Sins of a Solar Spymaster #78: The Extortion of Empire
Why did we do it? The usual reasons were trotted out: revenge, celebration, petty griefing, market manipulations, conspiracy with CCP, real-life sociopathy, class warfare. The truth is that we did it because we could: we wanted to see what would happen to Jita if we hit it with all the organizational might of a nullsec bloc. We succeeded beyond our wildest expectations; rather than merely driving up the price of minerals, trade in Jita itself came to a crashing halt as hundreds of goons tore through the system shooting anything foolish enough to sit still. By Sunday evening, almost a trillion isk of assets had been destroyed, and we withdrew. The more interesting question is how it came to pass, and what it means for the game as a whole.
An outbreak of rare peace across nullsec has unleashed upon New Eden a wave of macro-level market manipulations that have already begun to reshape the power relations between hisec and nullsec. Five critical events have coincided with this peace, two from CCP and three from nullsec blocs: the mineral supply changes in the Escalation patch released April 24th, a crackdown on botting and RMT by CCPs security division, the creation of OTEC - a price-fixing cartel which controls the Technetium supply - the Sack of Jita, and the newly bloc-sponsored Hulkageddon.
The mineral changes in Escalation have essentially revived mining as a viable profession for the first time since 2007, when the introduction of the Drone Regions essentially killed mining - except as the province of bots, newbies, and the fiscally inept - with a flood of high-end minerals in the form of alloy drops. By removing these drops and replacing them with bounties, as well as removing common, easily-refined modules from agent missions, the supply of minerals across the game has disrupted. Speculation in advance of the patch drastically increased the price of staple goods even before the disruption occurred; that disruption was magnified by an unexpected crackdown by CCP on bots of all kinds - and the most common sort of bot is the mining bot, given the skull-crushingly boring nature of solo mining. Not only do the minerals in EVE now need to be mined, they have to be mined by humans.
The Gallente Ice Interdiction proved that an alliance could select a specific sector of hisec space, choose a good produced in that space, and choke off supply successfully to turn a profit - market terrorism as a method of macro-level finance. Anticipating the mineral supply shock, Goonswarm sank almost a trillion isk into minerals before the Escalation patch, and then chose the first weekend after the patch - the time where producers traditionally resupply their sell orders on the market - to strike Jita. Instead of spreading efforts across every system that produced oxygen isotopes as in the Interdiction, the Sack of Jita required only local superiority in Jita, Sobaseki, and Perimeter. The Sack was intended to exacerbate the disruption of Escalation, which would then be sent over the edge by OTEC and Hulkageddon.
In the past, Hulkageddon was an event run entirely by a crew of dedicated pirates, led by the irascible Helicity Boson. Previous Hulkageddons offered prizes to the teams which could destroy the most exhumers and mining barges during its run. These major prizes would only be awarded to the top winners (with a few additional prizes for achievements like largest smartbomb kill) , which meant that the contest tended to be devolve into a competition between a few dedicated teams fighting for the top spot, with less vehement gankers dropping out after the first few days. For this Hulkageddon, Goonswarm offered to sponsor the event and pay prizes to casual gankers, using a killboard scraper to offer 100m in bounties for every ten exhumers killed to anyone who participates. Hulkageddon was scheduled to begin immediately after the Sack of Jita finished - and instead of lasting only one or two weeks as in past years, this year Hulkageddon will last for an entire month.
During a Hulkageddon, the more informed miners in hisec tend to hide; those that do not hide tend to die. In either case, the supply of minerals is drastically cut, and thousands of Hulks are destroyed. And what exactly makes a Hulk? According to a detailed analysis by Jester, 70% of each Hulk is made out of - wait for it - Technetium, the fabled conflict diamond of the North. Technetium only comes from the northwest regions of the galaxy, and the brutal defenestration of Raidendot from Tenal and Vale finally has brought about something that savvy market-watchers have dreaded since the Technetium bottleneck was first created - a cartel. This OTEC - the Organization of Technetium Exporting Corporations - comprises representatives from the CFC, NCdot, Ev0ke, and PL, the four nullsec entities that control 90% of the Technetium moons in the galaxy. Rather than trying to restrict supply, OTEC has coordinated price-fixing, jacking the price of Tech past 200k per unit - and in doing so driving up the price of every T2 ship and module on the market. The Tech market is very thin - there are no major stockpiles of Technetium lying around, as the community has expected a nerf on this bottleneck product for more than a year. The abrupt Hulkageddon-induced need to produce thousands of replacement exhumers will only exacerbate the price spike.
So: the Sack of Jita was only the tip of the iceberg, the birth-scream of a new economic era that was only hinted at during the Ice Interdiction. Nullsec now sends gankers into hisec to disrupt an already thin mineral supply and bankrolls freelancers via Hulkageddon to destroy miners en masse; each exhumer destroyed can only be replaced by production that requires cartelized Technetium, which goes right into the pockets of the very people bankrolling the gankers. A tremendous amount of uncertainty now hangs over the head of every hisec trade hub and each producer within it, as if Jita can be sacked, perhaps Amarr, Rens, or Dodixie could be next - and that uncertainty drives prices up still more. I can state affirmatively that there will be more burns of trade hubs by nullsec alliances, but future attacks will not come with two months of warning - if there is any notice at all.
The Sack of Jita was originally intended as an experiment. However, because of its success, and the nexus of incentives from Escalation, Hulkageddon, and OTEC, macroeconomic extortion of Empire for profit will rapidly transform from a gleam in a nullsec financiers eye to a brutal fact of economic life in New Eden.