EVE online is a space-based MMO released in 2003. While being a game that is known for its difficulty, it remains one of the few MMOs that is still subscription-based. While giants like Bioware’s MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic have gone free to play, EVE still maintains a $15 a month system with a current subscriber count of 400,000.

One question seems to keep getting repeated in gaming circles – how? I’ve asked this question myself a few times. How has a game that is known as “a spreadsheet simulator in space” not failed already? I think the question was finally answered this week in what could only be considered the one of the biggest pieces of drama in EVE’s history.

Like most MMO’s, EVE has a guild system, but instead of guilds they are called Corporations. In Corporations, players work together to dominate the virtual space in EVE. This allows you to control the resources in game, and by doing so you can make a fortune for your corporation by setting prices on the EVE in-game market, if you control enough of a certain resource.

As well as bringing in cash in the form of the in-game currency (ISK), the resources allow you to build fleets of ships to defend your space from would-be aggressors. Ships vary in size, from the smaller Battlecruisers to the enormous Titans which can take 8 weeks to be built (and that’s in real time weeks). Two of the biggest corporations in EVE are Goonswarm (who spawned off the Something Awful forums) and Dreddit (Reddit’s EVE Corporation).

A long time ago when Dreddit was new to EVE, Goonswarm took notice of the fledgling Dreddit corp and after stomping on them multiple times, Goonswarm came to admire the young Corporation’s plucky attitude and decided to form an alliance and take Dreddit under their wing.

Fast forward a few years and Dreddit and Goonswarm are now two of the biggest corporations in the game. Goonswarm is now the head Corporation in the CFC (Cluster F*** Coalition), which is made up of Goonswarm and smaller Corporations, while Dreddit are now head of Test Alliance Please Ignore, formed their own coalition called HBC (Honey Badger Coalition).

Both Goonswarm and TEST have had long standing pacts in the game; at times they can be considered allies, but for the most part both sides tend to remain neutral towards each other. But there is one big problem with this type of deal – stagnation. To stop players from leaving due to boredom, both sides agreed to the “No Infrastructure Pact”. Put simply, both sides were allowed to shoot each other but neither side could attack the infrastructure like the Tech Moons or Mining gear that made each side so powerful.

HBC tried to use this situation to their advantage and attempted to weaken some of the Corporations they did not care for in the CFC. Mittani, the leader of both the Goons and CFC, was not pleased and had to be talked down from going to war against HBC.

Tensions were running high and in-game diplomats on both sides were going back and forth trying to defuse any situation that could lead to further aggression. This was EVE’s equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis; it was a tinderbox that only needed a little spark to go from border skirmishes to all out bloc warfare.

Late last week, CFC was arranging a fleet to go attack an alliance that was threatening one of the Moons under CFC control . A Goon member by the name of DaBigRedBoat was piloting a Titan, the biggest class of ship in the game and probably the most important in any fleet.

The Goons were setting up to bridge a fleet to attack the other alliance; this works by setting up a Cynosural Field (Cyno) to lock on to make the bridge. This is created by another ship flying to a location and activating a module. Now, all Capital ships can also jump to these Cynos once the link has been established.

DaBigRedBoat was in charge of creating the bridge and would be the vanguard of the attack, but instead of bridging he jumped. This meant that instead of dropping the whole fleet on the enemy he jumped in alone. This was bad news as the Titan, one of the CFC’s most valuable ships, was stranded alone with no support in enemy territory.

The Goons had to scramble and get another Titan to create a bridge to get to DaBigRedBoats’ Titan out of the hot water he’d landed in. By this time Pandemic Legion (a member of the HBC) was fully aware that a CFC Titan had made the jump alone and that by the rules set by the “No Infrastructure Pact”, it was fair game. Pandemic Legion quickly moved in with a fleet of their own to attack the lone Titan.

What followed was estimated to be one of the biggest and most costly engagements in EVE’s history. HBC arrived just in time to engage the attacking CFC who had arrive to protect their stranded Titan. Thousands of ships engaged each other in a battle that lasted hours. Ships of all classes went blow for blow in an attempt cause the most damage possible to the other’s fleet. By the end, HBC emerged as the definite victors with an estimated 99.7% of everything lost belonging to CFC.

Most of the ships lost were bought in game with the game currency ISK. If the ISK losses were converted to real money the damage would be $17,000. In one battle in a video game, a bit less than my yearly wage was lost. Although this seems staggering, CFC are one the richest alliances in the game and will have more than enough resources to recoup the massive loss.

The question you might be asking is what happened afterwards? At this point no one knows. On the one hand, there is the possibility of all out war on a scale the game hasn’t seen before, which is what this spectator hopes for. But there’s also a possibility that diplomats can hammer out a deal where reparations are given for lost ships and everyone can return to the “No infrastructure pact”.

Whichever way it goes, I doubt this will be the last time we hear about EVE the game. The next time you think this game is just a spreadsheet simulator remember that it all it takes is one bad click of the mouse to trigger one of the biggest online battles in gaming’s history.

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This article was first posted on January 31, 2013