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.