Late last night, EVE Online experienced the largest and most spectacular battle in the game's history, and certainly one of the largest conflicts in the history of virtual worlds at large. It's hard to say precisely how many players participated in the conflict in the B-R5RB system, which apparently started because of a missed space-station maintenance payment, but by the looks of images and streams it was in the thousands. By the time the servers went down this morning, approximately 90 of the game's monstrous (and valuable) Titan-class ships had been destroyed, and total losses for those involved were in the neighbourhood of $300,000.
And no, I am not talking about in-game currency.
The scale of this battle and the losses incurred by those involved are hard to fathom if you don't have considerable experience with EVE Online. Ships can take months to build, can be too big for any available hangar, and can carry stockpiles of subscription time to the game itself, among other things. Losing one such ship can equate to losing thousands of U.S. dollars, not to mention the time that went into it.
Suffice it to say this was not your mother's player-versus-player showdown. Here's what I mean:
First of all, one of the most important things to know about EVE Online is that the game's economy revolves around both its currency (ISK) and PLEX, its primary commodity. ISK is earned by playing, whether you choose the path of a humble asteroid miner or a ruthless space pirate. PLEX on the other hand is game subscription time which can be purchased either with real-world money or with ISK and then either used, stored in your inventory, or traded with others who may use or store it themselves. It's nearly as good as exchanging cash for ISK directly, which isn't possible otherwise. Even though minerals and other stashable resources are just as vital, PLEX is almost a secondary currency between those looking to turn their real wallets into a source of ISK to fund their virtual ventures and those looking to pay for their game time without ever handing a penny over from outside of it.
However, the fact that PLEX is stored means that it can also be destroyed. Nothing is permanent in EVE, and nothing is sacred. Everything from your ship to your inventory to your skills can be completely wiped out if you happen to cross paths with the wrong person at the wrong time.
Second, it's important to get an idea of the scale and value of a Titan. In the game's lore, Titans are so large that they are known to disrupt the tides of nearby planets. There's no in-game effect reproducing this, but it's still pretty cool. Titans are currently the largest ships available in EVE, the crown jewels in the fleets the game's player alliances, and they cost billions of ISK in materials as well as a fair number of man-hours to produce. Even with a ship on hand, the skills required of yourself and your crew to pilot it are an entirely different (and equally expensive) matter.
Most players are unlikely to even set eyes on one, and if they do it's from a vastly different perspective than you'll see in images of this most recent battle. As an EVE-playing friend of mine watched the footage from B-R5RB embedded above, he explained, "It's strange to see so many titans at once, to the point that they change the scale of the entire scene. Normally you have a couple hovering over a ton of smaller ships which are still largely the focus of the action." It's the difference between seeing the world through the eyes of the elephant instead of the mouse.
When you ask around, it's hard to get an exact figure for how much one of these behemoths will cost you because there are so many different kinds of cost that feed into it, but this 2010 infographic from academically-minded fansite Jump On Contact remains the best visualization of all of that info to date.
It all boils down to this: Last night more than 90 Titans and an unknown number of smaller ships, as well as the contents of their holds and the skills of their crew, were destroyed in a way that is far different than losing a round and some experience points in a normal PVP setting. To understand the true scope of what happened in EVE last night, imagine instead losing that same round... And then losing your car... And that unfinished manuscript you've been putting all your free time into for months.
... 90 times.
If you want to read more about last night's events, don't miss Polygon's coverage here, this incredibly informative thread on Reddit, and of course EVE Online's official Twitter account which has been sharing images and data parsed by the game's developers.
[Update: Eve Online's developers have decided that they will add a permanent ship graveyard at B-R5RB to commemorate the battle. Read more about it, along with more detail and figures from the battle itself, here.]Tweet
Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.