Sunday, June 8, 2014

Leadership and Blame

On the Razor forums, one of my alliance mates shared part of a thesis he was writing on leadership in Eve Online.  It’s an interesting topic, and while I’m not going to post his original statement (I don’t have his permission, and there could be “original work” issues with doing so re: his thesis submission).  However, suffice to say, the topic of leadership in Eve Online is a contentious one.

A lot of people apply the same rules of loyalty to Eve that they would apply to the real world; you should be loyal to your alliance or corporation.  Awoxing is the result of preconceived intention, and doesn’t grow out of it organically.  Particularly in null-sec, there is also a prevailing attitude that line members should shut up and obey their leaders, de facto.

Let’s set the table, first.  Leadership in Eve Online has a relatively mild barrier to entry.  All you need to do is have the time to dedicate to it and demonstrate a willingness to start off.  A track record of trustworthiness then carries you forward.  Sure, alliances and corporations need to be careful about possible spies and awoxers, but other than time and trust, you don’t need a specific degree, credential, or track record of working your way up the ranks over several years.  It’s the Internet, after all, not real life.

And that’s the great elephant in the room about any aspect of Eve: Eve Online is a fictional world we all enter into willingly for entertainment.  It differs in three key ways from the real world:
  1. We choose when and for how long we engage in it; our children don't grow up in this world, nor will we actually starve and die if we neglect our Eve personas.
  2. There are no limitations on our ability to move from one end of the world to the other, or from one corp to another, at the drop of a hat; neglect of our surroundings won't ever see us forced to live under a tyannical regime... we can always vote with our feet and move elsewhere in a way North Koreans can't. 
  3. The motivations for engaging with New Eden run the gamut, from hardcore involvement to the desire for a fight on a given weekend.

What this boils down to is that every pilot in Eve can say, "I'm not putting up with this bullshit", or "I'm not getting what I need and can do something about it", or "This is a game; I just don't care enough to do anything about it."  You can always find another alliance that is selling the same promise, but delivering in a different way.  There is, quite simply, no obligation to be a follower.  You can simply go elsewhere.  Nor is there an obligation to be a GOOD follower.  It's a game, after all, and not their actual lives, from which there is no escape.  Many players don’t buy into what the alliance leaders are selling, yet still remain in the alliance, simply because the effort of finding something else isn’t yet worth it for a game.  In Eve, more than in the rest of the world, the disaffected can linger a long time before finally quitting an alliance.

Why do I mention this?  Because it leads to an inescapable conclusion: leadership of any organization in Eve has no reason or right to EXPECT loyalty a priori.  To gain, retain, and increase involvement of members, they need to earn that loyalty by providing a steady stream of content.  Leadership must be earned, not given, specifically because Eve is an elective game.  Military comparisons fail (you don't sign a contract to provide X years of service in Eve), loyalty to your country isn't comparable (you weren't born into or declared allegiance to it).  It's not the Roman legions, and no oath was given, nor would it be reasonable to expect it given the context of a game.

Arguments that line members “owe” it to their leaders to obey, or that they should suspend reason and trust their leaders’ decisions are representations of wishful thinking, not defendable assumptions.  They state what leaders would like their members to believe (You should be loyal, and you're wrong in most cases if you aren't).  So, as propaganda, it works.  But as a foundation of genuine leadership, that belief is devastating.

In Eve, leadership is about stating a vision, taking action to follow through with that vision, and persuading those around you to buy into that vision.  It's not a right, but rather a daily fulfillment of the unspoken contract in Eve: "Generate the content I desire and I'll fly under your commands."  When that content is either not communicated clearly, not followed through on, or not bought-into by line members, you have problems of loyalty.

And that problem rests with a failure in the leaders, not a failure in the members.  Loyalty isn't naturally granted; it's built with a series of fulfilled promises.  And it's done so in each member's mind with every interaction.

Leadership that seems to be facing problems shouldn't look to those around them for faults of loyalty, it should ask, "What have I failed to do to generate loyalty myself."  Sometimes, the answer is "Nothing", and the problem is in recruiting the wrong sort of people (then you move on to identifying whether your recruitment efforts are precise and accurate about the promised content).  But if you do identify ways you've failed to communicate the mission, follow through with the mission, and persuade members to buy-in to the mission, you can identify them and adjust your approach.

The alternative is to grumble that “our members are lazy”, or “we’ve got a bunch of carebears”.  Chances are they simply aren’t engaged.  Eve isn’t work; it’s elective fun.  Members are coming to you looking for content, looking to be active.  If they aren’t, then their experience with your alliance must have reversed their natural tendencies and desires so much that you’ve negated the purpose of their coming to you in the first place.  That’s a huge issue.

Even if your members were lazy, or a bunch of inactive bumps on the collective log, the fault still lies with you, in being imprecise and flawed in your recruitment strategy.

Identify a mission.  Precisely communicate that mission in recruitment and in all interactions with membership.  Live up to the promises inherent in that mission.  Generate enthusiasm for that mission.

Loyalty comes later.


  1. you have an interesting blog. thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your posts.

  2. I think that person (owner of the thesis) just gave you the every permission. You are a good man ( kara)