Stick and Rudder: Venturing into EVE Online’s nullsec

    
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EVE Online is a game that offers many experiences, from NPC faction warfare to harvesting, refining, and building to market speculation. But the one thing that’s always fascinated me the most about the game is null security – nullsec – space and what EVE players have decided to do there. Those major headline-grabbing space battles? Those all take place in nullsec.

Sovereign nullsec is like the wild west of the EVE universe. Unlike other sections of New Eden space where NPCs will rush to enforce the laws of the land, nullsec is completely controlled, defended, tended, and ransacked by real players. It’s the true sandbox space of EVE. Over time, corporations with system control have banded together into coalitions, which have in turn entered into agreements to form major alliances to maintain safety against potential invaders.

With wartime victories and control over valuable parts of space, large alliances accumulate huge amounts of wealth. This money is used to benefit alliance members in several ways. Structures are placed in the home space, providing mining, manufacturing, and marketing opportunities. ISK reimbursements are offered to members who lose ships on strategic fleets, softening the economic blow to those who choose to defend the homeland or advance the alliance’s military goals. Some jobs within the corporation are paid in ISK in order to fill vital positions. While some may argue that large nullsec alliances are “ruining” the game, there’s no arguing that the benefits to both new and established players are pronounced.

Historically, the threat to big nullsec alliances hasn’t always come from opposing military forces. Band of Brothers, at one time the largest alliance in the game, was disbanded when a disgruntled director turned on his corpmates and provided information to an opposing alliance that allowed them to attack Band of Brothers while weakened. Tales of spies and turncoats are as much a part of EVE as spaceships and ganking, and so large nullsec corporations can be slightly paranoid when recruiting and accepting new players. Somewhat paradoxically, they also know that they need a constant influx of new players to keep an alliance alive. Recruiting can consist of anything from live interviews to combing through a character’s market transitions to try and weed out spies from other alliances.

My journey to nullsec included both, possibly even more that I’m unaware of. In the last edition of this column, I mentioned my search for a new player corporation. I spent a couple of months in a high-security space beginner corp, taking classes, getting used to the terminology, meeting some people, and forming relationships. It was a low-pressure environment filled with valuable experiences but I had this nagging feeling that I was missing a lot of what the game had to offer.

As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong. In addition to filling out a one-page question-and-answer form, I had to allow the corporation access to a slew of my character’s data to be sifted through by the corporation’s recruiting team. Based on those data, I received a couple of clarifying questions from a recruiter that I tried to answer as clearly as possible. Much of the recruitment evaluation process is a closely guarded secret – so much so that if you are rejected, you are not given a reason. The alliance doesn’t want spies to be able to “game the system” by knowing exactly what recruiters are scrutinizing.

I was a little nervous about the recruiting process, to be honest – not because I’ve done anything shady but because I don’t know enough about EVE’s corporate meta to know if I’ve done anything that looks shady! Not to mention, application to this particular nullsec corp was a one-shot deal. If your application is rejected, there is no reconsideration. You’re just done. No pressure!

Fortunately, my application was approved a mere 10 days after my initial submission. By watching the public recruiting channels, I had surmised that others were waiting upwards of three to four weeks prior to receiving word one way or the other. I could make a guess as to why that happened, but that would be pure speculation.

Once in, I was eventually contacted by a member of the onboarding team. He was mostly concerned with making sure that I was able to properly access all of the various communication mechanisms offered/required by the corp. Fortunately, as one who’s saddled with intense curiosity, I had spent a good four or five hours perusing the various forums and web pages on my initial acceptance, so I had already been familiarized with the necessary tools. Also, because many of the folks from my high-security corp also had alts in nullsec, they were able to hand-hold me through some of my initial questions, such as what to do with my current items and how to best make my way into our home nullsec system.

Big money.

After spending a few weeks in nullsec, I’ve found my experience has been a little mixed. As with almost anything else in EVE, once you decide to do something, you have to take the time to “skill” into it, which can take anywhere from a few hours to several months, depending on what your goal is.

The same holds true for setting nullsec goals. Once I had access to fleet doctrine fits, I realized that I needed 10 days’ worth of skills just to fly the smallest acceptable frigate. On the other hand, when I’ve been able to fly in a more casual (non-doctrine) fleet, it’s been an absolute blast. Even when we’ve struggled to find success, just watching the purple blob of destroyers and cruisers flying in formation from system to system is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a multiplayer game. And when you are able to swarm onto an unsuspecting target, things get really wild!

I’ve had equally mixed impressions when trying to gauge the culture of nullsec. On one hand, new members are encouraged to get into fleets as soon as possible. On the other hand, you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of line members doing it “wrong” in fleets and being chastised for it – everything from bringing the wrong ship to looting the battlefield without permission invites scolding from longtime alliance members. EVE, more than other MMO communities I’ve been a part of, is quick to accuse those who object of certain ingrained behaviors of being “too sensitive,” which tends to shut down debate on the subject (and maintain the status quo).

Still, these are all just initial impressions, and it’s entirely possible that I’m still too new to understand the quirks of belonging to a big nullsec alliance.

Harm those who can't harm you.

The one thing that really impresses me about nullsec in EVE is the idea that all of it is player-created – not just the structures and space battles but all the ancillary things as well. I’m also including the alliance policies and rules, the attack and defense strategies, the recruiting and onboarding departments, the communications tools, the ship reimbursement programs, the fleet doctrines, the propaganda and intelligence gathering, the diplomacy with other corporations and alliances, and even the all-alliance pep talks. It’s almost too much to wrap your mind around and requires an enormous number of players chipping in to accomplish. It sounds like work, but it’s also incredibly fascinating.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
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