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Spaceship Diplomacy: Spies And Information In EVE Online

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In this, the last of our reports from EVE Fanfest 2014, Rich Stanton sits down with one of the MMOs’ enigmatic space diplomats.

One of the most curious aspects of EVE Online is that the more influential the player, the less time they spend in the game. Or claim to, at least – The Mittani positively exults in how rarely he logs in. I still haven’t worked out if this is due to using alts (high-profile ‘mains’ are doubtless targeted by all sorts), a perverse point of pride, or simply a side-effect of devoting so much time to communication outwith the EVE client. The last is an inevitable side-effect of a game where ‘diplomat’ is a valid career path, so I decided to speak with one – and along the way, bumped into PvP specialist from “the gayest corp in EVE.” Only in New Eden.

“I’m an astrophysicist,” says EVE Online player Feiryred, a very smart Scottish woman. “But in EVE I’m a diplomat. I work for Fatal Ascension which is part of the CFC [Clusterfuck Coalition, the biggest in EVE], and I actually consider my alliance is my corporation so I look after all of them. Basically however horrible they are and whatever terrible deeds they do [laughs], when they do those terrible things then I’m kinda the person who sorts it out. It can get very awkward.”

Someone unfamiliar with EVE Online, of course, might be surprised that ‘being a diplomat’ is a possible way to play. “I can understand that. If you’re a new person to EVE then you might not know that when you start to get more involved in the game and get into a corporation and so on, then you get into alliance politics between the corporations. And something might happen. For example, your expensive ship might get killed somewhere and the person who killed your ship is blue [friendly] to your alliance. Then you would have to go to a diplomat to get them to sort it out for you so that you will get reparations. This can be complicated.”

Happen often? “Fortunately not that often.” So what do you spend most of your time doing? “I do most EVE when I’m not logged in,” says Feiryred. “We have the instant messenger Jabber so when I’m working and I’m not logged into the game, I have it up all the time. The job of a good diplomat is to oil the wheels all the time. Making sure that either wars don’t happen, or if they are happening making sure they go our way [laughs] For example with B-R5, the big battle that happened and was everywhere – I work from home, saw a jabber ping just before downtime, and I knew something was about to go down. But I couldn’t actually log in. And even if I could, I knew there was no way I could get to the system involved.”

“So what I did was intel, and I spent about fifteen hours doing it – passing on intel through various means…” Various means? “Spies basically,” laughs Feiryred. “And all I had was people pinging me saying ‘can you tell us what’s happening here there and everywhere’ and you keep on doing it and keep on doing it and then you look at the clock and fifteen hours have passed. I actually had people ask me ‘so what did you do in BR-5’ because I wasn’t in the system. Of course I wasn’t! There was no way I could’ve got there and survived. So what I did was information. Well you don’t get a medal for that, but I suppose in some ways the sign of a good diplomat is that nobody notices you.”

At this point Feiryred and I are joined by a jovial Australian who goes by the EVE name Splockster. Some people at Fanfest take EVE too seriously, but in this case these are in-game enemies meeting up for a beer and a laugh. “Splockster’s in Finn Fleet, the gayest corp in EVE,” laughs Feiryred. “One of these corporations that can basically go where they want, do what they want, with whoever they want, and do so regularly.”

Never one to miss a chance I ask Splockster if this is an accurate description. “Aw yeah,” he laughs. “We’re one of the oldest corps in EVE. I’ve personally been playing since 2005, but the corp has been around since the very beginning. I stick around because they’re a great bunch of lads, gay as hell, take care of their own and have a laugh. We’re big enough and powerful enough to do whatever we want when we want.”

It turns out that Splockster and Finn Fleet are quite the PvP specialists, and I ask if they fight against Feiryred’s CFC alliance. “Ohh yeah! In-game I hate them like the plague. Old history from way back in the day, the kind of thing no-one really remembers how it started – someone stabbed someone else in the back once, and it’s never been made up ever, so we’re enemies. I mean we were a part of BOB which got disbanded in 2009 by a spy from the goons.”

Splockster’s been playing EVE for almost a decade, one of the ‘oldest’ EVE players I’ve met. So what keeps him interested? “I love the game, and I love the people in it,” he says. “I don’t play other games. More than anything else I’d say it’s the social side that keeps me in it, it’s my corp mates that keep me in it, the people I talk to every day. And I even slightly love the CFC [laughs] because they create content for me, lots of ships to blow up. Although to be fair they kicked our arse awfully badly a few months ago, basically destroyed our entire supercapital fleet. We were on the losing side at B-R5 and I think we needed to lose, we’d started to underestimate them and they kicked the shit out of us.”

After that I need a cold shower and some slightly more diplomatic language. I ask Feiryred about the single thing she’s most proud of in the game, but here we hit one of those strange impasses that only seems to happen with EVE – a kind of kayfabe around what goes on behind certain doors. “Basically there was a situation that happened over Christmas and I spent ten days straight with the CEO of another corporation,” says Feiryred. “Obviously I can’t name names, but something unfortunate happened to one of their members and it was just… how the fuck, I mean we had no idea how to even start sorting it out. So I said: here’s what you do. You write a very carefully-worded petition to CCP, and you say this and this and that. I know this sounds unbelievable, but that was ten days straight of work and digging. And at the end of it, it worked.”

CCP got involved? “We got an answer. I can’t help but be ambiguous about that particular situation because there were so many variables and so much could have gone wrong.” This ambiguity is interesting because EVE is fundamentally a videogame. “Yeah,” Feiryred deadpans back. “I know I’m being ambiguous here but the best way to do anything is asking direct questions: what do you want to know?”

Are TEST fucked? Because I’ve been on their comms and those guys are the worst. “Actually I think TEST are going to come back,” says Feiryred. “They’re trying really hard. And unlike many other players, I don’t actually hate TEST. I’ve thought they sucked at times. But EVE needs TEST, and the fact that they have joined Honor and hooked up with Brave Newbies and Spaceship Samurais… I would like to see TEST reinvigorate themselves and come back.”

Feiryred works for the CFC, the largest alliance in the game and the subject of various theories centering around ‘the blue donut’ – basically, the CFC holding an insurmountable amount of EVE Online’s map through smart alliances. Are they too big to be taken down?

“Bullshit,” Feriyred shoots back. “Absolute bollocks. The reason why is all you’re seeing with the big blue donut is space and what we control. But what you’re not seeing is all the other bits that other people do in and around that. I’m in FA and we’re in Fountain which is one of the hottest bits of space in EVE, and it is that way because it’s a target-rich environment, much of which is us. It’s a tonne of fun and more people apply to come and live there than we have room for.”

I can’t help but feel that, at some point I can’t put my finger on, Feiryred went into diplomat mode and I didn’t even notice. Does she mean what she’s saying, or does she want us to believe it for the sake of her alliance? “Think of it like this,” Feiryred smiles, and finishes her cigarette. “Don’t you think that the CFC want to have some fun?”

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