which are still active today: UAxDeath, Mactep, Nync, Vuk Lau, Bobby Atlas, The Mittani, Vily, ProGodLegend, SirMolle, Sort Dragon, Manfred Sideous, and many more. These people often get to tell, in their own words, parts of the greater story, and Groen demonstrates an uncanny ability to choose quotations or selections of speeches that give the reader an understanding of the inner person behind the mask of the avatar. These are mini-biographies of ambition, greed, sacrifice, outstanding leadership, failed leadership, psychotic leadership, heroism, defiance, all on display. A college psych class could do much worse than read Groen’s work for an understanding of the oddities and the range of human behavior.
The one drawback in the book is that some of the major sections overlap in chronology. In other words, Groen discusses the rise and fall of a mega-alliance, like Redswarm, in one part of space, but then his focus shifts to another part of space, and he tells a new story of another mega-alliance. Therefore, the chapters are not strictly chronological, which can cause confusion for those used to less thematic presentations of history. Given the complex nature of EVE history, Groen’s choice to focus on major wars rather than on chronology makes perfect sense, but it takes some getting used to, even for those familiar with the broad outlines of EVE Online. I confess I often had to scan backwards to find out what year I was reading about.
Finally, worth mentioning is the exquisite presentation of the hard cover versions of both volumes. These oversized books are very attractively bound, with beautiful inner covers and fine graphic images, most by Razorien, whose work is familiar to most players of EVE. The chapters are beautifully laid out, with subsection dividers in larger font. The layout of each book is a work of art in itself. They are pricey, however. The Kindle version, while vastly less expensive, is a shadow of the hardcover experience. The subsections seem like new chapters, increasing confusion, making it hard to know if you are in a new subsection or a new chapter. The beautiful images are left to be displayed on whatever Kindle device you are using. On my iPhone, for example, the images cannot be appreciated either for their color or density. Reading the Kindle version on my PC was a much better experience, though the inclusion of the images tends to interrupt the text while those same images in the hardcover versions enhance the text. The subsections have different fonts, which were unattractive and strange. And my Kindle version had one line completely missing. My son, Seir Luciel, purchased the hardbound versions, and I’m planning a theft soon to rival those in EVE’s great history, because I want those books in my library! If you can afford them, purchase the hardbound versions.
The only problem with Groen’s work is that he is meticulous and doesn’t rush. He reads EVE internal histories, tracks down leads, does dozens of interviews, gets multiple sides to controversial stories so that the readers can make up their own minds which version of events to believe. Why is that a problem? Because I want Volume III and who knows how long I’ll have to wait for it!