By Quintin Smith on April 7th, 2011 at 2:35 pm.
Eve Online player The Mittani is the CEO of Goon Fleet, the single largest corporation in Eve Online, both loved and reviled for its practices which include teaching new recruits to scam other players. As of two weeks ago The Mittani was also voted in as the new Chairman of the Council of Stellar Management, the player-run and player-elected body that CCP liases with with the aim of improving the game. Prior to the announcement of the election results, I caught up with him at the Eve Fanfest for a mammoth interview. Click on through for talk of warfare, intrigue, hatred, propaganda, and why he says Eve Online is a terrible game.
RPS: You referred to yourself as ”a pretentious douchebag” twice during your presentation yesterday. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Goonswarm or its leadership, could you explain why?
The Mittani: I refer to myself as a pretentious douchebag because I have a reasonable self perception. [laughs] No, it’s because I’m quite arrogant and people make fun of me for it, so it’s easier than trying to deny it.
RPS: How does somebody who’s arrogant end up leading a group that’s known for being irreverent?
MT: Well, I’m only arrogant about things that we’ve accomplished or things that I’ve done over the years. And we don’t have much of a hierarchy, so even though I lead a large alliance, even non-members can take me to task or call me a silly larping metrosexual. It’s just all in good fun.
RPS: You also mentioned in the same talk that Goonswarm is an autocracy. Is that just a preventative method against espionage?
MT: 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. Goonswarm is very lucky in that we have one large corporation, Goonwaffe, which used to be Goonfleet, which is mostly Something Awful members and has over 2,000 people. Since I’m the CEO of that corporation all the other ancillary corporations in the alliance are relatively powerless, and that works towards an autocracy. Council-based alliances typically have corporations of roughly the same size.
RPS: And that’s problematic because… ?
MT: 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.
RPS: Could you not divide those duties up?
MT: It doesn’t work in practice. In theory though, all of Eve is a democracy because there’s no way of forcing someone to log on and play the game, and they can always leave the corporation if they don’t like it.
RPS: I want to give a little background as to how Goonswarm came to be reviled by a certain chunk of Eve’s playerbase. Could you provide a potted history?
MT: In late 2005 and early 2006 we entered into the game from the SomethingAwful.com forums. There are SA members in most MMOs. But at the time, Eve was structured in such a way that rewarded “old guard” players. Because Eve has a skill point system rather than an experience point point system, you can’t just grind to get powerful. You have to wait.
That really institutionalises a new player vs. old player divide. We got into trouble almost immediately because despite the fact that we had no skills and no money, we were able to leverage the size of our community – and I say no skills because we had no skill points, which isn’t to say that we weren’t skilled players – we were able to get around these ancient veterans and disrupt the social order of the game. But in order to do that, we had to ignore some of the social mores that had developed in the game, or “e-honour”, as I sort of disparagingly refer to it. This “I’m an honourable space-samurai and we’re going to joust on the field of battle” thing. These people who focus on their kill/death ratios, and fret about ethics, and all this sort of silly bullshit.
Anyway, it wasn’t honourable to use what they call “blobbing” tactics. When you’re using frigates [the smallest ship class in Eve] to blow up heavy assault cruisers, and you lose 50 frigates in the attack but the cruiser costs 400 times as much as a frigate, they’re gonna get really mad and say that you’re being dishonourable.
RPS: Did those Eve players know that that was even possible?
MT: No, we took them by surprise. They thought we wouldn’t amount to anything, and when we did start amounting to anything we were vilified immediately.
RPS: And what was your role in the corporation back then?
MT: I was sort of a shadow chancellor. I ran the espionage program. We probably have the single best spy network in Eve, because in order to succeed we had to metagame. It was just one of the ways that we’d level the playing field with older players. We’d do whatever it took to win. So I was the spy guy, and that was how I made a name for myself. When the time came for a new CEO, it was just a really good fit because I’d just retired from my law practice.
RPS: What stands out as something you’re particularly proud of?
MT: The central narrative of Goonswarm is always “The Great War”, which was a conflict between us and a now defunct alliance called Band of Brothers which was implicated in a developer corruption scandal. They were also one of the first organisations to come after us when we arrived and referred to us as “a cancer on the Eve community”.
At first, when we arrived, we’d tried to play nice. We’d reached out to respected members of the Eve community, we didn’t scam, we didn’t grief, we didn’t pirate, we didn’t spy, and it was only after we invaded our first conquerable region and started destroying capital fleets and punching well above our weight that Band of Brothers started taking an interest. They resurrected the fact that our CEO at the time – who was a tremendous douchebag, to be fair – had mocked the real-life death of an Eve player more than two years before. All of a sudden now that these capital fleets were being destroyed, NOW they were really offended by that, never mind the fact that two months prior they’d been cheering on us cute newbies who were invading the Cloud Ring.
RPS: This is the same CEO who you mentioned was facing some massive real-life financial scandal?
MT: Yes. Dan Dargon, aka Remedial, was the founder of Goonfleet and he was a lawyer who was running this mortgage modification business in New Hampshire without a license, and is now facing twenty-five million dollars in fines from the New Hampshire banking department. I wish I was making that up, but it’s true.
Remedial’s certainly a character. But yes, some people think that Goonfleet’s always been made up of scammers and griefers, but we tried to play nice originally. Then we decided to become the monster that they made us out to be.
RPS: Hearing you tell it, it sounds like you guys were the ultimate underdogs. That can’t have been all there was to it.
MT: What I feel is an issue here is the inherent hypocrisies in the mores of the Eve community. Many people who are not in Goonswarm – who are our enemies – really do think of themselves as honourable space samurai, when in practice most of the things that happen in null sec are based upon ugly realpolitik. We just don’t feel the need to lie about it. Everybody spies in nullsec.
RPS: I thought that was a given?
MT: Some people didn’t use to. We did it because we had to, in order to survive. The fact that everybody does it is one consequence of us winning the Great War and becoming one of the dominant powers in the galaxy.
RPS: So what happened to Band of Brothers?
MT: I, uh, disbanded them.
RPS: What? How was that even your choice?
MT: At the beginning of the second stage of the Great War we had a defector from the executor corporation of Band of Brothers who thought that we were cooler guys. Basically he thought that his alliance was full of assholes, because their leadership structure was full of guys who wanted to be in “the most elite alliance in Eve”. Whereas Goonswarm, a lot of the time, were bad. We had a lot of newbies and no pretentions.
The disbanding itself was covered by the BBC. Ordinarily when you have a defector you do smash and grabs, just getting the other guy to steal everything that’s not nailed down and come over to your side. Now, I was still just the spymaster at this point, and I was sitting there in my office and I had this brain fart – with the access that this guy had, he had the authority to kick out every single corporation in the alliance and then shut down his own corporation, thus disbanding the alliance, which has the impact of disabling all the sovereignty defenses in their region. This had never been done before. All of a sudden I was like, “Holy shit! I can do this!”
Also, at the time Goonswarm owned half the galaxy. We controlled all of these regions, but as soon as we disbanded Band of Brothers we abandoned everything and all moved into what had been their territory. Over the course of two very bloody months we purged them and took all their space.
RPS: You hated them that much?
MT: Well, this goes back to the T20 scandal and these people declaring us a cancer on Eve. The entire Great War took four years, so yeah, maybe we were a little vengeful.
RPS: How loyal are most Goonswarm pilots?
MT: Extremely loyal. Most Eve pilots spend some time playing alone, in Empire space, and they eventually find a corporation and join up. Something Awful forum members start playing and they go straight into null sec. They know no other world. Which is great, because high sec and low sec are hideously boring places.
RPS: Are you guys bound together by your history?
MT: We do have a culture and an ideology. One of the reasons why we’re no longer as vilified as we used to be is that that culture has spread. We won the culture war. The fact that the defector left to join us is an indicator of that, but there are also many memes that Goons pioneered which are now endemic throughout the Eve community.
If you look at people posting on forums, you see people using tildes [~], instead of writing “post” they say “poast”, all of those things came from Goonswarm. Even if they hate us they use our nomenclature, which I think is hilarious.
RPS: Do you think the Great War happened because you guys needed something to keep you entertained?
MT: No, it really was a bitter grudge war. They took it outside of the game. When they invaded Syndicate space it wasn’t a retaliation, it was them saying that Goons are bad human beings. …one higher up at Band of Brothers said “this is as personal as it ever gets”. And then it came out that one of their leaders was a CCP developer who was giving them items, which ignited a huge firestorm of controversy. You had these elite players who were the paragons of the old guard telling everybody, quite literally, “We’re better than you”, and then it turns out they’re a bunch of disgusting cheaters who are being given some of the most valuable items in the game by the developers.
RPS: What’s next for you guys?
MT: People ask us that a lot, but we don’t plan more than a month or two in advance… we do scheme a lot, because thanks to our spy network, we know what the other alliances are doing. But fanfest usually brings everything to a crashing halt. The game gets really boring around fanfest, because everyone’s planning on coming here.
We are griefers. If nothing is going to happen then we’re going to try to find something that screams and bleeds and poke at it.
RPS: Griefing is something goons are known for doing, but now I’m talking to you it’s not something I can imagine you personally doing.
MT: Technically speaking, by running a spy network I am griefing.
RPS: But would you go out and aggravate other players for the Hell of it if you were a lower ranking member of Goonswarm?
MT: Well, most lower ranked Goons make their money by doing that. Scamming people is a very quick way of making money in Eve. Rather than making an honest buck, you take that buck from somebody else.
RPS: But you turned to spying and scamming back when you had to, in order to hold your own. Now you don’t have to do that.
MT: [Pause] I don’t see any reason for us to suddenly become a hypocritical e-honour type. We are this way because they made us this way. And the fact of the matter is, Eve online is the only game where you can be a complete and utter sadist and not only have fun, but get rich doing it. We are much more powerful now than we would be if we were nice.
When we go to war with someone, they know they’re going to be screwed over six ways from Sunday. Most of the time they’ll just flee or give us what we want. It’s one thing to fight a space samurai who’ll salute you after every fight. It’s another thing to fight Goons who will as they’re going after you mock you into the ground, publish your forums for everybody to laugh over – that’s what we call forum porn, which is where we fight somebody and they will scream and cry about how we’re mean to them, and then we’ll publish that for the world to laugh at.
RPS: I was talking to Dr. Guðmundsson [CCP's paid-up Eve Online economist] and he was saying that it’s interesting how Goonfleet became fast friends with the organisations of Russian players in the game.
MT: Oh, he was talking about that? Yeah, we have a fairly strong relationship with them. Back in the early days when we were being vilified, there was another organisation that was being similarly vilified, which was Red Alliance, the largest Russian alliance in the game. They only had about eight hundred characters and even fewer players, and they were being invaded by a group of about thirteen thousand people called the Southern Coalition. They were massively outnumbered and losing all their space, and the leader of the Southern Coalition was making a lot of racist comments about Russians, he said that they were selling ISK [Eve’s currency] to feed their children, that they were dishonourable because they’d use tactics like logging off to avoid fights, or not granting the enemy fights when the enemy wanted fights.
Basically the Russians wouldn’t roll over and die and were vilified. And we were like, fuck it! If we’re going to be a cancer, let’s band together with these other guys and fuck everybody. We moved into the one space station they had left, and Red Swarm alliance was formed. Together with the French friends that they had, we proceeded to murder everyone.
RPS: Do you feel like expanding on what you said as we were walking over here, about Eve being a terrible game and that it’s the players who make it interesting?
MT: Well, I suppose since I’m going to be on the Council of Stellar Management and I’m probably going to be the Chairman I should probably clarify that.
Eve, for Goons, is fun because we play with Goons. By itself, it’s a game where you have to jump through a lot of hoops to have fun. I think all the small fixes CCP are doing at present are good. Eve players make fun of World of Warcraft a lot, but if you look at what Blizzard has done ironing out all those flaws and annoyances, it’s a tremendous achievement. Eve’s learning curve is vertical, and full of spikes, and the beautiful side of Eve is the image of it that players have in their heads.
The best analogy for Eve is this: 1% of the time, when you take part in a massive fleet fight, or take part in some epic espionage caper or something, it is the most fun game you will ever encounter. 99% of the time you’re just waiting for something to happen. But it’s that 1% that hooks people like crack cocaine. I mean, you don’t get interviewed by the BBC when you win a WoW raid.
RPS: For my money, Eve might be the most fascinating game in existence today. But that doesn’t stop it from being interminably boring as well.
MT: Right. I mean most Eve players are stuck in high security space mining, and a lot of the core PvE in Eve has you sitting there are watching three grey bars slowly turn red.
Goonfleet is a socialist alliance. We give people ships so that rather than being forced to rat [fight low-powered AI NPCs] they can take part in PvP, we teach them how to scam so that they don’t have to mine, we teach them how to make ISK most effectively, we give them a lot of ISK and we reimburse their losses. This way they can focus on the fun aspects of the game, like griefing and warfare, so they’re not forced to endure derp-derp-ing around high sec.
RPS: Why did you choose to run for the Council of Stellar Management? I was in the CSM meeting yesterday and had two goonfleet pilots in the audience behind me making fun of them the whole time.
MT: Goonfleet has always had a representative on the council. Always. In the beginning the council was mooted as a PR move to deflect criticism from the Band of Brothers corruption scandal, and it accomplished basically nothing. We still had a member on there in case it wasn’t useless. …by the fifth CSM, everyone who played Eve at a level which was not drooling retardation had lost interest in the CSM as being a paper tiger, so most recently all of the null sec power blocks have spent the last year watching the idiotic ideas of the CSM with mounting horror, and saying “Well, fuck”, because now CCP has made them stakeholders in the company, and we’d lost interest in it and hadn’t voted.
RPS: I was talking to a member of the CSM who said that null sec candidates were a terrible idea, because you guys can’t be expected to look after the interests of high sec players, who statistically make up almost 80% of Eve’s players.
MT: Who was saying that?
RPS: I can’t say.
MT: Well, that’s unfortunate for them because we have the votes. CCP were boasting about the high voter turnout this year, but of the forty eight thousand votes cast over the two week voting period, twenty one thousand of those votes were cast on the first day. What was that? That was null sec, saying “Get the fuck out”.
And those statistics that say where characters play are actually very biased. They only say where a character is based, and all null sec players have alts [secondary characters] based in Empire [high sec space] who just sit in the trading hubs and do logistics or production. I have four characters in Empire right now, and four characters in null sec. It’s a hazy thing.
RPS: All the same, as a council member would you raise issues which would help the population of players fooling around with mining and PvE in high sec space?
MT: The main reason why the CSM has been seen as useless is that previous CSMs have taken almost everything that’s been suggested to them in the assembly hall and upvoted it to bring it to the attention of CCP. Good ideas and bad ideas, too.
The problem is actually getting CCP to implement these things. One of the things I’ve been saying, and one of the reasons I’ve got a lot of guys in high sec voting for me, is that the issue of this backlog affects everybody in the game.
There is a false conflict that gets brought up by people that know nothing about null sec, which is that high sec and null sec are opposed. They’re not opposed, they just live in seperate worlds. So, if we say that everybody has issues languishing in the backlog, and we get CCP to do something about that backlog, we improve things for everyone. The backlog is a scandal. CSM 4 and CSM 5 were asking how they can do anything on the CSM if they say “The players say this, we say this, let’s do this” and CCP says “OK, sure!” and then it just gets filed away and forgotten about.
RPS: You’ll still only be one voice on the council, of course.
MT: Well, I’m not one voice, because… well, see, this is me being a pretentious douchebag.
The CSM is a dirty election. It’s a third world election. Anything that’s allowed under the EULA in Eve is allowed in the election. You can buy votes, dead people can resubscribe and vote, you can scam people for votes, so it’s hardly an iconic democracy. So, this coming election, almost every major candidate you will see on the council will have been backed by a null sec plot. In advance, we’ve all met and spoken to one another to decide on the issues of the day. So I’m not going to be a voice in the wilderness. I’ll be speaking alongside people I’ve been fighting with or working with diplomatically for years.
RPS: Are there any particular issues in the backlog that you’d say it’s criminal that they haven’t been addressed?
MT: Really, I’d just focus on clearing the backlog and expanding the power of the CSM. I’d like it to not be a joke. I keep coming back to that backlog, but it’s not just a soundbite. Personally, one of the issues that I’d love to see is the interface improvements they keep promising, because I really think the UI in Eve is essentially an Excel spreadsheet.
RPS: But they said [in the big CCP presentation not one hour ago] that they were working on that right now.
MT: Yeah. Four years ago at a Fanfest presentation they were also talking about how they were going to allow corporation decals on ships, and as you saw that was something that featured prominently this time around. You’ll notice the tepid applause for the Incarna business and in general most people sat through that presentation scratching their heads and not getting wildly excited unless they were prompted.
RPS: What are your opinions on Incarna? [The upcoming Eve update that'll give players avatars and allow walking in stations]
MT: I think many Eve players have a naive view of Incarna, because it’s popular in some circles to piss on Incarna. But Incarna’s gonna happen. Incarna is the alpha test of the World of Darkness MMORPG engine. The World of Darkness game is going to happen because CCP acquired White Wolf. That game is going to be developed. Period. As an Eve player you have no control over that. With Incarna, we can at least get something in Eve from this code that is going to happen. Whining isn’t going to accomplish anything.
One of the reasons we make jokes about Eve being a bad game, or a spreadsheet or what have you, is that it lacks immersion. It’s just talking space ships. And most of the time you’re so zoomed out because of the lag that you don’t even see your space ship. It’s just a little bracket fighting another bunch of brackets, and the overview is a spreadsheet, and then your targeting reticule’s a bracket.
I would like Eve to be a better game. Eve has always been a vision, an idea of a universe, that’s always been poorly realised through the medium of a game client. I almost never log on to Eve Online itself because I run a spy network. For me, Eve Online is talking to people in a Jabber client.
RPS: So why have all the characters?
MT: People just give them to me. I’ve become something of a minor celebrity in the Eve universe.
RPS: This idea of leadership is something I’ve become fascinated with since coming out here. The fact that whole corporations and alliances can be built around one person.
MT: 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.
RPS: I’m sure lots of people reading this are people who’ve tried Eve and been unable to locate that metagame. How do you get involved in diplomacy or the like?
MT: Well being a spy is fairly easy. There are two types of agents in the world, and this is my personal division, but I guess as the spy guy in Eve I get to make the call. There are nationalistic agents and narcissistic agents.
A nationalistic agent is someone who’s in it to try and improve the situation of their alliance or corporation. In that case, you just need an alternate character who’s off in some other organisation.
A narcissistic agent is even easier. These are people like the Guiding Hand Social Club, who had one big heist which was really famous in the early days of Eve but haven’t really done anything since. But the thing about being a narcissistic agent is saying “I’m in it for me, I’m in it for money. I’m in it to infiltrate random corporations who’ll take me in, let me take all of their stuff and giggle about it.” Anybody can get into that. All you’ve got to do is join the recruitment channel in Eve and act like a normal person.
RPS: But ultimately, those spies still have to play the game.
MT: Yes. People who live in Jabber, who we call the Jabber crew, because most alliances use Jabber instead of IRC these days- are sort of this incestuous null sec old boys’ club. If you lead an alliance you can get into that, but you have to be a leader. And you either have that or you don’t. You either have the social ability to make people listen to you, to convince people that you’re effective and useful, to rise in the ranks of an organisation or found one yourself, or you don’t.
RPS: I think I’ll indulge you. What makes a good leader?
MT: 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.
RPS: So you can remove any one person in that power structure…
MT: And it won’t fall down. 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.
RPS: How do you reinforce against a failure cascade?
MT: This was actually asked by somebody in IT Alliance when their alliance was already in failure cascade. They just hadn’t noticed yet, and had yet to split apart.
The best way to deal with a failure cascade is to not generate false expectations about a situation. If you’re honest with your people as to the strategic situation, you’ll be able to survive terrible things. Goonswarm has lost all of its space before because we forgot to pay our sovreignity bills, and we just imploded. We were nearly destroyed at one point when we were beaten back to one region.
So yeah, don’t lie to your people because they’ll find out what’s going on from other sources, and then they won’t trust you. You also have to have a coherent culture and ideology.
The reason Red Alliance were able to survive again a thirteen thousand man alliance that beat them back to a single station is because they had a strong nationalistic bond. The reason why Goonfleet was able to survive crippling failures was because of our culture.
There’s one type of alliance that cascades easier than any other, which we call “renter” alliances. They’re the ones that don’t own space, but rent it from somebody else. What we call Space Feudalism. There are three types of government in Eve, Space Feudalism, Space Communism and Council Systems.
RPS: Finally, how do you feel about Titans? [The relatively new death-star sized ships.] I was looking at some statistics and saw the number of them in the game is just spiralling upwards.
MT: Titans used to be one of the worst things in this game. I personally still think that supercapital ships were a mistake, but I think the current level of Titans is balanced.
Supercarriers, though, which used to be called Motherships – I have no idea why they changed the name, I think Supercarrier sounds retarded – are hugely overpowered and desperately need to be nerfed. Everybody acknowledges it. They were too weak, and they got buffed, and now they’re way too strong. The joke used to be that Eve Online is Capital Ships Online. Now the joke is that it’s Supercapital Ships Online.
Mudflation is a problem for any MMO or evolving universe. That said, it used to be a lot worse.
RPS: Thanks for your time.