Mon
Jan 28 2013 5:00pm

Last Saturday, Over 2800 Spaceships Clashed in a Battle Costing Thousands of Dollars

Massive EVE Online battle destroys over 2800 spaceships and costs thousands of dollars

Despite my father’s love of science fiction, that headline is probably not something he ever imagined one of his children saying.

This past Saturday, one misplaced mouse click in MMORPG EVE Online sent a lone Titan spaceship hurtling into enemy territory, triggering a cascade of alliances somewhat akin to the run-up to World War I, and resulting in one of the largest space battles ever seen in the history of the game. At its peak, the battle involved over 2800 ships and 3200 players, slowing the already-robust EVE servers to a mere 10% of their normal speed.

It’s difficult to explain EVE Online to folks, even if they’re already steeped in science fiction. (Arguably, this is part of its appeal.) EVE is an MMORPG that lets you build, buy, and fly ships in a vast area of space containing over 7500 star systems. Some of these systems are part of empires or alliances that make up the in-game storyline, while others are hoarded by alliances consisting of your fellow players. Unless you want to spend a lot of real money purchasing in-game resources and ships, you’ll need an alliance, or a very out-of-the-way spot, to mine for resources that will allow you to trade for ships or build the ships from scratch. (Well, build the shipyards, then the ships. Well, build the mining operation, then the shipyards, then the... etc.)

Although set in space, the mechanics of constructing fleets, flying spaceships, and fighting in space are treated very realistically. EVE has its own economy, one that heavily mirrors our own. (And just like our own, it can be crashed.) Building ships and resources takes a lot of time, and requires you to be savvy about supply chains and manufacturing infrastructures. This often becomes so complex that it requires you to track information in spreadsheets or databases outside of the game and before you know it, you’re literally running a corporation consisting entirely of in-game resources.

Space battles and tactics have to be planned out well in advance due to the physical realities of how such a battle would actually go. The physics of ballistic weapons versus energy weapons, speed versus defense, fleet formations, and being able to withstand constant bombardment are all key factors to consider. (Fans of Larry Niven’s “Known World” series will find a lot of parallels here.)

EVE Online takes a lot of time and personal investment, leading to in-game actions having a profound effect on the real lives of the players. When an alliance forms in-game, it tends to extend to all facets of your life. People at the top levels of powerful in-game alliances have found themselves subject to actual espionage and have had to weigh friendships against in-game politics.

EVE makes you work hard for what you get, prompting you to defend what you have in the game just as fiercely as you would defend what you have in real life. (To wit, it’s very much advised that you buy in-game insurance for your fleet. Because once your ship is gone, it’s gone for good.) With over 400,000 players contributing to this culture, what results is a snapshot of what it might actually look like if humanity was able to span the stars. In essence, it would be just as messy and difficult and rewarding as life on Earth is.

Which is why, every few years or so, real-life politics, rivalries, and human error coalesce into glorious, mind-bendingly massive, accidental space warfare like what occurred in EVE on January 26.

Essentially, what happened is that users from Reddit and users from Something Awful got into a fight. This summary on Reddit does a good job of explaining it in layman’s terms:

Essentially, there are two “Mega” coalitions in the game right now, the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) and the Honeybadger Coalition (HBC). A coalition is a group of alliances that band together. [...] The CFC’s core alliance is Goonswarm, which is based in and recruits out of your least favorite website, SomethingAwful!

Last night, a relatively small pirate alliance that controls a good bit of territory nearby Goon-land thought that the goons may try to attack them over a local moon; which holds mineral resources. They informed a fleet commander in Pandemic Legion that this may be happening, and PL set up to ambush goons.

What’s important to last night is that we chose to go with PL instead of goons, and we formed our own coalition; the HBC. Between PL’s ability to drop many of the most powerful ships in the game, and our ability to rush in with hundreds of support ships to back them up, it’s a potent force.

Goonswarm was indeed going to try and take that moon and were preparing to jump to it with their fleet using the biggest, best ship available in EVE Online: the Titan. Titans are extremely hard to come by and require massive amounts of time, resources, and territory to build. (Or, if you have a LOT of money and no free time, you can purchase a fully kitted one for around $7600.) Titans are basically floating fortresses and have the unique ability to transport entire fleets to other star systems via a technique called “bridging.”

The Pandemic Legion was expecting this attack and had set up ships to ambush the incoming fleet. What would have resulted would have been an exciting, if minor, fracas.

Except Goonswarm fleet commander “Dabigredboat” clicked “jump” instead of “bridge” in the menu and hurled his Titan alone into an enemy ambush. And what’s just as good as obtaining a status symbol like a Titan? Being the ones to destroy it.

Metafilter user “kyrademon” breaks down the events wonderfully succinctly:

3) When the people in the region realized the big expensive powerful spaceship was alone, they realized they had a chance of taking it out and called in all their buddies.

4) Their buddies then called all their buddies, who then called in all their buddies. As various alliances got activated and people saw a chance to settle old grudges, it became a massive pile-on.

5) Meanwhile, the big expensive powerful spaceship guy had called for reinforcements. By the time they showed up, however, they were outnumbered by the growing pile-on.

6) Big expensive spaceship guy, instead of giving up the battle as lost and taking a hurtful but survivable drubbing, said, “CALL IN OUR ENTIRE FLEET! TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT!”

And that’s just what happened (audio NSFW):

EVE Online is a game, but it’s also Serious Business. A lot of time, expense, and expertise goes into building fleets, alliances, and infrastructure. Whereas an MMORPG like World of Warcraft is more open, lower cost, and user-friendly, EVE’s complexity creates an actual real-world economic impact.

EVE players can purchase codes that grant an account more time to spend in-game, which they can then re-sell inside the game for ISK, the in-game currency. A few years ago, Jump On Contact calculated the real cost of each ship available in EVE Online, (alternate link if site is down) based on how much the time incurred would cost. The results were staggering:

Massive EVE Online battle utilizing over 2800 ships costs over $150,000

While EVE ships start at $1 and top out around $100, the Titan dwarfs them all by requiring around $7600 of time/investment. Thanks to a single wrong click on Saturday night, that money is gone, and thousands more with it (at one point the estimated number reached $150,000.*) thanks to other players trying to prevent and/or hasten the loss of a $7600 ship!

*The battle report on this is still being tallied and a lot more detail can be found here.

The point of this recap is not to assign blame or engage in schadenfreude (well, okay, maybe a little bit of schadenfreude) but rather, to revel in the unique aspects of such an impressive event. What were you doing on Saturday night? Play that back in your head, except do so knowing that a massive space battle was occuring at the same time. A space battle kicked off entirely by accident. A space battle so big it could not be simulated, it had to be crafted and pushed forward by human ego, so big it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yet so small that you wouldn’t have known about it if you weren’t an EVE Online player. It’s beyond a microcosm. It’s downright microcosmic.

It is the year 2013 and these realities sit side by side with each other, but thanks to events like these it is increasingly hard to tell which one is supposed to be science fiction, and that is amazing.


Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and didn’t so much write this article as translate it from EVE-speak.

25 comments
huntece
2. kalyarn
This is so awesome and yet terrifying - a massive arms buildup with minor, careful fighting. And then a single mistake results in an apocalypse. Luckily, that can't ever happen in the real world.
Jeff Youngstrom
3. jeffy
Fascinating. I'd love to have a commentary track for that video explaining what the heck is going on.

Thanks for this glimpse into a universe I didn't know existed!
Matthew Schmeer
5. mwschmeer
Man, if this isn't an Ender's Game "training" scenario, I don't know what is . . .
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
The nice thing about EVE as a game is that it allows for both these kind of wild alliance battles and deep betrayals, it also allows for reasonably casual gaming. You can fight NPC pirates, mine planets and asteroid belts, trade things, build things, ...
huntece
9. CatL
Somehow this article feels like it could have been exerpted and used at the beginning of a chapter in Tad Williams's Otherland series.

We are so living in the future.
Chris Lough
10. TorChris
@Catl. While researching the article I saw more than one comparison to Iain M. Banks' Culture series.
Alan Brown
11. AlanBrown
This sounds like something out of that Neal Stephenson book I just read... hard to believe it is real... I feel old...
Alan Brown
12. AlanBrown
Ron Griggs
13. RonGriggs
This reminds me a lot of Charles Stross' book "Halting State."
Juan Avila
14. Cumadrin
I'm a little surprised to see this article, but quite pleased. I've been playing Eve for just over 4 years now, and yes it is a second, sometimes complicated life.

As you can expect, though, especially from an outsider, the figures and even the overall picture the author is painting here are quite exaggerated.

The political landscape in Eve is both much more complex and yet simple to understand once you're familiar with the players and the goals the major alliances and coalitions strive for.

And though the monetary figures seem staggering, the whole point of those mega alliances/coalitions controlling territorry is for the incredible amounts of wealth they can milk relatively easily off the space. Namely the moons, the type of asset this very huge mess was started over.

The value of the losses incurred on Saturday was but a drop in the wallets of what the big players in Eve have to burn. Some players on a strictly personal level, much less the giant alliances.

And Saturday's fiasco in the Asakai system was not even the biggest ISK explosion in a Supercapital engagement in Eve's history. 3 Titans and 4 Supercarriers were destroyed on Saturday. In the infamous (in Eve) Valentine's Day Massacre of 2011 in Uemon, 12 Titans and 6 Supercarriers were destroyed. One pilot - although it's rumored the pilot's real life owner has changed - even lost a Titan in both battles.

I planned to write a somewhat detailed comment, but 'lo and behold I've been busy playing Eve all day, and now I must get to bed. I just wanted to get a little something down now while this article is still the most recent, and will get a few more reads.
Jonathan Levy
15. JonathanLevy
9. CatL
Somehow this article feels like it could have been exerpted and used at the beginning of a chapter in Tad Williams's Otherland series.
The last thing Tad Williams' Otherland series lacks is additional chapters.
James Hogan
16. Sonofthunder
This makes me smile. Great article. I didn't realize how utterly massive EVE was.

I have a friend that used to play EVE - had to quit due to it taking up too much time! I had a similar situation with a space simulation game I used to play(Ogame) - a great and most engaging game until you realize you're at a friend's house and aren't able to enjoy hanging out because you're stressed about your fleet's upcoming arrival at its target system - thankfully, a bunch of my friends in high school played as well, so they understood! But when I found myself having to wake up in the middle of the night to perform fleet actions...I thought enough was enough!
huntece
17. Vman
I love reading about EVE Online, and wish there were people who regularly reported on events like this.

I have a colleague who played as well, and more interestingly, this colleague also did ingame espionage, the entire story of which is fascinating.
huntece
18. pCiaran
If you google eve online economist there's a few articles with a fascinating* amount of information on the economics of eve online and about an actual ecomonist who has been recruited to assist in balancing the world (and who carries out pure economic research on video game ecomonics). The guy is called Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson and it is also worth googling him.


*Fascination relies on a certain amount of interest in the subject but if you've got this far it seems fair to assume.
Jack Flynn
19. JackofMidworld
6. jmeltzer - I love it!! Nothing like a real-life LOL at work!

Oh, and an intriguing article, too. Sorta glad that I don't have the time or money to invest in the game; I can only imagine all the irate players out there right now.
huntece
20. Capper
Reading this article also reminded me of "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline. Very cool.
huntece
21. jcoutepascher
:-( i missed this fing epic battle !
huntece
22. Halcyal
A small, geeky portion of my heart couldn't help but grin foolishly as I read this.
huntece
23. Maskman
@jadwigo:
The game *has* Deathstars. They're called Titans. And three of them died due to a small, easy-to-make, mistake.

Due to certain game mechanics, the Titans were unable to fire their main weapons in this fight. Had this happened in Nul-Sec instead of Lo-Sec, the count of burned hulls would've been much higher, and much, much more costly. As it is, counting all ship classes directly involved (not counting the many other skirmishes and ambushes in surrounding systems as forces tried to re-enforce/counter re-enforce), over 840 ships burned in this fight.
Greg Morrow
25. gpmorrow
It's like E. E. Doc Smith birthed a MMORPG. It's beautiful. Can't wait until they add sunbeams and superluminal planets.
Daniel Bastion
26. Daniel Bastion
EvE is fantastic. I've played for 7 years now. I've been in some big battles, but never that big! hehe :)

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