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EVE Online: Wars Are Lost By the Loser

Updated Tue, Mar 10, 2009 by The Mittani

Almost every piece of strategic advice you find on the internet is completely worthless. Every day, I inevitably see some EVE forum denizen bleating about Sun Tzu, a famous WWII general, or the latest overwrought management screed (14 Steps To Be An Effective 4 Hour Rich Dad Millionaire, et al), perhaps hoping that some of this received wisdom will filter through the ether and save their internet spaceship alliance from whatever specific fix they happen to be in. It never works, of course, because Sun Tzu wasn't writing about a drug-addled Icelander's idea of an internet spaceship game. Don't even get me started on the WWII analogies.  Never trust the wisdom of anyone talking about what Rommel would do if he had a fleet of sniping battleships at his beck and call.

I've had to sift through piles of such offal while reading other people's forums - honorless spying sort that I am -  and there is one principle that has consistently held true in EVE, and yet I've never seen it popularized. Here it is: "Wars are not won by the winner; they are lost by the loser".  In other words, between roughly equal forces, things are usually not won through the winning side deploying some stunning tactic or beautiful offense, but rather the loser making a critical error and the winner identifying the mistake and exploiting it. Until the 'oops' moment, the strategic situation trends towards stalemate. As an example of this in action, let's look to the war in Delve.
By now, the war in Delve has reached a denouement of sorts; while Goonswarm's CEO will not be landing on a mothership and hanging a 'Mission Accomplished' banner from the bridge deck, every station owned by KenZoku Alliance (formerly known as Band of Brothers, before that pesky 'disbanding' incident) has been seized by Goonswarm and its allies. The four week race to capture Delve before KenZoku's sovereignty defenses reached the level necessary to prevent access to capital ships was won with a week left on the clock; despite all the flailing and chestbeating on the myriad EVE forums, this epic conflict appeared to be less of a military campaign than an execution. Why? Which errors in judgement allowed the war to go from here to here with such rapidity?

Before the war began, two critical errors occured on the losing side. First, the much-discussed Haargoth defection and disbanding; this was an error of basic corporate security writ large, where a player who had been absent from the game for four months was allowed to maintain roles in the executor corporation of that now-dead alliance. Had BoB not made this error, I wouldn't be writing a weekly column here, and Goonswarm wouldn't own Delve. But enough ink has been spilled on that topic already.
The second failure was made when the KenZoku leadership published the entirety of the BoB secure director forums for the EVE-playing public to rummage through. Two days prior to this, when Haargoth Agamar flipped sides and joined Goonswarm, the Goonswarm Intelligence Agency had set about using his forums access to begin archiving the BoB director forums with an automated system. In order to avoid detection, the entire process would take nine or more hours, but midway through the archiving we judged it more worthwhile to pull the plug, disband BoB, and potentially sacrifice our archiving project for the greater good. As soon as BoB was disbanded and their directorate caught on to what had occurred, Haargoth's BoB forum account was banned, though the archiver kept running - except that now, each page it pulled had a delightful 'you have been banned' notice. While we had successfully acquired about 40% of their director forums, the rest of the archive was a series of useless and identical 'banned' pages.
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