Thursday, July 26, 2012

EVE's End Game: Have We Arrived?

Jim thinks about playing EVE Online because he likes spaceships and sandbox MMOs and he hears that this game has both. Are a few weeks checking out wikis, reviews, and ultimately blogs, he dives in and starts having a good time. Space ships, fights, missions, mining, full economy... he loves it and he is hooked.

Jim decides to try out low sec after a couple months and about three jumps in he runs into a small gang of ships looking to shoot him. Despite having read up on PvP and proper ship fits, he is quickly dispatched and back in high sec. One of the killers evemails him and tells him to "next time bring friends".

Our hero is a plucky sort so he recruits some friends he has, people already in game but living in high sec with an interest in moving into PvP. They practice, come up with good small gang ships, and head out and find some success. Sure, they still get occasionally killed but they also get some kills and get the PvP bug. Jim and his friends move into low sec and get to be decent PvPers.

However, there is a nearby Pirate Corporation that also has decent PvPers and has more of them. They can scramble small gangs almost around the clock in their timezones and can bring together impressive and powerful fleets when required. Jim and his friends try to engage this entity but find themselves always outmatched as the enemy can call in reinforcements. Realizing the need for more firepower, Jim and friends join a nearby corporation called JIMCORP and now have a better chance of being able to match the Pirate Corporation fleets.

Over time JIMCORP continues to grow and mature and the membership gets interested in null sec. They move out to NPC null sec to get established and familiar with the mechanics, but find themselves facing a local alliance that camps them into station most of the time. JIMCORP tries to fight back because they are experience PvPers, but the membership is not overly wealthy and they constantly lose ships such that a lot of them move back to high sec to make ISK to by more ships. Realizing that their experiment is failing and they are starting to bleed members, they look for allies and are accepted into an alliance just forming up nearby, called JIMCO alliance.

With numbers and good timezone coverage, JIMCO is able to go toe to toe with the other hostile alliances one on one, and members can find some time to do null sec activities to pad their wallets. A couple more corporations join and the alliance abilities swell such that they feel that pushing a hostile alliance, call them BADGUYS INC, out of a nearby constellation is doable. Hell, fun even. So JIMCO goes to war with BADGUYS and it starts off really well. With good fleet doctrines and pilot discipline, they win more fights than they lose and they start to push BADGUYS out of their space, including taking a couple moons from them.

Well, it turns out that BADGUYS have friends, a small coalition of alliance that are known as BAD Coalition. Seeing how they are having trouble with JIMCO, they pick up the batphone and before you know it large fleets of hostiles are flooding both BADGUYS constellation in defense, and JIMCO's constellation in offense.

End result: JIMCO gets smushed.

The alliance loses some member corporations, but overall morale stays steady. They were winning until they were blobbed, right? We just need some more friends.

JIMCO looks for a couch to crash on in null sec and finds a coalition willing to give them a chance by living in a new constellation they recently took over. Call this coalition COUCHCO. The alliances in COUCHCO have fought a few good wars together and have pretty good relationships with each other, coming to mutual aid and embarking on campaigns in nearby regions. They just happen to be gearing up for a campaign against an alliance in the BAD coalition and expect full on coalition versus coalition warfare: large fleets, POS bashes, spying, supercaps, the whole shebang.

Its a long slog and a lot of cracks in the relationships of alliances in COUCHCO are exposed and rubbed raw, but ultimately they hold together better than Bad Coalition and vanquish the foes, gaining an entire new region of resources and many new suitors for alliances in their coalition. Things are good for Jim and his friends, right?

Well, a member alliance of COUCHCO happens to get into a war with a member of another powerful coalition, let's call it SUPERCO. Like COUCHCO it is a number alliances that are friendly too each other, but unlike them SUPERCO is integrated at a level never before seen in EVE. Integrated comm systems, economies, fleet doctrines, operation commanders, chain of commands, even the cultures have been integrated to a point. When COUCHCO and SUPERCO go to war, this superior coordination and integration means that SUPERCO fleets get more pilots with better combined fleets to the fights than their foes. While COUCHCO can win fights and hold their own in some scenarios, for the important reinforcement timers on IHUBs, stations, POSes, etfc SUPERCO simply brings the gun to a knife fight.

Disheartened, COUCHCO loses the war and the region and the question remains, what can defeat SUPERCO? Does COUCHCO need to form a new super coalition as well to defeat their enemies? Or will SUPERCO crumble under its own weight?

* * * * *
Let's be honest: we all know that the last part of the above story was cribbed from the Delve War just past where the integrated and coordinated (and motivated!) Clusterfuck Coalition took a hammer to the ill fated Southern Coalition's face and threw them out of the region with nary an effort.

The genesis of this post was the question "What is causing the current feeling of null sec stagnation?" and the answer I came up with was that social constructs in null sec (corporation, alliance, coalition, super-coalition) have reached a pinnacle that will be hard to surmount, and furthermore that I feel that is a natural evolution of the game's null sec metagame and could represent the endgame/endstate of null sec. There is no mechanic change or ship introduction that the super-coalition that is the CFC cannot take advantage of as much as their enemies can, and I have doubts there is any hope of any current group in EVE forming a second super-coalition.

With the threat of nuclear destruction in the form of multiple 250-pilot Drake/Maelstrom fleets raining down on their head, no group can reasonably expect to go toe to toe with the CFC and survive. Much like the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they are the cluster's global cop should they choose to be. The stagnation is a result of regular coalitions holding pattern while they figure out (or hope that someone else figures out) how to deal with the 800 lb gorilla.

Don't get me wrong: this is not a whine about Goons and TEST and friends. I think that it is a natural evolution of social constructs in null sec and if they had not formed the super coalition, someone eventually would have. I just don't think that EVE can support a second super-coalition nor another step on the evolutionary ladder.

So what next? There are only two ways this will play out in general themes in my opinion.

1) Much like the mega-fauna of prehistory, the massive super-coalition will hunt itself to extinction as it finds its pool of available prey increasingly sparse. In theory this means that the super-coalition will falter and splinter into two or more regular coalitions, and localized region wars can start anew without the nuclear annihilation threat anymore.

2) The super-coalition does not falter, and null sec begins a slow decline as the core of EVE, the veterans of many wars who are the true drivers of conflicts, leave for greener pastures. In a feedback loop, as the conflict driving veterans leave the resulting alliances lack the wherewithal to launch any successful campaigns against the CFC which picks and chooses its fights with no concern for their empire at all.

Is there a middle ground between those two options? Perhaps, most likely in the short term. But in the long term I think the future possibilities of null sec will collapse to one of those two options.

Time will tell.


  1. I hope nullsec doesn't decline as I believe that all of Eve is held together by the underlying conflict. High sec miners who would never go to low or null space still experience demand spikes matching the ebb and flow of null war. Eve is a game about item destruction, and would not work without item destruction on a massive scale.

    Things may change if/when Mittens goes. One thing he is absolutely superb at is diplomacy. Many people have allied with Goons because he's talked them round, including people who started as enemies and become friends. But diplomacy is what destroys Eve as a game. If Goons replace Mittens with another irascible sperglord like Darius Johnson we'll have a much more interesting game.

  2. So to put it another way, the end of the Delve War marks the beginning of a Golden Age of (relative) peace. Which is dull.

    Historically speaking, Golden Ages never last and they are often followed by Dark Ages - which is far more in EVE's ballpark. In-fighting, fragmentation, feudalism - it'll be great. :)

    I don't think it's so much the "End Game" as a point in the inevitable cycle. As you say with the "hunting itself to extinction", the problem will resolve itself.

    Take the fox and rabbit populations (sorry, you'll have to localise this analogy for yourself), they are linked. Due to a plentiful supply of rabbits to feed on, the fox population grows and grows, eventually impacting on the rabbit population, which becomes declines until there is not enough food to support the fox population. The foxes start to starve, their numbers decrease, the pressure is off the rabbits and they get to do what rabbits do best. The cycle begins again.

    Perhaps the better phrase to describe the phenomenon in EVE where on Empire essentially "wins" as a peak in the "End Cycle". The game is now afoot for that Empire to hold itself together whilst opposing forces try to find a way to undermine it. This is EVE, the enemies of the dominant Empire will adapt their tactics to the new theatre. Or wait it out.

    Although I'd like to see the CFC declare war on CONCORD. That'd be the true end game.

    1. My consern is that the "food" supply is not rival Alliances, but rather the isk that flows into their coffers. This food is unlimited, and will scale with the size of the CFC. As long as they are fat greedy bastards, there will be ISK, even if that means there is literally no one left to contend against them.

      As they become bored, they will look closer at High/Low sec, you can already see this happening. When 200 mil is an acceptable throwaway to ruin some ones day, nothing can stop you. Then the war becomes null vs high, as I said, it's already starting.

  3. For me the end game begins when I have my characters (skills), and personal wealth sorted out. I am yet to get there after playing on and off for four years and frankly I have no idea what I will do when I get there. My point here is that the rest of the universe can go jump as far as I am concerned, end game is defined on a personal level in a sandbox game.

    To me galactic war (or the lack of) have little or no bearing on my activities. Personal/corporation wars or invasions of our Wormholes have far more meaning.

    Besides I am a little bemused that you write this post considering your recent post about faction warfare. For someone who has spent so much time in null and is now having a much more enjoyable time in low-sec where galactic war matters not it seems odd that you think those galactic events still have relevance to you. I understand that T2 and whatnot come from null (in the most part) but if certain ships are too expensive to fly in pvp then people just move to something they can afford.

    Another example of this is RvB.

  4. Everybody was saying this sort of things about the DRF 6-7 months ago.
    Then the CFC was still the underdog (COUCHCO) I seem to recall the undefeatable Soviet Space Empire collapsing and COUCHCO taking their place as the sole superpower. And before that you over 2 years the NC was considered unbeatable (till they got beaten remarkably easily).

    Not saying this will happen to the CFC too, but nothing is forever especially in EVE.

    SOV wars are won by warm bodies and as long as you can get the warm bodies to log in you're good. CFC seems to be able to make people enjoy EVE so they log in and thus the CFC has warm bodies in abundance and thus they win.
    They can have all the tech, ships, advantages, but if something chances that stops their warm bodies from logging in and joying fleets (like what happened to the NC) it's still all over.

  5. Anonymous5:46 am

    Eve is all about changes. Next to team play. Maybe some day we get team play activities for alliance income not the "hold this moon and you are done" that we currently have.
    In some alliances (and thats not limited to Goons) there are people who only want to make pvp, every thing else is boring (might be true so). They get money because they have assets in place and don't need "activity" to get money.
    I don't know what will happen once small entities can interrupt the income of large entities which don't bother to fight that small groups. And what will happen if you can live in 0.0 without the knowledge of the big guy next to you.
    But hopefully I will be around to see what happens.

    Fun and entertainment is the real conflict driver. If you can have your fun as a small entity many will stop to try for this large super coalitions as it consumes a lot of time which you could use having fun.

  6. Or maybe what will happen is Goons will collapse when MechWarrior Online takes off. Then it will be time to strike! :)

    I also agree with Tom, however. To some (myself included), not only is null-sec not the end game; it's not a desirable play-style at all. It's like High-sec, only with a much crappier market, less freedom, and more danger. Monotonous pos-bashing, CTAs...that stuff gets old REAL quick.

    Wormhole life is the life for me. Is it end-game? Not sure, but you can sure get rich quick. fly what you want, go roaming, hunt down site-runners, hang with a few good friends, chill out.

    EVE doesn't have an end-game, until you end your subscription.

    1. Anonymous2:18 pm

      Truer words were rarely spoken but I think the OP is in context of the stalemate between the nullsec blocs, not on the individual level. I.e. have the blocs reached an equilibrium? Is that bad? I have no answer but in real politics, global shifts happen by disease (plague), changes in resource requirements (the rise of oil and coal) and innovation. In EVE I could see welcome shifts if / when the moon goo mechanic is reviewed and re-drawn.

  7. @Stan: My concern is that by the time that the mega-dinosaur has hunted itself to extinction, the ecosystem will be irrevocably changed for the worse.

    @PriestKristoff & @All: I think a lot of you are getting hung up on the phrase "End Game" and thinking I equate null sec with Eve's End Game playstyle. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm talking about Eve the Game's "end game", i.e. how the game has peaked and will begin to decline. Its possible that the stagnation in null sec is the first indication that this is coming to pass.

    Personally I don't believe Eve has a traditional end game playstyle, but it definitely has an end sometime in the future.

  8. Anonymous4:41 am

    the same has been said about BoB, it has been said about NC, it has been said about the DRF - and all of these coalitions are dead today.

    I agree with you that the CFC+HB are of course "better" than these previous coalitions (mostly in terms of coalition-level organization and diplomacy) but that is to be expected - applying the lessons learned from previous failures is a part of the ever-evolving metagame.

    I think you are partly falling for CFC propaganda here - viewing them as one homogenous block that could never possibly break apart.
    GSF is a big alliance, TEST is a big alliance and it is hard to contrive a scenario in which these two seriously turn onto each other.
    But despite them getting all the public attention they are just a small part of their respective coalitions:
    CFC: GSF, RZR, FA, TNT, FCON, SMA, GENTS, LAWN, C0nvicted, WIdot (technically part of GSF), Mordus Angels, .EXE(?) and possibly some small ones I forgot about
    HB: TEST, DAWWW, PL, TRIBE, PWNY., FORGE, O7M8, L3F, Banderlogs, Zombie Ninja Space Bears, .EXE

    The CFC has held together amazingly well partly because of the generous way in which GSF distributed moons and space amongst its coalition partners.
    But as the FCON vs FA incident showed earlier this year conflicts are possible and can escalate quickly (

    The HB will break down because PL will inevitably get bored and leave to do other things, Querious & Period Basis will be lost as the freshly installed pets are extremely weak and TEST will be pushed back to Fountain (maybe Delve) with not much of a coalition left.
    When the CFC fails it will be because of infighting between the 2nd/3rd tier coalition members (which may grow worse if there is no serious external enemy to rally against) which will eventually result in discontent with Goonswarm and split-offs.
    OTEC brought peace with some long-standing enemies (ev0ke, NCdot) and it seems unlikely that this peace will prevail long into the post-technetium era.

    I would be surprised if the CFC still held Tenal by this time next year and I would be even more surprised if the HB still existed at all at that point in the future.

  9. Anonymous4:03 am

    "OTEC brought peace with some long-standing enemies (ev0ke, NCdot) and it seems unlikely that this peace will prevail long into the post-technetium era."

    it's :smug: time