Something Awful’s Eve Online wing, GoonSwarm, has claimed what will likely go down in internet history as its greatest victory. It was an event described in a Metafilter headline thus: “It’s as if Apple dissolved Microsoft“.
That’s an incredibly accurate diagnosis of the events of last week. Thanks to a brutal betrayal of trust by an Eve player, the Something Awful superpower has used the game’s strange organisational mechanisms to take their arch-rival’s name away from them. Band Of Brothers (BoB), once the most feared of alliances, is now gone for good. The Goon victory wasn’t a great battle, nor a tremendous war brought to an end. Instead it was an inspired defector that led to the dissolution of one of Eve‘s most significant brands. It was a classic instance of underhand warfare tactics from the real world: sabotage by a traitor, trashing vital infrastructure, and leaving the gates of the fortress unlocked.
So what does it all mean? And how did it all come to pass? What it means is that upwards of several million man hours of work have been instantly obliterated, and a relatively peaceful region of Eve Online has been plunged into fresh war. The equivalent real-world costs are almost incalculable, given the sheer number of factors involved, and the thousands of people who have contributed to BoB. But it’s safe to say that we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in virtual investment put at risk.
The opportunity for the Goons was provided by one of BoB’s most senior members, who played under the moniker of “Haargoth”. He had became disillusioned with his alliance, and was ready to defect. Band Of Brothers, one of primary super-powers of the Eve galaxy, are a formidable opponent, and have already done harm to GoonSwarm on several occasions. At the time of their dissolution they were embarking a new, all-out campaign against Goon space.
The size and wealth of BoB meant that they were tough to take on with brute force. They were (and remain) a military giant backed by a rich industrial superplex, operated by thousands of individual players. Their entrenchment in the region of Delve meant that they were almost invulnerable on their home turf. They had been pushed back their once before, and had savaged their innumerable enemies in the process. In the months following, BoB had begun wreaking havoc throughout the Eve universe, with the stated aim of causing as much damage as possible. Harrgoth decided he’d had enough, and that he was going to defect to BoB’s enemies: GoonSwarm. He contacted their leaders in order to do so.
That moment must have seemed too good to be true for the Goon leaders. Haargoth could not only steal a large amount of money and equipment from BoB’s coffers, he was also in a position to disband the alliance wholesale. An alliance is made up of corporations, which are run by individual players. As a director of BoB’s executor corporation, he could elect to not pay the bill which kept the alliance running. Once unpaid, the alliance would disband. The Goons had it all planned, with a placeholder corp ready to snatch the name for themselves. All that, it turns out, had catastrophic consequences.
It seems odd that something as immaterial as the name of an in-game organisation should matter, but Eve‘s territorial wars have a system in place which relies heavily on this imaginary organisation. It really is as if Apple were able to stop Microsoft from using their name. They might still have all the staff, and the tech, and perhaps even the buildings they work in, but the brand, and all that it entails, would be gone. In Eve this means a drop in sovereignty.
Sovereignty – the name given to faction control of a region – within star systems and constellations, can only be established by an alliance. The longer the alliance maintains sovereignty over a constellation, the more defensive options are open to it, and the harder to attack it becomes. BoB’s long-term sovereignty in Delve meant that it would be a tough nut to crack for an attacking force, and therefore barely worth worrying about. Now though, with the BoB name gone, their long-held fortress region of Delve is suddenly, totally, vulnerable to assault. It’s a region in which BoB have built up their space empire assets to an astonishing extent, over many years, and that’s all now at risk.
Eve Online is renowned for its “meta-gaming” — that is, all the crazy crap that takes place outside the game, from forum propaganda to scams, to offline spying, virtual currency trading, and hacking. In a game which is based most heavily on the interaction between real people – via economics or combat – the most interesting events are often social ones.
What is most interesting about Eve is that the social can have massive impact on the events within the game world. Haargoth’s dislike of his wingmen created an opportunity for treachery and sabotage that has no obvious parallel in any other game, and the likes of this can perhaps only be found in the real world.
Of course Haargoth’s action is quite unlike the scams and spying that have made Eve famous, except for one thing: all these activities remain safely within the realms of legality for the game. As long as there’s no hacking or otherwise exploitative behaviour, the cruelest of griefing is okay by Eve.
The disbandment of BoB might have caused massive heartache for thousands of BoB players, but it was all within the parameters of Eve Online. And for Goons – who have long dreamed of destroying their nemesis – it is an occurrence they could barely have dreamt of, a validation of their approach, and their philosophy. They had, at last, destroyed the oldest and most powerful alliance in Eve.
Right now BoB’s legions of enemies are closing in on Delve. Thousands of players with a score to settle are piling into the fortress, tearing down former BoB structures and trying to break the giant once and for all. BoB has already reformed as “Kenzoku” or “Ken”, and is fighting to hold onto its territory. But the shield of long-developed sovereignty is gone, and BoB and their allies are significantly outnumbered. Already 400-aside fleet battles are kicking off in the former BoB heartland. What happens in the next few weeks could decide the balance of power within Eve for years to come.
What’s in a name? In Eve Online, it could be the keys to entire existence.
[Jim Rossignol is an editor at RockPaperShotgun.com and the author of This Gaming Life, an account of the life of modern videogames and some of the people who play them. Ragdoll Metaphysics is his Offworld column exploring and analyzing gaming’s vast world of esoterica.]
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