Where the Boys Are

... and some of the girls, too. This video is best watched full-screen and sound blasting. Some profanity, though.

Groups of players in EVE Online are organized into corporations (corp / corps - yes, the plural is pronounced "corpse" - maybe Obama plays?). Many (though not all) corporations focus on fleet combat -- training players, building the right ships for their missions and tactics, and then running them. Fleet commanders have to recruit volunteers to fight, organize fleets around a particular type of mission, employ scouts to find enemy ships, fleets, or installations, consider logistics such as fleet composition, travel time, solar system features like asteroid belts and other stellar "terrain," repair and re-arming mid-fleet, and of course be good at (virtual) combat command and control.

Each fleet role -- commander, scout, tackler (focused on grabbing and tying down enemy ships), damage dealer, logistics ship, etc. -- has particular player skill, in-game character skill, and ship requirements. Different corporations develop different strategies and tactics depending on their goals. The deadly corporation Rooks and Kings, for example, developed the famous "pipe bomb" tactic which we see near the end of the video.

Besides combat, though, EVE has a more or less complete economy which is about as free market as it gets. The raw components for the ships we fight in are mined from asteroid belts, planets, and moons by players, then sold to other players who build the ships, then sold to other players who transport them to trade systems, then sold to yet other players who sell them to me to go blow up. Prices constantly shift based on supply and demand, and a lot of players pay for their ships by playing the market. Speaking of markets:
Inflation can be a headache for any central banker. But it takes a certain type of economist to know what to do when a belligerent spaceship fleet attacks an interstellar trading post, causing mineral prices to surge across the galaxy.

Eyjólfur Guðmundsson is just that economist. Working for the Icelandic company CCP Games, he oversees the virtual economy of the massively multiplayer video game Eve Online. Within this world, players build their own spaceships and traverse a galaxy of 7,500 star systems. They buy and sell raw materials, creating their own fluctuating markets. They speculate on commodities. They form trade coalitions and banks.

It’s a sprawling economy, with more than 400,000 players participating in its virtual market — more people, in fact, than live in Iceland. Inflation, deflation and even recessions can occur.

In Eve Online, Guðmundsson oversees an economy that can fluctuate wildly — he says it expanded 42 percent between February 2011 and February 2012, then contracted 15 percent by the summer. His team will periodically have to address imbalances in the money supply. For instance, they can curb inflation by introducing a new type of weapon, say, to absorb virtual currency — not unlike the way a central bank might sell bonds to shrink the money supply. (In theory, Eve Online’s currency has real-world value — the highest-level spaceships, the Titans, are worth the equivalent of $5,000 to $8,000.)


“We’ve even seen large alliances trying to manipulate aspects of the market to control the supply and affect prices,” Guðmundsson says. “It’s a lot like OPEC.”

In some ways, the economy of Eve Online is a libertarian experiment on a grand scale. There are few overarching rules. Labor markets quickly bounce back from recession because there’s no minimum wage. Players can voluntarily band together to create all sorts of innovative arrangements, including corporations, trade alliances and financial institutions.

Eve Online’s banks aren’t supported by a central bank or lender of last resort. Much like Ron Paul has proposed for the United States, there’s no fractional reserve banking, in which banks need to keep only a portion of their deposits on hand at any time and can lend the rest out freely.

“That increases the burden on banks to be diligent and efficient,” Guðmundsson says. On the downside, the financial system is sometimes ripe for abuse — one large bank, EBank, collapsed in 2009 when its founder seized its virtual funds and traded them for real-life cash on the black market. ...

The article ends with some interesting speculations about applications in real life.

So how does the new player learn? You can apply to EVE University or join one of the other newb-friendly corps. Watching training videos is a pretty good way to learn specific skills.

Need to know your corp's fleet doctrines for the ships you fly? Join Fleet-Up. Need to keep track of markets around the universe? Eve-Central. Want to quickly play around with different module fittings on a ship to maximize its performance for a particular mission and your character's particular skillset? EFT. Need voice communications for fleet action? Mumble. Want to keep track of who's killing who? Try your corp killboard. Scouting for a fleet and need quick maps of regions and systems, with recent data on kills, jumps, and players in system? Dotlan. Just spent two hours in Jita shopping for good deals on interceptors, then planning and executing a supply run only to get ambushed and incinerated by a pirate fleet three jumps out from home, losing the ships, modules and ammo you'd planned to fly over the weekend, and need to chill out? Try some EVE music videos:

What's the value of all this? Besides fun, I don't know. I do know that fleet planning makes one really think about logistics, that commanding a fleet of volunteers in virtual battle is like directing a mass cat attack, and that the whole thing reeks of free market economics. Kinda cool.


Grim said...

It's interesting to me that this represents the lives people -- young men at least -- really want. Free to imagine anything, they imagine themselves as warriors, pirates, smugglers, engaged in constant wars of all-on-all.

There's an important philosophical point buried there.

MikeD said...

I've tried it. I just don't see the point to paying someone else for the privilege of working a second job after I come home from the one that pays me to work.

Grim said...

I think the attraction for many is that it allows you to be someone you like better than who you really are. None of us are perfectly happy with our lives or ourselves, and it's especially understandable in a young man (who are the main audience) who as yet has nothing by way of accomplishments or adventures to define him. Like Luke Skywalker, it's easier to imagine themselves heroes in some distant war than to deal with being a nobody whose life is somewhat dreary and who has never accomplished anything of which they feel proud.

Tom said...

Mike: Yeah, paying for the ships you go have fun in is a hassle. I picked gaming because it's better than coming home and watching TV, but I didn't really want a second, virtual job. That said, it's only $20 for a PLEX, which sells in-game for 800,000,000 ISK or thereabouts. That buys a lot of frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, and that's all I fly.

Grim: I think you have some good points. For a lot of people, though, I also think a big part of it is just escapism. There are a surprising number of guys on active duty who play.

Tom said...

Couple of quick stories on that. One of the first guys I met in-game was an active duty Army scout who'd served in Iraq, I think. He knew there were scouts for fleets, etc., and wanted to see how his job worked in space fleets.

In my corp's home system, if there are 2 or more of us around, we maintain a standing fleet with voice communications as a QRF. One night a few months back there were three of us on and it was dead. The other two guys started chatting and it turned out they were both paratroopers, one currently serving and the other recently retired. They started talking about places they'd been and things they'd done, and the older guy handed out career advice. I enjoyed just listening.

Grim said...

"There are a surprising number of guys on active duty who play."

Well, yeah. War is 99% killing time. :)

Ymar Sakar said...

Eve is certainly unique. Freedom comes mostly in the form of the freedom to fail and succeed based on violence, wealth, or authority.