Sins of a Solar Spymaster #82: Manufacturing Dissent
(Editors Note: The opinion of this article is that of the author and not reflective of the view of Ten Ton Hammer.)
It was only a matter of time. Several years ago, an independent Eve media began to develop outside of the confines of CCP's control; first the offsite forums like Scrapheap Challenge and Kugutsumen, then the Czech Lion-initiated EveNews24 project, and finally a growing community of bloggers, podcasters, and radio hosts emerged. After the Incarna crisis demonstrated the power of this independent media to mobilize the community to counteract CCP, it was apparent that Eve's own media was evolving and developing in the same way that the culture of Eve itself has begun to imitate the structure of a real-world civilization - with escalating nuance and complexity. Meanwhile, the very same crisis demonstrated conclusively that the 'official' , 'mainstream' or 'professional' gaming media fundamentally misunderstood core aspects of what Eve was, what the community cared about, or even the English language.
Yet even within this evolving media, there was a significant gap: if you wanted to talk seriously about Eve as a player, your options were limited. The official forums are intolerable, populated with players who barely understand the basics of the game and moderated by a volunteer staff which seems to know even less. Kugutsumen exists as a direct reaction to the official forums and their failures; Kugu offers an almost completely unmoderated arena for players to slag on one another with impunity, but no room for serious (hurf blurf) discourse. Worst of all is the comment section on EveNews24, where endless and pointless upvote/downvote competitions take place while the most asinine conspiracy theories and stalest of 4chan memes are enthusiastically rebroadcast.
When EveNews24 was first introduced by a Kugu user named CzechLion, I heralded its arrival in a column - here, at last, was a place for reliable news from across the galaxy. Unfortunately for everyone, Czech Lion quickly burned out and handed EN24's reins over to Riverini, who has in recent months attempted to turn EN24 into a propaganda mouthpiece spewing whatever his message of the moment is - some days his own attempt to become a CSM delegate, some days a persistent and delusional anti-Goonswarm agenda. The site has devolved from a useful source of news to a joke; TEST and Pandemic Legion have regularly fed Riverini 'news' that - as he often neglects basic fact-checking - turns out to be completely false, or merely stories that he wished to believe. Matters came to a head shortly after Riverini announced that he should "become the -A- propaganda minister" and published a post on his internal forums insisting that every EN24 author deny the existence of the TEST-led HBC.
Meanwhile, the 'proper' gaming media has repeatedly demonstrated their tin ear when it comes to Eve. We need not go into the manifold failings of so-called gaming journalists who do little more than vomit up company press releases while reinforcing some of the most negative stereotypes of gamer culture; it is enough to note that the Eve community never turns to this 'official' gaming media to find out what is happening within the game, and that this media exists mostly to display Eve players in a distorted light to the players of other games, as if New Eden were a freakshow rather than the only remaining pure-PvP sandbox, populated primarily by hypercompetitive 30something college-educated professionals.
Something had to be done. The original concept behind EN24 died when Czech Lion handed it over to Riverini; if New Eden's only source of news was a tabloid rag on the level of the New York Post or National Enquirer, someone would have to make a New Yorker or an Atlantic where actual discussion of the game could take place without the risk of irreversible brain damage. Fed up, I took the initiative and assembled a team of writers and coders - and now, after months of effort, TheMittani.com is live.
The site is the product of what can only be described as a development death-march. An attorney by trade, I - like many web users - was of the opinion that making a website would be easy; we'd throw up a site and then write some words about spaceships. The real work would be in the news writing and journalism. Ha! It turns out that making a site more serious than a halfass WordPress blog takes a tremendous amount of work; it required a team of professional Drupal and CSS devs as well as a professional frontend designer some three months of work as well as four top-to-bottom redesigns before we finally arrived at a design that combined a proper scalable functionality with an appropriate aesthetic.
TheMittani.com is not the first news site to attempt to dethrone EveNews24. EveSwarm, Eve Tribune and others have tried and failed. In each such case, manpower or lack thereof was to blame; the game is simply too complex for only a handful of people to cover without burning out inside of a week. EN24 got around this by RSS'ing a number of existing bloggers without regard for quality control; I've solved the problem by creating a massive staff. Where EN24 has three core writers and a number of blogs, TheMittani.com has a stable of more than 25 contributors and four coders ensuring that the site functions as if it was on an enterprise level.
As it happens, it wasn't my idea to name the site after myself. I'd gone through and discarded ideas such as 'Eve News Network' and 'Internet Spaceship News', but my editor-in-chief noted that we could leverage my infamy and social networking to get a jump on our competition. While a few people did rail against my supposed hubris for the name, the impact has been astounding - since launching on August 14th, we find ourselves already on track to breach one million pageviews in the first month, a level of engagement from the playerbase that we didn't expect to earn until after months of steady reportage. The comments section is particularly impressive; many of our articles have more than fifty comments each, and since stale memes, crapflooding, and LOLOLOL results in an instant blacklisting, the level of discourse is unlike anything available elsewhere.
Things are not all sunshine and roses, however. At launch we believed we would have a substantial amount of time to slowly grow our userbase and develop our editorial process; the sheer scale of the launch and the enthusiasm of the community has left the editorial team running around with their hair on fire trying ensure that the content which gets published gets out at the right time, with the right editing, and that we don't insult the intelligence of our users with pablum or a crapflood. Meanwhile, there is always the risk of bankrupting ourselves with hosting fees before we learn the basics of the business side of the site; while it would be reassuring the slap ourselves on the backs and say that this project has already passed its first test, such a declaration would be laughably premature.
If we do succeed, credit must be given where it's due: I am heavily indebted to my editor here at Ten Ton Hammer, Jeff Woleslagle, who has offered invaluable counsel and assistance as we've begun navigating the dangerous waters of the media. Wish us luck!