Sins of a Solar Spymaster #52 - The Rise of Independent Media
When CCP turned the EVE servers on back in 2003, the only source of out-of-game communication among players was the official Eve Online forums, a heavily-regulated community watched over by the CCP-sanctioned moderators. As the years went by, certain segments of the playerbase began to chafe under the restrictions enforced by CCP, and unsanctioned, independent forums began to spring up. For a few years, these forums coexisted with the main Eve forums, but over the past year the balance of popularity has shifted; a modern-day player is more likely to get his fill of news and commentary by visiting Kugutsumen, Scrapheap Challenge or Eve News 24 than tired old Eve O, which has increasingly become a refuge for the clueless and out-of-touch.
Independent media now plays a much bigger part in the EVE Online universe.
Whats curious about the independent EVE media is that it is non-profit and unassociated with any CCP advertising revenue, and primarily user driven; what makes these sites so chaotic and popular is the tremendous amount of user feedback and commentary, which absolutely anyone can offer. Major gaming portals such as Ten Ton Hammer and Massively have their own EVE sections, but these have existed as part of the mainstream gaming media and are thus held to a more dignified and ordered user culture. In addition to the major independent forums, there has been an explosion of eve blogging within the community and an increasing adoption of Twitter groups such as #tweetfleet.
The trend away from CCP-regulated media appears to have alarmed the company. Introduced in the Dominion expansion, EVE Gate (Spacebook) was supposed to be a social networking alternative revolving around EVE. Now the Incursions expansion, slated for release this winter, will supposedly include a forums component for corporations and alliances which do not already have independent fora of their own.
There are four key websites that everyone who plays EVE should be keeping an eye on:
Media outlets have taken on their own personalities and supply a wealth of knowledge.
EveNews24: This site is the most innovative of the lot, in my view. While EVE has had news sites in the past such as EVE Tribune, these were modeled as newspapers or e-zines. EveNews24 is a thoroughly modern style of news site similar to Google News, CNN.com or Digg; authors can post articles which are sorted by nullsec region, and readers can commence squabbling like angry babies in completely unregulated comments, which are often far more entertaining and instructive than the original blurb itself. This site was created by Czech Lion in July and has rapidly exploded in size and utility. In that time it has almost completely obviated the need for a reporting espionage network, splattering once-privileged information absolutely everywhere.
Scrapheap Challenge: SHC is the granddaddy of independent forums, being one of the oldest and most successful unofficial forums. Culturally it is biased towards a more highbrow crowd than Eve-O and is primarily focused on PvP and ship fittings. While there is a news and politics section, the SHC bias is so firmly in favor of being civilized that it is moderated even more heavily than Eve-O. Youll mostly find proper punctuation and grammar here, as well as people trying actively to not seem like dribbling idiots, but the moderation means that the drama and conflict of EVE is reduced to passive aggressive sniping.
Kugutsumen: Founded by infamous hacker Anthony Zboralski after breaking the CCP T20 scandal, Kugutsumen is a forum created explicitly as a counterpoint to Scrapheap. Where Scrapheap tries to maintain a veneer of civility, Kugutsumen is a completely unregulated nest of flamewars, drama and crap posting. Many drama leaks happen on Kugu, as a number of independent spies call the forum home. Even more entertaining is that fact that since the flames on Kugu burn so hot, oftentimes posters will have meltdowns or otherwise post while extremely angry; people reveal themselves and their intentions much more when torqued off, so Kugu provides both explicit intelligence from the leaks, plus a lot of inadvertent information from some of the key players in nullsec.
Independent media makes it nearly impossible to hide certain information.
Dotlan: Technically not a discussion site, Wollaris Dotlan Evemaps is one of the most polished data sources in the community. Data in EVE is increasingly api-based, and Wollari has crafted a site that can actually capture and display the tremendous amount of public information in an easily-trackable way. What is most impressive about the site is the level of cross-referencing possible; it allows you to research the histories of individual corporations, the alliances they join, particular systems which have changed hands or sov levels, as well as collating and archiving the data which CCP broadcasts but doesnt save, such as day-by-day membership levels of alliances. Dotlan is why we have pretty graphs of every failure cascade in EVE.
This trend towards uncontrolled media chaos has a number of implications for the game, most of which are positive.
By shifting the balance of information away from company-controlled sources, controversies which in the past could have been buried on the official forums have been kept in the focus of the community. Player frustration with the lack of action on CCPs part regarding the suggestions of the Council of Stellar Management was much discussed this year, and it appears that the upcoming Incursions expansion now has incorporated a number of much-needed CSM-sourced gameplay tweaks which have been on the backburner for years.
There are drawbacks to the wide use of media for EVE Online.
Rather than keeping the discussions of EVEs cutthroat gameplay civil on the official forums, independent fora have allowed grudges and viciousness to flourish. This is critical to EVEs viability as a game, as vengeance is one of the most powerful drives to a war-torn nullsec; peace and civility are the death of drama, and drama is what distinguishes EVE from its linear MMO competitors. It might seem trivial and immature to have the playerbase slinging insults at each other like politicians running for re-election, but if those insults spark a war, the entire game benefits.
As entertaining as this new freedom is, there are some disadvantages. CCP no longer has the ability to quash discussion of topics which explicitly harms the game, such as Real Money Trading (RMT) or botting. The need for espionage and diplomacy has also taken a hit; much like governments reacting to the rise of CNN in the mid-eighties, theres much less need for a vast spy network when you can load up EveNews24 and find out about a fleet battle that occurred five regions away from you moments after it happened. Rather than needing infiltration agents to find embarrassing chat logs within hostile alliances, anonymous leakers now post logs merely for the love of drama or the desire to have a popular thread, rather than being motivated by nationalism or a bribe.
Regardless of whether one approves or disapproves, the rise of the independent EVE media is only going to accelerate, and it has already begun to change the nature of the game itself.