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?


The Vanity Riots: weird goings-on at EVE Online

Paul Raven @ 12-07-2011

My from-a-distance fascination with EVE Online continues to grow*; its complex and anarchic political and economic scenes make for fascinating headlines, and it strikes me as the best extant model for the economically distinct synthetic worlds of the future. Ars Technica has a two-page piece on a recent EVE flap wherein the developers, CCP, started making an assortment of “vanity items” available for sale within the game. The economic set-up in EVE is complex, permitting money to flow in from meatspace as well as encouraging in-game trading, and players kicked off an extensive campaign of (in-world) disobedience and protest, thinking that CCP had handed a naked advantage to players who were financially better off in the reality outside the game.

Pretty much a carbon copy of meatspace protests over poorly-explained new laws or policies, which is interesting enough. But the second page has an innocuous-seeming paragraph that leapt out at me as being more astonishing than it appears:

EVE Online is one of the few games which has a formal player organization to speak for the customers of the game, called the Council of Stellar Management. The members of the CSM are democratically elected, and they present the concerns of players to CCP in order to keep everything running smoothly. As players continued to disrupt the game and CCP began to take a beating in the court of public opinion, the CSM was flown to the company’s offices in Iceland in order to discuss the issue of microtransactions.

Think about that for a second: not only does EVE have an elected player council, but said council was flown in to CCP’s HQ at CCP’s expense to sort things out. That’s a company that takes its userbase very seriously indeed.. As the Ars piece points out, this is at least partly due to necessity, but that necessity s a function of the freedom and engagement with the synthetic space that CCP has permitted since the start. I wonder if we’ll soon see more businesses that are not only this close to their clientele, but who genuinely understand that closeness as the foundation of their model… it’s a big step in the direction of cooperatives, which might make for a fine replacement for the increasingly-untrusted corporation in a world where nation-statehood is losing its grip.

Additional virtual worlds news, via Terra Nova: a Chinese insurance firm has started to offer what may be the first insurance policies to cover against loss or theft of goods in virtual worlds. As Castronova points out, insurance for intangible goods is nothing new… but intangible goods that only exist in a certain walled garden in cyberspace? That’s a new development.

[ * Yeah, I know, I should probably just sign up for an account and try it out, but I know how prone to addictive behaviours I am, and I have work that needs doing that won’t be much helped by my attempting to explore an anarchic virtual star-cluster. Unless someone wanted to pay me to write the story, that is. Hmmm. ]


Virtual bodies, mutable genders

Paul Raven @ 13-05-2010

Here’s an interesting bit of research from sunny Barcelona: men wearing a virtual reality headset that allowed them to perceive themselves as a female avatar started to identify strongly with their temporarily-assumed gender.

… men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes.

The “body-swapping” effect was so convincing that the men’s sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman’s body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.

[…]

Later in the study, the second character lashed out and slapped the face of the character the men were playing. “Their reaction was immediate,” said Slater. “They would take in a quick breath and maybe move their head to one side. Some moved their whole bodies. The more people reported being in the girl’s body, the stronger physical reaction they had.”

Sensors on the men’s bodies showed their heart rates fell sharply for a few seconds and then ramped up – a classic response to a perceived attack.

As expected, the body swapping effect was felt more keenly by men who saw their virtual world through the female character’s eyes than those whose viewpoint was slightly to one side of her. In all cases, the feeling was temporary and lasted only as long as the study.

Plenty of opportunity for further research there; I’m no expert, but that looks to me like a validation of the theory that gender roles are socially constructed… but then that theory has been borne out by my personal experiences in virtual worlds, in my own behaviour as well as that of others.

I’ve heard it suggested before that a way to break down some of the more persistent gender prejudices in modern culture would be for everyone to spend a month living the life of the gender they consider themselves “opposite” to – maybe VR and synthetic worlds offer us the closest approximation of that classic science fictional plot device (Stross’s Glasshouse, anyone?).


Second Life is a feudal system

Paul Raven @ 22-01-2009

a castle in Second LifeThe Yale Law Journal has been doing an interesting set of discussions on the legal and economic aspects of synthetic worlds and metaverses. Bruce Sterling flagged one up that analyses the land ownership system in Second Life, and concludes that the closest real life analogy to the system would be good old-fashioned feudalism:

We can resolve this tension by describing a user’s interest as seisin rather than as ownership. A tenant seised of land had sworn homage to the lord from whom he held. In exchange, the lord symbolically delivered the tenant into possession. Thereafter, the tenant owed the lord various services and feudal incidents, and in return the lord was obliged to defend his possession against outsiders to the relationship. Every element of this system maps cleanly onto Second Life. A user swears homage by clicking “I agree” to Linden’s terms and conditions; Linden delivers her into possession by changing an appropriate database entry. She owes tier fees in place of feudal incidents; Linden defends her possession via software-based access controls.

Sub-letting is pretty common in Second Life as well, which just goes to enhance the analogy; given Linden Lab’s history of making sweeping, drastically unpopular and incontestable choices about the way they run their virtual world, I doubt you’d have many objections to the analogy from residents, either.

But what does this mean for the legal types themselves? The report concludes:

This analysis of the feudal dimensions of Second Life should make us optimistic about the legal future of virtual worlds. After all, for all its flaws, feudalism was a functional organization of society—indeed a better one than some of the alternatives.

In other words, “leave it be, it’s getting there slowly”. Eventually synthetic worlds with the complexity and infrastructure to support modern property rights will emerge… at which point the nice guys from Yale will no doubt find they’ve have been beaten to the punch by a stampede of virtual ambulance-chasers. [image by Torley]


Navigating the Metaverse

Mac Tonnies @ 14-08-2008

Mac Tonnies - Loving the AlienIf you were wondering why Mac Tonnies’ latest Loving The Alien column is a little late, here’s the answer — it turns out he’s been lurking in Second Life. What might the fluid nature of identity in the metaverse mean for our posthuman successors? Continue reading “Navigating the Metaverse”