N+1 = win?
“One cannot break the “N+1 = better than” equation, because large scale warfare is part of a social evolution in the player societies of nullsec, rather than the output of some rationalistic math equation”. – The Mitanni
Is warfare in EVE exclusively about numbers? In its current state the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’. When we look to the future of warfare in EVE though the assumption is that this will always be the case and that game mechanics cannot break the irrefutable logic that N+1 is better than N.
In purely mathematical terms of course it is hard to deny such hard logic. It makes sense that the force able to deploy the largest numbers we emerge victorious. Social dynamics almost demand that large organisations will defeat smaller organisations and because EVE is a social MMO the presumption is that big is better. There are some difficulties with this premise however…
THIS IS SPARTA!
Numerically superior forces, when massed at the same point in time and space certainly have significant advantages, but history abounds of examples where numerically superior force, even that with a significant technological advantage did not bring about victory. The defence at Thermopylae by the Greeks against the Persians is a example of smaller numbers defeating a numerically superior foe. The actual numbers of Greek Hoplites on the field was likely to be quite a lot larger than the mythical 300 but there is little doubt that the Greeks were outnumbered but where able to utilise both the natural terrain and their military skill to bring about an eventual defeat of the Persian forces. In Vietnam the US had significant technological advantages over the Vietcong and, theoretically at least, were the bigger nation and yet were essentially defeated by insurgent guerilla warfare.
So what’s going on here? How is that small forces can win at least localised victories that result in the defeat of larger opponents? And, perhaps more importantly, why is this not as prevalent in EVE?
Large military forces when concentrated are ponderous beasts. They tend to move more slowly (at least as a whole) and their reaction times to events are often reduced as messages are passed up the chain of command to a decision maker and then down again. Large forces also require considerable resources – food, water, fuel and so forth, in order to function. Their ability to conceal themselves is drastically reduced by the sheer mass of manpower and equipment which in turn restricts their ability to surprise an enemy – you literally can see it coming.
In contrast a small force is faster to react, better able to conceal itself and more agile in terms of it ability to manoeuvre. These tenants do not translate well into EVE. In EVE the small gang isn’t able to out manoeuvre the larger force nor can it make any meaningful strike ‘behind enemy lines’ faster than the larger opponent can redeploy.
Let us though consider an extreme ‘alternate EVE’. In this ‘alternate EVE’ jump clones, capital cynos and jump bridges don’t exist. Small ships (such as frigates) can create limited mass worm holes and jump across systems but are at least partially constrained by fuel requirements to do so – fuel that can only be realistically moved by their larger cousins the capital ships that move traditionally from gate to gate. Equally larger fleets are much more visible than smaller fleets – to represent this we’ll say that ‘local’ only switches on when the number of players reaches a given amount (we’ll say 30 for arguments sake). If we finally added limited objectives that could be struck (if not destroyed) by smaller gangs we can see that the argument N+1 = win is not entirely true.
In this case N+1 is only true locally. The larger force for example could sit in a system with 500 ships. It rightfully dominates that system. It’s influence however diminishes outside of that system because if it splits its fleet we change the equation. N+1 becomes N+1 / 2 for example. Do this often enough and the larger force is powerful in theory over a wide area. In specific locations however it is no more powerful (perhaps even less so) than our smaller force.
Such radical changes will almost certainly never occur in EVE. They would place the current powers of Null Sec at a disadvantage not least because their success is predicated on the N+1 theory holding true. Loose affiliations or small independent forces are an anathema to the hierarchical hive mind which functions brilliantly as one singular organism but is threatened by discreet attacks upon its periphery or against individual units. This should come as little surprise as unique military forces such as light irregular infantry, special forces or submarines were often rejected or spurned by the traditional organisations from which they came.