EVE Fanfest 2018: Andrew Groen on the sequel to his popular EVE Online history book
Cutting through all of the propaganda and player self-motivations in a political sandbox like EVE is no small task, and it’s complicated by over a decade of shifting loyalties, misinformation, propaganda, and misremembered events. Andrew is uniquely equipped to cut through many of those issues, collecting as accurate historical records as possible and delivering it all as a coherent, deeply compelling narrative that even plenty of non-players have thoroughly enjoyed. Andrew recently announced that Empires of EVE had broken the 15,000 sales mark, and at EVE Fanfest 2018 he announced a sequel is now in the works.
I caught up with Andrew at Fanfest to find out how the first book’s success has affected him and what the future holds for Empires of EVE: Volume II.
Empires of EVE was an unprecedented look into a period of EVE‘s history that most players have heard about only in passing from veterans who were there, covering some iconic conflicts from 2003 to 2009. But these are not the only major conflicts in EVE‘s distant past, and the sandbox has many more rich histories ripe for revelation. Andrew’s new book will pick up where the first left off, covering another iconic era of the game’s bloodsoaked past from 2009 to 2016. That period includes famous battles such as the Bloodbath of B-R5RB that took the gaming media by storm, so it’s sure to be an interesting read for those who follow the game today.
As with the first book, Andrew is seeking support for the project on crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The campaign funded in just a few hours and has reached over 600% of its original goal so far thanks to over 1,200 backers and counting. You can support the campaign in exchange for a pre-order of the book in ebook, softcover and hardcover formats.
MassivelyOP: The first book has just sold 15,000 copies. Did you expect it would ever be this popular?
Andrew: No, no! In my kickstarter video for the first project, I say that I’m looking to make money to produce 1,000 copies of the book and get that initial run out there, and I thought that was overkill. I was going to make the EVE book and I was going to make a little dinky stock cover or something like that. Mostly at the time I didn’t think anybody was gonna care the way I cared about it, and I didn’t expect people to. I thought it would be easy to get people interested, but I didn’t think it would be possible to get people to open up to me, to allow this to be a community effort, and to open their wallets to help fund this to make it something that feels like quality.
The other reason I didn’t really expect it to go the way that it did the first time is that I expected a lot more pushback. I expected a lot of pushback against me specifically trying to write EVE history because I was outside of the community. I did not expect people to embrace the idea of an outsider writing that history because obviously it’s impossible for someone to write the history who isn’t inside of it day to day. It’s a challenge in finding collaborators.
But do you think being external to the community gives you an advantage?
First, they don’t expect me to know anything in advance, and what that means is they’re going to start from the beginning and they’re going to tell me everything that they think I need to know. When you’re talking with somebody who also knows a lot of things, you use a lot of shortcuts and you don’t say things you probably should because you assume that the other person knows them already. That’s a bad communication thing, and so whenever I talk with people, I say, “please assume I don’t know anything about EVE” or I’ll humble myself in front of them.
There’s also the aspect that there’s no uncomfortable subjects when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the subject, whereas if somebody from PL tried to write an EVE history book, it would be very awkward at certain subjects — if they were talking to high-ranking members of goons or something like that.
Is there anything you regret about the first book or would change if you did a revised edition? Any facts you’ve since cast doubt on?
Facts, no. I was very careful about facts; I did very extensive fact checking. I sent drafts out to a lot of different people of the chapters that concerned them and asked them to leave comments, like “Here’s your chance, go through it and tell me if I got anything wrong, and do you think the tone of this is correct?” and they had a lot to say. I’m not saying that I implement everything they suggest, but I think about it.
I’ve considered doing a revised edition, partly because there are chapters that I don’t think are as effective as they could be from a storytelling perspective. The chapter about the great northern war, for example, was a chapter that I wrote pretty early on in the reporting process, and I didn’t know when I wrote that chapter where my research was going to go in a lot of ways. And so I wrote a chapter that’s very long, very dense; it introduces a lot of characters that don’t go anywhere. If I were to re-evaluate that chapter, I would probably shorten that considerably.
I think there’s some storytelling stuff that I can clean up because I’m a better writer than I was 2 or 3 years ago (I hope). I’m also a better book designer than I was then, so when I look at the first book I kind of cringe when people tell me it looks good because I look at it and there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Are there lost perspectives you wish you could have got but can’t because things weren’t archived and the players have quit?
Stain Alliance and Curse Alliance, from like 2003 to 2005. There’s a lot of Germans in there and a lot of Euro players, and it’s hard enough to recover stuff from that early era of the internet when you speak the language. Trying to go on to the German internet or the Russian internet from 2004 and mine stuff reliably is a challenge that I wasn’t able to overcome. And so if I could make a wish and have a story of that time presented to me, if I could say “please go write the story of something,” I would say “please go write the story of Stain Alliance vs Curse Alliance.”
The new book covers a different time period from 2009 to 2016, and the major gaming media started heavily covering EVE about 2009. How different has this made the research process for the new book?
I would say that 2009 and a little bit of 2010 is still kind of difficult, you’re still dealing with a lot of decay in the information. Partially, that has to do with the similar problem to Stain vs Curse: It’s not so much that the internet doesn’t have the information but that it’s difficult to access because a lot of the main characters of the story are Serbian, Russian, German, Scandinavian, etc. It’s so much harder to get at that information, or even to know that it exists, so it’s a challenge reconstructing the story.
Early on in this book is when the technology starts to catch up. In my head, one of the early moments I want to build toward is a battle in Ueman in 2010, which was GRF vs the old Northern Coalition, and it was at the time the most supers ever destroyed. I think it was 11 supers destroyed, and at the time everybody was like, “What do you mean 11? There’s only about 30 of these in the game, what the fuck happened in Ueman?” There’s like one screenshot that exists from that battle, it took me until three weeks to find it and I jumped up out of my chair shouting, “Oh my god!” and trying to explain to my girlfriend why I’m so excited about this old screenshot of EVE.
Part of it is you have to remember to take EVE really seriously because a lot of times if you were just looking at a screenshot that looks cool in another game it doesn’t mean anything, but a screenshot that looks cool in EVE is a picture of a place and a time. You see something large enough, and you know something big happened.
Have you discovered anything really surprising about major events or battles that most players actually don’t know?
A lot of people for example, don’t know who M0o were, and explaining to a modern player what M0o did in Mara/Passari in 2003 they’re always like, “Woah! that’s so cool!” When I started studying EVE, that was the first story people would tell me.
So you mentioned in your talk that the culture of EVE shifted over the years, and now it’s much more jokey and meme-y, people shitpost and dissemble constantly and there’s a lot less dramatic storytelling. How will you handle this in the new book?
I think you have to stay authentic to what it was actually like, and what I have settled on as the thesis for how to approach that problem is that you’re trying to give people a sense of what it was like to be there. In order for the reader of the book to get that flavour, I have to adopt some of that [meme culture] and give them certain flavours of that, and the storytelling has to fill that in or else it’s a bad story.
You don’t want to do anything dodgy like when the Imperium changed its name from CFC to be more appropriate to write about, then?
All of the stuff that’s dodgy, as long as you step back and walk the reader through it step by step so they can understand what’s happening, it gets more interesting. The fact that The Imperium changed their name in order to be more marketable – we may roll our eyes at it in the moment, but it tells you so much about the character and gives so much flavour to the character for the reader. The reader needs anecdotes; they need to be able to feel why those people are the way they are. It means so much more to the reader to be able to see the characters make decisions, and how that reflects upon them and what that says about the characters. It’s kind of a “show, don’t tell” situation.
So the likes of propaganda, memes, etc. – you’re going to work it into the narrative?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t get any satisfaction out of pretending that EVE is something that it’s not, and so I don’t want to go back and rewrite history to make it into this super serious constant space drama because day-to-day it’s not. People can’t really see the motions of the tectonic plates that are nullsec; day-to-day they’re shitposting on Reddit about how nothing’s happening and the game is boring, but when you zoom out you can see the motion of those tectonic plates if you measure it over a long period of time.
Haha, I’m really heavily thinking about it! it’s going to be something that I’ll have to go home and run the numbers about, and try to figure out if that’s going to be plausible, and in what corm it’s going to be plausible. If it’s as simple as me throwing together a pdf that’s really nice, that’s no trouble. It’s when you start trying to promise thousands of people that you’ll ship them a physical object – that’s a very serious thing and can put you in very serious trouble if you’re not careful with.
I would like to do the meme book; I think it’s really funny and it’s emblematic of this era of EVE because in my head it’s like a nice faux leather gold pressed cover with extremely seriously treated shitpost jokes. I think that would be really fun for people, and it comes back to that point of not papering over what EVE is. It’s important to me to represent the reality and not just the salable version of the community.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Andrew, and good luck with the new book!