[Disclaimer: Hugh Caswakk’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Eve News24, his alliance or his corporation.]
In 1829, The Edinburgh Review published an article written by the philosopher Thomas Carlyle called “Signs of the Times”. In it, he argued that the Industrial Revolution was breaking down all the normal bonds of society. The increasing capacity for individual wealth generation which was not dependent on a community led to the atomisation of all normal bonds of community. However, at the same time, the Industrial Revolution was, in Britain, the genesis of the state. It led to increasing welfarism, a ballooning civil service and a vast imperialistic project around the world. The national community was being eaten, even as the national state was blossoming.
The same thing, I would argue, is happening in EVE due to our favourite people – the krabs. Krabs are incredibly important for funding the machine of state for major coalitions and alliances. However, their lack of engagement with the community of the nation threatens the social fabric of major power blocs.
Firstly, it is important to define what a krab is. Krab, at the most basic level, simply means someone who prioritises income generation over direct forms of PvP in EVE. It comes from the Russian community who used the word ‘krabit’ (meaning crayfish) to refer to bad players. It has grown in popularity until the majority of the null-sec community has begun to use it.
I will go out on a limb and seek a more precise definition of what a krab is. Firstly, I believe that to be a krab, you have to live in null-sec. I say this because otherwise, nearly everyone in EVE is a krab, as the majority of the player base is in high-sec. Further, dedicating yourself to a money-making enterprise in null-sec requires a specific decision to turn to peaceful pursuits. This decision point is far less obvious in high-sec.
Secondly, I would categorise a krab as someone who owns the means of their income. I would not seek to set specific asset caps on this, not least because different areas of null-sec have radically different operating conditions. However, in broad terms, I would argue that a newbie who rats in a single VNI which they’ve been given by the corp is not a krab. Someone with a fleet of VNIs, a carrier, or some Rorquals probably is.
Lastly, for the purpose of this essay, I will treat a krab as someone who is relatively wealthy. A net worth of perhaps ten billion ISK seems to be a rough threshold. At that marker, a player can splash around casually in most subcaps and perhaps put themselves into capitals as well. However, we must see this as only a very rough baseline.
Originally, all null-sec groups were incredibly dependent on high-sec space to exist. For one thing, most goods had to be imported in from Empire space. Moreover, groups moved around wildly. One only needs to look at a sovereignty map time-lapse from 2007 to 2009 to watch the colours shift all over the map. The paradigm of null-sec was ‘space Somalia’ – an entirely lawless place inhabited by semi-nomadic armed groups.
However, over time, this pattern began to settle down and stop. Goonswarm, as one key example, which had previously bounced all over the map, nested down in the north for over half a decade. The reason for this was, in part, the emergence of the krabs as a ‘class’ within the null-sec nation-state. Players were growing up, and the constant, exhausting war which might have been viable in college was difficult to accomplish on top of a job and a kid. Therefore, a large number of people turned to income generation as a key objective.
To draw upon a historical example, we might see this like the pacification of tribal societies in the Ukraine. Nomadic groups turned to static economic pursuits beyond raiding or trading with the already established empires on the borders of their territory. Similarly, krabs have had a solidifying effect on null-sec. Corporations and alliances have provided services for them, and they have provided a tax base. The modern EVE state was created by krabs to give them services and is sustained by krabs to continue providing these services.
Krabs have brought with them a fundamental transformation in the social framework of nations in EVE Online. Before the krabs, a group was principally comprised of relatively poor players lead by a handful of privately rich players. Now, most players who are not very new to the game have achieved some level of krabbing and some level of independent wealth. Whilst alliance leaderships are still fantastically wealthy, inequality is much reduced.
However, this reduction in wealth inequality has killed the national community. In real life, someone with property has a personal stake in the success of the nation; invasion and defeat in war would spell disaster for their assets. However, in EVE, due to the easy mobility of assets and Asset Safety, wealth has an atomising effect. Because players are independently wealthy of the nation which they are in, the failure of this nation will have limited impact upon them.
This means that their only motivation to remain in a given state is the economic gain they get from it. This is a key problem for state leadership to solve. The ongoing trend towards an increasing number of krabs which fight out of economic interests means that the overall forces which have maintained the nation are losing their coherency. And when the nation is fragile, so too is the state, as the state springs directly from society.
It would be pointless to point out problems without trying to propose some solutions. To deal with this issue, there are two key approaches. The first it to create a system of such economic dependence on the state that it is impossible for krabs to actually form. We can see this most clearly in the Evolution, which is part of NCdot. They have 100% tax rate and all assets are to be given to the corp. In return, the corp provides comprehensive services to its members. This drives away players who would like to make personal incomes, and makes sure that everyone has a lasting stake in the viability of the nation-state, as their only source of support and assets comes from it.
However, some alliance and corp leaders might want to benefit from krabs within their organisations. In that case, the go-to option is to create a unifying national identity and myth. For example, most of the game want Goonswarm dead. Due to this, they have a coherent mission and need to log in and face down the enemy in order to defend their way of life. People become more engaged in the organisation because of this national myth. We can see a similar sort of thing with elite PvP organisations like PL, which use their elite status as a motivator for community engagement from the line members.
Therefore, krabs have shaped the null-sec geopolitical landscape. They are responsible for the rise of large empires and governments. However, perversely, due to the atomising impact of their wealth, they may, in fact, have destroyed the bonds of socio-economic obligation which kept corps together through previous trials.
They may have created the New Eden nation-state. But they may have destroyed it as well.