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Exploring EVE Online #4: The Aura of Aideron Robotics

A look behind the factory doors of one of EVE Online's leading independent industrial corporations.

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The ecosystem of communities in EVE is labyrinthine, with vast player-run organisations dominating the landscape and driving conflicts. But nestled amongst these galactic behemoths with memberships in the thousands are multitudes of smaller, independent corporations who have chosen to blaze their own trails through New Eden. It is in the ranks of one such corporation that I have been embedded for the last month. As a member of Aideron Robotics I have learned that in EVE Online, whilst there is always strength in numbers, that doesn’t have to mean the membership.

As always, the two-fold purpose of this column is to explore an aspect of EVE’s community whilst investigating a particular play-style. To this end, I was invited to join Aideron Robotics ostensibly to fulfil my manufacturing play-style experience. However, I soon learned that a successful operation of any size has to be a little more flexible and there is much more going on beneath the surface.

 
TECHNOLOGICAL BOFFINS

Aura for Android: Capsuleering on the move.Having met Jason “Marcel Devereux” Parks at the last two Fanfests, there was already a sense of community connection before I had even joined his corporation. Jason is something of an EVE celebrity, as well as being the figurehead behind Aideron Robotics, he is the mastermind responsible for the immensely popular Aura; a multi-featured EVE companion application for the Android smartphone platform. At time of writing, Aura boasts nearly 150,000 downloads with over 43,000 current users enjoying an Aura-enhanced EVE experience. Aura is entirely free to download and use, but for those of a grateful disposition, he does accept donations in either in-game ISK (Interstellar Kredits – New Eden’s main currency), US dollars or beer.

With the official listings showing Aideron Robotics as having a membership of 75, in his Corporation CEO role, “Marcel Devereux” explained to me that – as with most EVE corps – those numbers are not an accurate indicator of active member players, with many of that number made up of “alts” (secondary – and sometime tertiary – characters controlled by one player). The true number of contributing players was approximately half that. Even so, that would be a respectable head-count in most MMO guilds, despite being considered small by EVE standards.

I found the smaller community environment refreshing. After being one of hundreds in EVE University and Red vs. Blue, logging on to regularly see the same players in the Corporation chat channel created a much more relaxed and personal experience. But what really impressed me about Aideron Robotics was the degree of organisation. Especially the internal corporation website, which included an impressive array of web tools. By utilising EVE Online‘s extensive API output, Marcel had built tools allowing every member to see their progress toward fulfilling their weekly quota, all of which was automatically monitored. There was also a timesheet page detailing ISK earned according to a fixed tariff. It was clear these folks really did mean business.

Aideron internal web tools: Member productivity timesheet

 
LEARNING TO BUILD SPACESHIPS

The manufacturing process in EVE is an incredibly complex interaction of countless blueprints, materials, components and a host of other items and it is one that I still find bewildering. There are different methods required according to the level of the technology being invented or built. In addition, each process requires specific skills to have been learned by the manufacturing character. I’ll not go into detail here as there are many guides already available, but suffice to say that without the Aideron Robotics setup, I would have been totally out of my depth.

When I first applied to the corporation, my character skills had been assessed to see what I could contribute to the team. On Marcel’s advice, throughout the previous month with Red vs. Blue, I had set my character, Seismic Stan, to learn some industry-based skills. This highlights one of the advantages of EVE’s passive skill progression system – unlike many other MMOs, a character isn’t required to repeatedly “grind” a task in order to improve at it. In fact, he doesn’t even have to be online. In the case of my character, whilst he was busy blowing up Red Federation spaceships, he was also learning how to co-ordinate ten manufacturing plants at once. If only it were that easy in real life.

Despite my month of preparation, which further improved the basic industry skills I already had available, I suspect I was very much the junior in the manufacturing chain and had been given a job in which I couldn’t do too much damage. When I checked my task list, I found I had been assigned the job of building several hundred of the various Tech II weapons upgrade modules as well as “inventing” more blueprints from Tech I copies in order to replace the ones I would consume in the build process.

Aideron internal web tools: Individual task list

 
MY GOD, IT’S FULL OF STUFF

I had been assured that I needed to provide no materials and that everything required would be available at the player-owned starbase (POS) where my tasks would take place. After getting to grips with the very convenient shared corporation bookmark system (a relatively recent addition to the EVE toolset), I eventually established where I was meant to be in order to pitch in with the lads at the coal-face. So I proverbially rolled up my sleeves and headed out into the bowels of the solar system to do my duty.

As I warped in and passed through the POS’s defensive shields, I was impressed by what I saw. Rank after rank of huge assembly arrays were arranged like an orbital mass-industry factory floor. Sheltered beneath these hulking, squat structures were a series of smaller laboratories for the handling of blueprints. Additionally impressive was the knowledge that this was only a small part of the entire Aideron Robotics production chain. There were apparently a number of other POSs elsewhere all contributing to the Aideron production juggernaught. According to Marcel, the entire operation was heavily reliant on the godlike organisational skills of a few key individuals.

I bet this place is a bitch to clean.

The bewildering array of POS structures made the job of finding my assigned manufacturing and invention materials challenging. Each structure had numerous separate hangars (essentially folders in the new Unified Inventory), but the Aideron Robotics POS manager had kindly renamed two of the assembly arrays “Stan’s Build Lab” and I found all the constituent materials in appropriately named hangars, meaning the tough job of figuring out “recipes” and acquiring all the “ingredients” had been done for me. Clearly this was the work of the aforementioned organisation gurus.

I soon discovered it was Lockefox and TheAhmosis who were the driving force behind this impressive degree of preparation, assisted by Marcel’s internal web tools and the general corporate synergy. Talking to many members, there was almost a reverence surrounding TheAhmosis, with even Marcel acknowledging that without his tireless endeavours, the entire process would grind to a halt. Lockefox too, was recognised as pivotal to the manual manufacturing process, having run his own industrial operation in the past before merging it with Aideron Robotics.

The act of actually setting the tasks in motion involved navigating through a series of lists and drop-down menus which, to be perfectly blunt, wasn’t all that exciting. Nor was the experience improved by the fact that this had to be performed for each job I wished to set in motion. It did only take a few minutes though, so it wasn’t too painful. My ten build jobs would take the best part of a day to complete so it was something I could do once a day without it being too intrusive. Inventing new blueprints required a similar, slightly simpler procedure and would take a little over an hour to complete, but with an inherent chance of failure. The benefit was, I felt I was contributing to something far bigger and getting paid for it, which could fund other in-game interests.

 
THE INDUSTRY EXPERT’S VIEW

On talking to Marcel about the repetitive industry process, he was quite passionate about the impact aspects of manufacturing game design had previously had on the growth of the Aideron Robotics community. He described how the introduction of Planetary Interaction (PI) in the Tyrannis expansion of Summer 2010 divided rather than united the corp, then much smaller and operating in remote and isolated wormhole space.

“CCP gets industry wrong all the time.” he said, “They think it’s a solo thing, but I wish they would make industry a collaborative corporation effort. Right now you can do it – as you’ve seen we’ve created the tools [to facilitate it] – but it’s a pain in the butt to track. It’s a click-fest, both PI and normal industry.”

In spite of his disappointment with some of the game mechanics, Marcel was upbeat about the ongoing development of EVE Online’s features, recognising that, despite early teething problems, the planetary industry interface had since been greatly improved. Nonetheless, he remains underwhelmed by the part it plays, “They got it wrong with PI, they knew that and they changed it, but it’s still Farmville rather than a serious industry counterpart that we’d actually want to hire mercs to fight over.”

I wondered, if the industry aspect of running a corp is such a chore, then why bother? But it was quite clear from talking with Marcel that he, along with his directors, were passionate about the process and the bottom line. He proudly described how, in the aforementioned wormhole, even with PI causing players to grow weary, a corp of ten characters managed to generate 10 billion ISK every month. Besides, as Marcel pointed out, if they ever did tire of the industry aspect of EVE Online, “there’s always plenty of other stuff to do.” The important thing was, he was doing it with friends.

 
WORKING OVERTIME

Back at the POS, once all my tasks had been queued up, it felt like my chores were done and I was allowed to go out to play. On one such occasion, most of the active members were in a nearby system ice-mining for the materials to fuel the POSs, so I joined the ever welcoming duo of Razeu and Crysis McNally on voice-comms and set out to meet them in my Mackinaw exhumer-class mining ship. Soon after my rendez-vous with the mining fleet we were forced to move to another ice belt due to increasingly suspicious activity from some possible suicide-gank scouts. As they had arrived shortly after I had, there were some joking suggestions that I was a spy. At least I hope they were joking, but in EVE, trust is the most valuable commodity of all and is difficult to earn.

Once we settled into the new belt, and were joined by a few more members, the sedate activity of mining was underway. Mining, as a means of passing the time, is a lot like a cricket (I apologise to US readers if they don’t get the comparison, I’m not sure if American sporting culture has produced an activity quite as tectonically slow). For the most part, nothing happens and the participants have the opportunity to chat, have some meaningful spaceship discussion, or talk amusing nonsense as we opted for. Periodically, the miners will be required to empty the freshly-mined contents of their holds into a container or ship, in our case a capital-class Orca industrial command ship. Every once in a while, something might break the monotony, like the appearance of some NPC pirates, or the suspicious arrival of an unknown player.

The Aideron Ice Mining Fleet - howzat for space cricket?
All-in-all, my time with Aideron Robotics was a very relaxing one and a welcome change of pace from the frantic combat of my previous month. I found I could participate in activities in a comfortably sedate manner whilst I caught up with some reading and various administrative tasks I’d been meaning to get done. The opportunity for excitement was available however, with a weekly combat roam into low-sec always in the schedule.

Toward the end of the month there was a bit of a stir on the corp forums as a “mercenary” corporation declared war on Aideron Robotics and their representative appeared in a publicly accessible in-game channel posturing to threaten/intimidate/entertain our members. Sadly it all came to naught and my excited preparations of some combat ships proved unnecessary as the war declaration was timidly withdrawn a few days later. Many questions were left unanswered, but it is my understanding from talking to the corp members that when something goes wrong, it is almost always Corp Director Lockefox’s fault.

 
THE HEAD BRAIN

I talked at length with Marcel/Jason and it was quite apparent he was passionate about EVE Online. He clearly had to be in order to have not only built up a successful and active corporation around some creaky game-play elements, but to have also provided his corpmates with excellent internal management tools and given the wider community the Aura smartphone app.

What? Confronted with a brain that sexy, you'd kiss it too.Digging deeper into Marcel’s history, I was encouraged to discover that the story of his path into and through EVE is probably a familiar one for many capsuleers. He began playing in 2009 with a small group of friends. They embraced the backstory of EVE, warming to the principles of the liberal Gallente Federation, where they discovered the Aideron constellation in Verge Vendor from which they took the corp name. The degree of thought invested in the Aideron Robotics narrative extends as far as Aura being documented as their primary product within New Eden, cleverly weaving their existence into the fabric of EVE lore.

In trying to find a real-world touchstone for the Marcel Devereux character and Aideron Robotics, Jason laughed at my suggestion of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, instead preferring to channel Tony Stark of Iron Man fame. Which one of the members fills the Pepper Potts role, I’ve yet to discover.

 
THE FUTURE OF AIDERON ROBOTICS

I was pleased that, even with my low-target quota, I managed to make at least 25 million ISK per week just by occasionally clicking on stuff. I noticed on the corp timesheet that some members are raking it in. With a monthly turnover of 50 billion ISK and a relatively small workforce getting increasingly affluent, I enquired what might be next for Aideron Robotics. Surely they’ve already won EVE in their way.

Jita 4-4, currently the largest trade hub in New Eden. But for how much longer?

Marcel doesn’t see it that way, with Aideron Robotics providing almost unlimited funds for its members, he is eager to move into the visceral combat aspects of EVE. He is looking to actively expand the player-versus-player operations of the corp, building a military wing to the Aideron empire.

But his real drive is to achieve something new in EVE. He has now got his sights set on establishing a market hub in low-security space that might one day equal the market-dominating super-hub that is Jita. It’s a bold ambition, but looking at what he’s achieved already, I wouldn’t bet against him.

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After all, even without his spaceship, he’s a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

Originally Published Dec. 14th 2012

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