The Goonswarm

Paul Raven @ 14-07-2011

I’ve lost the attribution note for where I found this piece, so apologies for the lack of source (it’s been sat in my Evernote inbox waiting to be read for a couple of weeks now), but given Monday’s mention of EVE I thought it well worth dragging out into the sunlight, even though it’s a few months old. So: gamer blog Rock Paper Shotgun did a long interview with an EVE player known as The Mittani – CEO of Goon Fleet, the Something Awful forum’s in-game clade – shortly before his election as chair of the Council of Stellar Management, which is CCP’s mechnaism for enfranchising EVE players as stakeholders in its long-term development, and it’s well worth a read.

If you’re thinking “why would I want to read an interview with some MMO ubergeek?”, I hazard to suggest you’re making a category error; The Mittani is more than just a player of games, he’s the figurehead and autocratic leader of a virtual corporation comprised of over ten thousand real people… and that corporation has, it would appear, engendered a significant cultural shift in the imaginary galaxy where it resides, as well as in parts of the real world in which that virtuality is embedded. He is shamelessly cocky yet also disarmingly modest, and talks more common sense about leadership than the vast majority of the biz-speak hucksters that the blogosphere teems with.

I’m not suggesting you need to admire him, or even like him. But I’m saying with certainty he’s a fascinating character. A few snips to tempt you with:

RPS: So what happened to Band of Brothers?

MT: I, uh, disbanded them.

RPS: What? How was that even your choice?

MT: At the beginning of the second stage of the Great War we had a defector from the executor corporation of Band of Brothers who thought that we were cooler guys. Basically he thought that his alliance was full of assholes, because their leadership structure was full of guys who wanted to be in “the most elite alliance in Eve”. Whereas Goonswarm, a lot of the time, were bad. We had a lot of newbies and no pretentions.

The disbanding itself was covered by the BBC. Ordinarily when you have a defector you do smash and grabs, just getting the other guy to steal everything that’s not nailed down and come over to your side. Now, I was still just the spymaster at this point, and I was sitting there in my office and I had this brain fart – with the access that this guy had, he had the authority to kick out every single corporation in the alliance and then shut down his own corporation, thus disbanding the alliance, which has the impact of disabling all the sovereignty defenses in their region. This had never been done before. All of a sudden I was like, “Holy shit! I can do this!”

Also, at the time Goonswarm owned half the galaxy. We controlled all of these regions, but as soon as we disbanded Band of Brothers we abandoned everything and all moved into what had been their territory. Over the course of two very bloody months we purged them and took all their space.

RPS: You hated them that much?

MT: Well, this goes back to the T20 scandal and these people declaring us a cancer on Eve. The entire Great War took four years, so yeah, maybe we were a little vengeful.

[…]

RPS: Do you think the Great War happened because you guys needed something to keep you entertained?

MT: No, it really was a bitter grudge war. They took it outside of the game. When they invaded Syndicate space it wasn’t a retaliation, it was them saying that Goons are bad human beings. …one higher up at Band of Brothers said “this is as personal as it ever gets”. And then it came out that one of their leaders was a CCP developer who was giving them items, which ignited a huge firestorm of controversy. You had these elite players who were the paragons of the old guard telling everybody, quite literally, “We’re better than you”, and then it turns out they’re a bunch of disgusting cheaters who are being given some of the most valuable items in the game by the developers.

RPS: What’s next for you guys?

MT: People ask us that a lot, but we don’t plan more than a month or two in advance… we do scheme a lot, because thanks to our spy network, we know what the other alliances are doing. But fanfest usually brings everything to a crashing halt. The game gets really boring around fanfest, because everyone’s planning on coming here.

We are griefers. If nothing is going to happen then we’re going to try to find something that screams and bleeds and poke at it.

[…]

RPS: Do you feel like expanding on what you said as we were walking over here, about Eve being a terrible game and that it’s the players who make it interesting?

MT: Well, I suppose since I’m going to be on the Council of Stellar Management and I’m probably going to be the Chairman I should probably clarify that.

Eve, for Goons, is fun because we play with Goons. By itself, it’s a game where you have to jump through a lot of hoops to have fun. I think all the small fixes CCP are doing at present are good. Eve players make fun of World of Warcraft a lot, but if you look at what Blizzard has done ironing out all those flaws and annoyances, it’s a tremendous achievement. Eve’s learning curve is vertical, and full of spikes, and the beautiful side of Eve is the image of it that players have in their heads.

The best analogy for Eve is this: 1% of the time, when you take part in a massive fleet fight, or take part in some epic espionage caper or something, it is the most fun game you will ever encounter. 99% of the time you’re just waiting for something to happen. But it’s that 1% that hooks people like crack cocaine. I mean, you don’t get interviewed by the BBC when you win a WoW raid.

RPS: For my money, Eve might be the most fascinating game in existence today. But that doesn’t stop it from being interminably boring as well.

MT: Right. I mean most Eve players are stuck in high security space mining, and a lot of the core PvE in Eve has you sitting there are watching three grey bars slowly turn red.

Lots more interesting stuff in there, not least of which is the revelation – not entirely surprising in retrospect, I suppose – that CCP has its own in-house professor of economics. Wow.

I really need to stop admiring this world from afar and get my hands dirty, don’t I? Are there any EVErs in the Futurismic readership who’d be willing to show me the ropes?


No recession in the metaverse, either

Paul Raven @ 17-12-2010

A sweeping statement, perhaps, but still: having already established that the “global recession” isn’t actually global, there are signs that some things are still selling hard and fast here in the West. The weird bit? One of those things is access to a hyperreal virtual universe. I’m talking, of course, about World Of Warcraft; I’ll let Edward Castronova sum it up in a few sentences.

Blizzard’s Cataclysm broke a single-day sales record for PC games: 3.3m copies in a day. At $40 each, that’s $132m revenue in a day.

The weekend box office for the latest Narnia move this past weekend was $24m. The other fantasy releases like Tangled and Harry Potter, came to $24m in their second or third week.

OK, granted, WoW was an international release, and those box office figures are (I presume) US-only. But even so, the entertainments that we value sufficiently to pay money for are changing, and changing fast… and no matter how much “can’t live without it” rhetoric you might hear from its regular users, I’m pretty sure no economist in their right mind would describe WoW as anything other than a leisure luxury.

And hey – looks like Blizzard’s managing to make a pretty dime in a piracy-riddled digital world, too. How’d you like them apples, Hollywood?


What do Snoop Dogg and organic blueberries have in common?

Paul Raven @ 24-08-2010

They’re both meatspace brands who’ve seen substantial success from crossmarketing themselves with digital equivalents in virtual spaces and MMOs. If the trend of material minimalism continues (which doesn’t seem utterly infeasible, given the continued rocky uncertainties of the world’s economies), the digital sphere may become the last bastion for affordable and aspirational conspicuous consumption*… and a real moneyspinner for the more established virtual worlds.

And those worlds are already a moneyspinner: Blizzard recently got a US$88million judgement against someone who was running their own (unlicensed) WoW server/world, charging users for access and virtual goods. That’s not pocket change, at least not in this household.

[ * Although, based on my experiences in Second Life, you’d be best not to expect virtual bling and brands to be any more tasteful than their meatspace equivalents. 0_o ]


World of Statecraft

Paul Raven @ 09-08-2010

I try to avoid reusing the headlines of articles I link to, but in this case I just had to let The Guardian‘s choice carry through, because it’s just too good to improve upon. The story: there’s an MMORPG in the pipeline that essentially models and recreates the European Parliament.

The game will allow players to gain points and move up levels by proposing legislation, amending laws, writing articles for an online newspaper and other tasks. The developers are in discussions with journalism schools and secondary school teachers to incorporate the game into teaching modules.

The game will allow for fictional pieces of legislation to be crafted and track real bills making their way through the European legislative machine. The game’s developers, the European Service Network, a Brussels communications agency that until now has mostly been responsible for producing EU brochures and websites, saw the popularity of online games such as World of Warcraft and thought they could make a sort of legislative Middle Earth out of the European parliament.

“It’s completely out of the box. It’s an experiment as a means of bringing together the best trends in the internet to stimulate discussion about Europe,” said ESN’s manager of the project, Ahmed ElAmin.

“World of Warcraft was one of the inspirations. It’s the biggest online role-playing game there is. It shows there is a huge audience for 3D online worlds.”

Well, yes, there is a huge audience for online 3D RPGs… but most of them involve goals and rewards of a more visceral kind than ramming through (or blocking) some obscure but important chunk of legislature. And I’m docking you ten points, Mr ElAmin, for your use of “out of the box”. Tsk..

Snark aside, it’s an interesting attempt to open up the mechanics of European democracy to the layman, and I think I’ll be giving it a look at some point (time permitting, natch). But it rather begs the question: once we reach a point where we can simulate a large-scale consensus democracy online, why the hell don’t we abandon the pretense of simulation and let it run that way for real?


New MMO character type: the sociologist

Paul Raven @ 10-05-2010

I’ve been chattering on about the sociology of the metaverse for what feels like yonks (and long since it stopped being a trending topic), but academic interest in synthetic worlds and virtual realities shows no sign of abating, according to Ars Technica‘s round-up of recent MMO-related papers, journals and real-money research grants [via Nick Harkaway].

Give it a few more years, and there’ll be embedded ARG/MMO anthropologists. That’s the year you’ll see me heading back into the education system… 🙂


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