XN.YM, or Everybody Needs Somebody

Well, I suppose the Godwin thing is a little played out, so for the lead-in to this piece, I will instead quote someone for whom I can claim unimpeachable and incontrovertible authority over the source, as well as the ability to perfectly interpret the text:

"The players are the major source of game content. Every person that unsubs (or just stops logging in) makes it x% more likely that all his n subbed friends will do the same, and y% more likely that his m unsubbed friends won't come back. For someone like a :foreveralone: empire missionrunner, that xn.ym value is pretty tiny. For someone like the main FC of a large alliance, or Chribba, or Estel Arador, that xn.ym value will be hundreds or even thousands of times higher. In a situation like that you don't have to be a mathematical genius to realise that this means there's an unstable, unpredictable tipping point after which EVE will failcascade no matter what CCP do."

I wrote that at the peak of the post-Incarna Summer of Rage crisis last year - incredibly as it seems now, merely 14 months ago - at a time when I was on the edge of giving up on EVE and walking away.  At the time, people I knew and liked were dropping accounts left and right, and it seemed that every time I logged in, it was for the privilege of reading yet another "Time to call it quits" post from a valued corp or alliance member.  Sometimes we have to face losing what we most value in order to realize just how valuable it (or he) is, and it was the steady erosion of my will to keep on keeping on in the face of those messages that inspired me to post that. 

These are happier times now and in most ways EVE is back to business as usual: bears vs gankers, hi-sec vs 0.0, buff Gallente, nerf Minmatar - all the normal comfortingly inane background chatter of a reasonably healthy MMO community.  But it would be a terrible shame if we were to have gone through that Summer and gained nothing from it.  Since it's apparent that we're now not getting avatar-based gameplay any time in the foreseeable future, perhaps we'll have to settle for a change in our perception of player value.

At the moment, there are many metrics the players use to rank and compare each other; ISK, skillpoints, K:D ratio, total kills, alliance membership, and so on.  All quantifiable and measurable.  Players also compare each other on slightly softer metrics: FC skills, successful campaigns, in game achievements like disbanding BoB or being in the fleet that killed the first Titan and so on.  And at the other end of the scale, some players gain a measure of fame (or infamy) for doing stuff that doesn't even involve logging in - running popular EVE websites like Dotlan and EVE-Search, writing columns in the gaming media, or simply being well known on popular EVE fansite forums.

But one glaring omission (as you might have already inferred) is recognition for those high xn.ym guys for making people want to log in.  Sure, players within an alliance will express gratitude and admiration for a successful FC for leading them to victory in fights, or a motivating CEO for building up a successful corp, but outside of their immediate group, these players rarely get a drop of recognition.  Yet without people like these, EVE would be sterile and lifeless.  Nothing in EVE means anything without a goal to pin it to, and those players who are able to inspire us towards a goal are absolutely priceless to us, the community at large.  Without them, there literally is no game, just a rather dull if nicely rendered sim.

The issue is somewhat confused because many EVE celebs also happen to have a significant xn.ym value, but it's rare in the extreme to see that explicitly recognized for what it is.  Another factor working against their recognition is of course EVE's highly competitive nature.  It's rather difficult to get the grunts of Alliance A to recognize the value to the game of the leader of Alliance B when A & B are engaged in a desperate war of vicious attrition.  But if few Goons in 2007 would have been able to say a good word about SirMolle, I think many of those same Goons in 2012 would privately or publically admit that without him and the organization he inspired, their game experience would have been infinitely poorer and less vital - and it was an observable fact that there was nothing like a good MollePost to get a spike in logins.  (As I hinted in my previous article, there are few circumstances better than a powerful and active threat to make a narrative compelling and thrilling.)

The "neutral" community service providers fare a little better; everyone in 0.0 loves Wollari's Dotlan site, Chribba has a sky-high rep for his eve-search and eveboard sites, and so on. But its still much rarer to see explicit recognition that people like Chibba and Wollari help keep other people playing, and the understanding of why that is so valuable. 

What should we do about this? Well, firstly I think it's a valuable exercise to simply spend a moment thinking about who you've encountered that has a high xn.ym value.  Who makes you want to log in? Who would leave you wanting to log in less if they left?  Some of them will be obvious - your favorite FC, for instance is a natural candidate.  Others, perhaps less so.  Does your corp have a guy in it who tends to be online when others aren't, and now that you think about it, all those corp POS get maintained and fueled?  Those unsung logistics guys actually have a really high xn.ym value because they keep the jump bridges, cyno jammers, safe POS and so on working.  Likewise the guy who stocks your local market.  Not just because they make your life easier, but because they help to keep people logging in.
Look for people outside your immediate group too. The guys who set up Red vs Blue - they don't just provide an accessible arena for low consequence PvP, they also help to keep the game alive by giving many new players a chance to take their first steps into pewing. Does your alliance have a recruitment alliance to keep up a steady stream of worthwhile recruits? Do you even know who runs it? Running an alliance is a hell of a lot of work, and he's doing that without even the recognition of being the guy who runs the "real" alliance. That guy has a massive xn.ym value because he's helping to keep two entire alliance active and vibrant and he's the leadership figure for a large number of relatively new players.

Secondly, you might look for ways to improve your own value. Not everyone has the time or the charisma to run a corp or the talent to FC a fleet, but you could mentor a new corpie, you could instigate activities by funding a frigate thunderdome, you could document the alliance's sov assets, you could make a point of offering to help out those other guys you identified with high values (maybe help him haul all those frigates for that thunderdome?), and if all inspiration really fails, you could spend some time in the Help channel helping a few newbs out. There's a selfish reward to this kind of low-level activity as well, I might add. Forming connections and contacts with people who are inclined to think well of you and who maybe owe you a favor can pay off hugely in your later EVE career.  Of course if you can come up with better ideas that will give greater improvements to your xn.ym value, you should do those.
Third and finally, you should make a point of shouting out those high xn.ym guys and making sure that the other players in your corp and alliance and whoever else you have any contact and influence will recognize that value as well. Nothing motivates people better than other people knowing that they're doing a job well. Nothing demotivates faster than thinking no one knows or cares. Be aware of who's valuable to your game, and remember that that means that they're probably valuable to others whom you in turn value.

There are some follow-on conclusions that lead from this view of EVE. It might sound like I'm advocating some kum-by-yah hippie brotherhood outlook, but what I'm actually hoping that you'll do is take a cold, dispassionate, clear eyed view on what the real assets of value are for your actual gameplay - the other players you encounter - and that you'll act to protect and increase those assets. I'm assuming that you will want lots of people in the game who think well of you and view you as essential to their game. And, quite naturally, I'm hoping that by doing my little bit to encourage a cultural shift, that my game experience will improve. Always keep in mind that you don't have to like, or even not shoot all the people who have a high value. You just have to be able to recognize who they are.
And of course, inevitably, EVE being EVE, once you know how to analyze people like this, you'll be able to articulate who amongst your enemies to target for maximum damage to their morale and motivation. Just be careful you don't knock out the guys that you need to keep you logging in; some of your best friends in EVE are the people you hate.