Header Art by Major Sniper
As the war continues, I increasingly believe that this war is incredibly significant for EVE. I also come to believe that the consequences of it are even deeper than we initially realize. Some of this has already been spoken about, specifically relating to the politics of nullsec post-WWBII. For instance, Matterall – of Talking in Stations (TiS) fame – has made comments about not knowing what the map is going to look like after the war, nor the relations between people on that map. Nobody knows, though we know they won’t look like they did before.
But beyond this, how WWBII ends will have farther reaching consequences than simply nullsec politics; how this plays out will alter the way players – prospective, new, and old alike – see EVE Online. It’s going to change the way people view personal and collective agency to alter the landscape of EVE – whether people believe it is possible to influence the political war machine that is nullsec, or whether that machine can only influence you, caught up like a surfer on a wave, forced to submit to wherever the Powers of nullsec take you.
The issue at stake is whether it is possible for a large coalition group to lose, truly lose in EVE Online, or whether said groups are, or can become, too big to fail.
The Technical Front
This idea was questioned in a Polygon article entitled “EVE Online Is Getting Crushed by its Own Success” published January 15 of this year. The article recounts PAPI’s major loss at M2:
“The reason that Gianturco won the Battle of M2 (as it’s being called) is that so many people showed up for the climax that Eve Online literally broke down. Had the Battle of M2 gone off without a hitch, it would have been more than twice the size of the largest conflict that has ever been fought in the game’s nearly 18-year history.”
The Mittani and the Goons at large reject the idea that their victory was due to server malfunction (which is to be expected and planned for), but is instead due to the stupidity of PAPI decision-making: “It’s like an admiral complaining about losing a naval battle because he failed to take into account the conditions of the sea,” Gianturco told me, bursting into a fit of laughter. “It would be like at the Battle of Agincourt complaining, ‘Oh, yeah, well, we totally should have won. But there’s lots of mud! We charged up the hill into these guys with long bows, but if it wasn’t for the mud.’”
It’s a fair point, I suppose. It certainly is in line with The Mittani’s assertion that “the whole theme of EVE Online [is] harden the f*** up.”
The Opposing View
Not everyone saw the meaning of M2-XFE the same way, however. A darker portent, also highlighted in the Polygon article, was expressed by Horde’s leader Gobbins: “When the war started I told my guys that the war would end when either [Mittani’s faction] break, or PAPI breaks, or the server breaks. The servers broke first. The future of the war hinges on CCP being able to guarantee a reliable playing field and the conditions to fight, otherwise [these large-scale wars] will stagnate because coalitions can simply grow until they are ‘too big to fail.’ In other words, to the size where bringing enough people to defeat you breaks the server before the fight can happen.”
Technological limitations and the fear of being “too big to fail” cuts both ways. Right now it’s a challenge for PAPI and a saving grace for The Imperium. In the future, any team able to gather enough people on the battlefield has an inherent, systemic defensive advantage in addition to the in-game advantages of structures, bubbles, tether, etc. In essence, it limits the advantage of having more numbers than the enemy; outnumbering foes isn’t scalable.
To a large degree this is old news, just a rehashing of old back-and-forth arguments without resolution. But in the present moment, the risk of no-defeat conflicts hang over over EVE Online in the form of limited technology and an inability to support the scale nullsec war has grown to.
“Throwing up your hands is not the same as throwing in the towel,” explained creative director Bergur Finnbogason, also known as CCP Burger. “The kinds of changes needed to allow for 12,000-plus player battles are still years away.” Even if these fears are false, they may be be very real in the minds of prospective, new, and old players alike; it could lessen the amount of players willing to try a new game, thinking that the winners of yesterday will always and forever be the winners of tomorrow. This is a factor many new players already are suspicious of.
The Engagement Aspect
This is something I personally have felt, at brief periods. Earlier in the war, watching Talking In Stations, Caleb Ayrania provided a sentiment that stuck with me. To paraphrase: ‘After this war, even if Goons lose and have to move to lowsec, they will be back. And when they come back, I think they are going to be stronger, just like after the Casino War.’ At the time, I was thinking ‘Caleb, you’re nuts. Look what’s happening to them!’ But deep in the back of my head, I worried: ‘Could he be right? I suppose it happened before; maybe it could happen again.’
With the new economic and industry changes, I don’t think what happened after the first WWB could be repeated, or at the very least, not as easily. But if I am wrong, and Goons really are able to bounce back with no problem, there’s something kind of awful about that. Not for Goons, of course. But why go to war at all?
If they can’t really lose, then we can’t really win; why play the game if it was rigged before I even made my first toon?
This, of course, is exactly what Goons would have everyone believe about them. The propaganda game is strong with them, and one of the best ways to prevent wars you could lose is to convince potential enemies it’s all fruitless to begin with. This was one of the reasons Goons spammed so many keepstars in the first place; along with their military utility, those structures were also a tactic of intimidation, a pre-emptive symbol of demoralization.
‘You see all these? You’d never grind through them all in a million years; don’t even try.’
For this reason, I am very glad PAPI did grind through them, even just to show it could be done, as an elimination of that symbol of demoralization. I’d even argue that the grinding of these keepstars specifically was good for the game; it reinstated the principle that even the “impossible” could be done.
The Right to Lose
What was striking when this war started was The Imperium started de-emphasizing their former success, the same success they had been so vocal about beforehand. Later, in a discussion on Push To Talk, Caleb Ayrania was affirming the sentiments PAPI alliance members to-be, saying The Imperium had gotten too big. The discussion went as follows:
Caleb Ayrania: “[It’s a] fact that there was a lot of groups that were starting to get a little bit scared of how The Imperium was ahead of everyone else. The Delve miracle was a problem, and its what the eco-teamers tried to resolve and fix a little bit.”
Moomin Amatin: “But do you think it was a problem realistically . . . the Delve model to me, as Arrendis rightly alluded to and everyone else here: it was a lot of hard work; it was min-maxing; and it was actually paying attention to the game.”
Caleb Ayrania: “The point is everyone else was not playing the game like The Imperium, they were not min-maxing to this degree. I think it was Darkness and, up in the north, they were actually outperforming on bounty ratting. So it’s not like other groups were not trying to play the game as effectively as The Imperium. But they were not even reaching half of it. The fact that— I think Dunk said this on a show: That if it had gone on for another year or two it would have been completely impossible to do anything effectively against The Imperium. And I think that’s actually true.”
Arrendis: “Ok but let me ask you something. So what? I mean, don’t take that as flippant. But like, if we look at EVE, right? If we look at EVE as a PvP set up, why is it the group that is actually putting in the work is the one that should be punished? The playstyle gets nerfed, the resources get nerfed, we get attacked by the rest of the game. Don’t tell me there’s not some punitive measure. But my question here is, alright, why is it the group that’s putting in the work that’s putting the work is being punished rather than the guys who were too f***ing lazy and too f***ing arrogant to get out there and get their hands dirty and do the work.” (Being allowed to lose!)
Caleb Arrendis: Well, ok; let me put it like this. It’s not that I disagree with what you are saying and I think the eco-team is trying to land the changes in a place where it does not actually take away that option of winning. But the problem was that it was infinitely scalable.”
TheMacCloud: “Caleb; the CSM, especially the CSM from The Imperium at that time told CCP that that was how it was going to go down. They said: if you [CCP] didn’t change this, this, and this, then this is going to be the end result. And CCP was like ‘well if it comes down to that, then we’ll change stuff.’”
Caleb Ayrania: “Basically, all of The Imperium could point at it and say ‘look, look, look, look how broken it is. Then finally [CCP] woke up and decided to finally create an eco-team and dedicate some time to looking at numbers and actually crunching that into something meaningful, and finding out ‘OK where is it broken?’ And then they owned it and said, ‘OK, yeah; we broke it.’”
Is The Imperium’s Right to Lose in Danger?
For Caleb, the main problem wasn’t that The Imperium were doing better than others, but their scale of increase was out of control. As anyone in EVE knows, it takes money to make money; the more money you have, the easier it is to acquire more. Ventures turn into barges turn into Rorquals turn into many Rorquals. The Imperium’s wealth was snowballing, and with that, so did its power.
The kicker: The Imperium’s powerful wealth engine was being injected with nitrous in the form of CCP game mechanics, sending The Imperium’s accumulative abilities into the stratosphere.
As Caleb put it, “had [the Rorqual meta] gone on for another year or two it would have been completely impossible to do anything effectively against The Imperium.” The Imperium was success multiplied by “infinite scalability.” It appears the problem got so bad that (according to TheMacCloud) Goons on the Council of Stellar Management were warning devs of their own wealth-making potential, warning CCP that if they didn’t make changes, the situation would become irredeemable.
Changes eventually came, but by that time, Goons had already made out like kings, planting Keepstars around their space like McDonalds burger joints. Even without the mechanics of infinite scalability from before, Goon power and wealth was still being fueled by their former golden age; they had the luxury of entering the next era starting on third base.
But Arrendis makes a really good point: so what!? Everyone had the same mechanics to work with, and Goons worked damn hard to get what they got. Why should they be punished for being successful? Shouldn’t people be allowed to lose?; and, on the flip side of that coin, allowed to win?
My answer is a yes. In fact, I think being allowed to lose, and win, is essential for any healthy gaming motivation. Actions need consequences, lasting ones, painful ones – meaning somewhere along the way there has to be losers. Without meaningful consequences in EVE, one might as well play some other game.
Ironically, having losers in the game makes everyone a winner, with respect to having meaningful gameplay. Though I disagree with Arrendis’ and Caleb’s position that, when faced with losing, it is somehow “unfair” for “the rest of the game” to team up against the bigger foe. To those who do think it unfair for Goons to be attacked for their success I’d say, “This is EVE: harden the f*** up.”
Talk Shit, Get Hit?
I wonder, however, how many Goons would agree being allowed to lose extends to The Imperium, along with the rest of nullsec. I get the sense from many comments on INN that The Imperium should be protected from any meaningful loss.
I’ve been told Goons are the primary source of content in EVE, that if they died EVE would die with it. I’ve been told beating Goons, forcing them to taste real, effective loss, would be bad for the game. I’ve been told that PAPI is simply shooting themselves in the foot for even attempting to take down the greatest most powerful coalition in the game.
But I think these sentiments ultimately result in a kind of Goon plot-armor; narratively, Goons have convinced themselves that they are too big too fail. Not economically, or militarily, but in worth: the game would lose too much by losing them. But that’s ridiculous. Imagine BoB saying “We create the content. If we lose, you all lose!”BoB did lose, like so many groups that either collapsed entirely or downsized dramatically, recounted in Groen’s history books.
It was a great thing that BoB fell! Why? Because they were the biggest! And not only this; after the scandal where BoB got caught getting developer help, the community of EVE needed to know BoB could fall.
For the good of the game, they needed to know that grit, will, and teamwork could overcome any in-game or systemic advantage. The EVE community needed to know that, with effort, any imbalance could be corrected by the community, and that the community had the power to do this. Goons defeating BoB was, it seems to me, as much about power as about principle: the principle that even the very tallest tree can be brought low.
Empires deserve to be great and have their moment in the sun. But they also deserve to fall, be built upon by the next empire, which eventually will fall and be replaced again. Death brings life; we “only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths,” said Arthur Schopenhauer.
The problem, though, as Caleb noted, is when success (perhaps even narrative success) becomes infinitely scalable. Once people start feeling immune to defeat, no longer “allowed to lose,” the whole death & (re)birth chain of EVE’s existence is upset. People start to lose faith that there’s much more EVE to play, much more history to write. If people start believing there are no future warlords that could create new future alliances and coalitions, people stop trying. And when people stop trying, EVE stagnates.
What Is PAPI Fighting For?
Later in the May 29 Push To Talk episode, Caleb notes: “I think Moomin in one of his articles gave all the different casus belli of PAPI and none of them are agreeing. It’s like, they don’t have a unified goal; it’s just a joke!”
Caleb is right; much of PAPI’s spoken reasons for fighting this war have been scattered, unorganized; however I would counter that, in a space pew pew video game, there doesn’t need to be any reasons more complex than 1) “I don’t like you” and 2) “Because I want to.” But to Caleb’s point, one of the reasons PAPI’s narratives haven’t been unified is quite simple – that’s what you get when you create a NATO or a Warsaw Pact.
The PAPI organisation is a conglomeration of multiple different agents with their own personal agendas, even many multiple agendas per alliance. At some point, trying to find a unified motive for aggression in a United Nations-style organisation starts looking silly.
But that’s not to say PAPI members don’t have some unified motives in common. Far from it. Forget who the real Goonswarm Federation are; let’s talk about what Goonswarm Federation represents in the EVE consciousness.
The Reality of the Enemy
Goonswarm are the authors of BoB’s destruction, the enactors of the Delve Miracle, the stormtroopers of Burn Jita campaigns, the builders of The Great Wall of Keepstars. When I first entered this game, Goons were already established as legends, a colossus spreading its golden feet across the southwest, rich in history and weapons of mass destruction. Hated by some and loved by others, but always in the spotlight.
Why do I think PAPI is fighting this war? Why are we so dedicated to tearing down Goons? What’s the true Casus Belli? It is summed up by the deeper fear under the surface of The Mittani’s taunt: “You blue the entire galaxy and you still couldn’t get it done!”
If The Mittani is right then alarm bells should be ringing: EVE is in trouble if the many can’t fight the few, or the rich. EVE is in trouble if anyone, my coalition included, becomes impossible to beat when the entire galaxy has voted with their missiles, lasers, drones, and artillery shells that an Empire’s time has run its course.
PAPI aggression starts with the same principle Goons once held when they fought BoB: no tree is too tall to be brought low. No (Delve) miracle is too divine toavoid having its feet put back on common earth.
Maybe Goons did outplay the rest of the game years back. Maybe Goons did work harder. Maybe the rest of the galaxy did drop the ball. Well, as Arrendis said, so what!? Are we pubbies just supposed to lay down and die, because Goons tell us to? Are we supposed to just accept that the future, our future, will always be dominated by Goons because years back they min-maxed better than everyone else on mechanics that don’t even exist anymore?
Not me. Maybe we are fighting for our future: a pubbie future! Maybe we’re fighting for redemption, goddammit! It isn’t an easy motivation to articulate because it doesn’t exist in-game, but in the minds of us pubbies; that’s why it gets expressed in so many, seemingly contradicting ways.
It is a belief that no one should be too big to fail. Not because they have too many members. Not because of the servers. Not because of M2-XFE. Not because of plot armor. Instead, it is because to die is the natural way of EVE, and to be immortal is an aberration against nature. Because immortality is a denial of the next generation’s right to exist and take your place. Because what was glorious about the past shouldn’t become the tyranny of the future.
Everyone, including Goons, and at this point especially Goons, should be allowed to lose. Because if Goons don’t lose, whether due to PAPI negligence or Goon brilliance, the reality is that the entire gaming community will ever after look at EVE Online with suspicion: “Did Goons really win because they were better? Or because, by that time, there was no catching up? Not with those servers; the game got too big.”
PAPI fights to prove that players – not wealth, not the servers – still decide the future of EVE Online. God help us if we lose.