Initially, I wanted to post a long treatise on the nature of social reality and how this actually makes internet spaceships serious business. I even wrote well over a thousand words, but then decided to put it away for until I’m in a more melancholic mood.
Today, instead, I’m going to tell you what Faction Warfare pilots really mean when they say "We want Faction Warfare to matter." The answer is quite a bit more multifaceted than you might initially think.
It’s not really just about affecting everyone else’s game — lots of people can do this, all it takes is, for example, to bend the market by dropping enough ISK on it, or hiring enough noobs to gank every lowsec pirate they meet with the same ISK, or instituting a standing bounty for every killed Thrasher. There’s lots of options. I dare say, after the T5 cashouts, quite a few people in Faction Warfare are capable of doing exactly that all on their own. No, it’s part of that, no doubt, but that’s not where it ends. There is one thing in Eve, one tiny, little thing, essentially worthless in game mechanics terms, that people have every right to want, and yet seldom, if ever, get.
Player characters are the most important entities in just about any gameworld that actually has player-controlled characters. Their state is expressed in the thickest bundles of data. They get streams of data about each other and the rest of the world sent to them at regular intervals. They typically mow down scores of enemies, extract mountains of resources out of the environment, exchange money and objects, and constantly talk to each other. They’re huge.
Not at all surprising, considering that the entire world literally only exists for their sake. In Eve Online fiction this is even codified — "Capsuleers are practically living gods." Unfortunately, Eve is ambivalent about it, just like it’s ambivalent about a lot of other things.
Very few pieces of prime fiction ever treat player capsuleers as anything other than an unknowable force of nature, that has no identity nor name.1 Daily, player capsuleers kill billions of what is supposed to be living breathing people,2 win and lose budgets of entire planets, directly build and destroy thousands upon thousands of spaceships, chew entire asteroid belts into dust, and yet, the stability of NPC empire is unshakeable.
The biggest works of prime fiction, like "Empyrean Age" and "Templar One", only concern themselves with what the NPC movers and shakers are doing, even when in the real game, much of their activity would not escape player involvement. "Empyrean Age" only mentions them in passing as something inconsequential and too big to keep track of.3 "Templar One" only mentions a player alliance by name once4 that I remember.
So as it stands, you may as well have the largest battle in New Eden history, or the biggest corporate heist in New Eden history, or earn the most ISK ever, or hold the most systems ever, or have the most spotless reputation ever — quite an achievement in Eve! — but nobody will name a ship class after you, nobody will write a chronicle centered around your activities, nobody will put up a monument with your name on it, nobody will shoot a cinematic trailer for Eve about what you did. If you want that, you have to have your own news and chronicles and do your own videos, because the best you can expect is a community spotlight dev blog, and even that is quite a recent innovation.5 Hell, you can Burn Jita, and all you get from the NPC side of things is a Concord advisory on the login screen, not a war declaration from Caldari State for disrupting their most important trade system.
But there’s only one official source of news and chronicles, isn’t there. There’s only one group in and around Eve that determines where the NPCs move from here — their makers. Everything else will only survive up until players give up on hosting it, blown away by the winds of Internet time and lost in the sea of daily forum noise. The NPC history will live as long as Eve starts up after downtime.
Normally it doesn’t matter, or at least, doesn’t matter quite enough to become a serious issue. Nullsec players would have liked it, but they live too far from the Empire and simply consider what happens to the NPC storyline inconsequential.6 Highsec players typically don’t get up to things on such a large scale that they think themselves qualified for mentions of this kind, even though I expect an official list of Fortune 500 corporations would be met quite positively, even if it did invite wardecs — particularly if it also included NPC corporations and allowed players to actually beat those at the industry and trading game.
But Faction Warfare players in particular are in a state of constant cognitive dissonance. Most of them aren’t really roleplayers, in the sense that there isn’t an in-character state they’re in most or even any of the time.7 But they have signed up to make war for those NPC factions, which does invite some sort of faction loyalty — even the standings mechanics work to lock them into faction loyalty. And yet, neither their smallest battles nor the biggest achievements do anything to advance the NPC story, as if they never ever mattered. Exceptions of course exist, but they’re so rare and so few,8 that you might as well give up hoping for one.
It remains an open question just how could Faction Warfare "matter" in this sense even in theory. After all, in a typical war, you only continue it for until one side actually wins, then the other side rolls belly up and accepts the winner’s terms — but if a Faction War comes to an end, this would mean Eve is short a popular feature, no matter how it ends.
But it won’t stop people secretly hoping for a medal, a monument, or, well, something that actually writes them into the annals of New Eden history, what little of those the rapidly changing world of New Eden has. "I was there" only works when "there" left a permanent mark on the world.
Otherwise it’s just a source of comedy.
ISD news items would be pretty much the only exception I can think of, and these are only ‘prime fiction’ if a sufficiently wide definition of such is used — they exist completely separate from the rest of the story. They don’t happen terribly often either, and aren’t particularly visible when they do.↩
Certain official sources do give the crew complements of non-capsuleer vessels, which the majority of NPC ships are supposed to be. They also list expected crew survival rates for different ship classes. Even with those, totalling up the expected death toll from even a single level 4 mission typically produces Eve-wide estimates so enormous, that every time they come up, they’re quietly shuffled under the carpet. Seylin incident, with it’s "millions" in victims, doesn’t even begin to rate on this scale.↩
"Not so fast," Irhes said, smiling. "We’re not quite done here yet… we have capsuleer alliance war declarations to review — about three hundred of them."↩
"June twenty-ninth, the year YC 111," Mordu said. "Capsuleer alliances vying for control of the space we’re in right now clashed in systems just a few jumps from here. At the time, it was recorded as the largest capital-ship engagement in New Eden’s history. When it was over, more than two hundred wrecks littered the space of Pure Blind."
"The Northern Coalition," Korvin said. "I remember this."↩
Winning the Alliance Tournament would be one of the very few regular exceptions. Destroying the Jita monument is the one irregular exception that was a brilliant move back in the day. So was keeping the wreck of Steve around.↩
You can safely bet that nullsec players would love to see a centrally compiled spatiopolitical history of Eve though, and read chronicles about the olden days.↩
I’ll write a long treatise on roleplaying in Eve yet. There’s far too little of it for such a detailed and big universe, and I think that’s actually a problem.↩
Selling off of Gallente systems for Caldari megacorp development is pretty much the only case where Faction Warfare successes or failures mattered for the NPC story that I can name. Notice, by the way, that it was an exception that took as important what very few capsuleers actually considered seriously, because it was neither fun nor rewarding — plexing systems.↩