Saturday, March 29, 2014

Building a Stronger Alliance Time Zone Presence

This is a long post.  It addresses a complex problem, so it has to explain the causes of that problem, then propose some solutions.  If you keep reading, you’re signing on for a discussion.  You’ll probably disagree with some of it, but it’s valuable for those interested in it.

EUTZ is larger than USTZ; EU tops out at around 50,000 players, US at 32,000 or so.  There are natural consequences of this in null-sec: in EUTZ, finding targets are easier, finding cosmic signatures is harder, fleets tend to run larger, fleet discipline is more important than individual pilot skill, and solo roaming is more difficult since it’s harder to find fellow solo or 2-3 pilot gangs roaming about.

But, that’s not the point of this post.  Maybe I’ll do another one about preferred styles of fighting, valued characteristics, and which group of pilots is “better” in another post.  But my point here is that – as an alliance – recruiting and keeping good numbers in the USTZ is more difficult than doing so in the EUTZ.  There are just fewer people to go around.

And that inevitably skews towards the USTZ getting neglected.  But this is a very bad thing for an alliance, and the solution to it is not at all easy.  Yet it’s absolutely essential to maintaining a successful null-sec alliance, particularly if you want to be taken seriously as a major player.

The Nature of the Problem

Before I go any further, let me explain the concept of “critical mass”.  Critical mass is the point at which an organization becomes large enough to be both self-sustaining and successful at its primary function.  Prior to that point, it requires outside assistance to function.  Small companies, for instance, may need venture capital, a board of volunteers, or outside consultants to provide strategic-level leadership or resources.  When that company achieves a critical mass, it’s capable of operating independently and perpetually.  The revenue coming in is enough to cover all its functions.  As it grows larger, it can scale operations, which frees up more money for advances analytics and specialization.  However, changes in its size above critical mass – even reductions – aren’t necessarily devastating.

Take GoonWaffe, for instance.  They have 4,382 members as of this writing.  But the operations of the corporation could easily operate with 1/10 of that number.  Yes, they wouldn’t be able to bring in the same numbers, but the actual running of the corp wouldn’t suffer.

Critical mass in an Eve corp and alliance setting is based on active, logged in pilots (not characters).  When your corps don’t have a critical mass, they all need to draw upon each other to gain enough numbers to function effectively.  In smaller alliances, no corp can run fleets of any reasonable size, but the alliance can.  When this is universal across all corps, you end up with only a single, unified alliance culture.  People socialize and spend their time talking to everyone within the alliance, usually on a common chat channel or two.

Medium-sized alliance may have a couple corps that have hundreds of members online, mixed with smaller corps that have dozens or perhaps a handful of pilots online.  Here, you’ll get a mixed culture, with a couple corps that can do their own thing without needing to involve the alliance.  Discussions in corp chat become complex, with lots of tangents and side conversations.  People talk in TS instead of just chatting.  That corp begins to interact and develop it’s own culture.  Of course, they still coordinate with the rest of the alliance, but to the other corps, alliance culture IS their only culture.  Not so for the largest corps.  And, quite often, these largest corps end up contributing the most numbers, the most leadership, the most logistics, and end up essentially being in charge.  Since the vast majority of pilots are in one or two corps, the alliance culture mirrors that of the chief corps.  If there’s a clash in culture, you end up with a disband or one of those major corps being kicked. 

Then there’s the situation in which you have many very large corporations in the same alliance.  At best, these alliances are confederations – a group of groups that each have their own corp cultures.  These corps have dozens or hundreds of members online at once, and as a result, leadership is under increased pressure to build and develop a corp identity.  They host corp-only events, which reinforces that camaraderie and desire for pilots to socialize with their own corps.  In extreme cases, there IS no alliance common chat channel or common alliance culture reinforced through regular interaction… outside that which happens in fleets, of course.  And fleets don’t count, since they’re hierarchical and very structured, which isn’t the best setting to build friendships and connections across corp levels.

In this case, you have a lot of unique ways of socializing and playing the game.  Pilots can choose their preferred method, but still gang together when necessary for alliance operations.

But what happens when you have one weak time zone?  Let’s say you’re in an alliance with fifteen or twenty corps.  Two or three are predominantly USTZ, while the rest are EU.  Within those EU time zones, you have a few US players.  Sure, on paper, it looks like about 40% of your membership is USTZ, but in reality the majority of those are in those three primary corps.  The other corps have perhaps 5-8 players online at any given time – on a good day.

Suddenly, for all intents and purposes in that weak time zone, you don’t have a collection of corps that each have a critical mass of pilots.  You have 2-3 corps whose cultures are established, and who have pilots who like flying with their own corps.  Sure, they’ll join alliance ops, but the corps have their own culture and personality to cultivate and nurture.  What about weak-TZ pilots in the other corps?  They’re put into a position of needing to rely upon their alliance mates in the same way a small alliance does. 

What you get is a situation similar to that medium alliance… a few large corps with – effectively – many smaller corps.  You’d expect things to be similar to a medium alliance’s dynamic, wouldn’t you?

Not so fast.  Don’t forget, this is the weak time zone; you’ve got a whole other time zone who dominates the alliance culture.  12-17 other corps who are exerting a tremendous, overwhelming influence on alliance decision-making – where you deploy, what doctrines you use, what the rules are for SRP, even what time of day leadership decisions are made.

The rules, policies, deployment decisions, and priorities are naturally going to satisfy the needs of the EUTZ, which means it’s always going to be an imperfect fit in USTZ. Doctrines don’t work with the numbers you can draw in US (a lot of doctrines are alpha doctrines, after all) and convincing the leadership to SRP a whole different set of doctrines is a monumental difficulty at best, and outright impossible at worst.  Deployments are based around what works best for the EUTZ – again, this makes sense, since you need to lead with your strength.  But it leaves less content and less than optimal circumstances for the USTZ

So what happens?  Pilots will become frustrated at reduced content, and that frustration is going to start with your USTZ pilots in the EU corps.  It’s no fun being part of a corp with only a couple pilots online at a time.  Corp chat is dead in all but the 2-3 dominating corps, and you don’t have a critical mass to really engage in anything resembling a culture.  Over time, those pilots will leave the corp, being able to find a more engaging experience in a US-focused corp.  And you can’t blame them for wanting that.

As numbers dwindle, FCs will become disenchanted and start to either log off or also change corps.  An FC wants to lead a fleet, but if they’re handcuffed by doctrines that don’t work with the numbers they can draw, what are they to do?  They try running non-SRP fleets, but that naturally cuts your available pilots more (Eve players are risk-adverse, remember?).  They start to wonder why they’re slumming it, putting in tremendous effort for what appears to be less and less interest.  So they move somewhere else too.

As FCs go, so goes the membership.  Sure, pilots can do small-gang and solo roaming, but after a while, they start to wonder why they’re in a large sov null alliance if they aren’t getting that kind of content.  Corps that specialize in small gang are always going to be better at that type of content.  Pilots tend to join large corps for a variety of content, and join large sov null corps for either ratting or access to large fleet fights.

So the pilots that stay are more casual (a couple nights a week, on the weekends) or remain in the alliance solely for access to 0.0 ratting space.  The former don’t contribute numbers or content during the week, and the latter don’t contribute much of anything from a PvP perspective.  Sure, they join fleets, but they don’t prefer to practice those skills, so they don’t get any better.

Your best fish swim elsewhere, and before long, the USTZ presence within EU-focused corps suffers even more.

The US-focused corps are protected from this for a long, long while, because they have that critical mass to generate content within the corp itself.  But increasingly, they’ll do their own thing, and you end up with isolated groups centered around the corps with self-sustainable USTZ presences.  Over very long periods of time (years, perhaps), they’ll eventually come to the conclusion that they’re not getting what their members want and need out of the alliance experience, so the alliance ends up losing an entire corp composing a strong presence in the time zone.  The corp itself remains strong and solid, but the TZ presence within the alliance is devastated.  And that exacerbates the problem and makes the remaining USTZ corps leave as well.  Soon, the alliance is a one-TZ alliance.

This is a pretty bleak scenario, of course, and depends on leadership being consistently blind to the problems, but it’s one borne out of neglect or disinterest.

Why Should I Care?

This is a valid question.  It’s possible that you won’t, and you don’t much care whether you have multiple viable time zones.  After all, you have allies who can manage any off-TZ defenses, and there will always be some alliance members logged in to coordinate things, right?  We’re in the age of coalitions, and coalitions protect their own.  The whole point of a coalition is to provide strength where you’re weak, isn’t it?

There are two reasons you should care: weakness and dependency.

It’s a simple fact of military history and business that having a glaring, exposed weakness is never a good idea.  It’s only a matter of time until someone exploits it.  If you coalition goes to war with another coalition that’s strong in your off-time, they will quickly realize they can focus their aggression on your holdings to break you.  Divide and conquer is a great method of defeating an enemy.  Cloaky camping all your systems, hot-dropping anything in sight, continually hammering only your towers… they can put unbelievable pressure on your logistics and war chest.  Your coalition allies will support you, of course, but they won’t pay your SRP.  They won’t pay to replace any towers you lose.  They won’t replace any baby titans you have in build that are lost.  All of that costs isk and puts pressure on you.  But the simplest explanation is to reverse the question… why would you maintain a glaring time zone weakness once you are aware of it?  What advantage do you gain?

The second reason is that no one values a needy ally.  The coalitions that are strongest are so because each of their members can operate in at least both the US and EU TZs, and often times the AU TZ as well.  Goonswarm has European Goonian for that very reason.  Razor has several hundred of pilots online in the USTZ.  As best as I can tell, NC. And PL don’t HAVE time-zones; those folks draw good numbers regardless of the time of day.  Every name you talk about can be relevant all the time.  It’s no surprise that the most valued allies within a coalition are those who can represent well at any time of day.

The choice is yours, of course.  If you have a tight corp focus, maybe a secondary TZ doesn’t much matter.  But if it does and you find yourself somewhere along the troubling path I laid out above, you should be very worried. 

What Can Be Done?

Alliances and coalitions don’t collapse overnight.  They collapse when they accrue a critical mass of logistic and organizational problems that results in members ceasing to care about the future of the group, log in, or buy-in to the alliance value proposition (the benefit pilots get that justifies the time they commit to alliance goals).  This takes time, and is the result of ongoing problems that aren’t addressed.  A big one is lack of content.

So, to fix this time zone problem, there’s a relatively easy solution.  You simply have to commit yourself – every corp CEO, recruiter and resource and every alliance leader – to raising the engagement level of your off time zone.  Easy, right?

1) Decide whether you want every corp to have strong showings in each time zone, or if you want to limit TZ participation to a few corps.  Recruiting is the most important way to generate that critical mass for a time zone.  For a sov null alliance, you want each corp to have at least 30-40 characters (which tend to be around 20 or so actual players) online every night in every corp.  Fewer than this and you don’t achieve that critical mass to create culture, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not providing a compelling reason for players to stay around instead of joining a corp that DOES have a good culture.  If you can’t achieve this, you might as well not waste your time… having 8-10 players online in a time zone (again, in an alliance with hundreds online, just not in your corp) means you’ll constantly have trouble recruiting and retaining new players, and feel like you’re wasting your time (which you are).  If a corp isn’t willing to go all in, it’s probably better for it to just focus on their strong TZ.

What you CAN do is to actively recruit good corporations to join your alliance.  Offer them compelling reasons to stay by providing long-term, continuous benefit (for God’s sake, don’t offer them isk… offer them moons or positions within the alliance that offer gradual benefits).  If you have a vote system to determine if trial corporations stay or not, weigh it so your current corporations in the USTZ have more weight to their votes than the EU corps who don’t fly with them often (or, consider giving your USTZ corps’ leadership the FULL decision on whether the newcomer stays.  Even if you do everything else right in encouraging a quality corp to join, you can still waste it all if your decision-makers aren’t committed to building that TZ.

2) Change your alliance thinking to consider how deployments and alliance rules affect each time zone.  If you’re in charge of an alliance and commit to maintaining 2-3 time zones, you need to do it right.  Deployments that only benefit one time zone are sometimes necessary, but why not stage in two different systems – one for strategic purposes and one for content?  That’s what jump clones are for, after all.  You’ll need to provide good notice in case of any CTAs happening in staging so everyone can jump clone back for major battles; otherwise, let your off time zone roam through the “content” staging system freely.

Some people will say, “Yes, but this leaves us with fewer numbers for sudden actions in the primary staging system.”  This is true.  But would you rather miss content in system A because you’re getting content in system B, or force all your pilots to stay in system A even when nothing’s happening, which will result in hemorrhaging pilots (remember, you’re not the only option out there for them).  Players will leave your alliance if you don’t provide them content.  They won’t leave because they made a decision to engage in content B instead of content A.

Along with this point, you must change your thinking.  Sure, you may be in the EUTZ, but as far as your alliance is concerned, you need to give up that allegiance.  If you don’t, you’ll invariably – and admittedly sometimes unintentionally – neglect the USTZ.  Your pilots will recognize this, and it will rankle.  When it comes time to have alliance meetings or move ops to deployment areas, don’t only have them happen during your strong TZ.  If you’re EU-focused, by all means have the meeting at 8 pm GMT… but do it on a Saturday or Sunday so USTZ pilots can listen in as well.  To do other wise is a very bad misstep, since it suggests you simply don’t care about the pilots you’re excluding.

3) Create SRP-eligible fleet doctrines by purpose AND fleet size.  There’s nothing more frustrating than forming up only to stand down because you don’t have the numbers to make a doctrine viable.  Doctrines that require 100 fleet members will not work if you only get 40.  An alliance NEEDS to create doctrines that work for the numbers they can draw… if your time zones are different sizes, you need different doctrines.  This is not rocket science.

Will it mean pilots will have to buy more ships?  You may think so, but I doubt it.  Here’s a secret… if pilots aren’t using a doctrine, they’re going to sell the ship.  You may want pilots to have a ship for every doctrine, but your pilots will simply ignore doctrines if they’ll never get to participate in a fleet large enough to use it.  If you have a doctrine that’s not viable in a given time zone, it might as well not exist already.

Plus, perhaps this is the opportunity you need to trim down your doctrines.  If a pilot can’t fit all the doctrine ships he needs in a single carrier, I can pretty much guarantee he won’t own them all.  Regardless, a doctrine that isn’t tenable is useless.  As Tamerlane said, “Better to be on-hand with ten men than absent with ten thousand.”  Only that which is functional matters.

4) Treasure, cultivate, and recruit FCs in your off time zone.  An FC training program is probably the most important program an alliance can have.  But it can also be an abysmal annoyance.  Training programs that value safety cannot be successful.  You can’t start FCs off on frigs, then move up to destroyers, then cruisers, then T1 frigs, etc.  I understand that you don’t want to suffer horrible SRP losses, but a slow pace will only frustrate an FC.  Plus, your current FCs are riding shotgun in these fleets to prevent any major mistakes, right?  By all means, start your FCs on T1 primarily, but let them roll fleets of all sizes and functions.  Variety is a better teacher than monotony.  And, just as your members want a variety of content, so do FCs.  Only by flying and leading a variety of ships can FCs maximize their training.

And, for God’s sake, don’t coddle them.  Yes, blast pilots who whine at the FCs and foment dissent, but don’t limit your FCs only to fights in which you outnumber the enemy and are flying a hard counter to their comp.  Let your FCs fight outnumbered, jump into an established enemy, and do all the things that really teach them.  FCs can grow rapidly if they have your support, but not your protection.  Loss isn’t the worst thing in the world… timidity and lacking a variety of experience are much, much worse.

Above all, keep them engaged and confident that you trust their judgment and growing experience.  That’s how you coddle them, not by protecting their feelings or giving them only fights you know they can win.  It doesn’t harm someone’s confidence to lose a fight they should lose.

5) Don’t be half-assed.  Either commit yourself and your entire alliance to boosting your off time zone, or don’t recruit for it at all.  The only thing worse than not boosting your TZ is to have a high churn rate because you aren’t doing enough to create a viable experience for the ones you do bring in.  When that happens, you expose your weakness to a revolving door of pilots that come in, learn that you don’t have a strong time zone, then join one of your enemies.  Not only is this embarrassing (which cuts into your alliance dignitas), but it teaches them exactly how to defeat you.

Do, or do not.  There is no try.  (I couldn’t resist).  And if you “do not”, reconcile yourself to the fact that you’re intentionally engaging in small thinking, which will limit the potential of your alliance as a result.

Don’t do it for your members… if you don’t provide the content they want, I assure you they’ll go somewhere else they can find it; they’ll take care of themselves.  Do it because you recognize the advantages of multiple strong, viable time zones.  Do it because you want stability and long-term success.


  1. "in EUTZ solo roaming is more difficult since it’s harder to find fellow solo or 2-3 pilot gangs roaming about."

    I stopped reading here because this assumption is blatantly wrong and you are a bad writer.

    1. When I've roamed during EUTZ (which I've done constantly from about a year to a month ago), all I could find in null was either large gangs or ratters or miners. I have no doubt there are small gang fight to be had, my point is that gang sizes are much larger, along with everything else in the EUTZ.

      But given that I was pretty clear this isn't the point of the article, for you to stop reading there is pretty lazy.