It has been a year of war, a year that has seen some of the biggest, most epic battles in the history of New Eden, a year that has seen trillions of ISK in assets destroyed, a year that has seen the largest coalition of null sec organizations in the history of the game… 103 alliances at the start… come together to attack the Imperium.
The PAPI assault on the Imperium has rolled the Goon led coalition back to a single constellation in the Delve region. By the end of Week 36 of the war the Imperium held only the O-EIMK Constellation in Delve. PAPI media outlets were ready to declare the war won then.
The expectation seemed to be that the Imperium would follow the plan, evac low sec, at which point PAPI could finish destroying the last remaining Imperium structures at their leisure. Instead, the Imperium held fast and now the was has been in stalemate ever since. PAPI has not been able to break into the final Imperium bastion in Delve, but they retain such a numerical advantage that the Imperium cannot break out. And so both sides settled down for a siege of sorts.
And so it has gone for 16 weeks, more than a third of the war so far. That has given people a lot of time to ponder, game out, and wish cast how the war might end.
How Do Wars Usually End in New Eden?
Morale is to material as three is to one
Wars in EVE Online tend to end the way wars in the real world do; one side falters, loses faith, or otherwise stops showing up. In New Eden, when one side stops logging in, the other side wins.
The failure cascade is a staple of our wars, where the line members give up, stop joining fleets, and try to evacuate whatever assets they can even as their leadership is talking about eventual victory. You can only snow your line members so long. They know when they’re losing, when the supply infrastructure is coming apart, when the finances have been tapped out.
Organizations that survive losses are the ones who spot the trend and find a way to end the war before the line members head for the exit en masse.
This time around neither side has hit the point where line members have given up. Participation numbers are down, but that is to be expected when there isn’t much going on. The Imperium bides its time by hunting PAPI pilots in Delve and other regions and PAPI pretends the war is still moving forward by killing left behind Imperium structures one by one. That keeps enough players in motion to stave off desertion, but this cannot go on forever. Or can it?
The problem is that neither side can extricate itself from the war without devastating losses.
Survival of the Imperium
PAPI made a serious mistake engaging with the Imperium very early in the war. That was when Vily gave an interview to Polygon where he stated that the war aim of the giant coalition he brought together was extermination, the removal of Goons from EVE Online.
This was a propaganda coup for the Imperium. When the enemy has declared they will accept nothing short of elimination of your faction, there is no longer any reason to contemplate peace or even compromise. The war became one of survival against a foe who painted us all with the same “bad for the game” brush. The victory conditions are set; we win by denying PAPI their stated objective, our mere survival means we win. This is why Imperium line members aren’t calling bullshit when The Mittani says we’re winning. We didn’t even set the victory conditions!
Meanwhile, Vily’s statement meant that there was no other path to peace beyond leaving the game. There is no retreat so we might as well keep fighting where we stand.
Vily has squirmed on the hook of his own making since that interview, trying to downplay it, claiming that he didn’t really mean it, allowing that maybe the existence of the Goonswarm could be tolerated even if PAPI won. The problem is that he hedges on the extermination stance whenever the war slows down, but as soon as PAPI gains a victory he and Progodlegend are quick to remind everybody that the war is about driving the Imperium and its members from the game.
That wavering on message just looks like weakness from the Imperium side of the war, and nobody is at all convinced he wouldn’t push his extermination plan if he could, he’s just seems to be worried he won’t have the means to fulfill it. So we’re not going anywhere unless they force us out.
TEST is Next and a Tiger by the Tail
Vily’s statement about extermination made “TEST is Next!” the war cry of the Imperium. That is a fairly empty threat when PAPI represents most of null sec and outnumbers the Imperium by a wide margin.
But from TEST’s perspective, they actually have to follow up on Vily’s statements and effectively drive the Imperium from the game. If they do not and the PAPI blue donut disbands, TEST and its Legacy coalition partners will very quickly be on the defensive. The general consensus is that in a war between just Legacy and the Imperium, Legacy loses.
So TEST is very much invested in the war carrying on. Vily’s words cut both ways and, while I doubt the Imperium would view “TEST is next” as a war of extermination, TEST will be the next Circle of Two for us and we will spend the next decade if needs be shooting them where ever they go.
PandaFam, the name coined by Jin’taan more than a year back, is the coalition of Pandemic Horde, Fraternity, NCDot, and Pandemic Legion, who live together in the northeast of null sec. The war has been an opportunity for them. They have expanded their space, their regions top the crabbing aspects of the monthly economic report, and their rental income is alleged to be up due to the fact that their space is generally safe, the war being so far away. Aside from The Initiative prodding them a bit, the war has been very good to them.
They also represent the backbone of the attack on the Imperium. Pandemic Horde has done the heavy lifting throughout the war and NCDot is always well represented relative to the size of their alliance.
PandaFam’s goal in the war has been to bring down the Imperium after from its post-Casino War heights, when Delve turned into the dominant economic machine in New Eden. While they have never objected to Vily’s extermination plan, neither have they made that their own goal. Their stated plan has been to wreck the Goon economy, destroy the tribute faction Fortizars from the war against Guardians of the Galaxy, and evict us from 1DQ.
Otherwise, PandaFam does not have a lot of skin in the game. They don’t want any of the space lost by the Imperium and their own space has not suffered. They could declare a legitimate victory today and walk away as the dominant power in null sec. So why stay?
Goals aside, the war serves their purposes. It keeps their space safe, it gives their combat pilots and FCs a war to play around with, and it keeps the Imperium economy offline. Their power continues to grow relative to Legacy and the Imperium at a cost that is pretty reasonable. But if they pull out, the balance shifts to the Imperium and “TEST is next!” becomes a reality. They need to be there to prop up Legacy in order to maintain the benefits they are currently reaping.
There are other players in the war, but their contributions have dwindled. The Russian FI.RE coalition in the southeast and Army of Mango Alliance have been pushing a bit to clear up space that the Imperium took in Legacy’s backfield, but they don’t make up significant numbers in fights and they seem unlikely to up their commitment unless the Imperium and its allies come for their space. They have their own local issues. If they there is another history making fight brewing, they will show up in small numbers, but otherwise they are mostly on board because it is the safest course for them.
So How Does the War End?
Back to the question in the headline.
In the short term, I am pretty sure it just keeps going. Neither Legacy nor the Imperium can get what they want with a peace settlement. Legacy isn’t going to restore the Imperium to their pre-war space and the Imperium isn’t going to simply go away or let TEST off the hook.
Meanwhile PandaFam is getting all they want out of the war, so peace brings them no benefit. They will keep propping up Legacy so long as that remains true. They would still like to destroy everything in 1DQ1-A, but not at the cost it would take currently.
So PAPI continues to nibble around the edges. They are clearing out any Imperium structures they can find. They are pushing Imperium allies out of the Legacy space they have occupied. They are looking to gank suspected Imperium alts in high sec. They are trying to find other routes to chip away at the defenders.
PAPI could make like more miserable for the Imperium if they wanted to put in the effort. They have setup Fortizars in NPC Delve on the stations from which they could camp then in order to interdict supplies coming in to 1DQ. They could tighten the siege. But that would be a lot of work and every ounce of misery for the Imperium down the road has to be purchased with an ounce of PAPI misery now, camping stations or gates or otherwise trying to suppress the Imperium.
Meanwhile, it is part of the Goon identity in EVE Online that they are willing and able to put up with more misery than anybody else, that they excel in a war of boredom and stalemate. To fight to the last in 1DQ1-A, to make the attackers pay a terrible price for any attempt to evict us, is almost literally what it is to be a Goon right now.
So the war goes on and the occasional calls for one side or the other to do what is “good for the game” fall on deaf ears. Nobody is going to sacrifice their side for some esoteric idea of what the game needs.
Longer term, somebody is going to wear out. Somebody is going to get sick of all of this. Fraternity will come to blows with one of the Chinese alliances that fought against them on the Serenity server or PandaFam will get tired of propping up Legacy or Legacy will end up in some sort of internal crisis because they have to dock up every time the Imperium forms bombers. Morale somewhere will crumble. People will stop logging in or somebody at the director level will decide they have had enough and betray Legacy yet again.
Or maybe PAPI will put in the effort to turn the the war into a real siege and actually starve the Imperium out. I am sure the PAPI wet dream is to starve us to the point that we can’t even fuel the main Keepstar so that when they come to kill it, it drops all the loot like the biggest space pinata ever. They keep killing it on the test server, so they clearly have something like that on their wish list.
What I don’t think will happen is an epic assault on 1DQ1-A. The fights at M2-XFE showed that the Imperium is willing to go all in with supers and titans and, in their home system where they are all now parked, PAPI is not going to risk a repeat of jumping into 4K hungry and heavily armed Goons. The lesson I took from the second M2-XFE fight is that it might not be possible to attack us on our capital system.
So it will be a wearing away process.
But all that will take time. I suspect that we’ll be looking at winter coming before either side has worn down enough to either lose the war or find a compromise that leads to a treaty.
Addendum: Of course, I write two thousand words about this over the weekend and then somebody on /r/eve sums up the options in about 250.