So here's what I came up with. National magazines usually run 1000 word human interest stories on this sort of thing, with a 150 word side-bar attached (a side-bar is an article within an article that clarifies some critical point). So here it is: 1000 words about B-R for a general audience with a 150 word side-bar. EVE players will note I have deliberately simplified critical points here and there while trying to retain overall accuracy. What do you think?
EVE Online is a game about spaceships. As Star Wars and Star Trek have taught us, sometimes spaceships get blown up. And sometimes it happens in large numbers. This is a story about how $300,000 in spaceships were blown up in EVE Online.
Developed more than ten years ago by the Icelandic company CCP, EVE Online is an MMO somewhat like World of Warcraft. WoW is focused on a fantasy world of swordsmen and sorcerers; in EVE Online players take the role as private owners of spacecraft. But while Han Solo was content owning a single spacecraft, EVE players have the options of owning dozens or more. Only one can be flown at any given time, but each must be purchased and outfitted and each serves a specific role within the game. Some are good for trading, others for exploration, and others... others are good for shooting at other EVE Online players.
And that -- finding other EVE players and blowing up their spaceships... and then telling the story afterward -- has been the engine that has driven the game's success for the last ten years.
SIDEBAREVE is also an on-line social experience: players usually join "corporations", groups of players led by another EVE player. A corporation is typically a few dozen or perhaps a few hundred individuals, the size limited by the charisma and organizational skills of the single leader. These corporations can then join alliances of like-minded corporations to form organizations hundreds or thousands of players strong. The game of EVE Online takes place in a galaxy called New Eden, and the structure is set such that alliances can conquer parts of New Eden, taking them away from other players and exploiting the resources there for the benefit of that alliance's players.
Within the game, each player may purchase ships ranging in size from sub-capitals -- frigates, cruisers, battleships -- to capital ships to the so-called "super-capitals." These ships have an escalating cost measured in the game's currency, called ISK. A frigate will cost a player between one million and 50 million ISK depending on the specific type of frigate. Cruisers range from 50 million to 250 million. Money is earned in game through gathering resources, running in-game missions, or through building in-game items for other players. Typically, an income source in-game is considered "good" if it is worth 100 million ISK per hour, meaning that a single cruiser will represent anything from a half-hour to two hours worth of work to acquire.
As a player's time in-game increases, that player can afford to purchase a larger fleet of ever-larger, more capable ships. Battleships range from a half-billion to a full billion ISK or more, capital ships are multi-billion ISK investments, and a super-capital ship can cost up to 100 billion ISK or more, representing months or years of effort on the part of the player that acquires one.
Think of it like any naval battle you've ever read about or seen in a movie, just with more nerds. Once an area of space is conquered, the resources of that area can be exploited but there are also in-game costs associated with owning that are of space that must be paid monthly.
Sometimes alliances themselves can themselves ally with each other in surprisingly complex dances of diplomacy; one of the diplomats killed in Benghazi in 2012, Sean Smith, spent some of his off-time as an EVE Online diplomat. These new organizations -- called coalitions in game -- are made up of thousands of EVE players and have the ability to form fleets of hundreds or thousands of EVE players.
Players, corporations, or alliances who do not wish to spend time gathering their money in-game may purchase ISK in the form of an in-game item called a "PLEX" from CCP for about $18 U.S. At the moment, this amount of money is worth about 600 million ISK. This also establishes a "real world" value for every object in the game. A battleship worth 600 million ISK is therefore worth about $18, though CCP prohibits selling in-game assets for real-world currency. As a result, once an asset is created and purchased in the game, it's only good for getting blown up... which is where this story started.
Since Halloween of last year, two EVE Online coalitions have been at war for control of the "southeastern" portion of New Eden. The coalition owning the area, known as "N3", has for several months been under attack by a coalition of Russian player alliances. N3 has been assisted by an alliance called Pandemic Legion; the Russians have been assisted by a coalition known colorfully as the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC). And for months these four large groups have been going at each other for control of this area of space in ever-larger space battles. Each of these battles has been relatively large in scope. In a recent large fight, for instance, 500 billion ISK worth of spaceships were destroyed by N3 in the process of capturing a strategic CFC objective.
N3 had been providing an area of space that included a space station for their Pandemic Legion allies to dock and repair their ships after each battle, and to use as a staging area for bringing more ships into the fight. Maintaining this area and its space station was something that had a continuing cost in-game that had to be paid. And yesterday, N3 failed to pay that bill. That left that area of space and its station open to anyone who could bring the muscle to take over, and the Russian coalition moved in strongly. N3 and PL, unwilling to cede the important staging area to their enemies, brought in a larger fleet. The Russians called in their CFC allies and at each stage, both sides escalated the size and scope of the fight until hundreds of the largest ships in EVE were engaged. At its peak, some 2500 EVE players were directly involved in the main battle, while hundreds more fought in side actions in nearby areas. The battle raged for about 18 continuous hours.
And by the time it was over, nearly 100 "super-capital" ships worth about 100 billion ISK each had been destroyed, as well as nearly 500 capital ships worth anywhere from two to five billion ISK each. Total cost of the ships destroyed in this battle? 10 trillion (with a T!) ISK.
With a "good" in-game income source, you could pay that cost in something over 11 years of continuous EVE play, assuming you were able to play the game 24 hours per day for that 11 years. Or if you tried to pay that cost buying CCP's in-game currency, that would set you back some $300,000 U.S. It will take EVE's ship-builders months or years to build replacements.
Though not the largest battle in EVE's history, it now holds the record -- by far! -- as its costliest. If you're curious, the Russian coalition and their CFC allies won this round by a large margin. Whether this is the battle that ends that war still remains to be seen: there are still plenty of other spaceships in EVE Online to blow up.