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Published December 24, 2012

I’m on a Titan Bound for Nowhere

As an EVE Online newcomer who jumped immediately into an alliance at war, I was surprised to discover how much time is spent waiting for something to happen. I waited for critical mass to be reached on fleets. In fleet, I waited for mysterious portents to manifest before being allowed to bridge somewhere. Once I’d arrived somewhere, it was hurry up and wait for the opposition to decide whether they were going to play today or leave us hanging. Or, like a good newbie, I arrive for structure grinding detail in my shiny Vigil only to wait for said structures to come out of reinforcement. None of this, however, compares to the tedium of being on standby, camped atop a Titan usually in the middle of nowhere, while the capitals are out conquering the universe.

Time… Drags… On…

You could be there for 2 to 6 hours. Waiting… Waiting… Oh, yes, and waiting some more. Did I mention the waiting? Nobody mentioned all this waiting to me before I started playing and I apparently missed Sindel Pellion’s implied musical warning:

I’m on a titan ready for fightin’
all of our fuel we spent on you
Where have your fleets gone? Why did they run home?
We’ve got a dunk or two for you…

Even as a newbie, for whom everything is sparkly and shiny, it palls—especially because you might not comprehend why the fleet is sitting there for hours doing seemingly nothing. Even if you know why and recognize the necessity, it is boring. This presents certain logistics problems for these operations. The first relates to attendance and the second to readiness. Fleet commanders (FCs) know that a boring fleet is a poorly attended one and a bored fleet is an inattentive fleet.

Structure grinding, as an example, is not a glamorous activity. It presents no challenge stronger than remembering to cycle your guns. Subcap support fleets have even less to recommend them as you are not guaranteed to do anything all—at least on a structure grind you might get POS module kill credit. Boredom can become a weapon of the enemy. When the fleet is good and bored, an enemy defence fleet might swoop in or the caps might run into trouble, requiring a quick response. Attendance and readiness are needed for these essential war effort contributions. FCs therefore have developed strategies to overcome these two problems.

Synchtube: An (Anti-)Weapon of Mass Distraction

I have heard rumours of fleet commanders who play guitar and sing. Some others seem to have the gift of infinite gab, able to talk endlessly or recount story after story. My favourite solution so far is watching movies together using the synchtube service. This service, launched in 2010, is developed and maintained by programmer Justin “mrchess” Ho. It was “originally built to effortlessly exchange YouTube videos”, but it has since grown to support ten additional media services. Its basic use is simple: The fleet commander creates a “room” on the service, queues up some movies in a playlist, and then distributes the room’s unique web address to fleet members. The room’s owner controls the content playback with everyone in the room synchronized. A shared text chat is included on the room’s page for the participants should they not have or not wish to use external voice communication systems. Up to 150 people can watch simultaneously.

This is a stunningly simple idea that works absolutely brilliantly even if it does have its naysayers. Synchtube does not host the content. Instead, it embeds YouTube streams into the page and uses YouTube’s existing methods to specify a clip’s start time. This approach accomplishes three things: it keeps everyone synchronized, it offloads hosting and bandwidth for the video content to companies with deep pockets, and it neatly sidesteps any issues with rebroadcasting or “publishing” copyrighted content. Like many other free services, the site covers its costs with banner advertisements.

In EVE, “B” films seem particularly appropriate to use because so many of them fall into the science fiction in space category, e.g., The Alien Factor[1] or Plan 9 from Outer Space. The cheesier, the better, because such films are stupid, flawed, funny, or all three. One FC posts a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet for participants to vote for a movie from a given genre, like science fiction, horror, or blaxsploitation. The chosen movie is started with the FC then able to pause the film should anything occur requiring everyone to return to their game screens.

Interview with an FC

I had the opportunity to interview Roland Hova, a Goonswarm Federation fleet commander, about his use of synchtube in fleets.

Eingang: When did you first start using synchtube in your fleets? How many fleets do you estimate you’ve used it in? What gave you the idea to use synchtube in EVE PvP fleets?

Roland Hova: During the tail end of the war in Tribute, a random Frenchman linked us the synchtube website. Having recognized what an awesome tool this to combat fleet fatigue, I started compiling a list of movies. Almost every strat-op fleet that’s not actively engaged in combat has had it up.

Eingang: What advantages do you see in using this?

Roland Hova: Having something to talk about and keep oneself entertained during strat ops helps keeps people awake and motivated. I have had several people tell me they log into fleets more now, even if they know [they] won’t see any action [just] to watch the movie and hang out.

Many older Goons will remember GFSFM, a streaming music “radio station” DJ’d during campaigns with the old sov system. I see synchtube as the next evolution of that.

Eingang: How have people reacted?

Roland Hova: Positively. Initially 20% of the fleet actually watched as most people had developed other ways of keeping themselves entertained. Numbers have been steadily going up so I have high hopes.

Eingang: What types of movies have you found to work best?

Roland Hova: The best movies are movies you can laugh at and engage in a conversation with the other people in fleet about. bad horror films, cheesy action movies, anything scifi related. The best fleets feel like Mystery Science Theater 3000. Some movies are stinkers though so go by what your audience likes.

Eingang: Have you encountered any major technical problems?

Roland Hova: If you don’t set the room to private you get trolls that use scripts to crash the room, usually by overloading the chat function Other than that, sites like YouTube have different copyright settings based on what country you’re in. I streamed the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries Blood and Chrome during an EU timezone fleet and found out Germans couldn’t watch it.

Beyond Boredom

My limited experience with synchtube matches Roland Hova’s for the most part, although he reported some technical issues that I had not considered. On the whole, where I witnessed synchtube used in EVE, the strategic operation was much more enjoyable. While not all fleet members watched the videos, many did and were quite engaged, even if the movie was awful. Much amusement was derived from making fun of how awful something was or riffing off its badness with the group’s creativity. Group morale seemed high, with good-natured bantering, despite the boring nature of the operations. If you use this in your own fleets, as Roland Hova essentially notes, your mileage will vary depending on the content used.

In this article, I introduced synchtube as a measure to combat boredom and to improve attendance in fleets. The next article looks at the practical steps to using synchtube yourself, including pitfalls, copyright issues, and legal content sources. More importantly, it explores going far beyond battling boredom into how and why you would want to use synchtube to foster community and learning. Stay tuned!

Eingang
I am a virtual worlds researcher focussing on adult learning and communities of practice within MMOGs. I examine EVE through multiple lenses: as a researcher, as a new EVE universe participant, and as an experienced gamer. I'm @Eingang on Twitter.