I haven’t played Eve Online, but this interview with the head of the so-called Goon Fleet dips into political philosophy and the nature of leadership:
Autocracy is the most effective form of government in null sec [the enormous sections of space within Eve Online with no AI police, where players rule themselves]. Council systems don’t work very well.
Democracy is death. In a situation where you need to be able to respond quickly and with force to strategic problems, invasions or what have you, you can’t wait for a vote.
Eve is a fascinating social sandbox. People with the ability to bind people to them are rare in real life, and they are in Eve as well. One of the scariest moments for me in Eve was during our most recent campaign, the Fountain Campaign. We’d created this coalition called The Clusterfuck, and I was set to give this speech. Occasionally we do this, and we call it the State of the Goonion and it gets four hundred or five hundred people on Teamspeak. So I gave a speech and welcoming the Clusterfuck, and found one thousand, two hundred and seventy humans had tuned in to hear me talk about a bad game. And then we went off to break up the alliance we were at war with.
You can’t kill an alliance unless you break up the social bonds that hold it together. Espionage is only ever a means to an end to induce a failure cascade.
When things get bad, when an alliance starts losing enough that they stop logging in, when they start blaming each other and they start internalising their failures, then you start seeing “the graph”. An alliance goes into failure cascade when its capabilities have been degraded to the point that one failure piles on top of another, and they start shedding corporations, because rather than identifying with the alliance the pilots say “Well, I’m still a proud member of my corporation”, and then one corp goes its seperate ways. And if one corp stops showing up on operations, everyone else says “What the fuck is with these people?” And it becomes a circular firing squad.
During the Great Wars 1 and 2 we had destroyed Band of Brothers and taken their space, but they were still a cohesive social force and simply reformed. It was only most recently during the Fountain campaign that they went into true failure cascade, and are now three or four different alliances which hate each other’s guts now. Which is great!
Failure cascades just fascinate me. That’s why I play the game, really — to tear social groups apart. That’s the stuff that’s interesting about Eve. The political and social dimensions. Not the brackets shooting brackets shit. That’s why we say Eve is a bad game.
I used to actually be a very bad leader. Many years ago Remedial – the guy now facing 25 million dollars in fines — retired and made me CEO against my will, and I failed spectacularly. I listened to too many people and tried to poll my membership for what I should do, and it was a disaster. I handed leadership over to somebody who knew what they were doing and the organisation was much better for it.
Later, after watching so many failure cascades, I saw some commonalities in what made good and bad leaders. Through my spy network and watching the mistakes of others I developed into what I would call a good leader.
It’s essentially about delegation. People will show up and be good leaders, but they’ll try and do everything, then they’ll burn out, disappear and their alliance dies. For example, in Goonswarm we have a team structure. I’m the autocrat, but we have a finance team, a fleet commander team, a logistics team and so on, and these teams don’t have heads. These teams simply work together to solve common problems, and that removes single person dependencies which are a huge problem in alliances.
In some ways, it’s a lot more complicated than running a small business. Most small businesses are between a hundred and two hundred employees, or less. We run an organisation of six thousand people in a coalition of ten thousand.
The purpose of the autocrat is to essentially let the people who are experts do their jobs, make large strategic decisions and be a figurehead, but a lot of it’s just human resources work. Resolving disputes, hiring good people, firing bad people.
I don’t know shit about logisitics, I’m not a fleet commander — I’ve got spying down, but I’m just a leader. I’ve got the charisma. Micromanaging is death. It leaves you with good people wondering why the fuck some asshole is telling them how to run a logistics chain or what ships to use in the fleet they’re composing. A lot of other autocrats meddle too much.
(Hat tip to Buckethead.)