Goonswarm has been a fact of life in New Eden since late 2005. Yet despite being a fixture in galactic politics and infamous for griefing and scamming, the average EVE player doesn’t understand who ‘goons’ are, or what motivates them. One increasingly encounters situations where EVE players unwittingly use the language of goons - pubbies calling pubbies pubbies, as it were - while simultaneously viewing Goonswarm through a myopic lens of ignorance. The only consistently recurring narrative about Goonswarm is that goons are somehow different from everyone else. But why? What makes a pilot in Goonswarm alien compared to the rest of the so-called ‘EVE community’? The answer is community itself - external community, independent from Eve Online. As the game has matured, there are now two classes of player, radically different in mindset - the EVE-born and the community-born.
Goonswarm is the first and largest example of a community-born group. Goonswarm hails from Somethingawful.com, a bad forum for bad people. Many, many bad people - SA has 160k+ members, each of which paid $10 to register on what may be the best forum on the internet - which once, almost a decade ago, had something to do with a comedy website and a ‘frontpage’. The fee amounts to a ransom to safeguard quality posting; the moderators will ban those who can’t obey the guidelines, but the banned usually can re-register for another $10 fee. Being a badposter on SA is costly. Given the size of the community, there are goon organizations in every MMO, which has confused EVE players sojourning elsewhere who assume that these guilds are splinters of Goonswarm, rather than part of the mother forum.
But Goonswarm is not the only organization in the game based on an external community. Dreddit, the core corporation within TEST Alliance, is the home of Redditors in EVE- and while many of the initial B0RT members came from across EVE, the vast majority of the corp is now Reddit-born, rather than EVE-born. Similarly, Elite Space Guild is an alliance of 4channers - though 4chan presents unique problems from an external community perspective, as every member is anonymous; one cannot prove oneself to be part of the 4chan community as with a username like on SA or Reddit.
The differences between a community-born player and the EVE-born escalate from the moment they start playing.
The average EVE-born starts life alone and confused in hisec. Friendless and bewildered, they try to ascend the learning cliff. Most begin with safe PvE activities, mining or running missions. After a while they may find a corp, and after many months they may - may - dare to try out PvP. The small population that makes it to the PvP experience begins working on a personal “PvP resume” based on killboard performance - kill/death ratios, usually - and a network of contacts who can vouch for them with other players. This ‘resume’ is almost as important in EVE as those used to seek a job in the real world; corporations and alliances are created and implode across New Eden with astonishing rapidity. By this point in his career, the EVE-born veteran player is likely to have moved between six and ten corporations and multiple alliances. He has a reasonable expectation that whatever organization he is part of may collapse, so he and his fellows are always looking to ensure a soft landing in the aftermath of a failure cascade. His killboard history and the recommendations of other veterans become his golden parachute.
The importance of having a solid resume means that players who engage in socially unacceptable behavior begin to segregate themselves into niche communities. The ‘worst’ activities in EVE are scamming, botting, and corp-theft; griefplay and piracy are not far behind. A known scammer or botter is likely to be ostracized from the vast majority of organizations; a character with a corp theft on his ‘record’ is going to have an extraordinarily difficult time finding a home. While some take the plunge into scamming and piracy with relish, most players try to keep their noses clean and behave with ‘respect’- one might consider default EVE-born society a Culture of Honor, often referred to as ‘e-bushido’.
The experience of a new Goonswarm player is radically different from that of the EVE-born. They are attracted to EVE by the megathread in the MMO subforum of SA; when they install the game they are an extension of an existing community - most have friends already in Goonswarm that they know from other games. Rather than learning the basics alone in hisec, on their first day newbie goons podjump to deep nullsec. There, they are surrounded by their fellows, ushered into massive alliance warfleets, mentored by veteran players, and showered with isk and ships. A community-born player is able to entirely skip the dreaded ‘mining veld in a Bantam’ phase. Instead of a positive kill/death ratio, external communities place a greater value on enthusiasm and a willingness to die for the group. Because Goonswarm has thrived since September 2005 - making it one of the longest-lived alliances in the history of the game - there is no need for a Goonswarm pilot to generate or maintain an ‘EVE resume’. Similarly, other external community organizations are more durable in the face of the kind of petty drama that wipes out so many EVE-born corporations.
In practice, this means that Goons, Broskis and Redditors can be outright bastards to everyone else in the EVE - besides their allies, of course - and get away with it. The game’s normal culture of honor doesn’t apply, as a pilot from an external community never needs to worry about joining the ‘next’ corp, or fret that he’s lost too many Rifters and ruined his k/d ratio.
Somewhat similar to external internet communities, the ethnic/nationalistic alliances tend to take care of their newbies and have a low turnover rate; if you’re one of the few Finns or Romanians who play EVE, odds are good that you’ll stick by your countrymen. But misbehavior among ethnic alliances seems to be even less common than in EVE-born corporations, probably because violating EVE’s social mores would reflect poorly on their national identity; these pilots may not be polishing their resumes, but they don’t want to give their country a bad name through dishonorable behavior.
A pilot’s formative months provide the template for his attitudes and worldview for the rest of his career in EVE. When Goonswarm was new to EVE, the existing in-game community - all EVE-born - saw them as alien. And they were. But there are now ever more community-born players, and not only from Goonswarm. Where the EVE-born are less tied to their organizations and more beholden to the dominant culture of the game, the community-born always have a stable home, and are free to do as they please. Those primordial days where every EVE player had a roughly similar upbringing are gone forever - and good riddance.
One of the aspects of community membership that I didn't touch on in this column is that the structure of certain communities makes a huge difference in the in-game behavior of the related Eve-entity.
The 4chan community in Eve, with the lack of names identifying its membership (everything is anonymous on the 'chans) and a culture based on image macros, exploded repeatedly in incessant drama. Dreddit is a mirror of Reddit, with an emphasis on coders, Mens Rights Activists, and a more forgiving environment for the antisocial; to participate on Reddit one can upvote/downvote threads without actually being obliged to post or communicate with other Redditors. Goonswarm is an entity based around incessant posting, with a tendency to focus more on drama that creates fun threads than actually ever being good at Eve.
I'm constantly struck by how alien the EVE-born are compared to community folk. They're always worried about their corp exploding, needing to update their ~eve resume~, all that rot. It seems exhausting, if not monstrously insecure. If EVE is a game of 'us vs them', it's tough when your 'us' isn't real.