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Structures of Marx and Capitalism – EVE Online

January 1, 2009

EVE_headerBefore I begin this entry, I would like to confess that I am not a proponent player on EVE Online. In fact, I have only had casual experiences with MMOs due to budget constraints and unwarranted fears towards the genre. But this has not kept me away from venturing into the various free MMOs and trials available on the Internet. But ever since EVE Online was brought to my attention years ago, I have had an unhealthy infatuation with its inter-galactic universe.

For those unaware, EVE Online has often been described as one of the most onerous of hardcore, gold farming MMOs. The character leveling system is not determined by experience through quests or missions, but is time-fixed (i.e. skills are acquired from a predetermined length of time). The player does not need to be logged into the game to even level up. But this system of leveling is not what compels players to EVE Online, but rather the universe’s in-game economy system.

“’By 2008, the market has become completely player-driven, and that’s where I came in,’ says Guðmundsson during an Edinburgh International Festival session. ’The whole economic structure has become so complex, the data so vast, that a specialist was needed… EVE is a “pure capitalist” market — its economy is emergent, not constrained to a fixed state like those of most MMO games.’”

What interests me is not that EVE Online has an independent game economy or it has unique leveling system. Rather, it is the relationship between these seemingly conflicting elements: the notion that through the mechanic of Marxism spawns the creation of a purely free-range capitalist driven universe within the game.

But, I must be wary in regards to my use of the term “Marxism” for labeling the leveling system of EVE Online. While my academic background primarily concerns with Ideological Marxism, it becomes quite widely apparent that this leveling system of in EVE Online is uncannily similar to the concept Structural Marxism. It is the necessity to rid an over compassing superstructure shapes and controls the dynamics of the masses and society. In the context of this MMO, rather than certain classes functioning as a superstructure dictating the skills and expertise of players, numerous areas of skill throughout the characters are instead assigned causal importance. There is no class-based leveling system in EVE Online, but instead an extensive skill system open to all players.

Hrmm, yes.... avatar needs to be uglier.

Hrmm, yes.... avatar needs to be uglier.

If you look at the structure of other MMOs, there is an importance placed against class. I would not go as far to claim that there is a class hierarchy—though I’m sure others will disagree—but classes are more-or-less balanced or serve a particular purpose. But there is a superstructure, a major dynamic that players fall into when pursuing raids or party quests. It is a capitalist ideology (and I am using the term loosely as it is outside the realm of economics) where each player has a product, his character, with means of obtaining wealth, notoriety within the game world. Major guilds function as corporations whose accomplishments spread the wealth in almost trickle-down benefits into the game space. Coincidentally, the emerging corporations in EVE Online are equivalent to guilds.

Again, this model is merely a loose integration of the MMO model. Of course, I am missing the nuances of the mechanics of the many exceptions to this frame I have created for myself. But, if we continue down this road and assume that the modern MMO is structured in this fashion, EVE Online is not. Character classes are absent, and skills can be learned by anyone in the game. The dynamics of character balance become moot and the relationships between the roles of the player and the game space completely change. What eventually happened in EVE Online was fascinating.

“Corporations, EVE‘s equivalent of guilds, have long been a staple of the game. Though they can operate on a massive scale, and can be as organizationally intricate as their real-world counterparts, they proved insufficient to support the increasingly complex needs of the world. Like a real governing body might, CCP responded by enacting practical allowances to solidify constructs spurred by the ‘citizens” themselves.’”

When a structure is unable to provide the necessities of the masses that is when a revolution occurs. I do not claim that this is some masked political agenda against Marxism, but rather reflective of the players and the normative structures they currently live in. One could interpret this shift to a player-driven driven world as a perfect representation of a stable, outside superstructure engulfing another virtual one in the game space. Or the opposite interpretation is that this is a great representation of Social Marxism where the proletariat becomes empowered and usurps the previous bourgeois, controlling entity in the game space.

It is always about how you interpret the facts. In the presence of a Structural Marxist game mechanic, a capitalist structure was created to fill the void of the game space. It is a result of an already present inclination of the player society to integrate an already familiar social structure and implement it as the major compelling element of the game. On the flip side, we have the presence of a Marxist ideology in the creation of this MMO, a genre that is arguable capitalist structured. As a result, the structural, capitalist hierarchy of the game world was unable to co-exist with its Marxist foundations inevitably allowing the users to gain control and drive the dynamics and structure of the game, ironically forming a capitalist modeled universe.

EVE Online was released in 2003 and it is one of the most inclusive, absorbing, captivating online universes to follow. Where mining, trading, and farming may look like one of the most monotonous tasks of an MMO, there is an underlining attraction that appeals, if not beguiles, its fanbase and observers. We often mourn unwittingly when companies pull the plug on an MMO. A universe becomes so suddenly blinked out of existence not with outcry but a whimper. It is only fitting that when a community takes control of a universe and drives the game itself, it is the most silent coup d’état in the gaming revolution.

Perhaps this MMO is even too daunting for my minuscule business education.

Perhaps this MMO is even too daunting for my minuscule business education.

Quotes taken from Gamasutra’s “CCP Economist On EVE Online‘s ‘Pure Capitalist’ Market.” Interview by Mathew Kumar & Chris Remo.

*Note: This post is not indicative of the upcoming format change to GSG. I am currently away from all gaming systems except my Nintendo DS until I fly back to the West Coast. Stay turned next week for my first entry in Journuax du l’interface.

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4 comments

  1. Coincidentally, if it wern’t for the obvious conflict and general tendency to think of “you and yours” before the whole in the construct of the game I thought that it would be a very interesting application of a meritocratic social capitalist construct, in the original definition of social capitolist, not the modern one.

    And as a player, there is goldfarming in EVE but nowhere even approaching that of most MMOs because the superstructure design of the world and the company works against it.

    If you want to legaly by ISK (The ingame currency) then what you do is buy a game time card. They have a code on the card, and you sell the code for in game currency through a mechanic in the game that protects the buyer ad seller of the codes. Instead of going and buying cheaper ISK and risking their game accounts and often getting there computers infected and their game accounts cleaned out by ISK sellers, the people do it through the company and are protected.


  2. Great call on the meritocratic construct. Now I wish I blogged with that model in mind. It’s great to get some feedback from someone that has had substantial interaction with EVE Online. I keep hearing it’s a gold farmer’s paradise and It’s great for you to provide some light on the regulations and safety nets used to protect players from getting ninja’ed.


  3. I’m trying out the 21-day pass offered on Steam, but have barely made it through character creation. Looks like I have a lot of learning to do!


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