Sins of a Solar Spymaster #13 - The Participation Game
I returned home from Las Vegas with a two-day hangover and the
unsettling realization that my alliance, Goonswarm, was on fire. Not
'on fire for Jesus,' either - we were getting our collective asses
handed to us by KenZoku, our anime-themed nemesis, and the eighteen
other alliances they had brought to the party. Even worse, just as our
enemies launched their bid to seize Querious from us, GS participation
was in the gutter. Out of an alliance of six thousand, with our space
being invaded by our enemies - enemies who were not merely competitors,
but detested foes against whom we've prosecuted a three-year grudge -
Goonswarm couldn't muster a fleet of more than one hundred pilots in
our prime timezone. Chaos ensued. Once more, it was time to do the
'Participation Dance,' the frantic series of gestures and utterances
that alliance leaders and fleet commanders go through in order to try
to inspire their players to actually log in and play EVE. But compared
to more mundane challenges - such as how to manage a coalition of tens
of thousands of players, how to invade and conquer hostile territory,
or how to manage a capital production chain, player participation is by
far the most poorly understood facet of 0.0 warfare.
From an outsider's perspective, one might think that this would be
easy. EVE is a game, and games are fun, right? But this is EVE, and the
bleeding-edge of alliance warfare is often deadly boring if not an
exercise in outright masochism. The core mechanic of conquerable space,
which is to say placing, defending, or destroying player-owned starbase
(POS, 'pos warfare') is widely acknowledged - even by its aficionados -
as being about as entertaining as engaging in a little 'freestyle
dentistry' on oneself with a claw hammer. Due to the magic of strontium
clathrates, players get to enjoy this delightful hobby at a time chosen
by their enemy - usually at an ungodly hour in another timezone
requiring that players set an alarm clock before having the privilege
of applying hammer to tooth.
It's not so bad, one could argue; it is through pos warfare that
alliances claim sovereignty and secure the riches and status of 0.0
space, a galactic hazing ritual writ large. There are massive fleet
battles with capital ships dying en masse, surprise turnabouts and
dramatic espionage coups to spice things up. But losing isn't fun, no
matter how much some alliances try to tell their members that they
don't mind the process. A pilot can escape a bad time in EVE simply by
not logging in, so when the enemy's boot begins hitting their face,
quite a few choose this option. Since the dawn of combat in 0.0,
alliances have struggled with the question of how to get people to
fight when the going gets tough. Some plead, some threaten, some pen
nationalistic appeals - and no one has yet figured out the secret. The
most common methods are explained below:
Just the Facts:
Sometimes, people simply don't know what's happening on the front
lines. An objective accounting of the course of the war is a brave
step, because there's always a degree of deception between an
alliance's leadership and their members, especially when things look
bleak. Rather than trying to cushion recent losses, one can hope to
inspire participation with unfiltered truth. The only problem is that
this could backfire and send your alliance plunging into a failure
cascade if the average member sees the fight as hopeless.
The style="font-weight: bold;"
target="_blank">Inspiring Post: A much more common
and safer option than the truth, this is a bit of forum demagoguery
making a nationalistic call to arms, an old-fashioned rallying cry. The
biggest risk with these types of messages is that they've become so
common that it's hard for an older player to get fired up by them;
worse, if participation isn't actually boosted by the rallying cry, it
can be seen as a crippling leadership failure.
The Big Speech:
Similar to the Inspiring Post, the Big Speech takes place on teamspeak
or ventrilo. This relies on the natural charisma of whomever is making
the speech, and charisma is in short supply in spaceship nerd circles.
However, the biggest advantage of this method is that it gets a horde
of pilots online at one point in time, and it's a short step from
listening to a speech to logging into the game itself. Goonswarm has
used this method to launch offensives for years now; after mustering
600 people in one channel to hear a 'State of the Goonion', we ask
everyone to log in and go on a rampage.
Named for the very deceased Lotka Volterra alliance, 'going all
lotka.org' has entered EVE parlance as a metaphor for heavy-handed
moderation. Lotka's forums were infamous for moderators who would
censor and delete any post made by a member which was not sufficiently
optimistic; dissent or expressions of worry about their strategic
situation were vigorously quashed. Predictably, anyone so censored
became immediately disenchanted with the alliance leadership. Their
participation flatlined, and Lotka Volterra was annihilated within a
paltry 47 days. Despite this link being obvious from the psychological
perspective (censorship -> disenchantment -> death)
innumerable alliance directorates have fallen for this trap.
The Red Pen:
About the only thing that Veritas Immortalis left behind was this gem
of an alliance mail from their leader, Light Darkness, in the throes of
a participation slump:
I got this descission.
But i have to descide so.
Every Corp they dont
show up 100% of all thier members (they are online) in
RYC have to descide if
they want to stay in V. or i will help in thier descission !!!
Iam really pissed off. I
dont sleeped this night to defend our POSes (-V-) POSes
But from 80 in Alliance
was ONLY 15 in RYC. in the next 10 hours everyone
have to regroup in RYC.
That means = 150 online
-> 140 in RYC !!!
AND IF RA/GOON build up
a POS there we will destroy this POS immidiently.
Everyone he have a CS
have to prepare his CS and i dont accept any excuses.
And guys. Iam pissed off
and i thought we are a alliance where we work
together. But if that
failure. I will fire the red pen over the Alliance.
We're still not sure what exactly he meant, but "Red Pen" sounds
intimidating. Over time, it's grown to represent a broad range of
vaguely incoherent threats to show up on ops, or else. "Don't make me
fire the red pen."
Negative reinforcement rarely works, yet alliance leaders continue to
invent new ways to punish their membership into engaging in a voluntary
activity. Among the more commerce-focused organizations, during combat
operations the leadership will temporarily set the corporate tax rate
to 100%, rendering it impossible for a pilot to earn isk, in hopes of
forcing a pilot who has logged in to join on an op. In practice, this
always backfires; pilots who don't want to go on the op will simply log
out, spending less time in New Eden - eroding their attachment to the
game itself. Whoops!
Nothing inspires the troops quite like reading about the sorrows of the
enemy. Publishing spy reports from hostile forums has always been a
morale-booster. Unfortunately, this is useless in the midst of a
participation slump, because the enemy tends to be gloating. But when
on a surge, posting chat porn has become standard practice to keep the
troops full of energy.
Rich alliances have tried this method since the servers opened. In many
cases, it can actually work. Most alliances have loss reimbursement
programs; by pumping up the payouts for ship classes the alliance needs
in battle, pilots can lose ships without any personal loss - until the
alliance wallet runs dry, that is. Reimbursement programs also gives
the member-level pilot an obvious reason to fight for the goals of the
alliance; while the arcane mechanics of sovereignty warfare may be
beyond him, everyone understands how awesome free ships are.
Faced with an enemy invasion and on fire, the Swarm directorate would
have to do something - anything - to pull their participation out of a
tailspin, or Querious would be lost.
KenZoku chose I1Y, a station in Querious right at the edge of Empire,
as the focus of their assault. For days, Goonswarm bled towers in I1Y
and overall manpower. Since early April, I had been personally using
the 'Just the Facts' strategy with some success, writing a war update
every morning explaining exactly what had taken place the day
before. But now that we were on the back foot, the raw truth
wasn't keeping our fleets full. Within a week of the I1Y offensive it
became painful to write about. The truth was becoming a recitation of
our failures, and we were flirting with a despair-fueled backlash. What
else could we do to try to inspire our pilots to log in? Chat porn
wouldn't work, since Goonswarm was busy being on fire - the updates
themselves had become chat porn for KenZoku, another reason they had to
stop. Lotka.Org, Red Pen and Tax Hike are options only chosen by
failures, a recipe for certain death. No matter what, the policy of
truth would have to be sacrificed to expediency. That was fine by me -
I've never been a fan of truth.
Glossing over the failures of the next two days in increasingly brief
and vague updates, the directorate played for time, scrambling for a
variation of Outright Bribery - a very public reform of the
reimbursement program. A plan was hatched with our allies to arrange
for a mass offensive on the upcoming holiday weekend. Diplomatic
muscles were flexed to give the Swarm some good news - new allies from
the Northern Coalition agreed to intervene in the war to help stave off
the nineteen enemy alliances fighting us. In the end, we had to fall
back upon the oldest trick in the book, the Inspiring Post:
Friday, we go on the offensive. Our allies are returning from the
North, having handily slaughtered Triumvirate, and bringing new
'friedns' to the party. Our Eurotime contingent will be restored, and
we will be smashing enemy fleets and towers nonstop. I expect pitched
battles in every timezone. It is time for us to bring out the long
knives and the cruelty, to meditate upon the unending faggotry of all
things Molle, and to lust for vengeance.
Querious, Molle says, is
where this war will be won. His plan is now obvious. KenGoku intend to
sink their roots deep into our buffer region and drop outposts to
transform it into a secure staging point for long-term warfare against
Delve. After I1Y falls, ED (next door) will be hit, and then a single
new outpost will give him a Sov4 adjacent to empire. This is critical
for his bandwagon of pets, who own no space and mostly live in lowsec;
they must have a 0.0 station close to where they belong.
In order to accomplish
this, over the past week our enemies have dropped more than a hundred
towers, mostly in our bridge systems and R64s. P4, which contains two
R64s, is a particularly egregious example; there are 33 KenZoku towers
there, and no station - yet.
We must scourge this
cancer from Querious before it spreads and strengthens. If KenZoku is
allowed to settle without opposition, their membership will surge and
we will be starved out of Delve. Querious contains 40% of our alliance
income as well as our logistics route to empire. Without it, we will be
cut off and Delve will wither and die. We have been slowly losing
stations while our allies were away, but they are returning and now it
is time to regain lost ground.
Avail yourselves of our
expanding reimbursement programs. Enjoy the resources you have ripped
from Molle's grip. If we capture and secure more R64s, these programs
will continue to expand. Fleet BS, Dictors, Battlecruisers, Stabbers,
Mallers and Covops are currently offered. Logistics and Heavy
Interdictors are being considered next. After that - IF we secure our
space - the sky is the limit. This is your alliance, and you will be
rewarded for your efforts.
There are no other
fronts. There is only Querious. See you Friday. Through Monday and
beyond, we fight.
The next morning, as soon as the servers booted up, 410+ pilots were on
the coalition's teamspeak server. Over the next few days, every single
hostile tower in I1Y was destroyed. href="http://img196.imageshack.us/img196/4200/20090524192504.png"
target="_blank">Fourteen titans were parked on top
of the KenZoku staging tower in I1Y in a display of raw, excessive
force. KenZoku's gains of the previous two weeks were ruined, and they
found themselves in a situation where they were actually worse off than
before their attack on I1Y.
How did this happen? Was it the bribery? The inspiring post? The timing
of the holiday? The announcement that allied help was on the way? Or
was it something much more mundane, such as the end of 'finals season'
in college, a natural and predictable decline around mid-May and
mid-December each year? One of the most frustrating truths about the
participation game is that there is no verifiable way to determine
which method makes an impact, just judgments after the fact based on
observation and the characteristics of a particular alliance. We are
like shamans, beating drums and looking to the sky for rain.
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