Targeting the Network
You’ve probably read a few posts about the principles of warfare and how they relate to EVE Online. Sprinkle in a few quotes from Sun Tzu or Carl Marx and you’re pretty much ready to go. What is not always covered is the underlying foundations of these theories and, if you want to defeat your nemesis in EVE you need to know a bit about those.
Firstly, regardless of how your conflict is manifest (through null sec pvp, or on the markets), you want to target your opponents Network. What is a network? Essentially any network is a series of nodes and inter connecting paths (sometimes called ‘ties’). Some nodes have special functions (Ill come to that later) others have no special function per se, but may still be critical. You can examine a network quite easily yourself, just grab a pen and a sheet of paper and mark out all the members of your immediate corp or gang (if your corps very large limit yourself initially to those you know well). Now draw lines connecting those individuals – like relationship paths. Now expand your network to those outside that immediate group; these may not be players you actually know (e.g Dave’s mate Steve), you can also expand this to included past corps and other affiliations of players (Dave’s last corp was The Bastards).
Gradually, as this network expands, you’ll start to see paths of “interconnectivity” (e.g Steve was also an ex The Bastards pilot). That’s pretty easy for an organisation you’re familiar with but slightly trickier for your opponents: here you need intel, gleaned from spies, forums, market trades, contracts, kill boards etc etc. This will allow you to build up a Network of your adversary. Now not all of the nodes in this network will be feasible targets but the ones that might be AND have multiple paths to other nodes are your critical areas.
If you’re struggling to follow this look back at your network – you’ll almost certainly notice that the most connected nodes (“betweenness centrality”) are pretty crucial to the functioning of your network. Perhaps its a prominent FC, CEO or the guy who makes all the ammo. Consider if you removed that node. What would be the effect? Whilst individual elements of the network wouldn’t necessarily fail, the overall networks performance is likely to be significantly down graded.
By way of an example lets say that Jim, our FC, is really well connected. He knows where to get back up from other corps or alliances. He’s got mates with good access to locator agents, ability to build ships quick & cheap (or whatever). Now your opponent targets Jim – he’s primary in every fight, camped at the slightest opportunity, hounded through space. Jim is to all intents removed from the network – even more so if he ‘quits to find a better corp’. You may have witnessed or experienced this yourself – when a prominent or even just plain popular player quits or leaves your network (say your corp) a ‘failcascade’ out of all proportion can occur.
It’s worth bearing in mind that network nodes may exist in both space (a jump bridge or pivotal system) or time (Friday night) but these are usually the most obvious targets for an attack. So if we’re not directly attacking these nodes how do we go about attacking pod pilots? After all arent these folks immortal? Well yes, but they’re also vulnerable in a whole fashion of other ways. COAD is a great example of this – a propaganda war of epic and sometime turgid proportions. Denying a top FC successful combat ops can seriously dent their confidence and perhaps the degree of respect afforded to them. Morale breaking is just one example of destroying an element of the network – but it is ultimately just a symptom of that attack: not the process itself.
How on earth then do we “attack” something as nebulous as a network? Simple: with another network. If your network has greater levels of co operation and communication and more paths for redundancy you are more likely to prevail. Become overly reliant on a specific node (he’s our best FC!) and the loss of that node can be catastrophic. Take for example the corp wallet. EVE Law dictates that as few individuals as possible should have access to that wallet. Well that is true to a point – but what it means in practice is that all of that corps financial paths lead to that one individual – if he ups and leaves (with said wallet) the effects are obvious. Dispersing the wallet with multiple paths reduces the overall risk into manageable bite sized chunks.
Your network should be aiming to be more efficient and thus more effective than your opponents -and by that I mean less reliant upon singular nodes and more readily able to identify and attack your opponents. Don’t have 1 propaganda guy have 10. Don’t have one recruitment officer, have 5.
Whilst the degree of ‘betweenness centrality’ (that’s the most inter connected nodes) is important its worth thinking about the strengths of those ties. For example if I recruited 1000 players to join an alliance tomorrow, would the resulting alliance actually be very effective? No. Mainly because the strength of the ties between individuals would be incredibly weak. Some Alliances and even corps actually collapse purely for this reason. Other ties are very strong but again may prove to be a point of weakness to a determined attack. Consider an alliance of two corps A and B. Their respective CEOs know each other well and there exists a tie between them and ties from those CEOs to their respective corps. However there exist no ties between the players in Corp A to Corp B. Damage the relationship between CEO A and B and there are no longer any forces acting on the network to hold it together and it fragments into its respective parts.
Why are these ideas valuable? Well from my perspective they teach us one important thing and that is that the sheer scale and size of a network is not necessarily the critical consideration: which means one very important thing – numbers don’t always count.