EVE Evolved: History of the Interstellar Starbase Syndicate

EVE Evolved title image
Today's EVE Online is packed to the brim with warring alliances smashing each other's property to pieces, but it wasn't always like that. In EVE's early days, there were so few players that much of nullsec was wasteland and you could often go 40 jumps across the lawless regions without seeing a single soul. Conquerable stations were added for players to fight over in 2003's Castor expansion, but they were few and far between. It wasn't until player-owned structures were first introduced with Exodus that nullsec really started out on its path to full-scale colonisation and all-out war.

The first player-owned structures introduced were Starbases, which offered not only a place to stash your loot and ships but also a whole new industry based on reacting moon minerals together. Moon minerals have been a major point of contention in nullsec balance discussions over the years, but most alliances weren't all that interested in moons when the industry first appeared. Starbases took all day to set up, refueling and emptying them required constant hauling, and just scanning all the moons in a region for minerals was a massive undertaking. In the summer of 2005, player Count TaSessine saw this problem as an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands as he formed the Interstellar Starbase Syndicate.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look back at the history of one of EVE's early alliances, its creator's dream for a civilian nullsec, and the changes that eventually led to the alliance's destruction.

EVE Evolved side imageThe dream of a civilian nullsec

In June 2005, Count TaSessine unveiled his vision to create a civilian alliance with access to nullsec moons but absolutely no territorial or military ambitions. The goal was to create an industrial megacorp that operated in nullsec independently of the political entities that fought over territory. Host territorial alliances were promised tax revenue, a steady supply of cheap tech 2 materials, and access to industrial infrastructure without any of the logistical headache of setting it up and maintaining it. Several alliances expressed interest, and the Interstellar Starbase Syndicate was born.

ISS members were instructed to stay neutral in all conflicts and had to sign a strict charter forbidding them from opening fire on anyone without provocation. Membership fees were collected from all member corporations and used to fund a dedicated peacekeeping Navy. It was even suggested that ISS starbases should be considered civilian targets in any war and that if territory changed hands then the same deal would be offered to the new owners. The reality was never quite so optimistic, however, as this political neutrality brought its own set of problems.

EVE Evolved side imageThe first IPO and neutral outpost

The Interstellar Starbase Syndicate is probably best known for creating the world's first ever initial public offering (IPO) in an MMO. Just a few months after setting up the syndicate, business executive Serenity Steele came up with the incredibly ambitious plan to build a neutral trading outpost in a seemingly disused area of the Catch region. Shares in the outpost were sold to fund its construction, with dividends paid out of the station's trade tax. The IPO sold out, and in October 2005, ISS Marginis opened for business in KDF-GY.

KDF-GY was uniquely suited for the plan as there were only three moons in the entire system. As long as ISS held starbases at all three moons, it was impossible for anyone to take the outpost by force. Three fuel-guzzling "death star" starbases were installed at the moons and loaded to the teeth with guns, but the outpost's best defenses were political and economic in nature. A lot of the local corporations and alliances who could attack the outpost owned shares in it. Marginis had no intrinsic value and produced ISK only when people bought items from the market, so it was in everyone's best interests to let it be open to the public.

EVE Evolved side imageScaling up operations

With the phenomenal success of Marginis, the ISS went on to launch further investment schemes to build stations and became one of EVE's biggest developers of nullsec infrastructure. ISS Borealis was opened in the north of EVE in conjunction with G Alliance and IRON, with the IPO selling out in just two days. Shares in a new factory outpost named ISS Tycho sold out within two and a half hours, and the expansion didn't stop there. Two new outposts were built on the route from empire space to Marginis to provide new players with a stepping stone into nullsec.

2006 was a bumper year for the Syndicate, but it also saw growing controversy over the alliance's neutrality. Two private outposts were built in the far-off Tenerifis region on behalf of alliance Lotka Volterra, casting doubt on the alliance's political neutrality. In a separate incident, Band of Brothers alliance controversially gave ISS a captured station on the condition that it be run as a public investment. EVE's population grew throughout 2006, nullsec became more crowded and the political climate grew more and more tense. ISS optimistically launched one massive final IPO, but the cold war was rapidly heating up.

EVE Evolved side imageThe Great Southern War

There have been a few Great Southern Wars in EVE over the years, but the first has special significance as it marked the transition from individual alliances waging wars to massive coalitions working together. With nowhere left to expand except into ISS systems, the Catch-based Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate declared war on the ISS and did not agree to leave the publicly owned stations untouched. A fivefold increase to dreadnought hitpoints had made death stars ineffective for system defense by this point, and the political and economic defenses that had kept ISS safe no longer cut it: The Syndicate was going to war.

With the public stations under potential threat, ISS went on the offensive, joined by fleets from Lotka Volterra and Mercenary Coalition. Despite initially pulling together the largest combined capital fleet ever seen in EVE up until that point, the group lost momentum over the Christmas holidays. Rumours that Russian alliance Against All Authorities was planning to enter the war caused Mercenary Coalition to pull out for fear of losing valuable capital ships. Red Alliance, Against All Authorities and others joined IAC and took the war to Lotka Volterra, sparking off the first Great Southern War. The ISS stations were rapidly overrun in the south, while Dusk and Dawn alliance simultaneously took the northern outposts.

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The Interstellar Starbase Syndicate never fully recovered from losing its outposts. The dream of a civilian nullsec owned by the masses and open to everyone in EVE died that day, and it hasn't been resurrected since. Somewhere along the line, EVE became a more violent place, and the ideals of the ISS became impractical. The political neutrality defense stopped working, and industrial and economic might could no longer cut it in war.

Constant change is an inherent part of EVE, and it's the organisations that adapt best to that change which last the longest. The cold war era of industrialists building empires is an important part of EVE's history, but it was just a stepping stone to a universe at war and in which fleets of thousands smash each other's stuff to bits. Thinking back to my old ISS days, I'm glad to have been a part of it when it was around because I honestly don't think we'll see anything quite like it ever again.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.