Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Real World Political Theory and EVE

More than any other MMO I have played in recent memory, EVE Online lends itself to the application of real world political and economic theory. CCP clearly shares this belief, as they recently hired on a real life economist to handle Quarterly Economic Newsletters for the EVE economy. With factional warfare coming up in the near future (I hope...), I would like to see CCP put a similar amount of effort into the development and analysis of the political landscape of New Eden.

NPC politics are one of the little utilized gameplay elements that CCP have total control over, and I think developing the nature of those relationships between the various NPC factions, even so far as to dictate how they will interact with various player factions, would make the game feel more like an RP rich environment (sans robes), and less like a wax museum that we are all playing around in. This has always been a sticking point for me in EVE. Players are usually forced to choose between NPC and RP politics, and the power play politics of territorial conflict. Even famed roleplayers like CVA have had to compromise their hard-line RP stance for the sake of 0.0 politics. There may not be much, if anything, for CCP to do about that dilemma, but I seem to remember a time when player factions and NPC factions had a more interactive relationship (MC's long standing rivalry with Mordu's Legion over non-payment for a contract comes to mind). More richly developed NPC politics would make PC and NPC interaction much more attractive to those alliances and groups out there who would like to RP more, but don't want to be saddled with the stigma and the fact that it means excluding play with a large chunk of the EVE populace.

My solution would be for CCP to utilize existing staff, or potentially hire new outsiders, to beef up the application of real world political philosophy and theory to the New Eden cluster. In my view, the best theory to apply to EVE politics at the moment is Neo-Realism. This is the theory that argues that states will pursue their own interests and gauge success in the ability to pursue those interests primarily through military power, but that there is also a sort of governing structure that states act through. At the moment, we have large mega-alliances amongst the players, and the NPC factions have established CONCORD to serve a presumably similar function to our UN. I think that we are prevented from moving on to a more contemporary theory such as Complex Interdependence by some of the mechanics of the game, i.e. a lack of fear of death and the relative ease of replacing and amassing military assets. To a group thinking in a realist paradigm, interdependence after a certain point shows weakness and is a potential security risk (see BoB and the MC).

NPC factions, however, cannot reasonably behave the same was as capsuleers. For normal NPCs, there is a legitimate fear of death, and my understanding of the game background is that individual capsuleers are far more wealthy than most non-capsuleers. This means that acquisition of the means of making war is a long and costly process for the five (including the Jove) empires. What I would like to see is the representation of a more realistic type of politics governing the interaction between these NPC factions. Having some of the pirate states declare additional empires and demand CONCORD recognition could be a very interesting twist on the game, and could change some of the political landscape for everyone. Also, it is unlikely that the major empires will willingly engage in total war with one another. Economic means of fighting one's enemy have always been part of the fabric of conflict, and are, I feel, under-represented in the game background. This isn't to say that I don't think there should be some nice epic battles when Factional Warfare does eventually roll out, but CCP is looking at a chance to dramatically increase the depth and realism that their world presents.

CCP, please make me a prettier sandbox.


  1. Well, the players are quite capable of exploring new spaces within which to play political games.

    Few people are aware of it, but within Market Discussions, a handful of people control large sums of money. Mostly these are used for investments, stocks, bonds, etc....but three Banks have risen up (yes, Banking is what led to the IEB scam, let's move on). The "Big Three" as it were; BMBE, FuryBank, and EBANK control something close to 400 billion isk in funds between them. Further, the political dynamic that one of them (EBANK) is creating had created alot of turmoil as they are seen as having too much influence. The big difference is that they are run by a Board of Directors....most (not all) of these persons are very well known and carry large amounts of reputation. This "influence" has allowed them to buy up entire IPO's, stopping the public from participating in the investment.

    Now, none of the Big Three Banks have enough idle profit to start utilizing a mercenary force with anything approaching regularity...but should they one day achieve that...what then? An entity which has no real physical presence (most of them operate on loans, so they have no need to "play" EVE as others do for money) able to exert their will in a military fashion should they so choose?

    The finacial side of EVE has always been in the background but if these Banks find a way to grow big enough, what happens when they start playing on the large stage of 0.0 politics, and how do you fight against them?

    Anyway, it's an interesting dynamic that has yet (if ever) to come to fruition which means all this is just pure speculation.

    Anyway, back to the point, while your discussion of NPC vs. Player politics is a good one and valid...there are other forces that could potentially hit the scene as well.

  2. Tinfoil hat much?