Diplomacy: Agents of Change


This is part three of a five-part series examining diplomacy in EVE Online. The previous two releases were War of Words and Best of Enemies. You can also see the individual interviews with FCs, diplos, and alliance leaders here.

This article investigates how diplomacy happens behind the scenes and how Diplomats function as agents of change. As well, we will take a look at the real-life relationships – and what the constraints are – of diplomats as people devoting so much time to EVE. The types of lives that diplomats live, in-game and out.

The names and details of some of these individuals have been altered or obfuscated to protect and respect their privacy, except where explicit consent was provided – or their profile is so public and well known that such obfuscation would be pointless.

Without further ado, let’s go to the diplos.

Diplomats as people

Jane Doe. John Q Public. Joe Shmoe. Whatever you call them, diplomats in EVE are people. They might be the milkman, the handyman, the school teacher, or the geeky kid next door. They could be your State Senator or the Crown Prosecutor, your daughter or the poli-sci student dating your daughter. They’re just people, and no matter the prestige of their real life jobs (or not), diplomats come from all walks of life. EVE players come from all walks of life.

I will, for the formal record, restate something I believe to be a truism of this game: There are no stupid people playing EVE Online.

Sure, there are people who do some really idiotic things, or make rash decisions. There are bullies and the bull-headed. The are the brash and the brave, or just those who espouse George C Scott’s operatic bravado. There are also the meek and the humble, and those who take great enjoyment from the zen of moving things from one place to another, or sightseeing.

There are great examples of people who spend their time volunteering to listen to other players, dedicated to helping them through rough times, to be a shoulder to lean on when life is hard because this is just a game, and we’re all in it together. And then there are those shouting at them in Reddit to kill themselves, because they feel small or someone hurt them.

Diplomats occupy a unique niche in New Eden, and when I asked several diplomats to talk about their real-world lives most were quite reticent. I think one diplo in particular said it best:

“I work in IT (surprise surprise right?); Being a diplo definitely shares a skill set with trying to persuade people to do the things the way you want them to be done (policy, purchases, etc)… Most diplos don’t like talking about IRL, because we are the public face of alliances and there are a lot of dickbags that play this game. Something something dox dox dox.”

But diplomats are just people. They tend towards having – or later adopting – careers which allow them a greater degree of flexibility in their work and in their time, as the demands of being a diplomat tend to exist at all times. This is where the above diplo’s aside about working in IT comes in; there tends to be a lot of constant activity and constant awareness required in being a diplomat (or even a good fleet commander), in the sense that the political landscape can shift very quickly.

Working in IT often means that you’re always in front of a computer or connected to a data stream, and this makes it easier to balance the demands of the diplomat. Or, as Sally Kafferton, member of Goonswarm’s Corps Diplomatique put it:

“It’s difficult to identify a strict day-to-day, given that diplomatic work tends to fold around the everything else one does. It really feels more like a layer that sits atop your day, permeating it as you get work done, study at uni, or whatever. The mechanics of it, of course, is ultimately keeping up with ongoing happenings, talking to folks, and the like, but it isn’t something you can simply shape into a daily routine.”

There are a number of non-IT related forms of employment which suit the diplomatic lifestyle well, and it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument over whether it’s a person’s natural skills in real life (IRL) which make them a good diplomat, or if the skills they learn in negotiating New Eden contribute to their IRL lives. The opinion seems pretty evenly split among those I’ve asked.

There are some common elements, though, in the personality traits which serve, as covered in the first article in this series. Between the daily demands and the personality balancing which is sometimes required, I’m frankly surprised there aren’t more mothers among the head diplomats of New Eden.

Diplomats are agents of change

I’ll return to an assertion I made in the first article; diplomats are people with the authority to say yes to something, or to get that approval quickly after the fact.

As such, whether the scale of your group can support full-time diplomats or not becomes less important than the results which they can achieve without the expenditure of ships or the defense of timers, or the the fights they can get you when you’re starved for content. Sure, FCs do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting fights, but more often than not it’s the diplomats who start the wars.

“In my experience 9 times out of 10 diplomatic deals are done by hand shake and then sold to the reliant parties afterwards. The formal part where everyone passes a Google doc with dates and times might be after all have agreed, but the principle stuff is 2 or 3 people saying “Hey, we can make this work?”, and then convincing the people who trust them.

Sometimes making it work is a matter of making the right friends in the right places, or curating a certain culture of respect in ‘enemy’ camps. There are certainly strong friendships which – aforementioned in previous articles – have built some of the strongest alliances in the game, and failing to consider your friends needs can sour a profitable relationship or lead to full-scale failure cascade.

An easy way to think about the best milieu for an aspiring diplomat is to reflect on the nature of a retainer. No, I don’t mean that thing you wore as a preteen to help straighten your smile or correct an under-bite, I mean a professional servant. Seneschal, attendant, proxy, chamberlain, proctor, agent; whichever term suits your purpose, there is a place in historical leadership for the retainer.

In essence, a retainer is a friend with a purpose. Equal parts confidant and custodian, their job is to counsel and construct an environment which contribute’s to the success of their leader and their fellows. If you consider the definition of a proctor, as an official charged with various duties, especially with the maintenance of good order, it makes a lot of sense. 

The person whose job it is to maintain good order can, by and large, decide what that looks like over time. The longer you’re a diplo, the more you’re trusted to make things work and the more leadership will defer to you with your successes, because you follow the Rule of GSD: Get. Shit. Done.

But that doesn’t do your corporation, alliance, coalition, or region any good if you’re not working for the best aims possible. Sometimes, that means doing something which will benefit an enemy, because the long-term gains will outweigh any short-term reward. It can also mean getting as close to enemy leadership as your own, if only to be taken seriously when you present advice, or an opinion.

To quote Tsunetomo:

“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood…

“To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer.”

Diplos, as such, have to have been in the position to have earned enough favor and trust to be counted upon to keep the status quo, and – better yet – to improve the state of the nation. If the nation’s needs and demands can only be met by way of conflict, then conflict it is. Conflict is not inherently bad, but just the release of stress and pressure when there’s an imbalance.

Further, like a retainer, a diplo should never operate with their own aims primary in their minds. As Opner Dresden put it to me:

“Best diplos are the ones that didn’t seek the job… maybe there are the sort of 4d chess player types that will be more useful to a group, but they’re rare enough and the game isn’t serious enough to make them worth while in the long term.

“Diplos are just people, if they value being someone important more than doing things for the group their with, think very carefully on if they should be where they are (if you don’t control who’s in that job for you… reconsider what group you’re in.)”

While a trusted, capable, even-keeled and savvy diplo can grow the boundaries and possibilities of a corporation or alliance, so too can an overly zealous, ambitious, self-centered, or vainglorious diplo wreck almost everything.

Narcissism is as inherently damaging to good diplomatic relations as science is corrosive to religious belief.

Diplomatic beef and the place of the grudge

We know diplomats are people, and this is just a game. What we don’t often get to see or hear is the way that bad diplomatic relationships positively impact the game. It does happen more than you think. Some of the best content in the game is developed because someone legitimately doesn’t like someone else.

I’m not talking about the GrrrGoons effect, here. That’s just game-state narrative. I’m talking about that one guy or lady you work with that you just can’t stand. The person who gets under your skin and simultaneously makes you angry enough to fight but also want to flee the room. That one person who elicits a schadenfreude so visceral that Game of Thrones fans immediately know you mean Ramsay Bolton.

Everybody’s got one person who just rubs them the wrong way.

Call it a personality conflict, incompatible egos, or even sheer pettiness, but it makes for great narrative and even better fights. A good example is Garst Tyrell.

I like Garst. I respect the guy. He’s building a pretty good group. Good size, pretty active PVP, doing some good things in the regions where he operates. Been in the news a fair amount. He’s one of a few people in the smaller-size groups who is pushing an independent agenda.

Garst hates Iron Armada. LOL.

This is a good thing. For him, and for us. It means whenever he gets a chance to fight us, we can pretty much guarantee he will. The rivalry is a known quantity, and a negative like that is good when you’re of a size where you struggle for content. This is opposed, of course, by the similar rivalry between Goons and NC./PanFam, where they’re both of a size to be deadlocked; neither side able or willing to take significant action because it would mean having to commit fully.

But this is a game, and we’re all just people. I suspect that if Garst and I met at Fanfest or EVE Vegas that we’d get along just fine. In fact, at these events it’s not at all uncommon to find members of Imperium and NC. sharing drinks. You’ll just as often find senior FC’s like KillahBee having a beer with Mittani as you are to find them sitting with their own mates. It’s just human nature.

In fact, EVE meets and big celebrations are some of the best places to make diplomacy happen, and indeed it does. Both as reported in Empires of EVE, and by the personal recounting of multiple diplomats and alliance leaders, some of the biggest fights, wars, deals, and alliances are brokered over a draught at one of these events. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that the future of a whole year in New Eden is often decided by just five or six people, and who they’re having drinks with.

The beefs that bear themselves out at these events can be predictors for what will happen in game.

Burden of Proof

Stepping back to the idea of bad diplos and the diplomat’s role as an agent of change, it’s important to ask the question, “how does a diplo fall?”

Well, it depends on the individual, but it usually starts with hubris. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this game; like, unhealthily wrapped up in it. The community, the game, the meta can all be so immersive that if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands you can really dig a foxhole for yourself and just pull it in over top of yourself. This can make a situation where someone might brush something off turn into a much bigger morass. Throw in a splash of grandeur, ego, butt-hurt, or narcissism and you’re primed for a cataclysmic social meltdown. The worst part of which is that it’s fully avoidable.

Because diplomats are often the change-makers and the deal-brokers, a lot of what they do operates on a principle of trust. On an honor system which counts on the strength of their word and assurances that they will GSD. It is reasonable, then, that the moment a diplomat’s trustworthiness comes into question that a harsh light is lit – brighter than a thousand cynos.

When your word is your credit, your bond or stock in trade, the moment the veracity of that word becomes suspect the game stutters.

Being factually mistaken about something is shameful, but not insurmountable. Having committed an error because something was not fully understood or was misheard or misinterpreted, this is forgivable. Losing a dozen titans in a badly coordinated show of support for an ally is just part of playing the game. #alreadyreplaced

For a diplomat there is no greater treason than to be caught lying. Even going full enemy spy and flipping sides isn’t so bad. Look at The Judge. Pull of something clever, or brash, or ballsy enough and everyone will just slow-clap, raise a glass, and curse you merrily for it. That’s a part of EVE.

But get caught lying to your friends? Go off half-cocked and start making shit up to try and make something happen? Lie about your sources or what you have? It doesn’t just make you a bad diplomat, it makes it empirical that you’re playing the game for the wrong reasons and it evaporates credibility like rubbing alcohol in a heat wave.

That’s social suicide.

That’s why diplomats – in addition to the daily plenitude of mundane minutiae – bear the burden of proof. As a diplomat you can have it two ways, you can have a rock-solid reputation, or you can have proof; and ninety-six and a-half percent of the time the latter doesn’t count. If you have both: a good reputation and proof, then you can do big things.

You can be an agent of change.

The next part in the series (part four) addresses the diplomacy that happens as an economic effort. This is the diplomacy of power, from rental agreements and non-invasion pacts, to the greater strategy of out-maneuvering and out-spending your enemies and allies.

Part four will also examine the allegations of Real Money Trading (RMT): what it is, how it works, where it takes place, and how it may have an impact on the undercurrent of politics in New Eden. This will also be a retrospective, touching on the casino bans and account seizures by CCP.

Stay tuned to Imperium News Network for Part 4 of this series.

Let your voice be heard! Submit your own article to Imperium News here!

Would you like to join the Imperium News staff? Find out how!


  • Parv

    That was a fantastic article.

    February 8, 2018 at 9:00 AM