If it's the job of soldiers to fight wars, then it's the job of politicians to start them. EVE Online has no shortage of leaders and demagogues in its ranks, particularly among the ranks of the player-driven alliances. One of CCP's biggest achievements in designing EVE Online was to give the players free reign in running their own affairs. Corporations recruit as they see fit, and set allies and enemies as they see fit. Everything is decided by the leaders of the player corporations - who to trust, who to declare an enemy, who make peace with, and what part of the galaxy to call home. They even get to set their own tax rates.
While EVE does now allow people to fight against the fictional backdrop of its NPC factions - the faction war features of the recent Empyrean Age expansion - it was always based on the notion that the players - given enough room to do so - would end up finding their own use for the universe. This use, usually, meant war.
What CCP realised in building EVE Online was that to genuinely make the most of the "massively" part of "massively multiplayer" they had to put player-interaction at the top of agenda. This wasn't a game about banding together to defeat monster X, it was about banding together to defeat other players. And why do this? For the riches. Players plus resources, plus more players, equals conflict. That's the basic mathematics that powers EVE Online. And it's been working for over five years now.
Once groups of players began to form, so we started to see the local politics emerging. Leaders became personalities, love and loathed, and people voted with their firepower: attacking this alliance, or supporting that one. Some people banded together over friendships, others over national bonds (there are Hungarian, Russian, and Finnish speaking corporations, as well as countless other nationalities). Over the years alliances have risen and fallen, but as time has progressed it's become clear that all roads in EVE lead to something like the Roman Empire. What the game supports leads inexorably to a kind of advanced feudal system. Even if the alliances are democratically led, they end up being big power blocs based on military might.
The most high-profile instance of this has been in the rivalries that defined the last two years of war in EVE, between Band of Brothers and The RedSwarm Federation. An early war between the Goons, who hearken from the Something Awful forums, and the Band Of Brothers (an old and grumpy power within EVE Online) led to an alliance between Something Awful's teeming hordes and the precise, patient empire building of the Russian-speaking Red Alliance. Both the Brothers and the RedSwarm began to capture vast amounts of space and - with that space being beyond the capacity of their armies to control or exploit directly - they began to install allies and vassals in the space. It's a model quite like that of the Roman Empire, which installed Roman governors over local governments in their vast, conquered regions. The Roman armies might have all been off in Germany, but there was no reason why the Empire couldn't enjoy the riches of occupying Gaul - and so it is in EVE.
In timeless fashion, the posturing and rivalries between the RedSwarm and the Band of Brothers led to a year-long war - a war which only came to a close just after Christmas. The politics, however, have not stopped. And the latest wars mean that the previous allies of RedSwarm - the Northern Coalition - are now feeling the brunt of the Band's ongoing grudge. These conflicts only seem to get bigger as the game goes on - with thousands of people now involved. Following the political machinations is like following a giant, nerdy soap opera - a space opera, if you will. Should the Band of Brothers ally with Triumvirate? Did this alliance steal that super-capital ship pilot? What really happened to the collapsing Red Alliance? Disgraced leaders, deposed tyrants, treacherous spies, loved industrialists - the list of characters and situations expands daily. It will last as long as EVE does, and it's one of the things that gamers either love or loathe about that game world. There's no room for indifference - it's a feature that no other game can boast. (Except maybe Travian and a couple of other browser games, but anyway!)
Not everyone in EVE wants to play this long game of logistical enormity, nor to have to rely on bigger boys for protection. Many smaller organisations exist under the radar, and some of them even have a manifesto for independence and anti-unilateralism. One such organisation is The Star Fraction whose leader, Jade Constantine (played by gamer Andrew Cruse) sets itself against the interests of the big player alliances, and fights for libertarian values in the pod-pilot community. Constantine's arguments for dynamism in the game world are both arguments about the attitudes and behaviours of players in the game world, and arguments about the game design that CCP is touting.
EVE's most recent political manifestation has, in fact, given Constantine/Cruse an even bigger platform to peddle his views from. It's the Council of Stellar Management - the point at which EVE's politics burst out of the game and into the real world. This council of players - which we've reported on before - has met in real life to discuss both the in-game and meta-gaming issues that trouble the EVE Universe. It's a kind of democratically-elected UN Security Council of the game world: one which acknowledges the hybrid existence of the pod pilots and their politics. It is both the wars in the game world, and the words exchanged by real people on the forums and chat channels outside it, that really define their attitudes and policies.
It's this freedom and depth - limited though it is by EVE's contrived space war - that make this a unique model for political play in a game. Without the single-cluster galaxy such opinion-wrangling and power-playing would be impossible. If MMO development learns nothing else from EVE, it should be that allowing people to play emperor over other people is always a good idea.