Nice Guys Finish Last

In the fall of 2009, I was mining veldspar in a belt somewhere near Aldrat, the EVE University home system. I had fitted a Navitas frigate (the dedicated Gallente mining ship back then) to crunch some 'roids while I studied Halada's Mining Guide, the best tome at the time for learning the subtle nuances of successful purveyors of ore and minerals.

Ah, the good old days, before ORE Venture frigates...

Ah, the good old days, before ORE Venture frigates...

Surprisingly, I enjoyed mining in high sec space. It was dull work, certainly. Other than dispatching a drone to fend off a rat every once in a while, not much happened as my mining laser hummed. But with each passing second, my cargo hold filled with ore, and I was earning some ISK with relatively little risk, so I was content. Besides, it gave me time to study the details of EVE Online - and as a brand new player, there were a lot of details to study.

One day, as my little Navitas was digesting rocks, a convo request suddenly appeared on my screen. A Catalyst had warped into the belt, and after selecting "Show Info" on the pilot, my heart sank.

"Oh, crap - a Goon," I muttered to myself. "This can't be good."

Though I had been playing EVE Online for only a couple of months, I had heard of Goonswarm's notoriety in corp chat, along with dire warnings to avoid them and their chaotic preponderance for ganking players just for mirth. My Navitas had no tank, and I didn't stand a chance against a destroyer fitted for vaporizing neophytes like me. I clicked the "accept" option, and held my breath.

"Hello there, little noob," the Goon said, orbiting my ship at optimum blaster range. "What are you doing in that cute ship?"

Oh, hello, Mr. Goon, sir. Nice ship you have there.

Oh, hello, Mr. Goon, sir. Nice ship you have there.

Though I was reading text on the screen, his smirk came through loud and clear.

"Just trying to make some ISK," I typed back, expecting searing hot death at any moment. "I'm brand new to the game. I see you've been playing for a year?"

Perhaps my naivete softened the Goon's heart - I don't know. But he didn't blow me out of the sky.

"Yeah, about that long," he replied. "Why are you mining? It's a lot easier to make ISK by being a complete asshole in this game."

We chatted a bit about ganking and scamming, and to my surprise, the Goon was open and somewhat friendly. I heard later that he had killed some other miners in the same system, so I'm not sure why he decided to let me live that day - perhaps he took my questions as a compliment. I recorded his contact info, and asked him if he'd mind if I sought his advice in the future. He agreed and flew off.

I'll never forget that encounter, or the Goon's guidance: It's a lot easier to make ISK by being a complete asshole in this game. He was sincere in his advice, and perhaps he wanted me to join him in his marauding ways.

It was at that precise moment that I decided, once and for all, how I was going to play EVE Online.

I had joined EVE Online fully aware that it encouraged and rewarded disreputable behavior. But I discovered something highly motivating about the Goon's advice: It's a lot easier to make ISK by being a complete asshole in this game.

When I started playing EVE Online, it wasn't because I was looking for something easy. In fact, it was the complexity and challenge of EVE Online that first drew me to the game. "EVE is hard," the CCP Games' advertisements said. The challenge of overcoming the vertical cliff of EVE Online's infamous learning curve appealed to me.

And so, if it was "easier to be an asshole" in EVE Online, I decided to be the opposite. I resolved to play EVE Online as one of the "good guys" - a white hat - maybe even a hero, despite the odds. I knew I was picking a harder path to success - perhaps a longer, more difficult, and much less lucrative one. My Goon friend would be disappointed in me.

But I like a real challenge. That's why I play EVE Online.

White Knights of New Eden

There are a few nice characters in EVE Online - and their rarity gives them special celebrity status.

The most famous example is Chribba, of course, who has amassed great wealth in the game, not by scamming and cheating, but by doing precisely the opposite - by earning it through dedicated work, indefatigable persistence, and adherence to honorable behavior. As a result, he is now the most trusted man in New Eden, providing escrow services for some of the largest and most sensitive transactions in EVE Online. His reputation is sterling.

Chribba is my hero - and I'll have the pleasure of interviewing him on our public Mumble server on March 21 at 18:30 EVE time - all are invited.

On March 15, EVE University celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding by Morning Maniac. During a recent interview, he described his intention for establishing an altruistic institution where new players could learn about the game.

"If you look at the big names in EVE and the people with the big wallets and the big reputations," he says, "they are not earned because they were particularly good at firing guns or missiles; it's because they are good at dealing with people, have good ideas, and make them work ... It's really the guy behind the computer."

There are other examples of EVE Online players who succeed by being devoted to the welfare of other players in the game, but I think they are a very small minority, unfortunately. New Eden could use more white knights like Chribba and Morning Maniac.

Built to Last

After my brief encounter with the Goon, I sent him a question every once in a while about game mechanics - his answers were short, but useful. But after a few weeks, he stopped replying. I figured he had just grown weary of my inane queries.

I learned much later that my Goon friend had simply left of the game. In 2012, I was sharing a beer with some null sec friends at Fanfest, one of whom had started in Goonswarm. I told him about my first meeting with a Goon. "I remember that guy," he said. "He joined EVE about the same time as I did, but he got bored and dropped out."

I was disappointed. I was hoping to reconnect and tell him how our brief encounter had influenced me - a perfect example of the butterfly effect at work.

Five years later, I continue to play EVE Online, logging in on one or more characters nearly every day. It has become a highly satisfying hobby. Though my in-game enterprises pale woefully in comparison to Chribba's, I am quite pleased with my modest ISK-earning efforts - from trading, hauling, inventing and manufacturing Tech II items, and some occasional mission-running or exploration. I now possess a few billion ISK in the bank, and several times that in other assets. I've become an avid collector of ships and weird EVE items.

Having some wealth in the game also lets me do some crazy risky things from time to time, too. The first law of EVE - Never Fly What You Cannot Afford to Lose - isn't something I worry about anymore, which is very liberating.

More importantly, I've discovered that my most rewarding EVE Online experiences come from sharing knowledge with new players, and helping them get started successfully - just as Morning Maniac envisioned over ten years ago.

Egoists and Altruists

Over the last half-decade, I've seen literally thousands of players come and go - and they all seem to fall into one of two types:

  • Egoists - they are centered on themselves and the gratification of their own desires over those of others. They derive satisfaction from the game solely to the degree that they can serve their own self interests, without regard for any other players.
  • Altruists - they are unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others, above all other considerations. They derive satisfaction from the game to the degree that they can contribute to the success of other players.

Of course, there are blends of these types - this is a spectrum of two extremes, not a binary proposition. I don't deny that I act in my own self interest, sometimes.

Altruism2.jpg

But what I have witnessed is that pure egoists - those who think that "winning EVE" means being a complete jerk to everyone else, for their own self-gratification only - don't last very long. No one really wants to play with them. And the more egoistic they are, the shorter their lifespan in EVE Online.

Altruists, however, tend to last a lot longer, provided that they can withstand assaults by egoistic players. Altruists build things that last - not just modules and ships, but corporations, infrastructure, culture, alliances and coalitions. They seek to make things that are bigger than themselves, and be part of enterprises that expand beyond their own narrow, initial vision.

The altruists in EVE Online are the ones who endure, because they have an infinite number and variety of other players from whom to derive their own satisfaction. The egoists - the real "assholes" in EVE Online - have only themselves to draw upon, and are therefore always inherently limited in vision and resources. Egoists get bored easily, and eventually drop out. Altruists constantly discover new and bigger vistas to strive for, and they build for the future.

Nice Guys Finish Last

If you ever find yourself getting bored in EVE Online, reflect for a moment about how you are playing the game. Every so often, I ask myself, "What's next?" And then I set a new goal, and start working towards it - it's amazing what you can discover along the way. Five years ago, I wanted to amass enough ISK that I could be fearless about whatever I wanted to do in the game. I succeeded, but on the way, I found a new and better goal: helping other players develop the same fearless attitude, and thereby have more fun.

It's a shame that my Goon friend did not develop a little more altruism. He certainly had the opportunity - just as he affected my decision for my preferred style of play, so I could have given him a chance to help develop a new player, and find another way to enjoy the game. But when you only see EVE Online as the "domain of assholes", it's hard to see beyond your own egoism, and that can get very dull, very quickly.

Eventually, the altruists will inherit New Eden. It is inevitable. Nice guys finish last.

Fly safe! o7