Sins of a Solar Spymaster #88: Mittani's Maxims – On Management

The Mittani offers tips on being a good leader and successfully managing a corporation in EVE Online.

I suspect that one of the reasons the genre of ‘management guides’ is so popular and enduring in business books is that only a handful of people find themselves in a position to say ‘this is all crap’ based on the experience of needing to manage hundreds, if not thousands of humans. As an EVE Online corporation or alliance leader, however, you will regularly find yourself needing to handle groups large enough to make the most earnest and obnoxious of middle managers break out into a cold sweat. Much like with politics, management contains traps for the unwary - concepts which everyone agrees to in principle, but in practice can ruin you. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last three years about management in trying to prevent Goonswarm from imploding.


Delegate (Almost) Everything: As a leader, you need as much free-floating time as possible to focus on improvements to your organization, such as reforming broken groups or creating entirely new entities. Especially when it comes to starting up a new division, squad, or interest group - which requires nearly 100% focus until the new project becomes self-sustaining - a leader who micromanages will get nothing done as the sheer number of tasks in an alliance are dizzying. In theory, people might say they want a leader who can lead fleets or manage a tower (you should learn how to do these things, just in case it’s needed in a crisis) but in practice the history of alliance leaders who cannot delegate is one of burnout and collapse. Worse, a lack of delegation implies that you do not trust your directors to sort things out on their own, so they will not develop independent problem-solving skills.

Team Structures: If I had to say there was one management trick that had made the biggest single difference in alliance leadership, above all the others, it is the use of team structures in the GSF directorate. In the past, GSF’s directorate - like most alliances - was filled with single person dependencies. Most famously, in 2010 GSF had only one finance director, who inevitably burned out - and as a result Goonswarm failed to pay its sov bills, losing Delve in the process. To avoid this kind of failure, everything is now based on teams: instead of one finance director, we have five; instead of one logistics director, there are seven. This means that the directorate can be ‘bloated’ compared to an organization which relies entirely upon individuals, but it is also much more resilient. Directors rarely burn out or quit under a team structure, because they don’t feel guilt about taking a breather when necessary - the rest of the team can handle it. Be relentless about eliminating single person dependencies - the only solitary final arbiter that is necessary in an organization is the actual executive.


Fire Regularly: You want to lead? You want your organization to work? Get used to firing people, and get over it - even if they are your friends. The hard fact is that an organization which allows do-nothings to stick around inspires those who actually do work to slack off, and also fosters resentment against your leadership for coddling those who aren’t pulling their weight. If you fire regularly and review staff at predictable periods (at the end of the month, say) the entire organization learns what is expected and will adapt - and those that do not adapt won’t drag down everyone else.

Project Tracking Tools: As a leader, you don’t need a spreadsheet to calculate tower fueling bills or production metrics like some people in Eve. However, you do need a reliable method of keeping track of projects, as well as more basic to-do lists. I use a legal pad to jot down notes, as well as a Google spreadsheet to track projects. Recently I’ve begun experimenting with Trello, which is an online configurable Kanban board. Corporations and alliances in EVE are just too complex to manage without some kind of memory aid - important projects tend to get forgotten whenever there’s a crisis, and in EVE there is almost always a crisis of some kind. ‘Guys, we need to update the wiki’ becomes ‘Hey, didn’t we say something about the wiki, or something’ two months later if you don’t have project tracking.

Purge Dissent Quietly: Alliances are essentially dictatorial military organizations; those that are not tend to get crushed and eliminated by those who are. Organizations which allow completely open dissent invite disaster, as EVE is a game with a vibrant espionage metagame and sowing agent provocateurs to agitate against alliance leadership is a common tactic. Perhaps more dangerous than a hostile agent is the risk of former players who have become disenchanted with the game itself actively proselytizing about how your active players should quit EVE. In either case, dissent must be handled carefully; overt censorship or oppression invites further and louder opposition. It is wiser to simply eliminate the source of dissent - a ban or a kick - without any overt public demonstration or acknowledgement. Disappear them.

When I was given CEOship back in 2010, Goonswarm had a large contingent of former players who actively attacked people who cared about EVE on the alliance forums. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to like EVE, which is a toxic mentality if you are an alliance based around playing EVE. Our solution - Instead of simply banning these posters, we created a special forum permission - the gulag - which quarantined the bitter former players in one subforum where they could vent their spleens to their hearts content, but never be seen or heard from by active players.


Ignore Industrialists: In an alliance or corporation, industrialists are completely irrelevant and should never be allowed a voice in anything. Sound extreme? It isn’t. An industrialist is not a logistician, but a ‘producer’. Producers live in hisec in countless numbers, and anything that is built there can simply be imported from Jita with a jump freighter - by a logistician. Logisticians matter in alliances; so do financiers, diplomats, and most of all warriors. Producers do not. There has never been a war in the history of EVE which was won by an advantage in local production; the hobbits of ASCN believed their own propaganda and assured each other that production mattered, but they were crushed utterly by Band of Brothers. Take after the words of House Greyjoy: ‘We Do Not Sow’. Be particularly wary of capital/supercapital producers, who are often wealthy and consider themselves to be above alliance rules. Alliances have no need of ‘industrial wings’, ‘industrial directors’ - none of it.

Leaders are not Nice People: To lead a corp or alliance, you must get people to do what you want in as effective a way as possible. You can be polite - in fact, you should almost always be polite - but if you are actually ~nice~ you will rapidly find yourself in trouble. Nice People do not fire those who are not doing work. Nice People forgive easily. Nice people hire questionable staff to ‘give them a chance’. Nice People listen to their enemies instead of crushing them. The fact is that most humans do not want to be led by Nice People, even if they claim they do - they want proactive, decisive leaders who are cool in a crisis, not a wet-nurse.


Management isn’t easy, but if you follow even a few of these basic guidelines, your corp or alliance in EVE will be a cut above 90% of the organizations in the game. Even a simple tweak such as ‘firing slackers’ and implementing a team structure can revitalize a stagnant group.

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