Alliance warfare is an aspect of EVE Online that sets it apart from virtually any other MMO on the market. It commands a devoted following of players who continually exert their collective strength to conquer new regions of space while subjugating their numerous opponents.
Although it's been said that only a minority of EVE Online's entire playerbase are entrenched in alliance warfare over 0.0 (lawless) space, this is where much of the action in the game takes place. 0.0 is where the most valuable resources in the game are found, and where the authorities do nothing to hinder player activities. The wealth, freedom and potential for power turn EVE's vast swaths of 0.0 space into hotly contested regions... the battlefield of "the largest virtual conflict ever waged," in the words of games journalist Jim Rossignol.
A major feature of EVE is its potential for conflict on a grand scale, but not on a mindless 'charge and kill' level prevalent in so many video games. Even among MMOs, strategy in EVE exists on a whole different level. To succeed in alliance warfare requires the concerted efforts of many people strategizing while monitoring the activities of rival alliances, making EVE (at its highest echelons) into a game necessitating a deep level of thinking akin to chess or go. This depth of gameplay is enhanced by a setting that allows for guerilla warfare and sabotage, spying and intelligence gathering, and especially propaganda.
These activities often occur in tandem with conflicts that involve siege warfare on enemy holdings, massive fleet battles, and an escalating arms race of motherships and titans -- the superweapons of New Eden. It must be noted that these grand struggles are purely player-driven aspects of the game. At no point do NPCs become involved in alliance conflicts; it's the players themselves who turn the game into what they want it to be, or die trying.
All of these elements culminated in a protracted struggle between alliances in EVE Online that's often termed "The Great War," and is something that the aforementioned Jim Rossignol has no small amount of familiarity with. Rossignol is well-known as one of the excellent writers at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and for his book "This Gaming Life" (which has an entire section that focuses on EVE Online and its unique brand of gaming culture surrounding the title). It's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the game, and the long history of alliance warfare that takes place in the sandbox.
Rossignol channeled his observations into an insightful piece for PC Gamer UK called "The Great War," which he's now made available to a wider readership by putting the article up at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He writes: "This feature... charts a tract of Eve history, between around the middle of 2006 to early 2008, which remains one of the most startling illustrations of the enormous scale of Eve Online's PvP ambitions."
He follows the history of The Great War, from the initial influx of players from the Something Awful forums, who wished to punish the arrogance of the self-styled villain alliance called Band of Brothers (aka BoB.) The Band of Brothers alliance was, and in many ways still is, the most powerful alliance in New Eden. Rossignol's article examines the various powers that have risen, such as GoonSwarm and the coalitions that formed to wipe their mutual enemies off of the star map.
Rossignol points out the control systems dominant players use against fellow players in weaker alliances. Band of Brothers in particular imposes Roman-style imperialist systems on conquered space, making other player alliances their vassals, who in turn exploit the resources in conquered solar systems and constellations while paying tribute to the ruling alliance.This continual flow of wealth ensured Band of Brothers' dominance in much of 0.0 space, for a time, anyway. However, other large alliances, like Red Alliance followed suit, ultimately creating a more pitched struggle where gains and losses took on more significance.
Rossignol writes "The Great War" from the perspective of an insider, someone who's staked a considerable amount of his own time and effort into 0.0 warfare, and flew as part of a 500-man coalition fleet to attempt to crush an alliance superpower. He brings that insight into his article, which also examines how empire building works in New Eden, as demonstrated by Band of Brothers and its various interactions with other player alliances. "The Great War" is ultimately a look at a complex game, one that doesn't have a clear end where you can say one group wins and another loses. The power and fortunes of even the greatest alliances in EVE ebb and flow with time, and that's part of why the game has attracted so many serious players. "Unlike the twenty minute conflicts that characterise other multiplayer games, this is a deathmatch that has taken place between fleets of hundreds in a continuous process that has lasted years," Rossignol states. If you like what you've read so far, be sure to check out Rossignol's article, which clarifies what drives players to go to such extremes in EVE Online.