THE RISE AND FALL OF CAOD
What's your opinion of the Corporation, Alliance & Organization Discussions subforum, better known as CAOD? For most, it's a generational thing. If you're new to EVE, you might never have even heard of CAOD before. If you've been around a little longer, perhaps you're aware of its existence but find yourself utterly baffled as to why anyone would write an article about it.
Today, CAOD is one dead subforum among many on EVE-O. There are still some posts there, of course. But as with the other "graveyards" on the official EVE forums, its inactivity can be easily measured by seeing how many threads it produces each day. On an active subforum, like EVE General Discussion, you need to go back a few pages to find a thread whose last reply was made 24 hours ago. With CAOD, going back the same number of pages will take you to September.
Relative newcomers would be surprised to learn how much power was once possessed by the dusty little corner of EVE-O. It's difficult to imagine today's inactive subforums serving any purpose other than providing a dumping ground for threads that the EVE-O moderators want to get rid of but don't have sufficient pretext to lock.
The dark, empty halls of CAOD are a remote place, distant from the thoughts of EVE players. But once upon a time, things were very different. For everyone who was interested in following the story of EVE, CAOD was front and center each day. It was a beehive of activity, buzzing with information and misinformation, wisdom and spin, leaks and counter-leaks, trolls and rage, and filled with everything from spam by anonymous alts to official announcements by the leaders of power blocs.
For propagandists, analysts, historians, spies, trolls, armchair generals, and observers far and wide, it was a golden age.
MAKING SENSE OF EVE
Within a year of EVE's existence, CAOD had already evolved into a place where pilots across the galaxy could ask and answer one very basic question:
"What is happening in EVE right now?"
If you wanted to understand what was going on in the EVE galaxy, you would need a lot of information, but you would also need a meaningful way to interpret it. As an illustration, consider the map--specifically, the map of nullsec. There's an in-game map that displays the sovereignty of all the systems, but it's not very readable. It's further complicated by NPC sovereignty and the nominal sovereignty of countless "pet" alliances. Nor can you see the lines drawn by coalitions. Worst of all, you receive only a snapshot of a moment in time; you can't tell if an alliance is rising or falling, or why.
Some CAOD posters began to draw their own maps of alliance territory, aiming to present the state of the galaxy in a digestible form. These maps, though inaccurate and infrequently updated, were in high demand. Joshua Foiritain was one of the pioneers of EVE cartography. His maps weren't the first, but for a few years, Foiritain's territorial maps were the standard. He painted a nullsec with simple, colorful blocs. At a glance, one could see which major alliances controlled which areas of the galaxy, as well as which zones were disputed. Later, he began coloring members of coalitions differing shades of the same color.
As with everything that requires the filter of interpretation and analysis, there were problems. Foiritain was not objective. He was a member of one of the major power blocs, led by Band of Brothers. His maps tended to overestimate BoB's influence and underestimate the scope of its enemies' territory. There were other invitations to bias: Determining which areas were "disputed", which alliances belonged to which coalition, and so on. Foiritain was one of the earliest to use a now-classic trick: When listing the participants of a war, every possible member of the enemy side was included, making his own side appear more like elite PvPers fighting against the odds. Even the timing of map updates reflected his bias, as a new map appeared each time BoB's territory expanded, but when BoB lost territory, the mapmaker often went AWOL until it was regained.
Today, by far the most popular map is the EVE Automatic Influence Map. As its name suggests, the map possesses the advantage of being automatically generated, based upon sovereignty changes, the existence of stations, and other factors. The borders of each territory are determined by a computer program, rather than the mapmaker's own analysis. The map is popular because it's always up to date and is much less vulnerable to charges of bias.
Yet its strength is also its weakness. By removing human analysis from the equation (in particular, by not displaying coalition boundaries), the Automatic Influence Map's explanatory power--the very reason for its existence--is diminished.
The example of the biased EVE maps demonstrates how a person who reports on something can simultaneously attempt to change or influence the subject of his report. Foiritain exaggerated his BoB friends' power on the map. In doing so, he helped shape EVE players' perceptions of BoB--which, in turn, enhanced BoB's actual ability to project its power across the map. This is the essence of propaganda.
PERCEPTION INFLUENCES REALITY
It didn't take alliances very long to discover that posts on CAOD were able not only to inform players of what was happening in EVE, but also to affect what was happening. People spoke only half in jest about CAOD's "forum warriors". In contrast to the more civil conversations taking place elsewhere on EVE-O, members of enemy alliances were just as hostile to each other on CAOD as they were on the battlefield.
EVE wars, to an even greater extent than those which take place in real life, are about perception. Players choose whether or not they want to log in and risk their ships in the next battle. Players freely join or abandon alliances. And, if we're honest, they join the most powerful alliance they can. I have yet to encounter an EVE player who purposely joined a dying alliance in order to have more of a challenge. And it may not be entirely true, but is more true in EVE than any other game I know of: EVE players just want to be on the winning team.
As a result, players who wanted to know what was happening in EVE were really looking for the answer to a similar question:
"Who is winning and losing in EVE right now?"
No matter what the circumstances, both sides of every war had their CAOD posters making the case that they were winning. Whenever an important battle took place, CAOD was filled with spin about kill to death ratios, holding the field, time zones, blobbing, and anything else you can imagine.
The nature of EVE-O brought everyone into the fray. Every single EVE player automatically has an EVE-O account. This meant that anyone with the slightest interest in the outcome of a war could--and usually did--get involved in the forum war. If the representative of an alliance made a lousy argument, anyone in EVE could comment on it and point out the flaws in it.
Some alliance leaders spurned CAOD and instructed their members not to pay attention to what was being posted there. But there was absolutely no way to prevent them from doing so. Aside from their own alliance's internal communications, CAOD was pretty much the only news source they had available. No one could resist reading what their enemies were saying about them in public. Besides, the very fact that it was public made it important, as potential enemies and coalition partners alike were reading CAOD and being influenced. One could only fight fire with fire; the only counter to CAOD posting was more CAOD posting.
And then there were the alts.
POST WITH YOUR MAIN
Alliances didn't just care what others said about them. They also cared about the image being projected by their own members. If an alliance's membership were making fools of themselves on CAOD, it would hurt the alliance.
Most alliances would reign in a particularly bad poster. Some alliances had official policies that restricted all of their members from posting on CAOD, aside from designated spokesmen. They feared that one of their members might say something stupid, or make a damaging admission, or suffer a breakdown on the forums for all to see. Their fears were not always misplaced.
For a few alliances, the answer was to observe complete silence on the forums. I suspect many readers would be surprised to know that even the Goons themselves, from time to time, disallowed their entire membership from posting on CAOD. Consider the irony: The identity of Goonswarm was formed, to some degree, from a culture of obnoxious forum posting (including but not limited to Something Awful). Goons were better known for threadnaughts and trolling on EVE-O, but at times even Goonswarm's leaders cared enough about their forum image to ban everyone from CAOD.
There was one very obvious way to get around this. Anyone who felt the urge to make a post but was concerned about blowback could simply use one of their alts. BoB might not let you post as a BoB member, but you could protect your alliance's honour by posting as a concerned citizen of Caldari Provisions or the State War Academy.
It wasn't hard to spot an alt. But alts couldn't be dismissed, either. An alt could be anyone, and everyone could read what the alts were saying. If an alliance leader was drawn into a heated argument with someone and an alt popped in to point out where the leader was wrong, he couldn't escape scrutiny by shouting, "Post with your main!" Someone else would just pick up the point.
Alts didn't just plague their enemies. They were even more devastating to their own alliances. Disgruntled members of failing alliances could use CAOD to challenge their leadership in ways that they dared not challenge them on their internal forums. Alts leaked sensitive information, often in the form of humorous chat logs. At the same time, saboteurs could post on alts, pretending to be disaffected members of enemy alliances.
CAOD was the great equalizer. Today, the leaders of great alliances are very distant from the EVE playerbase. Back then, they were embroiled by the forum, because they understood and feared its influence. They chose to get involved in it so they could exert some influence of their own, but by doing so they also found themselves at its mercy. A random nobody with an alt could get into a fight with the leader(s) of a great power bloc. If sufficiently provocative or persuasive, anyone could influence the game, no matter how powerless they may have been in-game.
None of that could be erased by the endless chants of "Post with your main!" People tried, though. How they tried.
THE FALL OF CAOD
As time went on, CCP began to consider doing something about the alts. CAOD was filled with people complaining about alt posts. Granted, alts were frequently used to troll or attack other players. But "Post with your main!" was also an easy, lazy way to dismiss inconvenient posts made by an adversary. People yelled "Post with your main!" at an enemy alt, and then would log onto an alt to make their own barbed posts.
The dirty little secret that no one wanted to admit was, people loved alt posts. Some of the alt posts were garbage, but some of them were gold. Instinctively, people understand that censored material is also the material that's most likely to be interesting. People posted on alts to say the things that they couldn't otherwise say without repercussions. Alts represented the uncensored thoughts and feelings of EVE.
Alts were what made CAOD work.
CCP finally took its first action against the alts in 2007, instituting a ban on all posting by NPC corp members in CAOD. This policy had the desired effect for about 15 minutes, roughly the same time it takes an alt to train Corporation Management I. The CAOD rule simply inspired numerous one-man alt corps, and the alt posting went on without missing a beat.
The fig leaf of a one-member "corporation" was enough to protect the alts. Despite the chorus of "Post with your main!", CCP let the party continue. Why didn't CCP set a requirement of, say, 10 members for a "real" corp? Effort. CCP was not interested in coding something new into EVE-O. When NPC alts were banned, the NPC members could still enter the posts; moderators had to snip everything they said.
Instead, CCP announced the moderators would crack down on trolling, which was the real problem with alts. Everyone, regardless of whether they were in a huge alliance or a blatant alt corp, would be held to the same standard. The anti-trolling policy didn't really change things. Trolling wasn't the true purpose of alt-posting; honesty was. As long as the alt skirted the rules well enough, he could use CAOD however he intended.
Still, the seed had been planted. Posting with an alt was considered "illegitimate", and it was only a matter of time before it received the same fate that so many other instruments of power do: It got nerfed. It took two years, but in 2009, CCP put an end to the one-man alt corps. Only players in corporations of 10+ members could post in CAOD.
THE DEATH OF CAOD
As a practical matter, there was no way to circumvent the new rule. In theory, someone could use multiple accounts or try to get the various alts to band together and create a large corp for alts. The very nature of the alts themselves prevented this from happening. Only a very small number of CAOD alts were "professional" posters who would have gone to the trouble. Most were just ordinary people who, for whatever reason, found themselves compelled to reply to something.
It was the beginning of the end. Although most of the posters had always been "mains", the conversations lost their flavor once there were no longer any anonymous participants. Every poster was, to some degree, subject to the restraint of potentially being held accountable for what they said. Even if they're reluctant to admit it, EVE players are notoriously risk-averse. They didn't want to burn bridges by picking too many fights on the forums. In those days, there was a feeling that any alliance could fall. It was best not to alienate a corp that you might need to apply to join in the future.
Gone, too, was the spontaneity of alt posts made in the heat of passion. When corps lost battles, meltdowns from their frustrated alts had added spice to CAOD. No more. Unauthorized leaks also disappeared. Intel appeared only when an alliance leader decided that some enemy's intercepted communications were worth releasing to the public. The well of drama dried up.
As the culture of CAOD changed, moderators were able to reign things in further. "Trolling" is a very pliable term. Any comment that was critical of another player or alliance could be interpreted as a violation of the rules. But the whole point of CAOD was for players to be critical of each other, to wage war on a different battlefield. The new attitude toward CAOD made CAOD obsolete.
In retrospect, the alliance leaders were to blame. When things went badly for them in-game, it was easy for alliance leaders to develop a hatred and mistrust for CAOD--the place where their members could read about how badly they were losing. They could decry the unfairness of alts and trolling on CAOD in a way that they couldn't decry the unfairness of bullets and missiles in-game.
Players of all kinds could take the moral high ground and condemn the rudeness and the petty atmosphere. They could scoff at alts who didn't have the decency to post with their main. By contrast, no one could openly confess to enjoying the baser aspects of CAOD. And nobody could admit that they posted with an alt.
CCP therefore developed a warped view of what the players really wanted from CAOD. All they heard were demands for a more civilized atmosphere, so they provided one. They had no way of knowing that a civilized CAOD would be a pointless CAOD.
The ultimate example of CCP's overprotective stance was presented when CCP enabled an option preventing people from viewing CAOD while not logged in. Since no one can post without logging in anyway, and since there's no particular reason why a non-EVE player should be unable to view that one subforum, it's a baffling rule. Its purpose is a mystery, but it demonstrates the attitude that helped bury CAOD.
Some may say CAOD was done in by the rise of alternatives, including third-party forums and EVE news websites. In fact, it was the decline of CAOD that led to the rise of those alternatives. Players went looking for other forums and other sources of information because there was nothing left to be found on CAOD.
In truth, the death of the old CAOD left a void that can never be filled again. Third-party EVE forums popped up over the years, enjoying varying degrees of popularity. They all suffered the same two problems. The first problem is that they couldn't decide what their purpose was. Did they exist to provide an uncensored version of CAOD, free from heavy-handed moderation--to recreate the alt playground of old? Or did they exist to provide a higher-quality version of CAOD, purged of the "badposters" and trolls?
Most third-party forums tried to do both, and since the two goals are inherently contradictory, they failed at both. This paradox, combined with the partisan nature of the moderators (since the sites were run by EVE players rather than post-BoB-purge CCP employees), usually resulted in the worst of both worlds: Friends of the moderators were given free reign to engage in trolling and content-less spam designed to ramp up their post count or karma points; enemies of the moderators were subjected to even more heavy-handed moderation than they would have gotten on EVE-O.
The second problem facing the third-party forums was something they couldn't do anything about: The magic of CAOD was that everyone in EVE was already a member, and that it was so widely-read, by almost everyone with an interest in nullsec. By their very nature, third-party forums couldn't reproduce that. At best, they could grab a narrow slice of the EVE populace. The value of CAOD had been in its broad reach. As a platform for propaganda, it was powerful because of the size of its audience. A popular third-party forum might have some influence, but only a fraction of that possessed by CAOD in its prime.
Could CAOD ever regain its former glory? It's unlikely, but it's possible. CCP would need to roll back all of the special restrictions it placed on CAOD posts. The moderators would need to take a "hands off" approach, recognizing that CAOD, like EVE itself, is an arena built for fighting. They should delete spam, but accept hostility.
What I've just described is at odds with the current trend of a more tightly-controlled EVE-O and a more carebear-friendly EVE Online. But as long as I'm not bored enough to quit the game, you can rest assured that there will always be at least one player who remembers, and advocates for, the true spirit of EVE.