Interview: Andrew Groen, Author of ‘A History of the Great Empires of Eve Online’

Over the next year, games journalist and former Slide To Play contributor Andrew Groen will be working on something pretty exciting. It’s an ambitious nonfiction book called A History of the Great Empires of Eve Online, and it recounts some of the fascinating events that have transpired in the long-running MMO. Read on for our interview with the author, and check out his Kickstarter page to preorder a copy of the book right now.

STP: For those who don’t know, what is Eve Online?

Andrew Groen: Eve is a sci-fi MMORPG that’s all about flying around in space. But it’s not like your typical MMO like World of Warcraft or Everquest. In Eve, the players aren’t divided up into servers or shards; every player plays in the same game world. Eve also gives players a ton of freedom to define their own game experience. You can just go off into an asteroid belt and mine for ores, or you can become a battle hardened pilot in large-scale player-vs-player fights.

The other important reason it’s unique is that there are large regions of the game which can be conquered by player organizations. So players form groups and attempt to gain “sovereignty” over a star system or region. When you put all three of those factors together you end up with amazing wars involving thousands of players. If one player group controls some turf, and another group wants it then the result is often a large invasion campaign to wrest control away. These wars for power and influence have been playing out for over ten years now, and it’s turned into one of the most amazing stories in the history of gaming.

What made you decide to write about this game instead of something like WoW or Everquest?

Two major reasons: In those games players are always separated into distinct servers. This means that the community as a whole has very little shared culture. There are famous groups and players on each server, but in Eve the great deeds and powerful groups are known to everyone. When someone takes over territory it affects everyone– directly or indirectly. You can’t write a history book about a world in which there are a thousand different parallel realities. Or maybe you can, but they’ll always be about isolated events. In Eve, history is chronological. Every event impacts the next.

The other reason is that players don’t really have much agency in other MMOs. World of Warcraft became the figurehead of the so-called “Theme Park” MMO where you just go from place to place doing different activities, but never truly changing or impacting the world around you. In Eve, players can impact the game world significantly. Especially if they’re charismatic and can convince people to follow them. Players can make history in WoW – see “The Corrupted Blood Incident” – but that’s very rare. In Eve it’s happening and evolving every day.

Can you give us one anecdote or story you’ve uncovered in your reporting that you found especially compelling?

It’s difficult to point to any one story in particular, because my favorite story is that of The Great War: an epic conflict that engulfed most of the player-controlled Eve universe for the better part of three years before ending with one of the most epic climaxes of any historical story, real or virtual. That war is made up of dozens or hundreds of compelling smaller stories, and it’s difficult to pick just one. There’s no end to the great stories that I get to work with in this book.

Whether it’s the jaw-dropping assassination of Mirial by the mercenary spy Istvaan Shogaatsu, or the 1 trillion ISK scam that managed to dupe 4000 players… No sooner could I choose my favorite cat than my favorite single story from Eve.

Is this really the first history of a digital creation? Have you found any other semi-similar works?

I really haven’t. You find lore books all the time, and occasionally a sociologist will realize WoW exists and write a dissertation saying “my word isn’t this fascinating.” But there’s definitely nothing that I’ve found that takes the chronology of player events seriously, and looks at a game through the progression of power and influence.

What are you going to spend the next year doing, exactly?

The coming months are going to be spent vigorously researching the early history of the game. Since a lot of those events are 10+ years old it can be tough to find reliable sources of information. People also often didn’t think to document the early history of the game because nobody understood how important this would become over time. It takes time research that old stuff from 2002.

I also need to do literally dozens more interviews with the people who actually made this history. Getting those kinds of first-hand accounts is what will make this book worth reading, even for hardcore fans who already know a lot of these stories. I also obviously need to spend a considerable amount of time actually physically writing this book, as well as working with printers and designers to make it a professional product.

How has this project changed your life so far?

It gave me the opportunity to quit both of my ongoing contract jobs, and work on something I’m really passionate about full-time. I also can’t overstate how wonderful it is to have my wife and family see this project succeed and gather so much interest. They never questioned me in my pursuit of this weird book most of them couldn’t understand (my wife gets it, but poor Gramma had no idea what I was talking about) and it’s gratifying to have them see that their trust in me wasn’t misplaced.