Earlier this week we reported on a statement from Alexander Gianturco - leader of Eve Online's Goonswarm Alliance, and Chairman of the player-elected Council of Stellar Management - that was intended as an Alliance update. It outlined the Council's concerns surrounding the current state of the Eve universe, perceived shortcomings of the recent Incarna expansion, and the Council's plans to increase awareness of the issues they consider to be damaging the game. We've since spoken with Gianturco for further insight into the CSM's position.
Eurogamer: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I expect we've caused you a busier week than you had planned.
Alexander Gianturco: Well, it's sort of a happy accident and made our job easier I think.
Eurogamer: You told me earlier this week that you were surprised at the speed at which your statement went out. Is this a learning experience for you, being in the spotlight, rather than being in the shadows as a spy?
Alexander Gianturco: Yes and no. We've been in the spotlight before because of the earlier controversy. I think the press was just primed to talk about it because it's a story-arc. We've had press before but I anticipated having to go to the media after the CSM [Council of Stellar Management] had released a formal statement. It's been a double-edged sword because I'm a controversial figure in Eve Online - I run an Alliance and we do bad things to people.
From a political perspective, one of the things we're trying to massage on the forums and in the press is to make sure people realise that the message actually does come from the entire CSM, it's not just me. If we had released the formal statement, people wouldn't be saying "Oh my God, it's just The Mittani."
On the other hand, the viral media wave you kicked off has been good for everyone's cause. At the end of the day, we're in a situation where it's all-or-nothing. If you've been an Eve player for a long time, you'll know shit's ugly.
Eurogamer: So despite your position within Goonswarm, can you be clear in saying that the other members of the CSM are broadly in agreement with your post - it's representative of Council concerns?
Alexander Gianturco: It is 100 per cent representative of the Council members. There's also something that hasn't really been outed. There are a lot of developers (we don't know who they are), but there are devs who play in my Alliance because we're pretty much the largest real Alliance in the game. So people around the [Reyjkavik] office would read my CEO update. Tactically we intended that I would write the CEO update and it would be a quiet shot across the bow of CCP.
Eurogamer: To raise awareness of your stance?
Alexander Gianturco: We're always in Skype with CCP and we could say that this is what I wrote, we're upset about this, and this is sort of our last chance to negotiate - maybe have them back away from the foolish decisions they've been making - before the CSM launched a formal spotlight involving log-in splash ads, fireside chat meetings and a full courting of the media press. The message that I wrote was discussed at length, word for word amongst the CSM. Even though it was aimed at Goonswarm, the CSM had line-by-line input of what I said.
Eurogamer: You've had a lot of accusations aimed at you this week that you leaked the CEO update to us. In the interests of transparency and setting the record straight, would you like to know how we obtained it?
Alexander Gianturco: I would be highly amused to find out.
Eurogamer: It was posted on the official Eve Online forums - further down the same thread, the accusations began.
Alexander Gianturco: [laughs] Oh man, that's ridiculous. It's been funny, conspiracies are always a part of Eve right? Especially with my background as a spy, long before I got involved with the Alliance leadership. People naturally assume that I'm pulling strings, even when I'm not. I wrote a follow-up post saying "Alright guys, personally if I was an observer knowing anything about my history, I wouldn't believe that it was an accident. Of course, he called the media and is pulling the strings." It's worked out too well.
Eurogamer: So what do you see as the key problems facing Eve Online at the moment?
Alexander Gianturco: I think the key problems are obvious to a wide range of players. The development of the Incarna and Tyrannis expansions are aimed at Dust and World of Darkness, essentially creating new technologies for those games. The majority of the people working on "Eve Online" are no longer developing the core product. The neglect of the content, and the game that subscribers are used to playing, is causing stagnation.
We talk a lot about "failure cascades" in Eve. I've spent my entire time in the game obsessed with them, it's all I ever dealt with as a spy, trying to induce them in order to destroy Alliances and break social bonds. It also meant I've learned about maintaining an Alliance - if you watch how other people f**k up, you get good at not doing it yourself. In theory at least.
But MMO servers can experience failure cascades. Once they go beneath a social critical mass, you see server merges. But Eve is a fragile ecosystem - it's one shard and never in Eve's history has there ever been an expansion that didn't result in a spike of interest.
There have been hit-and-miss expansions, but they at least logged on. With Incarna, it's like it didn't even happen. The expansion was supposed to be over by now, it's September - we're supposed to have four Captain's Quarters, multiplayer establishments, and contraband gameplay by now. We still just have one Captain's Quarters.
Eurogamer: What needs to be done to resolve these problems and restore the trust between CCP and the players?
Alexander Gianturco: It's a two-part question. The situation is unique with CCP because they primarily hired people who played Eve. People who go to Reyjkavik to work with CCP want to develop Eve Online, and historically Eve is a game about spaceships. That's why you saw the leaks come through - the employees that came there and didn't want to develop World of Darkness, they wanted to develop spaceships.
The second part of the question - CCP needs to very publicly step away from the precipice and acknowledge that they have neglected Flying-in-Space. They need to provide us not only with the fixes that are needed (there are a number of sucking chest-wounds which are ruining FiS right now), but new content.
We need a full-scale expansion which has everyone in the Reyjkavik office working on it - we need new ships, new regions, new excitement. The tagline the CSM has been using recently is "We need something new to do, not something new to wear."
Eurogamer: Why haven't the players seen the minutes from the emergency summit held at the end of June. What's holding them up?
Alexander Gianturco: I haven't publicly talked about it much because the minutes are an issue of great concern to the CSM because it's a council "sovereignty" issue - but it's not something that players are going to get in a snit about, even though I think they should. It's not an effective rallying call.
The minutes situation has come up because CCP essentially tried to spin or adulterate or soften the tone of those minutes. They're normally very factual and CCP has only ever edited in the past due to NDA reasons, they have never tried to change adjectives.
If CCP's version of the minutes had been released, there would have been riots again and a massive crisis. They were so full of nauseating buzzwords, it read like a marketing drone's advertising for Eve Online, with a passive voice for the CSM.
We might have written: "The CSM said that the players are extremely unhappy with x, y and z." In the edited version it would say something like: "It was implied by the CSM that, in their view, the players might be concerned that..." So many mitigations and clauses, with CCP always talking in the active voice.
I used to be an attorney before I retired and I was like: "Oh, come on guys, this is transparently insulting." But I guess they thought they could pull one over on us. The CSM has a lot of professionals on it, a lot of former businesspeople, current businesspeople.
Eurogamer: Do you have any regrets about appearing in the post-summit video with Arnar Hrafn Gylfason [senior producer of Eve Online] in the wake of recent days?
Alexander Gianturco: I actually have no regrets about that as the minutes aren't related to what we saw in the video - it's an important distinction. The biggest takeaway from the emergency summit was resolving concerns around CCP adding gold ammo or pay-to-win microtransactions in Eve. I am still convinced and have no concerns about them doing that sort of thing. This is not going to turn into World of Tanks.
It's an issue of nuance and there are two levels to being on the CSM. There's dealing with developers and on that level, we've changed tactics from the past CSM's by being really chill guys with them. We hang out on Skype whereas previous councils would be very confrontational. Instead we've been more persuasive and almost everything slated for the winter expansion that we've seen has the CSM's dirty paw-prints all over it. That's one level.
The second level is when you're dealing with upper management. I think they saw us getting along, being chill and reasonable with the designers and thought this meant we were push-overs.
Eurogamer: When you were elected, players were concerned that the CSM would become a vehicle for promoting Goonswarm interests. Was that ever the case?
Alexander Gianturco: It's never been the case. There's always a small paranoid mindset about that. If you have a null-sec empire, your enemies assume the worst. People who paid closer attention to the election would have seen every null-sec bloc get together, work together, and ensure our candidates were there.
It's important to note that the health of the game as a whole is the macro level that the CSM deals with. It's not possible to get on the CSM and promote the narrow interests of your Alliance. That behaviour would be very transparent; you'd be ignored by CCP, shoot your credibility in the foot - and the rest of the CSM would get very angry with you. I've advocated for nerfs that currently benefit Goonwarm.
Eurogamer: Does it strike you as ironic that an Alliance that sets out to "destroy the game" is now involved in what the CSM sees as rescuing it?
Alexander Gianturco: I never actually joined the game to destroy it - that's Darius's [former Alliance leader] line about what we do in Goonswarm. We aren't here to destroy Eve - we are griefers and a home for the Something Awful community in Eve. It's a hysterical propaganda line from people we've crushed under our jackboots.
I care very deeply about Eve and God knows I waste too much time playing and running my Alliance. The sort of issues that the CSM is faced with are ones that deal with the very survival of the game itself. I'm afraid that's the situation we're in today.
Eurogamer: In terms of next steps, "loud statements" were mentioned in your CEO update. Can you elaborate on that?
Alexander Gianturco: That's a tactical question, and talking about "loud statements" was before I expected you guys to snap this up and kick off the media storm. I was preparing my Alliance to get ready for a formal CSM spotlight and to be able to implement our media strategy once that spotlight hit. I don't know that we'll bother with a formal spotlight now - the horse has already left the barn. We've moved on to the next stage of the strategy which is to make ourselves available to the media. Hopefully we'll see results, but I think this is our best shot, the media pressure angle.