EVE Online: Sci-Fi Sharecroppers
Pets, vassals, tenants: there are many derogatory nicknames for these sci-fi sharecroppers. In the social hierarchy of EVE Online, they rank somewhere below Empire-bound mission runners and slightly above people who take WoW pvp seriously. Despite this, pets positively litter 0.0 space, and the 'pet system' has existed more or less unchanged for years. One of the largest alliances in the game, Shadow of xXDeathXx, is entirely comprised of the pets of Legion of xXDeathXx - and every month, like clockwork, the pay their rent.
It was the sort of offer that RISE, an alliance based in Cloud Ring,
couldn't refuse - not because of a mafia-esque strong-arming, but the
more subtle coercion of greed. Leave their home in a resource-poor,
cramped and irrelevant region to become a player on the board of the
Great Game. New territory, richer than they could conceive of. Status -
of the derivative, cape-holding sort - but far more than they had
before. There was only one price: Rent. Each month, no matter what.
Like so many others before them, and without thinking of the
consequences, they eagerly accepted this devil's bargain. This choice
sealed their doom: RISE had become a pet.
Pets, vassals, tenants: there are many derogatory nicknames for these
sci-fi sharecroppers. In the social hierarchy of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/eve/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EVE Online,
they rank somewhere below Empire-bound mission runners and slightly
above people who take WoW pvp seriously. Despite this, pets positively
litter 0.0 space, and the 'pet system' has existed more or less
unchanged for years. One of the largest alliances in the game, Shadow
of xXDeathXx, is entirely comprised of the pets of Legion of xXDeathXx
- and every month, like clockwork, the pay their rent.
For RISE, everything about the arrangement went well for the first few
months. Their master, the now-defunct Band of Brothers alliance, had
recently conquered the territory of Ascendant Frontier and needed
someone to hold space in Feythabolis, Esoteria and Paragon Soul. RISE
was settled into a constellation in Feythabolis and began injecting six
billion isk each month into the BoB coffers.
Almost immediately, some of the catches became apparent to the more
perceptive members of RISE: the alliance had to tower and fuel their
rented space with their own isk and their own logisticians, yet without
the benefit of any R64 moons (which usually fuel a normal alliance's
fuel costs). Not only that, RISE were obliged by their
agreement with BoB to defend their territory against hostile
incursions, which commenced shortly after they moved in. This was
problematic, because RISE had not taken its new territory by force, so
the military skills needed for effective defense had never been
On its face, both parties in the pet system accrue benefits. The master
gets a steady flow of capital, an auxiliary military force that can be
called upon in emergencies, and can claim sovereign territory without
actually having to fuel or maintain towers themselves. The pet derives
some status from being affiliated with a stronger entity, gains access
to space richer than they would otherwise be capable of holding, and
expects that the rented territory will be defended from a strategic
assault by the master entity.
After the annihilation of Ascendant Frontier, Band of Brothers relied
entirely upon the pet system to populate and defend their three
newly-conquered regions. Almost every available constellation was
rented out to pets like RISE, Confederation of the Red Moon, and Gods
of Night and Day. This enabled BoB to avoid the problem of logistics
strain associated with rapid territorial acquisition, provided steady
income, and brought thousands of new players to the banner of the
'Greater BoB Community'. The result? Within a year, all of this
territory was lost, the pet alliances who once lived there had
disbanded, BoB was humiliated, and half of their territory was gone.
As BoB and RISE discovered, in practice, the pet arrangement is a grim
thing. Much ink has been spilled over the shameful lack of e-honor and
self-sufficiency of pets, as well as the greed and neglect of their
masters. However, the pet system isn't merely shameful, it is actively
harmful to the strategic interests of the master, and positively deadly
to the health of the pet alliance.
From the master's perspective, the pets turned out to be unreliable in
the extreme. Sure, the rent was paid, but the renter had no particular
loyalty to the landlord. The more onerous the rental agreement, the
less reliable the pet. Since the pets did not take their territory
through feat of arms, their military quality proved laughable; pet-held
territory became a magnet for raiding by more experienced entities
seeking easy kills. Because the pets would recruit anyone
interested in joining them who could help them pay their rent, they
became riddled with hostile agents; this meant that BoB had to keep
pets in separate fleets on strategic operations, which fostered
resentment on both sides. Rather than useful military auxiliary, the
pet system gave BoB a rabble of traitorous, fractious cannon fodder.
When a pet's territory and towers came under assault, the inability of
pet logisticians to time strontium correctly meant that territory once
captured by the master swiftly fell. When a pet's rented territory was
conquered by the enemy, the majority of the pet's membership saw no
reason to continue fighting for their landlord, usually resulting in
the disintegration of the pet alliance.
For pets, the danger of the arrangement was more extreme. A young
alliance matures through the promotion of experienced leaders,
particularly in the areas of fleet command and logistics. The pet
system is a dead-end for those interested in advancement, because the
strictures of the arrangement prevent aspiring leaders from taking a
pet alliance in an independent direction. Instead, they aspire to join
the master's alliance to shake off the stigma of being 'just a pet'.
This results in a continual brain drain as talent is sucked out of the
pet alliance to bolster the master. The master is likewise weakened,
because the core identity of the landlord is diluted by the influx of
Worse, a pet alliance jumps ahead of the progression through which
independent alliances learn the ropes of 0.0. Many pets are recruited
directly from Empire. As renters, these alliances never learn how to be
self-sufficient, because they haven't had to train up a capital fleet,
siege and capture R64s, take down cynojammers, time strontium, or run a
logistics network. When put under any pressure to do these things, they
crumble. Pethood becomes a kind of alliance-level infantilism, where
the renters never learn what it takes to stand in 0.0 on their own
Ultimately, the entire arrangement is a sham. For RISE, the ugly truth
came crashing down upon them when their territory in Feythabolis was
sieged by the RedSwarm Federation (Red Alliance, Goonswarm, and Tau
Ceti Federation). RISE directors pleaded for aid and defense from their
landlord BoB, yet none was forthcoming. Lacking military skills, RISE's
defense was completely inadequate. When the territory began to fall,
RISE had trouble making their monthly rent payment, since none of their
membership could make isk in a warzone. BoB insisted that RISE pay.
Amazingly, they did so; sycophancy had become so ingrained at this
point that it was inconceivable that they would not. RISE lost their
space. Adding insult to injury, BoB's leadership promised their
erstwhile pets a Titan Bridge to evacuate RISE's assets - and then
repeatedly stood the pets up. The duty and obligation between pet and
master only worked in one direction. RISE broke, fell back to Empire,
and disbanded a few months later.
Like many things in EVE, the pet system seems attractive at first, but
becomes a deadly trap for the unwary. If you are thinking about taking
the first steps into 0.0, or if you are an established alliance looking
to expand into new territory or buttress your income, learn from the
mistakes of others and give the pet system a pass. Who would you rather
have on your side, a friend or a flunkie?
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