EVE Behind The Great Firewall: Inside a Null Bloc

Click for part one and part two of this series.


I promised last week to write about the fleet tactics and killboards of Serenity. That part is unfortunately delayed. Instead, this article will be a grunt's eye view of Serenity and should make interpreting killboard data that much easier.

In part one, I mentioned the possibility of creating and playing a TQ account from China. While a TQ subscription is notably more expensive than a Serenity sub, and the lag much worse, some Chinese netizens choose to play on TQ for the larger playerbase, more intricate metagame, or better features. (As of this writing, Serenity is still on Escalation patch of Inferno and "button orbiting" is rampant.)

Most Chinese players in Tranquility 0.0 are part of an ethnic alliance: Pangu Coalition, named after the god of creation in Chinese mythology. Pangu is currently a member of the N3 coalition, consisting of S2N, NC., Nexus Fleet, and others. Many Pangu pilots also run Serenity accounts, and would be therefore be invaluable in providing information about Serenity. However, Pangu has a reputation of keeping to itself, and none of them replied to my requests for interviews.

I was very lucky to be contacted by revenge Ostus after he read one of my previous articles. He's a former member of Pangu Coalition and offered his assistance in proving a ground-level view of the massive Serenity null alliances. His Serenity alt is a member of Pan-Intergalactic Business Community (PIBC), currently the second largest alliance in Serenity, owning Outer Ring, Fountain, Delve, Querius, Period Basis, and Vale of the Silent. PIBC is allied with the Fadeklein Coalition (FDK) and July Union against one coalition, made of The Galaxy Alliance(TGA) and Crescent Express, and another coalition comprised of R.A.C and City of Angels. It’s a situation similar to “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” for those familiar with Chinese culture, and 1984 for those who are not. 

If you look through Verite’s archives of Serenity maps, you will find that the core territories of alliances have not changed much at all. The three factions are locked in a true “forever war”, with no side being strong enough to defeat both of its enemies, and committing enough forces to severely damage one opponent opens you up to attack from another. Massive numbers of ships are destroyed in battles that ultimately result in little territorial gain. Forget "good fights": in the grim darkness of Serenity, there are only sov grinds. There is no peace among the stars, only an eternity of ratting, and the laughter of your alliance leaders as they RMT the alliance wallets.

Inside a Serenity Power Bloc

The Grunts

According to revenge Ostus, most nullsec members are drafted straight from highsec into null-training corps. Yes, the recruitment channels on serenity are not just used by griefers and low-sec bit players. For many newbies, the lure of mountains of ISK from nullsec is a powerful one indeed. Once a highsec player has proven to be able to fly a PvE ship well enough to not die repeatedly, they are inducted into the corp and set loose on the poor helpless rats.

It’s important to note that recruitment is mainly done on a corp level, with each corp running its own recruitment programs, and presumably having their own ratting space. While the percentage of carebears inside a typical Serenity alliance is high enough to put even RAZOR to shame, some of the newbies do grow tired of endless ratting and decide to start PVP activities. However, TQ-style "good fights" can be difficult to find on Serenity. The null alliances keep their territory on very tight lockdown, and any hostile gang is quickly reported, located, and swarmed with defense ships. As such, “roams” usually form at off hours, when the majority of the playerbase is off at work or sleeping - remember, serenity is a one timezone server, so population may vary from less than 3k at 4AM to 17k at Beijing prime. These gangs primarily target botters and haulers.

Inevitably, the full might of the alliances are eventually pitted against one other. While CTAs are not entirely mandatory, people who don’t show up to any fights will be kicked from the alliance. All ships are completely reimbursed by the alliance, with weaker fitting requirements than even the most generous TQ reimbursement policies. However, there is a problem with big fleet fights on Serenity. The server hardware for Serenity is not as powerful as TQ servers, with the best stuff reserved for keeping Jita operational. As such, spontaneous fleet fights on Serenity are prone to severe lag, with time dilation kicking in at sub-100 numbers in local; even timer fights are prone to dropping to 10% TIDI more often than not. This is unsurprising when each alliance regularly brings more than 700 to a fight.

Despite their alliances being locked in a forever war, most grunts have few ill feelings for their counterparts in enemy alliances. The mutual understanding that “it’s just a game” and the fact that they could have easily been recruited into a different alliance means the players know their counterparts are very much like themselves. After all, you can’t hate who you know. The animosity between alliance leaders, however, stretches beyond even EVE. When Serenity was launched in 2006, Tiancity was eager to populate Nullsec, in order to create the player-driven narrative that EVE is famous for. In order to do so, they invited existing player groups from a defunct MMO called Shadowbane Online, which had open PVP and a dynamic world, much like EVE. These “guilds” formed the first Null Alliances; PIBC, Northern Alliance, BBE, and Eastern Economic Community (EEC). PIBC still exists to this day, Northern Alliance eventually folded, while EEC and BBE eventually merged to fight the Northern alliance, and reformed as “The Galaxy Alliance”. So, today’s null alliances are fighting a war that stretches back to at least 2004, an eternity in the world of video games.

The Bosses

Here is where things get interesting. You can tell a lot about the culture of an EVE playerbase by the way their alliances are set up. Revenge Ostus made the observation that Serenity alliances are set up like the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, with long term decisions and diplomacy being made by a politburo comprised of the CEOs of major member corps and a Chairman who handles immediate decisions and day-to-day operations. While fleet commanders have some initiative, it’s ultimately the Chairman who gets the final say on major ops (remember, a unreinforced node can start conking out at not even 100 players). It would not do at all for an FC to call in supers on a unprepared node and get them all killed.

On TQ, most major nullsec entities have dedicated logistics branches to handle the ravenous needs of their pilots, a good example being Padded Helmets of the CFC. It's also necessary to haul the mountains of Tritanium needed for capital production. On Serenity, the mineral problem is solved by having ratters turn over refined loot minerals directly to the alliance. With the volume of exchange between null and high greatly lowered, the burden of logistics falls to the leaders of corporations. Indeed, the Chairman of PIBC is known for flying jump freighters to Jita to pick up goods for the alliance.

Regarding RMT

CCP has a zero-tolerance policy towards RMT and bots. Mere accusations of RMT can be enough to temporarily ban a player for investigation. However, CCP does not manage the Serenity server; that duty falls to TianCity, a company that specializes in hosting licensed MMOs. Tiancity is not interested in RMT so long as PLEX sales are high and revenue keeps flowing. RMT on Serenity among Alliance leaders is so pervasive that there exists a special term for it, “KFCing”, derived from an anecdote where a group of alliance leaders had a meetup at a KFC, and bought their food with RMT money.

(For 2.25 billion isk, you could buy a Moros or a bucket of chicken.. which will you choose?)

With this in mind, it becomes clear why Serenity Alliances are hesitant to deploy supercapitals unless risk of loss is essentially zero.

Of course, there are line members who are quite unhappy about their alliance leaders buying fried chicken or paying rent with their hard-earned isk, but what can they do about it? Petition them? As if. But this RMT economy puts a different light on the traditional EVE economic stool of harvest, create, and destroy. RMT relies on customers buying isk to replace destroyed stuff, so continuous destruction is needed for the survival of a RMT business. What better way of ensuring destruction than a “forever war”?

Depending on reader comments, it’s either the WH article or the fleet/KB article next. If you have any further questions, please post them in the comments section, and I will answer to the best of my abilities.

And again, thanks to revenge Ostus for providing the information that made this article possible.

Perpetually broke pilot of Goonswarm. Will shill for isk.