Nov 25, 2015

Jeff Edwards' Conversation with Signal Cartel

Not quite two weeks ago, Jeff Edwards dropped by Signal Cartel comms to talk with us about his Fountain War book project. I have been meaning to write this post up since then but...blame RL for getting in my way. Anyway, several Signal folks and friends joined in for a lively chat...more of a brainstorming session really, since some questions brought up issues Jeff hadn't thought about yet and we got to bounce ideas around with him for how he might address them.

Having met Jeff at EVE Vegas, I already knew he was a friendly, warm guy who is very enthusiastic about this project. That came through even more so as he chatted with us. In fact after he left, we joked gently about him bouncing on the edge of his seat from excitement during our entire session. I will venture to say that his visit inspired enthusiasm on our side as well. Let's see if my semi-senile brain can recall some of the things we covered (thanks to Orion Sa-Solo for the memory jog!).

Breysyth Asythe asked how the novelization would deal with or represent the impact of players' different time zones on in-game events. "Oh, haven't gotten that question before!" said Jeff and then mused off the top of his head about whether it would be plausible to explain nonavailability in-game as the result of ship maintenance/repair delays due to high demand or work schedules affecting worker/facilities availability. 

A few of us asked how New Eden's backstory and lore issues might be woven in, particularly as it related to the Pirate Factions operating in the same area as war prep or engagements. Someone observed that what capsuleers are up to--especially having big wars--would likely be noticed by various NPC factions and very possibly affect their supply lines, agendas, etc. The living work of science fiction that is EVE is after all not *just* about capsuleers but also incorporates the environment and and the societies of which we capsuleers are only a small part despite the potential enormity of our impact.  

Conversation then transitioned to the it works, how it might feel to be plugged so intimately into a ship, how limited one's perception might feel when not in interfaced with a capsule, and so forth. The hope was expressed that Jeff would explore the potentially different reactions capsuleers have to being in--or out--of their capsules, how their psyches are affected, and more about the physical, mental, and emotional details of actually being and functioning as a capsuleer. 

My impression was that Jeff had not yet dug much into the lore and backstory of New Eden but we provided him links to the Chronicles, Zendane's reading of them, Hydrostatic Podcast, and the #lore channel on Tweetfleet Slack as a start.

We talked about name substitutions that had been considered and how that would even work, and Jeff said that he was rethinking his position on that one due to player pushback. He mentioned that some names which might involve copyright infringement or refer to celebrities would have to be change to avoid legal problems, but changing names for "politically correct" reasons was being reconsidered. This is just one example he cited where feedback from players has changed his mind about how to approach something in the novel. In fact during his chat with us, several ideas were mentioned that he wrote down to explore more during his writing process. 

Someone wondered whether or how being a demigod affects a capsuleer's emotional landscape. How do we react when our loved ones die? Do we even maintain connections to them after becoming a capsuleer? Do we marry, have children, have "normal" if exceedingly wealthy lives outside our capsules? Do losses of family or ship crew favorites distract us and affect our performance inside our capsules? We wondered if Jeff planned to infuse the personalities of the characters he was writing about with emotional depth. He said he hoped to, as much as was possible and practical. It's pretty clear that while he is writing about a war, he knows that well-developed characters are vital to making a compelling story.

We talked a bit about possibilities if the current Kickstarter doesn't meet its funding goal, since it's clear we players love stories about ourselves and our impact and activities in the game. Ideas were bounced around including short story collections that focus on smaller groups or individuals, maybe contributed by a variety of authors. Or maybe some collaborations between writers and artists. Jeff was very enthusiastic about the prospects however things turned out.

We asked about his writing process. How was he managing all this complexity? Did he realize at the start just how complex it would be to not only weave together the facts of war-related events with fictional elements, facets of the New Eden environment, and the game itself? He said that challenge was becoming increasingly clear and that he hadn't foreseen that it would be quite as complex as it was turning out to be. A great deal of research is involved in fact-checking and follow-up, but he is really enjoying that. He also talked a little bit about the challenge of writing plausible reasons for actions or constraints imposed by game mechanics. He encouraged folks to keep sending their stories, ideas, and process questions related to the Fountain War Book to him at

Our hour with Jeff flew by; we could easily have spent another couple of hours talking. Hearing his enthusiasm in puzzling out answers to some of the questions we posed was really fun. Hearing him exclaim "Oh, that's a great idea!" or "Whoa, hadn't thought of that angle!" gave us the sense that the conversation was worthwhile for him, as well. As a bonus, his affable demeanor and sincerity won over at least one doubter. My friend Orion Sa-Solo reluctantly attended, bringing with him a pre-conceived notion that this was just a Goons propaganda project. However, Jeff's frankness, willingness to listen to players, and dedication to telling the story of the Fountain War as accurately and as interestingly as he can made Orion change his mind from doubter to supporter. 

Regardless of what the more practiced tinfoilers in our community may claim, you can't come away from a conversation with Jeff Edwards about this project without being convinced that he will do his damnedest to create a story that not just EVE players but lots of sci-fi fans will enjoy. 

Whether he gets the opportunity to do so funded by the current Kickstarter remains to be seen. With just 12 days to go, pledges are at roughly 25% of the funding goal. That is shy of an ideal situation. Still, Kickstarters often see a big surge of pledges in the last few days of their projects. This one would need a huge boost to close the gap between pledges and goal. That seems unlikely unless someone with deep pockets is waiting in the wings. 

Not helping matters is the raging drama and vitriol aimed at this project and its organizer Mittani Media from certain segments of the EVE community. I am appalled at how eagerly people seem to fall into mob mentality and jump on the Goonhate bandwagon instead of taking a moment to rationally assess a creative endeavor on its own merits. I see it on Reddit, on Twitter, I've even seen a whiff of it in my own corp. It is irksomely everywhere. 

When I am feeling cantankerous, I like to call people out on their "Grr Goons" mentality. Some may think this marks me as a Goon supporter. I'm not, particularly. I'm neutral if anything. Or more accurately, indifferent. But here's the thing: I simply can't understand haters who pull out all the stops to smother something potentially good in the cradle rather than look for even a single good reason to help bring it to life. Well-intentioned creative works often end up having a greater positive impact than was ever envisioned by those who launched them. Doesn't Jeff's book, a first-of-its-kind project for our community, deserve that chance? I think it does and I will remain optimistic about it getting funded until the last minute of the Kickstarter--both for Jeff's sake and for the sake of projects that this one's success could inspire down the line. 

Want to hear more from Jeff on this project? We didn't record our session, but TEST recorded theirs and there is also a video with CCP Falcon and Jeff discussing the project. To learn more about Jeff, visit his Web site.


  1. Bo love you lady, but, "Doesn't Jeff's book, a first-of-its-kind project for our community, deserve that chance?"... this is not the first Book about EVE, and it is not even the first Kickstarted book about nullsuc... No I am not especially Grr Gewns, I loath all things Nullsec equally... that said, I also deeply love the diversity of New Eden and that our great cluster has room for all the Mitten's and Gevlon's and all the rest of us...)

    I do hope you are well acquainted with the Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online by Andrew Groen which is close to completion.

    My issue with this book is
    (1) it has Mittens paw prints all over it... and, well, EVE aint about Mittens... he's just one of the thousands of us and I am just damned tired, as so may are, of him.
    (2) Andrew asked for $12,500 (and got over $95,000) for his book which covers YEARS and the grand sweep of the history of nullsec... and Mittens and Jeff asked for $150,000 just to cover one war... really??
    (3) Personally, as Andrew is giving Nullsec it's due... I will from now on only back work and books that cover THE REST OF THE GAME... Hisec, Lowsec and Negsec... most especially my beloved Anoikis... I am just so effin tired of nullsec being seen as the be all and end all of EVE... cause it aint.

    That's what all the hoopla is about... Jeff needs to distance himself from Mittens... and take a good hard look at the WHOLE game, then he will find years of stuff to write about.

    1. Crap... that was Bob love you lady... not Bo... gods above and below I HATE typing... =P

    2. Of course I'm familiar with Andrew's book, I supported it and can't wait to get it. He has done a remarkable job with it. But it's not a novel. It's a history book. The Fountain War book is the first crowdsourced novelization of player-made events in EVE Online. To me, this makes it very different from Andrew's book. To others, it may be splitting hairs. As a creative, the nuances matter in my mind.

      I KNOW what the hoopla is a about. Obviously if the baggage associated with The Mittani had not been so firmly attached to this project at the start, things might have gone very differently. The early misguided reward tiers didn't help with that, and while it was good to see them adjusted toward neutrality, I get why people find some of the remaining reward tiers cringey and the project overall too Mittani-ized.

      As for the funding goal comparison, why does this matter? Project costs differ greatly because of how the organizers chose to approach producing their books. In both cases, the project organizers set a funding goal they thought was achievable. In both cases, explanations for where the funding would go were reasonable to me.

      In the case of Andrew's project, he set a funding goal based on writing a book as a passion project. It resonated with people and he got great support. Plus don't forget that he has a pre-sales order page which he has been promoting widely; I don't know if he's shared how much revenue that has generated. Even so, he has stated in one or more of his updates that when all is said and done he will make virtually no money on it because of the choices he's made about book production: artwork, hardcovers, and so forth.

      In the case of the Fountain War book, Mittani Media decided to put 60% of their funding goal into the costs to have Jeff Edwards write the book. That leaves about $90K--less than Andrew raised on his Kickstarter alone. Let's do some speculative math. The Fountain War book is currently about 25% funded. There are about 180 backers at the most-popular-across-all-Kickstarters reward tiers of $15-50 that promise to deliver a printed book. Let's extrapolate that if fully funded, the Fountain War project could end up with roughly 800 backers for those reward tiers. Ballparking fulfillment costs, you could be looking at averages of $6 per book for printing, $1 for packaging, and $10 for shipping (rough average of domestic and international tracked postage cost to ship a book). These might even be on the low side, but let's go with it. 800 backers x $17 is $13,600.

      Now we're left with $76,400. Let's deduct $15K in fees (5% to Kickstarter and 5% to presumed fulfillment service admin fees). Now we have $61,400 left. That must pay for the costs of marketing materials/efforts, a professional editor, shipping or travel need to enable Jeff to sign the books, fulfillment of all the other reward tiers, and unforeseen expenses that always come up in these projects. Since Kickstarter funds are considered regular income by the IRS, any profit will be subject to taxes. My own experience with running a Kickstarter and my reading about lots of other printed book Kickstarters suggests that most such projects which succeed--even wildly beyond expectations--do not end up with their organizers rolling around in hot tubs full of money. In fact, those organizers often end up subsidizing costs to some degree to fulfill rewards as promised.

      Of course my numbers are pure speculation. But while I think $150K is ambitious and the Fountain War reward tiers are overly complicated (and initially pretty cringe-worthy), I don't think the amount is outrageous if the project gets funded by backing patterns follow the trends seen in successful Kickstarters for printed books aiming at the same demographic--given the costs to produce and fulfill rewards. If someone steps up to throw $50K or $100K into the pot, it would be very different. But how likely do you think that is? Not very.

    3. OK, I’ll back off of the money… your breakdown does help make it at least seem more reasonable… though I still think a writing an ‘accurate chronicle’, a History book, one in which the researching, interviewing, fact finding, checking, double-checking part is vastly more important (and IMHO potentially more costly) than writing a ‘fictionalized’ story which yes, still requires interviewing and researching but not to the depth and not with the same requirement for accuracy as a properly done History.

      Even forgoing the monetary aspects, as re Mittens, I don’t think Jeff realized who he was getting into bed with, or… mebbe he thought he did but didn’t count on the drama associated with Mittens in the EVE playerbase.

      And please please believe me, I am ALL for all forms and formats of additional EVE related “stuff”… I wish there was more available in the way of T-shirts and hoodies and books and novels and art and gee-gaws… I really feel CCP is dropping the ball on other potential marketing aspect of EVE, they should be leading this stuff, not leaving it to others. Heck, if Jeff actually does get his book done… I’ll probably buy it… =]

  2. If Jeff Edwards is so excited and passionate about the project, why does he need a Kickstarter? Why wouldn't he go to CCP, ask for a license, and to a publisher ask for the funds. Every year, hundreds of thousands of books are written and published this way in the US. Yes it takes courage. What it keeps is integrity, independence and impartiality. But what is to expect of an author that made his name with navy books? It is easy to write for those in power and easy if the pay check is already secured. Propaganda is always in high demand. But why should I support that?

    P.S. EVE Online is a game, not a religion and not a community. If you want religion, go to a church. If you want community, go to the communists.

    1. you missed:

      “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”

      Regards, a Freelancer

      PS: did anyone told Jeff that the Eve meta game is rough, and mittens has a scarlet letter.

    2. I would venture to say that the Kickstarter needs Jeff, not the other way around. He is not the originator of this project nor would he ever likely have thought about writing an EVE related book until he was approached by Mittani Media about it. I'm quite sure that if he wasn't aware of the nature of this community, he sure is by now.

      Everyone will have a different opinion about this project. If you don't see value in it, don't support it. I'm not trying to convince anyone here, I'm just sharing my own thoughts about it on my own platform for doing that. Agree or disagree, that's your prerogative.

    3. The reason for the kickstarter was answered in either an interview or one of the book tour sessions. If he only works on the book part-time, it will take 3 years to write. The kickstarter is to allow him to work on the book full time by replacing the income from his day job.

      Frankly, unless the book was a commercial success, taking a year off from being a DoD contractor is probably foolish, but he's willing to take the risk. Then again, I don't think the kickstarter will meet its goal.

  3. Looks like the RMT machine just got cut off at the knees. Have a look at Eve 24's latest post. Some people who actually know and love the game are putting together an anthology of fan fiction, which will blow the doors off the effort of some writer who is trying to grasp Eve in parallel with writing a book tailored to the whims of a sociopath.

  4. The great wars of EVE (plural!) have so much potential for being fictionalized, if the writer is allowed take a step back and even change the name of the actors. We don't need a book about how the Goons defeated BOB - however, we could use a well-written book about the struggle of two space empires, which just happens to be based on real-world events. A book featured on the likes of Amazon or Barnes & Nobles (which fan fiction usually isn't).

    Sadly, the kickstarter was botched from the start. While the 'Grr Goons' mentality in this context is misguided, it is a real thing, and the TMC crew should have accounted for it. Ditto, the initial Mittani-centric backer rewards were just too cringe-inducing.

    Jeff Edwards (who seems to be genuinely interested in the project - I talked with him briefly at EVE Vegas) is pretty much a victim here as well: he got caught in the long-standing crossfire between the Goons and the rest of EVE.

    Myself, I'm torn: I want books like Jeff's proposed one to exist, but at the same time I revel in the fact that this episode dispels the "it's only a game" illusion: what the Goons did online, in the game, did have offline consequences.

    There are no winners here - but hopefully lessons being learned.

    1. This might be the most well balanced comment I have seen on the issue. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.