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A Brief Look at Social Manipulation in Eve Online

MMORPG.com EVE Online Correspondent Tom Wilson takes a look at the idea of social manipulation in CCP's sandbox space MMO.

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When you take a little bit of time to think about it, social manipulation is one of the core tenets of being violent in any MMO. Minds are easily moulded; people are easily coerced if the correct words are used. Situations are caused through words, and words alone, and these words can cause more damage to the parties involved than say...an individual ramming ammunition down your throat till you submit to his or her way of thinking.

Prey on the weak; threaten to grind the capsuleer running his mouth off on the local channel into dust; despite what people may say; social manipulation in New Eden is a grisly affair. It requires a certain lack of morals, a selfishness that borders on the perverse, and an arguably sadistic attitude. The people that do it generally have one goal in mind: ISK. In a game like Eve, where loss has a physical effect on both your personal emotions, these entrepreneurs are playing for big stakes. The randomness that is human decision making means that you have yourself a game within a game, where the power of language can be the deciding factor between wealth and ruin.

For this reason alone, people tend to shun the individuals that practice these "arts". There are notable exceptions, people like Istvaan Shogaatsu and Haargoth Agamar, who have secured their places in the annals of the game's history with their daring feats of awe inspiring theft and scandal. In what is truly a sandbox game, Eve has proven time and time again that capsuleers are what makes the galaxy tick, and that fortunes can be gained and lost in a day, given the right mental attitude. Nearly all of such routes are on that darker path, where some small part of yourself is responsible for egging you on, to rip that pigdog out of his safe zone and dump him in a heap on the cold flagstones at the bottom of the ladder once again. That first time you succeed, and feel the exuberance rising within is enough to get you hooked for a good long while. The feeling that you have made an impression on the universe as a whole isn't one that a lot of people will shun without pause for thought.

This is social manipulation, a shadowy offshoot of the generally frowned upon metagame. It's a part of an already harsh game that more and more people are coming forward to claim responsibility for, myself being one of them. When it comes down to it, New Eden is a harsh environment for the people that expect the world to revolve around them. With everyone that plays a role in the world that CCP have created, there is someone waiting to exploit the very human core of the person that has assumed that role. It's a chilling, yet exciting prospect, and one that people try to beat out of newcomers.

There is, of course, a flipside to the coin. Some might argue that corporate theft drives people away from the game, or attracts the wrong kind of people to the small part of the universe that they inhabit. It is, however, what comes with sandbox games and, although it might be exceptionally hard to counter, it's an ongoing trial by fire to see who knows what they are doing and who doesn't. After all, running a corporation is just that. You've got to pay attention to who's still on your books, and who has access to what, something which can lead to disastrous consequences.

However, the actual theft is a lot harder to do than you might imagine. Whilst Eve is a game that inadvertently encourages the common player to shrug off the moral bindings that limit our actions in the real world, there are still large shards of humanity left in the capsuleer corporations and alliances. The emotions that people cling to mean that when you are actually "in action", the stakes are a lot higher. You're not just pulling the wool over one person's eyes; you're pulling it over a whole corporation which in turn makes the risk even higher because you are interacting with multiple people, all with varying degrees of intelligence and thoughts on yourself (the infiltrator). When it is about not being stupid, but the essence of human nature means that it's pretty noticeable if you're trying not to be shifty. Finding the delicate balance between friendliness and keeping to yourself so that you don't give enough away subconsciously to alert people to your actions is one of the more complex things that you can accomplish, be it in-game or out.

One of the main things to point out, however, is that corporate theft is in no way comparable to theft in the real world. Many corporations in Eve lack a corporate ladder, meaning that whilst there are certain people who are good at what they do, and thus gain titles such as mining director or fleet commander, the implementation of a corporate hierarchy is somewhat more complex. The rewards that it offers are slim, due to many corporations wishing to bring across a friendly atmosphere, one where every member is part of a big corporate family. Ultimately, these sorts of corporations are the ones that are prime targets, with added factors being the mentality of the people in them, and the assets which are noticeable. The more valuable the theft, the better.

Unfortunately, and I say this as a player of the metagame myself, the only "real", yet still not completely fool proof way to prevent corporate theft is to make being part of the group worth more than stealing from it, which can be achieved in two ways:

  • Empty corporate hangars.
  • Having such a strong corporate bond that it's simply not an option.

To make sure a strong bond exists between the corporation and the people with the access, it's imperative that you clear out roles of long-time inactives so that when they do return, you don't find all of your things suddenly disappearing. There are plenty of examples of this to go around, with multiple probably in the early stages of completion as I write this. To step up the bar in regards to the currently stagnating world of political intrigue would be an interesting avenue for CCP to lead New Eden down, especially with the sudden appearance of wormholes across the universe.

As always though, the possibilities are endless. Try it. Who knows, you might be surprised just rewards it can offer.

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