How EVE corporations use mafia tactics to increase their wealth
Usually when we get a glimpse into the universe of EVE Online it's because a major battle has happened between two giant corporations. As the hulls of hundreds of ships litter null-sec, we get to peak into their world and marvel at what could be the most fascinating virtual universe in the industry.
But why do those wars happen, and how do corporations become powerful and wealthy enough to pull them off? Recently, the Report got a chance to chat with Robert Woodhead, a veteran EVE player and a long-serving member of the prestigious EVE Online political body, The Council of Stellar Management, and we got to talking about some of the tactics powerful organizations use to increase their wealth.
Woodhead casually mentioned in passing during our conversation that people will pay corporations to fly through their space, and I remarked that it sounded like a mob tactic.
“Exactly,” said Woodhead, who goes by Trebor Daehdoow in EVE. “Let's say that you're a little corporation, a few people or maybe just you, and you don't want to live in hi-sec. You want to live in null-sec, but you don't want to be part of a big alliance.”
“You don't particularly want to set up shop out there and then have somebody come and stomp you,” he continued. “What you'll do is rent a star system from one of the big alliances. You'll basically pay 'protection money.' You'll pay rent every month and in return they won't mess with you, and if somebody tries to mess with you they'll usually come to help.”
Of course, you can only hold star systems if you're suitably powerful, and in EVE power comes from ISK. The big alliances are powerful not just because of their sheer number of pilots and ships, but because they have steady income. As a result, they can afford ship replacement programs.
Do what your told, fly in approved ships that are properly outfitted according to coporation guidelines, and they'll be replaced if you're attacked. The risk for the individual pilot plummets, and the power of the corporation grows.
This allows the corporations to get more ambitious.
“Goonswarm is doing another one of their 'Ice Interdictions,'” Woodhead told me.
He said that a massive alliance like the Goonswarm will essentially declare that a certain resource is off-limits and no longer safe for miners to harvest. Any miner caught trying to gather that resource is taken down by the Goonswarm. It's not easy though, and they have to resort to some risky tactics to accomplish that kind of harrassment in high-security space.
“They're basically doing what's called 'suicide ganking,'” he said. “There are areas of the game where if you shoot at another player, the space police will show up and blow you up. This is somewhat inaccurately referred to as 'high-security space.'”
“However, if you and a few of your buddies get together you can trap somebody and blow them up before the space police blow you up. You'll still get blown up, but it's basically suicide bombing. If you choose your target well, if they happen to be transporting a lot of expensive stuff. Then one of your other buddies who wasn't involved in the shooting can swing in and scoop up the loot.”
After a while, terror sets in and far fewer people are willing to go out and risk their ships. It's not just simple piracy though. It's quite a bit more sophisticated than that. It costs a lot of money to orchestrate a massive 24-hour-a-day piracy campaign over a period of months; the payoff needs to be more than just what's in the cargo hold of the destroyed ship.
“Goonswarm isn't doing this directly for the money,” Woodhead said. “What they do is they buy up a bunch of this resource. They then launch a terror campaign. Which results in shortages of the particular resource. In this case it's a fuel source for a particular type of space station. And when you have a shortage of something, what happens? The price goes up! Who has big stockpiles of that stuff? The people who are blowing up the miners.”
The graph above shows just how effective this tactic can be. It shows a previous Goonswarm Interdiction from 2011 where the price of the resource tripled.
“It's the only game in the world where piracy is not only not punished, but is applauded,” he said.
Might makes right in EVE Online, and corporations have the power, time, and resources to create ongoing revenue streams that allow them to control what is and isn't right. The amount of planning and manipulation that goes into these tactics is impressive and clever but shady uses of the game's economy are par for the course. It's not just about who can blow up the most ships, it's also about who can replace those ships at the end the day.
The corporations in EVE Online may sometimes operate like organized crime families, but that freedom is half the fun of the game. You want to change the system? You're going to need money, ships, and power…. or at least the cleverness to control those who do.