The past week has been filled with a few interesting pieces of news (aside from the Christian Bale craziness on the set of T4). On EVE Online, the epic space MMORPG from CCP Games in Iceland, politics and a little skullduggery have gone a long way in creating one of the best pieces of (here comes the buzzword) emergent gameplay to come along in awhile. I’ve never played EVE, but I love the stories that come out from there, the ones that concern the player driven economics, insanity, and the kind of warfare that reaches such a crescendo of virtual violence that the rest of the ‘net can’t help but notice.
Two things, actually, happened on EVE in the past month that embodied the kind of interaction that advertise the fact that it is a fantastic sandbox for sneaky, covert actions…all within the safe confines of a game and by the rules set up by its developers. The first was the latest banking heist that affected player-run Dynasty Banking. For those that don’t know, like me until I did a little more reading, there are no banks in EVE. ISK, the official currency of the game, is what players earn from attacking pirates, mining, and even investing in player-run enterprises…such as exacting tolls from other players for passing through their particular territory. Dynasty Banking was one of these institutions that provided a safe haven for storing large amounts of ISK. That is, until one of its directors ran off with the funds, according to Massively, to the tune of around 80 billion ISK. That’s billion, with a huge B. Considering that there are shady deals outside of the game that deal in ISK for cash options catering to player that don’t want to have to do the grunt work, that can easily tally into several thousand dollars’ worth of ISK if my math…and my reading skills…are up to snuff. Or several hundred man hours of play time.
It isn’t the first time this has happened which makes it even more incredible. A few years ago, nearly 800 billion ISK was bilked from EVE fat cats by a cunning player in a huge scam that would have made Bernie Madoff proud. These kind of seismic events within the online space might not mean much to people on the outside, but in terms of emergent gameplay, are startling examples of the kind of player driven events that push the boundaries of design and challenge the social norms of what determines the dividing line between ethics within an interactive environment versus that in the ‘real’ world.
To some players, an environment like EVE is the ultimate fantasy trip, enabling them to be as ruthless and as blatantly cunning as they want to be without having to worry about bothersome things such as the SEC and bailouts. As far as I know, the only punishment that either player has suffered is in having their particular ‘toon ostracized which doesn’t mean much when they can always take on an alt and pass their earnings off in other ways to hide their trail and continue their anonymous careers. It’s probably one of the reasons why both of these individuals felt that they could get away with it and within EVE, it’s within the rules. It’s not like they need to buy fake IDs and flee to a country without deportation treaties.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was the power shift between two of EVE’s largest, and arguably most powerful, factions. In one corner is Band of Brothers, a famously strong collection of corporate blocs with a reputation for winning wars and growing their base into a wealthy foundation of influence and control thanks to holding a number of key systems that are the envy of more than one other faction. They have also been tainted for a scandal awhile back in which an EVE developer had apparently given them a small leg up in terms of technology. But it hasn’t hurt their particular position in EVE and older influence maps show that they literally owned a large swath of the EVE world.
In the other corner is Goonswarm, quite possibly the largest alliance in terms of membership numbers alone who play simply for the sake of playing and where a number of players hail from the SomethingAwful forums. The largest corporation in the game, Goonfleet, is at the core of their organization. Although that might give potential conquerors the impression that they are a loose group that can’t even hold the space they supposedly own, they later learn to their horror how coordinated their efforts can be when push comes to shove with unconventional swarm tactics where quantity trumps quality with zerg rushes of cheap ships. Instead of propping themselves up as a number of serious corporate bodies, one gets the impression that if the Joker were playing the game, he’d be a member.
It would be that kind of cunning that would completely turn EVE upside down in the last week. Long story short, Goonswarm brought down BoB…overnight it seems. From what I could gather, a director from BoB had an alt on Goonfleet but the recruiter did a few checks that revealed his life with BoB. When confronted, the director fessed up and said that he was thinking of joining Goonfleet because he had felt a sense of cameraderie that BoB did not give him. Capitalizing on the opportunity, Goonfleet worked out an elaborate scheme that would change the face of EVE for some time to come.
Alliance directors in EVE wield a lot of power, especially if they have the kind of rights and privs to manage in-game assets…such as corporate memberships which help pay the bills and form the financial foundation for the alliance. Apparently what happened, from what I could gather, was that the director began looting what he could…this amounted to ships, billions in ISK, and other juicy items. This was also timed to coincide when the ISK bill for keeping the alliance alive was due. By kicking out the corporations from the alliance, it robbed BoB of the ability to pay its due fees and as a result, it automatically disbanded when there was nothing to pay it with.
Not only that, but Goonfleet had also timed it just right to steal the allliance’s name. So Band of Brothers still exists as a ticker name, but it’s owned by the Goons.
When an alliance collapses like this, the repurcussions are devastating from what I’ve seen written. Shipyards go dark or are destroyed, massive space stations forming choke points into their territory no longer have any owners, but more importantly, special jump nodes are no longer under their control effectively cutting their ability to move their forces around their former territories. It’s a free for all, and I’ve even read that alliance members were literally packing assets and whatever else they could and heading into friendly territories still held by the corporations that found themselves suddenly without an alliance. This is also huge in a real-world sense. The intangibles outside of the game…play hours spent planning alliance strategies and formulating direction, gathering assets, building up their systems, assets being built or were in the process of being constructed…are simply staggering in terms of loss. It was as if Goonswarm had performed the fabled Nanosecond Buyout from the Shadowrun PnP, only this time, for real in another game. The Mittani, who seems to be the spymaster for Goonfleet, lays it all out in easier to follow audio on Youtube.
Even though I don’t play the game, stories like this make a gamer like me smile if only because of the opportunities that continue to emerge in spaces like these.
And lastly, Sessler from G4 has posted an awesome rant against fanboys in his soapbox concerning his Killzone 2 review. Fair warning: there’s plenty of language in the clip so its definitely not for everyone’s ears, but it’s quite likely one of the best tear downs I’ve seen by a journalist against the crap they have to deal with on a daily basis from flag waving fanboys, especially when he calls out the offenders by name. Simply awesome.