EVE Online: The Propaganda War

Whether you like it or not, propaganda is part of our modern way of life. Every where you look, companies are doing their best to spin their marketing schemes and ingrain them into your brain. These sort of guerrilla campaigns are actively waged in EVE Online as well, and this week's "Sins of a Solar Spymaster" article focuses squarely on propaganda warfare. Check it out! Ultimately, EVE is a voluntary pastime which has its tedious bits, particularly in the realm of alliance warfare. In a galaxy full of would-be Space Knights following e-bushido, reputation and 'face' are themselves resources that can be built up or destroyed. In any given war, a significant amount of attention must be paid to what keeps your pilots motivated and logging into the game, losing ships for your alliance's banner, and maintaining a positive cultural identity so that defectors and spies are not bred. Morale is key, as the history of Red Alliance demonstrates; lose enough pilots due to demoralization and your military suffers, and suddenly your alliance is in a full-on failure cascade. The intelligent use and deployment of propaganda is of crucial strategic importance, no matter how much the e-honor crowd may deny its impact. Interested? Click here to read the entire EVE Online commentary!
It was 4/4/09, the prophesied day of reckoning for Goonswarm. After weeks of stalemate, the counteroffensive led by Against All Authorities (-A-) to restore KenZoku (RKZ) to the status of a spaceholding alliance was finally bearing fruit; sovereignty of the 49-U6U system flipped from Swarm control to KenZoku. After months of strained silence during the fall of RKZ's home regions, Delve and Querious, SirMolle, leader of KenZoku (nee Band of Brothers Reloaded, nee Band of Brothers), went to the EVE forums launch a salvo in an oft-scorned yet strategically vital area of alliance combat: the propaganda war.

"Silence!" he demanded, and proceeded to berate his enemies . "2 months has passed. 2 months since apparant (sic) flaws in a gamemechanic no one knew existed got abused, and we lost our name, all our sov, and the mad rush for Delve began... No sov levels, no POS-spam, no strontmanaging, no blobs can stop us. We are after your blood. We *will* kill you." Stirring stuff for the intended audience, his own troops; with the membership of KenZoku steadily declining since losing all their territory, this new thread and the chestbeating within it could rally his pilots and pave the way for future conquest. Whenever a forum offensive is launched, it is usually announced to the membership of the alliance, who are then inspired to join the bandwagon and drum up support.

But then, something went wrong. Less than three hours after SirMolle posted his thread, a spy in RKZ helped set up a 'hotdrop' on the KenZoku capital fleet as it was engaging a tower in the 9CG system. Nearly one hundred capital ships cynojumped on top of the KenZoku dreadnoughts and proceeded to exterminate them, destroying 47 and forcing SirMolle himself (who was leading the RKZ group at the time) to order his remaining pilots to log out of the game and hope that their ships were not destroyed in time - a serious no-no, in e-honor circles. The loss easily amounted to more than two dead Titans in isk value alone, and the military impact was dramatic, but the propaganda backlash was even more catastrophic. What had once been a showcase for their recent success became a 15+ page public relations disaster, instantly linked around the game as an example of out of control hubris, spawning parody threads and flatlining KenZoku morale. A thread which had once been a flag to rally around had become an icon of humiliation, within a matter of hours Kenzoku pilots went from morale-boosting chestbeating to complete silence - never a good sign in a propaganda war.

Ultimately, EVE is a voluntary pastime which has its tedious bits, particularly in the realm of alliance warfare. In a galaxy full of would-be Space Knights following e-bushido, reputation and 'face' are themselves resources that can be built up or destroyed. In any given war, a significant amount of attention must be paid to what keeps your pilots motivated and logging into the game, losing ships for your alliance's banner, and maintaining a positive cultural identity so that defectors and spies are not bred. Morale is key, as the history of Red Alliance demonstrates; lose enough pilots due to demoralization and your military suffers, and suddenly your alliance is in a full-on failure cascade. The intelligent use and deployment of propaganda is of crucial strategic importance, no matter how much the e-honor crowd may deny its impact.

When I got into the spy game, I didn't realize that I would end up spending more than half of my time on propaganda and spin control. There are three broad areas of social engineering within EVE: diplomacy, espionage, and propaganda. Like everything involving monkeys chattering at each other, the lines are blurry; diplomacy and espionage are muddied together constantly, and almost every act of espionage can be twisted to have some kind of public relations angle. One of the best examples of this is the now-infamous 'Yaay Peptalk', where a KenZoku FC gave a 'pep talk' to their pet alliance RISE; the 'pep talk' devolved into a rant about how terrible RISE was, and a GIA agent caught the whole thing on tape. We published the mp3 of the peptalk and spread it far beyond its initial audience of RISE members, cementing the narrative that RISE was an alliance of sycophantic losers willing to take any sort of abuse from KenZoku. Shortly thereafter, RISE failure cascaded, lost all their space, and disbanded. Efficient use of propaganda can turn an alliance that merely loses out militarily - of which there are hundreds - into an alliance which is a galactic laughingstock, a black mark on the employment history of any pilot unlucky enough to have been a part of it.

As Yaay told RISE, "Don’t worry about the forums, don’t even read the forums. All they’re doing is throwing out slander." Whenever one side decisively loses control of a propaganda vector, the most common response is to try to insulate their membership from hostile ideas. At the most basic level there is the relatively common 'forum ban'; a number of alliances ban their membership from posting on the official forums, and do their level best to discourage even reading them. This almost never works as a propaganda defense, as people who have been told not to do something begin to see the banned activity as more valuable. For example, Goonswarm spent several months trying to ban its members from posting on the forums for the strategic purpose of convincing the galaxy that we had been driven fully out of our old homeland of Syndicate and nearly destroyed; while the 'Big Lie' was a success, a legion of goons took up a habit of alt-posting, and whatever was said on the official forums was of heightened interest due to the ban.

It is also possible to ruin a propaganda vector to the point that any hostile messages are lost in the static; years ago, the primary EVE forum was unequivocally dominated by Band of Brothers and their allied entities, until Goonswarm ditched the aforementioned forum ban and proceeded to deliberately drag the level of discourse down to that of a flailing, mentally deficient five-year-old; the entire outlet was delegitimated and Band of Brothers lost their dominance amidst a torrent of 'much like your posting' jokes and z0r chains. In the aftermath, Band of Brothers opted for another common propaganda defense: they began to use an entirely separate 'safe' media outlet, their own unofficial forum moderated by their own members. This is especially common with ethnic alliances; it's easy to defend your members against propaganda when they don't speak English, and so there are isolated propaganda wars on the Russian , Italian , Hungarian (and so on) EVE forums.

Propaganda in EVE goes far beyond forum-whoring, though; the copious number of graphic designers who play spaceship games in their spare time results in a profusion of impressive artwork, such as the RAZOR Alliance Ministry of Propaganda.  Youtube has opened a new vector for both aspiring propagandists and people who just want to make silly videos about singing bees; be it as a recruitment tool or a vehicle for inside jokes, visual propaganda of all kinds makes a substantial impact.
 
Goonswarm itself has also suffered a number of hilarious public relations failures over the years. A textbook example of How Not To Conduct Alliance Warfare comes from our dearly departed CEO, Remedial, where he managed to invigorate an alliance we were on the verge of destroying with one horrifically awful call-out thread. Rather than having the intended effect, it brought public attention to the low-intensity and mostly ignored NORAD vs Goonswarm war and united the member corporations of NORAD together against us; resistance stiffened substantially, Remedial's thread became a laughingstock, and the Swarm never managed to kill NORAD. Another dangerous propaganda misstep came when Remedial was told that a Swarm member had won a lottery in England and bought a Titan with timecards; excited, Remedial proceeded to tell the membership that he had a 'big announcement' to drum up excitement in the days leading up to the revelation of the lottery Titan, only to discover that the whole thing was a prank and that there was no such Titan. Whoops.

That's the great thing about the all-encompassing nature of war in EVE. You can spy on your enemies, you can kill them, you can blow their stuff up and/or steal it... and then you can use propaganda to ensure they are remembered only as a laughingstock

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