Friday, February 13, 2015

The Vocal Minority

Customers have departed, but I am exhausted.  So I'll write another good ol' days post while I rest up a little.

I've never written about the first collapse of Pukin' Dogs with the amount of detail contained below.  There may be 1 or 2 old Dogs reading this that may learn a few tidbits that they'd never really known.  Of course, it all happened over 10 years ago, so they may not even remember. :)


At the end of yesterday's post, I had taken us to the point of EVE launch, the shenanigans of opening weekends, and the establishment of Pukin' Dogs Corp.

What evolved was a reasonably close knit group of folks from the US and UK that played mostly in highsec in the north parts of the map (Caldari, Amarr zones).  We were not rich, or powerful, but as a group we had enough depth of industry, loot drops, and hauling to be nearly self sufficient.

But as the weeks wore on, I noticed that we were struggling a bit.  Many from the original crew were beginning to burn out and leave.  Those graybeards that stayed were pushing me, via public and private convos, to push out of our comfort zone and establish ourselves as a "world power" i.e. to get into null politics.  To them, it was time to grow up and move to the "endgame" that the galaxy had to offer.

As this pressure built, I had also lost a big chunk of the core leadership of the corp.  My co-CEO had taken a new RL job and was trying to avoid a divorce and by necessity resigned.  Other people that I promoted to leadership positions within the corp soon vanished - in some cases they wanted titles but not responsibility.  My wife played alongside me - it was something we quite enjoyed together - and I began leaning on her to take on more responsibility, somewhat against her wishes.

We jumped into the Great Northern War not really knowing what we were doing, but had some fun in frigate fights, but otherwise patrolling a lot of empty space.  Our wartime participation earned a spot in the Coalition of Deklein (one of the first null alliances, before alliances were an official feature of the game).

And after all of that, the "endgame" crew within the corp still pushed for more.  We were still recruiting noobs, but we were losing people who wanted "more."  The naysayers in my ranks - who I would later realize were the Vocal Minority - were telling me that we would be destined to only be a stepstone-corp.  They said we'd be a place where noobs landed, got their feet under them, and then moved on to bigger and better things.  Years later EVE-Uni would take on this niche with gusto, but at the time it was presented as a bad, bad thing for our corp to become.

Their arguments were compelling, but I was well outside my comfort zone and playing a facet of the game I wasn't comfortable with (i.e. null politics and null game mechanics).  After initial reluctance, I  eventually caved to the Vocal Minority and I made an edict to our membership:  we were moving to null, those that chose to remain in Empire could leave in peace or would be removed from the corp.

And with that, we packed up and moved to Deklein.

This was a disaster, and in almost 20 years of social gaming, it was the absolute worst decision that I've ever made.  Initially, sure, folks were excited.  We did convoy nights and group ops and got everyone out.  The biggest surprise was that everyone opted to make the move and nobody quit the corp outright.  (However, my wife lost her prized Domi to a mOo gatecamp and the game was never the same to her; the first casualty of this edict was the person I enjoyed gaming with most.)

After the initial frenzy, we roamed around our new region.  Our miners could finally mine the rare ore they lusted after.  Our ratters could kill red X's to their hearts' content.  The pvp'ers could join the alliance defense network.  The spies and politicians could wallow in the mud of .null politics.  Life was good.

The "good times" lasted about a week.  Our logins began to decline.  It was a slow drop at first, but soon we were only a handful of logins during peak times.  People made obvious excuses for not logging in.  Our corp forum became a ghost town.

I had given them everything they'd wanted, they'd been handed everything they were "supposed" to want as an "endgame" player.  They'd consumed it and promptly gotten homesick for their old systems in Lonetrek.

I was burnt out, very much used up, and otherwise ready to quit the game.  In an abrupt decision one night, I contacted our alliance-mates VentureCorp.  I explained the situation with as much detail as I could, and then I offered to hand them my entire roster of players.  I called it a merger, but it was really just a graceful collapse.  I had decided I was leaving the corp but didn't want to simply walk away and leave my members hanging.  I still loved EVE and didn't want to quit, but knew I needed a break.  I hoped that if we joined with VNTR I'd be freed of the responsibilities of being a corp leader and I could play the game on my own terms again.

After I brokered the "merger," I convo'd the 2 remaining Senior Leaders within Puke and told them my plan.  It was a short conversation.  They probably weren't happy, but they understood.  Shortly thereafter, I made another edict:  move to VNTR or be booted from the corp.  (My wife points out as she proofreads this for me that she was the ONE exception to this rule; she stayed in PUKE and thus is the only member to have an intact employment history from 2003 until today).

In almost 20 years of social gaming, the merger was the 2nd worst decision that I've ever made.

Outwardly, VNTR seemed like many things PUKE was not.  They appeared to be a stable, competent, disciplined, and focused corporation, with great depth of experience and unlimited funds.  Their leaders were charismatic and kind, and their members we'd dealt with had left a great impression.

Once I was a full member and saw things from the inside, the facade quickly evaporated.  It's not that VNTR was a bad corp - in fact they were a great corp.  But behind the curtain I found that many of the same issues I was running from were very much the same in VNTR.  I was was disappointed to find that they weren't much better than the corp I'd just thrown away.

Additionally, I found that the charismatic leadership was almost always outwardly focused - the people that I knew from my dealings with VNTR were actually not very active in internal matters (in hindsight this makes perfect sense, but it was quite a shock to me at the time since I was running internal AND external matters for PUKE).  I found the new corp to be a very strange and disorienting place full of strangers.

So this was a harsh lesson learned:  the grass was not always greener.

Another harsh lesson learned:  Corps can evolve over time, but abrupt changes are difficult to implement well.  Null gameplay wasn't itself bad, but it was too bug of an adjustment for our membership to adjust to.

I was invited to help with VNTR leadership and could have probably worked my way into an officer spot.  But I just wanted to live a life of happy retirement and not get sucked into the same issues I'd just left.

I stayed with VNTR a little over a month before I quietly left and struck out on my own, back in Empire under a new corp tag.  (Incidentally, I recall that I was one of the few former PUKE members still logging in; nearly everyone on my roster had vanished after the VNTR merger).

(I should also add that I'm still in contact with a first generation PUKE member that flourished under the VNTR corp ticker; the change for him was perhaps the single most pivotal point in his long EVE career.  Not long ago, he thanked me for making the merger, and all I could do was snort and sigh at the keyboard.)

Anyway, the new corp wasn't a re-start in the same mode as EVE's launch.  It was an invitation only billionaire's club (back when billionaires were rare, heh).  We didn't actively recruit and membership was small.  But I had enough friends around the game that corp tag really didn't matter and I shifted my focus to almost entirely Industry and battleship production.

It's here that I laid the groundwork for how I would play EVE for the next decade.

I had floundered for nearly 6 months in the game, but finally I had my feet under me.  I was doing what I wanted to be doing.  I shrugged off the endgame that I was "supposed" to be pursuing and did what felt right.  I made a lot of isk. And I had fun doing it.

This post has a sad tone; that's not really intentional.  It was a confusing and unhappy time in game for me, but it was also an important few months.  I would not be the EVE player I am today if I'd not totally screwed up in 2004.  I would not have figured out some fundamental truths about myself without learning some painful lessons.

Pukin' Dogs would go on to reform in 2005.  EVE had changed a ton between mid-2004 to late-2005, so it is hard to compare, but I'd say we were stronger and arguably more influential in our 2nd iteration, despite having 1/3 the active members.  The lessons I'd learned as a failed CEO in 2004 were applied to this 2nd run, and I was a happier and more competent CEO during the 2nd run.

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