Lollipops for Rancors is the Eurogamer readers' Corporation in EVE Online. This is the story of how a relatively safe, "carebear" Corp came to embrace the espionage, theft, treachery and revenge of the world's most merciless online sandbox.
It could almost have ended before it had even started. We'd moved ourselves into position, settled into our base camp for the operation ahead of us and waited patiently. Just one small detail had been overlooked and now threatened to undo everything.
Having arrived at the space station 20 minutes before the server's daily downtime, we'd found ourselves all alone, killing the remaining time chatting nervously about the hours ahead of us. Without warning, a solitary member of our target Corporation appeared on the list of station guests, someone who could see us as clearly as we could see them. We were a long way from our home but very close to theirs and, while there was no good reason for us to be out in this region of space, there was one very bad one. Revenge.
As the cry went up, we logged off hurriedly to begin the anxious wait for the server to complete its daily maintenance and restart.
Staring now at a login screen that slowly counted down one second to the next, a combination of tension, disbelief and hurried soul-searching filled our conversation. Could we even pull this off? Were we actually going to inflict this level of destruction and theft onto another Corporation? A Corporation with dreams and aspirations just like our own?
Yes, yes we were. Two dozen nervous hands logged in and prepared for war.
Lollipops for Rancors is an EVE Corporation created in February 2009. As a one-size-fits-all Corporation formed on the basis of mutual association through Eurogamer, we have always had a fair mix of new players, veterans and the somewhere-in-betweens. Nevertheless, with some happy to focus on the PVE side of EVE and others itching for fights and explosions in space, we had come to find ourselves in something of a rut.
We were all aware that there was an infamously fearsome sandbox to be discovered out there, but the question was how best to expose ourselves to the right opportunities and experience this so-called real side of EVE.
The natural progression for a Corporation in this situation is towards an Alliance, a collection of Corporations with similar aims and, above all, a desire to claim for their own the lawless areas of space where the NPC police don't just turn a blind eye - they don't turn up at all. In the right Alliance, the fighters would get their fights and the more industrially-inclined players would gain access to greater opportunities to advance both themselves and their wallets.
In many ways we had chosen the right Alliance, almost an expanded version of ourselves. However, with a leadership learning on the fly and no firm structure in place, the Alliance had simply become too big, too soon. Shortly before we joined, a declaration of war had been placed against the group by an experienced mercenary Corporation, leaving us vulnerable across all of New Eden and unable to group and gather stock for our venture.
In a scenario like this you do one of two things. You either form fleets capable of taking on the enemy at hand, or wait it out in the station until such a fleet can be made. The end goal is the same - deny the enemy cheap kills for their killboard, bore them to tears and so remove their desire to renew the war. Losses, on the other hand, would only encourage a continuation of the war into the following weeks.
One particular Corporation disagreed. Industrial to the bone, they continued to undock in expensive, defenceless mining barges and freighters, losing a sizeable number of them in the process. They didn't mind the losses, they said - they made so much money that they could easily afford them. All attempts at reason failed and our pleas to consider the bigger picture fell on deaf ears.
Here, then, was a Corporation committed not towards working with others, but to using them in order to advance its own profits. To the surprise of no-one, the war rolled on. While the Alliance leadership now took belated action by removing the Corporation in question it was a case of too little, too late. The rot had set in, too many insults had been traded and bad feeling was rife. With the Alliance falling apart, we went home.
So here we were, back at square one with nothing to show for the last month but lighter wallets and wasted time. We returned to our normal activities as best we could but a sense of frustration and a desire for payback grew heavier amongst us. The problem was, we had never considered ourselves to be "that sort of Corp", preferring instead to adopt a live-and-let-live approach to EVE. What could we do?
The obvious answer was to simply declare war on our former industrial allies ourselves, get some easy kills to plump up our killboard, and disrupt their activities as much as possible for a week. That might be fun, but didn't seem particularly satisfying. After all, the reason we'd found ourselves in this situation in the first place was their attitude towards losing ships.
No, what you really need for this kind of operation is a spy.
Having made the decision to take revenge, we were approached by a friend who had experience of infiltrating Corporations in order to gain their trust and then disappearing into the night with everything they owned. Before we declared war, he would make an application to our target and, if accepted, act as our man on the inside.
At best we hoped to have access to the kind of information you'd expect from a spy - tactical intelligence, state of morale and so on. As it turned out, we got a whole lot more. Within days of being accepted into their fold he was not only given access to their assets but control of the very security mechanisms designed to protect them. This included both of their Player Owned Structures (POS), huge player-made edifices representing the backbone of their industrial operations and packed accordingly with their most precious assets.
The more valuable of the two was hidden in a pocket of wormhole space disconnected from the usual game area. The odds of scanning its particular entrance point from any random point in space were thousands to one but, with someone inside it, they had only to point the way for us. The second, less profitable POS was more accessible in regular space and could be left until later in the week.
With this information, we now found ourselves with a very different opportunity on our hands, but one tied up in moral implications. We'd started out wanting to bloody their noses, but this might be tantamount to ripping their head off. Whatever our feelings towards them might be, these were real people, with real time and effort invested in the game just like us.
On the other hand, this was the real EVE. This is what we'd been looking for all along. Wasn't it?
Perhaps inevitably, temptation won over, and so we found ourselves logging back into the game that morning. With the target based predominantly in the US, the starting time had been deliberately chosen to minimise interference on their part. Only time would tell if we'd been too late to log out and prevent a call-to-arms being issued.
As we moved from the station to the wormhole entrance, our spy began his most pressing work. First, he changed the password to the force field surrounding the POS. This would allow us to sit within its area of protection while denying the same to our enemy. Only those targets who had logged out beside the POS would be able to log back in and attack us.
Next, he began the process of off-lining the various modules attached to the POS. This carried risks in itself - as certain sections became inactive, in-game warning mails would be automatically generated and circulated to the Corporation. Anyone coming online at this strange hour in the US would be alerted.
Once we'd arrived, our spy began to empty the ships from the POS hangars. Like sparks from a slow-moving catherine-wheel, their precious ships were dispensed, tumbling into space. What we couldn't steal for ourselves, we targeted and destroyed.
There was one other prize parked outside: a Rorqual. Valued at over one billion ISK, this industrial beast was restricted by game mechanics to movement through low security space only. With the current wormhole exit leading to high security space, we took the only course of action available to us at the time: hid it deep within the wormhole system and sent a ransom note to the owner.
While our industrial pilots ferried the rest of the loot out and our guards covered the entrance, we moved onto the main target - the POS itself. We had woefully underestimated the strength of the unit and the force required to take it down. This would be nothing like an assault. The shield didn't so much inch as sliver towards depletion as the first few hours wore on. Was it actually going down? Maybe it was recharging. Can they recharge?
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As the shield continued its slow demise, the enemy began to log in. Reports from our spy told us that confusion, accusations and in-fighting were already filling the Corp chatter. When a new target suddenly appeared next to us, we were ready, targeting and destroying his industrial ship in seconds. A voice spoke one word in the local channel then vanished: "Assholes."
Despite the monotony, it was essential that we remained alert throughout the evening. Anyone managing to escape in a probing ship might be able to find a new entrance and bring in reinforcements. When the inevitable happened, disaster was only narrowly averted by some quick work within our own fleet. Giving chase, we bought him down and returned to the job at hand.
By the time the POS eventually exploded into a beautiful nuclear rainbow, the operation had passed its ninth hour. Wearily, the majority of the fleet docked up for the evening while a few others continued to haul our ill-gotten gains to the local market hub.
The second POS takedown two days later was a mercifully briefer affair. The unit itself was smaller, with less defensive units, but by now of course the enemy was alert. We knew that they suspected a spy in their ranks yet incredibly - and despite the character names differing by just one letter - the connection was never made between the infiltrator and the aggressor who appeared on their losses.
With our agent feeding us tactical information and planting false intelligence, their initial fleet was soon dispatched. They waited too long to reinforce their numbers and stage a new defence. Moments before their arrival, the second POS was destroyed and its contents hauled away.
There were occasional skirmishes as the war continued that week, but the damage had already been done. Our targets had now lost not only their assets but the ability to regenerate them. As the days passed we watched as their registered numbers dropped from over 80 to 50, then 30. Finally a tag was added to their Corporation name: [Closed]. For better or worse, we'd achieved our aim, but at a price that shocked us all.
Perhaps understandably, we never did receive a ransom on the Rorqual. In the final act of war, we took out a new insurance policy on it, blew it to pieces and pocketed the payout. It seemed like a fitting end.
Lollipops for Rancors is recruiting. Cautiously.