EVE Online: Creating a Spaceholding Alliance
In EVE Online,
the taking and holding of conquerable space by alliances in 0.0 is the
closest thing to 'endgame content' available in other MMOs. Unlike
raiding in WoW, which almost anyone who plays gets a chance to try at
some point, only a tiny portion of the EVE playerbase ever makes it out
of Empire. Unlike the gradual progression of PvE dungeons leading up to
a more difficult raid, the habits and skills learned by a corporation
in Empire are essentially the opposite of what one needs to survive in
0.0. This results in a somewhat stagnant closed system in the outer
reaches of space, where roughly the same crew of alliances who 'made
it' into conquerable 0.0 endlessly battle against one another. Despite
this, the process for creating a successful spaceholding 0.0 alliance
isn't difficult, but it is almost never spelled out explicitly - until
First of all, you have to choose what sort of goals you have for your nascent organization. A number of alliances exist in the game, as far as the code is concerned, but they don't function as alliances; they hold no space and exist as 'roaming PvP' entities, or they live in NPC 0.0 where there is no risk of losing assets in a conquerable station. This is like going to Vegas and gambling with pennies amongst your buddies in the parking lot outside of a casino; if your desire for your alliance is to reach the endgame, you need to decide from the outset that your organization's goal is conquerable space, lest you end up like Interdiction, who spend a tremendous amount of effort on the forums trying to convince other alliances that they are relevant despite never taking space or attacking a control tower.
Once the goal is clearly set towards becoming a spaceholding alliance, you need to decide upon your governing structure - ideally this needs to be sorted out long before you have anyone else to govern. Alliances tend to be ruled either by the founding corporation in a near dictatorship (Goonswarm, Against All Authorities) or conceived as a pseudo-democracy with each member corporation having a say in the affairs of the alliance as a whole. You need to have this sorted out before you begin recruiting other corporations to your banner, otherwise there will be no end to the drama if you try to impose a dictatorial mantle on a democratically-minded crew. From a standpoint of sheer practicality, autocracy is easily the best option for alliance governance; many of the functions of an alliance are most secure when centralized in a single corporation, and autocracies are able to react much faster to unfolding events than any of the talking-shop governments.
Now it's time to start building something beyond a gleam in your eye. You have your goal, you have your chosen form of government, now you commence building your alliance. You need to have a banner for people to rally around, a shared identity that pilots will be eager to buy into. Alliances in EVE are a dime a dozen, but most never get anywhere, and this has a lot to do with their core identity; what is the reason for your alliance's being, besides taking space? The most common identity for a spaceholding alliance is an ethnic one, an aggregation of people from one linguistic group or nationality. Other identities involve communities from outside of EVE, such as forum groups (Somethingawful.com, Ars Technica) or players of other games - 'Tribes' and 'Earth and Beyond' veterans have a significant presence in 0.0. Even if the identity is purely a gimmick or a silly in-joke, it puts your nascent alliance at an advantage over those without a cohesive sense of self, because a strong alliance identity is what will help you maintain your membership in the face of the vicissitudes of war.
Dysprosium and promethium are 'Rarity 64' (r64) moon minerals, and they are the foundation of an alliance economy. Compared to the other classes of harvestable moon mineral, they're stupendously valuable - the raw output of one dysprosium moon nets about 11 billion isk per month at current prices, promethium between 6 and 8 billion. By contrast, the next most valuable mineral, cadmium, brings in perhaps 400m isk per month before reactions. It is the conquest of these moons that will be the first test of whether your alliance can 'hack it' in lawless space.
To begin with, pick a region with r64s which you think you might be able to handle - ideally speaking not a fully conquerable region yet, as you don't have the income for a sovereignty war. Use the Dotlan service to choose a lowsec or NPC 0.0 territory and begin scouting the moons listed there to find a likely target; using Outer Ring as an example, you'd send a pilot in a cloaking ship to scout each of the promethium and dysprosium moons to choose one that is relatively lightly defended and held by an organization you think your alliance might be able to handle.
When you have selected a target, it's time for your first real test: engaging your capital fleet, sieging the target r64, destroying it, replacing it with your own mining tower, and then defending it. This is, in microcosm, every major skill an alliance needs to survive in conquerable 0.0, with the exception of running a cynojammer takedown. The process of trying to capture r64s will teach you where your weaknesses are as an organization and give you valuable practice in setting up and managing towers. If you succeed, you'll soon be rolling in isk; take this money and keep it secure, ideally in the wallet of the alliance leader, and begin saving it for a 'tower fund' - this is your warchest.
Continue fighting for and seizing r64 moons until your organization is ready for the next step. In the time between your first conquered r64 and the next few, you should be busy implementing programs for your growing alliance and using your successes as a recruitment tool. Two high-priority programs should be an alliance-level reimbursement for battleship losses and for capital ship losses; this kind of subsidy will keep your pilots in the ships you need to win consistently. Reimbursement programs typically result in a lot of arguing during their formation, because one needs to determine which sorts of fittings qualify for reimbursement, such that the alliance isn't subsidizing the guy who puts blasters on his Typhoon. Perhaps more importantly, you need to work out with your logisticians which sort of towers and fittings you will be using for your upcoming invasion; all too often, a would-be alliance runs into a brick wall of confusion regarding POS mechanics because they didn't do their homework until it was time to drop towers. With a standardized set of tower fittings, you make any conquest that much easier.
Once your target is selected, infiltrate them with spies. Unless you've telegraphed your intentions (for god's sakes, don't - aim for a surprise attack) your target should have no idea that you have designs on their region, so getting agents into their ranks should be a snap. This will give you a good idea of their defenses from the inside, and may give you the edge you need to succeed. Your agents need to report to you about the diplomatic situation - who are your targets allies? When you invade, who can you expect to show up to help defend your new enemy? Infiltrate those guys, too. Will your invasion impact on some other war?
A good example of an invasion mangled by poor intelligence occurred very recently in Etherium Reach, where Intrepid Crossing (IRC) and Etheral Dawn (ED) invaded Red Alliance in the Insmother region. They didn't do their homework, and didn't realize that Red Alliance was aiding Legion of xXDeathXx in a fight many regions away against Against All Authorities in Tenerifis - or that this Tenerifis battle was part of a second front in the KenZoku/-A- vs Goonswarm throwdown in Querious. Though they had absolutely no intention to do so, IRC/ED had jumped into the mire of the Great War, and suddenly found themselves reset to neutral by most of their long-time allies. While the soap-opera level of drama and politics of the Great War has entranced the playerbase for years now, it's hardly the best environment for an alliance just breaking into 0.0; you're probably better off finding an alliance no one particularly cares about in an uninvolved region and annihilating them.
Invasion day. Your final hurdle will be using a fleet of battleships and logistics ships to take down an armed and gunned cynojammer. If you can accomplish this, jump in your capitals and commence sieging and spamming. Welcome to the big leagues!