Art by Smultar.
Okay, people, get your tinfoil hats on, warm up your neuralyzers, and prepare to take a rough trip down the rabbit hole.
A quick introduction might be in order, as most things in EVE only make sense when in context. So, I was a mid-level member (no special status) of Pandemic Horde for a couple of years, untill things less important than EVE (aka real life) forced me on a big break. That’s just to make sure people don’t misinterpret my background and why I’m writing this. Also, in the not-so-important real world (aka not-EVE), my work is about…well, let’s say conflict. All sorts of it. And I like my work almost as much as EVE. That’s just to state that I possibly have a slightly decent grasp of what I’m talking about.
One of the hottest topics running in Eve for the last year has been the creation of a superpower consisting of a coalition of forces under the name of the Imperium. Like every self-respecting coin, the discussion here has two sides: people argue about how it can be taken apart, and people argue about how it cannot be taken apart.
The means vary. Diplomacy; infiltration and sabotage; guerrilla warfare; economic warfare; information warfare; out-of-game attacks to the personas, the credibility, the internal structure that constitute the Imperium,; my (and probably half of the capsuleers’) favorite modus operandi: all-out warfare with as many pixels being blown to pieces as possible; and finally, as some modern strategists might suggest, hybrid warfare (which basically is a cool way to say “all of the above”).
Many have tried to apply some of these methods. Let’s not forget, a couple of years back Goons and their allies (who now constitute the main body of the Imperium) were evicted from their space up north during the WWB/Casino War. But, as recent conflicts have shown, the current Imperium is a whole different beast than the old Goonswarm, just as the current EVE is a whole different world than that two years ago.
First of all, I’d like to list the biggest “guns” the Imperium can bring to any conflict: numbers, industrial strength, a ton of supercapitals, and a pretty solid (up to now) command and control structure. All four are indisputable. They’re the biggest coalition to-date, they top the MER every month, they have more supers than any possible opponent, and they have leaders and commanders and directors that know what results they want and how to achieve them.
Any of these advantages alone wouldn’t be enough to make a coalition unassailable in EVE. Their combination, however, cranks up the difficulty level to Mount Everest. People keep asking CCP to change the game mechanics slightly in order to nerf the Imperium’s power, and at the same time Imperium’s spokespersons laugh and dare CCP to try it, claiming that any nerf will hit their enemies harder than the Imperium itself. So let’s take a look at the suggested angles of attack against the Imperium’s fortress.
People have been crying for Rorqual nerfs like crazy ever since the industrial capital ship entered the game. They also say that nerfing industry or the ISK faucets of the game would hit the Imperium’s industrial power. On the other side of the fence, Imperium members claim that such a nerf would hit their enemies as hard as them, maybe even harder. In my opinion, any universal nerf will probably hit the small fish more than the big ones. The Imperium has got the manpower and the organization to adapt to such changes faster and smoother than any small corporation, and can provide safe waters for its members much easier, whether they’re flying Rorqs or Ventures, VNIs or supercarriers.
How about nerfing the supercapitals? Well, same shit, different day, as some marines would say. If capitals and supers get nerfed, that will affect both sides of a conflict. Add to that the fact that the Imperium can probably field more sub-caps than any other coalition due to its available manpower and one can probably assume that the more caps and supers get nerfed, the more the Imperium gains the advantage. Right now, the n+10 tactic works in every fight in nullsec, as long as you’re willing to take some casualties and submit oneself to the horrors of 1% TIDI.
How about applying the nerf bat only to big coalitions? Whoa there fella, you’re beginning to swim in perilous waters! Two major problems arise just from the wording. What is “big” in EVE? Which is the magical number that a corporation/coalition has to reach to become “medium” from “small” and “big” from “medium”? Even worse, let’s remember that EVE is trying its damnedest to be a true sandbox. If you start applying rules that constrict freedom of choice, that say anyone’s sand castle can only be “this big”, you start eroding the concept of “true sandbox”. And trust me, people play EVE exactly because it IS a sandbox.
As for diplomacy, well, that’s a different story. The Imperium has proven that it can outmaneuver its opponents in that field and come on top with shocking results. CO2 can attest to that. So how do you attack the Imperium’s might and win? Easy. You don’t. Uhm…that doesn’t sound right. What I meant to say is, you don’t attack the Imperium per-se. If people want to join the Imperium, they will. If the Imperium’s directors/leaders/commanders continue to be better at what they do than their counterparts, they’ll keep winning. And it doesn’t really matter if X coalition is 10% better in PvP than the Imperium (in EVE math, a 10% advantage usually means the other guy is screwed); quantity has a quality of its own. If the Imperium can field significantly larger numbers of the same ship, they will have the advantage, regardless of the skill of their opponents.
So, is EVE going to turn into an Imperium lake (anyone that got the reference to old Rome gets a +1 in History)? Well, it depends. Can something be done about it and not destroy the sandbox character of the game? Well, it depends. Play EVE long enough and you’ll learn that “it depends” is the most common answer to any question.
The only one that can mitigate (not completely destroy) the strength of the Imperium is CCP, and nothing can really be done about how well the Imperium is organized, directed and represented. That has very little to do with the game and very much to do with the people themselves. Even though I consider myself a “grrrGoons” person, I have to applaud how well they managed to pick themselves up after WWB/Casino war and adapt to the new EVE. But the two things that can be disrupted is the Imperium’s industrial and quantitative strength.
At the moment, the Imperium is basically self-sustaining. It can produce almost everything it needs right in Delve, from minerals to high-end wormhole materials. It still uses Jita, but only because the market hub is profitable. To change this, CCP would have to overhaul the whole industrial section of the game. Basically, they would have to rearrange minerals all over EVE, giving every region access to only a specific type of resource. At the same time, they would have to change the way ships are built, requiring a wider variety of minerals per ship, without a distinction between “rare” and “common” ones. To give an example, Delve would only produce tritanium, while Domain only mexallon, but to build any ship you would need 33% tritanium, 33% mexallon and 33% megacyte, found in Scalding Pass. That is a very basic example; one could probably stack the deck more or less depending on ship races, types, tiers etc., but you get the general picture. We actually have that happening right now with rat loot. The result would be that any area over-exploited (like Delve in the present), would cause the price of its resources to drop, which would lessen the true industrial strength of the coalition doing the over-exploitation. Smaller corporations would see more buck for their ISK, making it less easy for the big sharks to dominate the market. If you want any real-world examples, look at oil. It is limited to small areas on the globe and the more it is mined, the more its price drops.
Still, I wouldn’t expect the Imperium to die overnight. Its industrial tower might be taken down a peg or two, but EVE players have proven time and again to be resourceful, imaginative and original, out-of-the-box thinkers. The Imperium would be able to manipulate prices due to the huge reserves it already has, until it found a way to control more areas (renting comes to mind). Or it would favor doctrines that supported its own resources (in example ships that used more tritanium in their construction).
The second pillar of the Imperium’s temple that can be attacked is its military strength-of-numbers. And if you think that the reallocation of resources all around EVE would be difficult, wait til you hear this. At the moment, The Imperium has the mightiest supercapital fleet around. No buts, no discussion. No one can field bigger numbers or somehow outmaneuver it. Every fight comes down to either attrition (and Goons have proven time and again that they can and are willing to take the losses), or a siege of sorts, trying to keep cyno inhibitors up and running. What could change this is the super-evolution of the game engine and server hardware. For example, a Machariel fleet could (in theory) warp in extreme range of the support wing of the supercap fleet, sniper a couple of FAXes and warp off before Goon supers can lock or fire their doomsdays. Combine that with bombing runs, rinse and repeat, and you have a smallish force chipping away at the big guns. That is a tactic that in a perfect world would require very good coordination and extremely disciplined capsuleers behind the keyboards. But we aren’t living in a perfect world, are we? Add in TIDI and all the beautiful problems that rear their heads when the field is filled with more than a few thousand ships (modules not working properly, fleet warps not going through, sockets closing, clients dying, you know, the usual), and the small, nimble fleet of Machariels will die really fast to a couple of DDs.
But one shouldn’t get carried away too much. The Imperium probably has just as good fleet commanders as its opposing forces, just as good cap and sub cap pilots as any other force. New doctrines would evolve to counter such tactics. Such a change wouldn’t make it impossible for the Imperium to win fights, it would only give smaller fish with “better skills” a chance against the huge super-blob.
So what’s the purpose of this story? Well, time to take the tinfoil hats off. First off, people screaming to the top of their lungs that CCP must do something to stop the Imperium from becoming the only superpower in EVE need to think about what they’re saying. CCP didn’t make the Imperium a superpower, and it sure as hell can’t unmake it. Its leaders did, its directors did, and its commanders did. As long as EVE remains a sandbox, people can make of it what they want, including becoming a superpower. Steps could be taken to level the decks a bit more, but don’t expect EVE players to take the changes sitting on their thumbs. Capsuleers will see the changes, assess their impact and adapt their play style, all the way kicking and screaming about CCP “ruining their game”, while making profits and blowing up space pixels.
What players should be doing is asking about meaningful changes in the game. A better-written code instead of new skins (really, were citadel skins what the game was missing?). An economic system and a resource allotment that will allow neither monopolies nor over exploitation nor isolationism. A better security team that will do a better job finding and killing bots in-game.
Now, time to put my sunglasses on and fire that neuralyzer.