Rodgers and Hammerstein's popular portrayal of the 19th century American mid-west depicted strain amongst rural countrymen. The Farmer and the Cowman seems prescient of intra-alliance strains in an online game called Eve-Online in the 21st century:
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, But that's no reason why they can't be friends... [oh really?]
Noting the tensions separating friends is useful for two reasons. First, it would suggest a more complicated structure to their relationship than outside appearances might indicate. Second, given enough scale - for example, a decision process involving potentially 1000's of cooperating players in Eve-Online - it might be useful to cast the process in political terms rather than a straight up-and-down management or "command and control" problem.
For discussion, let us characterize broadly two player interests that occupy the same territory and share common purpose in its security and economic vitality yet differ in approach and apparent priorities (fn1). Let us label one constituency as cowmen, and the other as farmers.
Consider then the house they have built together.
Let us call the cowman the professional (Player-versus-Player) PvPer. She is the combat jock who will volunteer for a gang for a four to eight hour stint on weekend nights chasing cows until her horse is shot out from under her. She protects the alliance borders, conducts raids to harass enemies and volunteers for foreign expeditions to assist other alliances in sometimes far away places - thereby earning "diplomatic capital" for her tribe. In other words, she likes "pew pew" (2nd definition) and spends a great deal of time doing it and is good at it. All alliances dread not having enough of her stuff around.
Then there are the farmers, the builders and the users of the machinery of the alliance system. They are the miners, the manufacturers, the logisticians who feed and run and maintain POS (Player Owned Stations). They are the researchers who develop improved blue prints (for manufacturing). They are the blokes who trade, earning profit and redistributing the gears and goods of war so that alliances can function more smoothly.
The tension separating the farmers and the cowmen can seem palpable when alliances are under stress. Some alliance forum discussions singe hairs: the cowmen say the farmers are not pulling their weight in combat. The farmers say the cowmen are imprudent with the resources they are paying for.
Alliances in Eve-Online are large player organizations whose membership can number in the thousands. They can be composed of many "corporations" - which are analogs to "guilds" in other MMORPGs. In the NBSI discussion we started to look at alliance security from the perspective of group relationships and how that translated into rules-of-engagement dilemmas for individuals. In Scarcely rare we started to parse the economics and security underpinnings of the alliance system resource game. Both of these posts depict the alliance system as an adaptation to a stressful PvP (Player-versus-Player) environment wrought by game design.
Alliances have many different types of players pursuing different game interests that can come into conflict under stress. From the perspective of an alliance, the diversity of types of players is vital to its success. Yet, the challenge is then how to manage cohesion given diversity exposed to stress.
A reader of the earlier discussions will note that alliances employ multiple layers of defense to protect their territory:
- There are those trying to protect the perimeter ("gate camping")
- There are those roaming around (or manning scout points) looking for those who slipped through.
- There is everyone else, some percentage of which will muster at any moment should an alarm be raised.
The detail-work here is interesting. To my view it seems to go something like this. (1.) And (2.) tends to attract the "professional" PvPers in an alliance - or in the organizational vernacular, those from the "security" wings. Yet (3.) is where the critical heavy lifting comes from, simply because for most alliances that is where their numbers are. Yet it is there where the disruptions from conflict seem less welcome. A careful reader will have noted terms such as "carebear" having surfaced in comment in our previous discussions.
In Eve-Online a "carebear" is mildly derogatory term used to describe a player who is seen as forsaking in-game PvP (combat) for the more sedentary arts - such as PvE (Player-verus-Environment, see fn2.), mining, manufacturing, research, station logistics, or the trade-craft. In NBSI I focused on mining as the primary economic activity of alliances. It is foundational, but it is not the only building block of economic power: manufacturing is as important, research (blueprints) is a critical enabler for many alliances, and so too is trade. It might have been more accurate to have said instead:
"The bread and butter of these alliances is the territory they control: ...From territory comes the space and resources to empower carebears to drive economic systems that can build ships to fight wars."
Yet, drawing a hard distinction between carebears and combat players seems misleading. Just about every player engages in the "carebear" activities to some extent. Yet there is an interesting asymmetry: it seems less true to say that every carebear is also an active PvP pilot. I think part of the reason is because it is still worthwhile to be an amateur miner/ tradesperson/ manufacturer, but the converse is much less true - casual PvP seems less productive. It is important to distinguish here an alliance carebear player who doesn't normally "do combat" but will in a crisis jump into a ship and help out.
Skilled PvP in Eve-Online seems to demand a commitment - in preparation, and to participating in long-winded operations (that can run many hours), as well as a fluency with tactics and equipment. This can, I think, discourage casual dalliance. Command positions are an exaggerated example of PvP specialization. Within any alliance there seems to be a small circle of players who share/rotate the "FCs" (Field Commander) positions. Selection of members of the circle is merit-based: they tend to be good at it. So critical are FCs (and as illustration of how non-fungible they are as a resource), to my experience it is not uncommon for an alliance to retreat from an engagement if qualified FC's are not available in-game rather than trying to work with a less experience player and risking a fleet. This decision process can be as much bottom-up as top-down: when trying to get players to "gang up" (in the terminology) for supporting missions, the absence of experienced/qualified leadership can discourage volunteers.
There are two aspects of leadership. The first are the character skills a player's character must first acquire. I think that character skills can be viewed as an important accreditation step. They are also prerequisite to "unlocking" many in-game command features that make it easier for a player to actually command. However, the most important "leadership" quality is the player(s) who can on Team Speak display confidence and competency to an audience of often dozens and sometimes upwards of 100's players at a time. Some of this was discussed in "The face of information" (with excellent comment).
Small alliances - or those without a lot of PvP expertise under their belt - seem more likely to risk over-working a small experienced PvP pool. This leaves them more vulnerable to not having the right players available at critical moments. It also encourages - in my opinion - a strategy pitfall, to overreach. An easy win when the entire team is online is vulnerable to loss when they log-off and there isn't a talent pool to back their gains.
Large alliances would appear to have a considerable advantage with their larger pool of PvP players. In addition a larger alliance is often more able to strategically recruit corporations with players from across the (real world) globe to insure a more even distribution of players online. An alliance compromised of mostly North American players would be at a disadvantage should an alliance with many European players attack (time zone difference).
All players will carebear to some degree, more so in smaller corporations where generalists dominate. Yet my sense is that with the larger and more disciplined alliances, increased specialization seems an outcome: carebears seem to become more carebear like, and the combat types more warrior exclusive. The reason for this, I think, is simple efficiency. The knowledge/skill-complexity of the Eve-Online game favors specialists. Skilled carebears in specialized fields take a long time to train up. Good PvP players (especially with command ability) take time to develop. Conversely, the information mastery and resource investments required to excel in trades and manufacturing, for example, is substantial.
I'll mention in passing the important detail of wealth transfer within alliances. A careful reader would have anticipated this basic dilemma: "if carebears make all the ISKs (money) and PvPers lose most of the ships..." How does that work? The answer is that part of the charter of corporations and alliances is to manage wealth transfer between these two interests. For example, most alliances will insure your vessel against loss if it is lost on approved missions, etc. Alliances fiddle with a range of policy choices for a desired effect and pay for it through some combination of:
- Taxing the carebear pursuits directly (e.g. transaction taxes),
- Levying user fees (station docking fees)
- Exacting membership fees (per capita tax)
- Requiring mandatory labor contributions of members (e.g. corporation mining support 1/week or some such, which earns revenue for the group),
- managing station trade monopolies (profit margin skimmed to coffers), etc.
Small alliances and corporations filled with generalists may eschew sophistication and instead leave everyone to subsistence farm as best they may to pay for their weekend warfare jollies. Larger / more sophisticated groups can afford more specialization and this can lead to a strategic efficiency when fielding large fleets.
As I said earlier, in a crisis there can be a substantial pool of players to draw upon for defense should an alarm be raised. Some, but not all players will answer a muster easily. There appears to be an inclination by those more heavily into the economic pursuits to be less inclined to volunteer. It is also true that players don't view all requests for help as equal.
As a general rule, muster percentages seem to me to improve when:
- The distance of the threat from the home systems (or where the players are located) is nearer.
- The ratio of the friendly to enemy forces improves (better odds = greater willingness)
- There is improved clarity of "moral" purpose of the home forces. For example, ally support operations for murky reasons (e.g. currying diplomatic favors with another alliance) would tend to generate less enthusiasm, whereas an arch-rival aggrieving a mining operation of a popular corporation is likely to generate much enthusiasm.
Should there be a threat and the muster is seen as inadequate devices are available to encourage turn-out:
- Popular/peer pressure may be applied. It can start as persuasion and discussion in chat channels, and then work its way up through to heckling players as "carebears".
- Policy-based threats may be administrated: "this is a mandatory operation" (and by the terms you enlisted...)
- Other leadership instruments may be applied. For example:
- Cranking-up station docking fees (discourages economic-based travel)
- Cranking-up transaction tax rates (discourages some market activity)
- Destruction of member assets if they don't turn out (In some desperate situations, I've seen the call go out to destroy alliance (friendly) vessels that were "ratting" (see fn1) if they didn't return to station. This is supposed to encourage those players to get into a warship and hustle to the front lines.
If the last (highlighted) point seems draconian and perhaps even counter-productive - it should be also noted that DMX has pointed out (in comment) that even the subtle punishments (e.g. economic) are hard to manage over the long term:
One interesting thing I've seen, is that many alliances, under severe stress from invasion will resort to a 100% taxation regime to, seemingly, maximise war-chest funds and encourage the more capitalist minded members to pick up a gun and join the front line.
This DOES however seem to backfire wildly however, as the corp churns thru its strategic reserves of ships (if it has them at all), and players left financially destitute after the war, leading to what some have refered to as the "failure cascade" when players and corps leave wholesale for empire to try and rebuild and tend wounds, leaving a profoundly injured alliance to succumb to the ravages of war...
It is tricky business navigating the divide between cowmen and farmers. A careful reader in the previous threads might have seen in the discussion hints of how some of the large alliances in Eve-Online are forming vassal arrangements with lesser alliances to better manage the schism, at least on a macro-level. The theory here (as I perceive it) is that the core alliance can remain more PvP-centric while outsourcing the carebear duties to the vassal alliances. How feudal.
I note that the tension separating farmers and cowmen can vary greatly over time. The degree to which an alliance is stressed is a factor. The culture and composition of an alliance in terms of members is also important. The maturity of the leadership can also be decisive, one way or the other.
As a number of people have pointed out in our discussions leading up to this post (see earlier citations), the structures here seem feudal. The 12th-14th century Wales analogies I recall. Or perhaps it is more like Oklahoma! circa 19th century.
What next then, and how does it unfold.
This post builds upon introduction to Eve-Online in these previous posts (if you are unfamiliar with the subject):
Typically hunting NPC "rats" that harass miners and travellers. These NPC rats typically drop ship gear that can be recycled. Another form of resource extraction.