AGDC 07: EVE Online Interview with CEO Hilmar Petursson


WarCry interviewed CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson at AGDC where he spoke about his company’s merger with White Wolf, upcoming EVE Online updates and the company’s response to a highly publicized case of employee misconduct within the game world.

It’s been 10 months since CCP and White Wolf announced their merger during Fanfest in Reykjavik, and Petursson said the integration of the two radically different companies has gone better than he anticipated. A big positive for CCP has been their newfound presence in North America, with White Wolf’s base of operations in Atlanta, GA becoming CCP North America. This has given them a complete world-wide network of customer support: Reykjavik, Atlanta and their new studio in Shanghai, CCP Asia.

It has also, as hoped, improved their ability to tell good stories. Traditionally, CCP has excelled in making games and worlds, and while EVE has a story, most of what goes on is created by the players. White Wolf specialized in crafting worlds and stories, and now, lends that expertise to CCP.

Petursson – who one must remember is the CEO of CCP worldwide, not just CCP Europe – also believes the move has been a great thing for their gothic friends in Atlanta. They are currently hard at work on a design and prototype for World of Darkness, their Vampire-themed MMO, and they have a few steps up on the competition, thanks to CCP’s wealth of experience and technology. They share many tools used to build EVE – more than one would think, Petursson noted – with the World of Darkness project. EVE’s tools cannot do everything necessary for a terrestrial game like WoD though, and Petursson told us the work they’ve done to build tools appropriate to World of Darkness have really opened doors for EVE.

One of these developments will be evident in the next free expansion to EVE Online when players finally get to take their pilots out of their ships. Last year, CCP introduced the concept of “walking on stations” with much hype, but few details. It was part of a long range plan that had no timeline. Now it does. Petursson said that he hopes to launch the expansion that lets players walk on stations by the end of 2008, a goal he admits is a bit ambitious.

Before they get people on stations though, CCP will launch their much-hyped graphics upgrade by the end of November. It is almost done – Petursson showed off a bank of images on his laptop – and will revolutionize the ship graphics. EVE has always looked very good, but once they show the before and after images, it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. These graphics and shader upgrades completely change the look of the game.

The upgrade – which should feature an absurdly large patch – brings new high resolution textures and shader upgrades that most people’s machines should be able to fully appreciate. The team had also hyped full DX10 support, but re-evaluated that plan when Vista didn’t take off as quickly as expected. They still intend to do that upgrade, but have simply refocused their immediate goals into areas where more players can take advantage of their work.

Recent weeks have also seen a slower pace of record concurrency number announcements from CCP. This is not a sign that the game isn’t growing, Petursson told us. Instead, they understand that not everyone is as excited as they are each time the number goes up. Here on out, they intend to only announce major milestones. Where are they now? Off the top of his head, like a parent who knows exactly how well their child did on his most recent spelling test, Petursson proudly told us they were at 35,313.

“We’ve been at the brink of the impossible for four years,” he said. Is there a limit? He isn’t sure. The team works all the time to make sure that they don’t hit a ceiling – the last thing they want to do is split their world – and so far they’ve avoided that.

Petursson credits the game’s continued growth to the company’s focus on “worlds” rather than games. He pointed out that while game content can be consumed, a virtual world actually has more value as time passes and more people enter it. For that reason, World of Darkness will follow a similar path. Don’t expect a WoW clone from these guys.

To protect these worlds though, players need to have confidence that everything is fair. They need to know they are in some ways in charge of what goes on, and not always controlled by the invisible hand of the developers. That’s why the recent cheating scandal, where a CCP developer was found to have abused his power for the benefit of a player corporation, hit so close to home for CCP.

Petursson underlined that this was the first case where a developer had abused their authority on behalf of certain players. Previously, three people had been let go when they did things for personal gain, but this developer was the first to go beyond that.

He believes the incident sent a strong message to the members of the development team, who now fully understand no matter how much they love their game, they cannot tamper with it, lest they risk their own livelihoods. As a company, they take this threat extremely seriously and believe it only becomes larger as they grow.

Petursson gave two examples of how in a larger world, they plan to take things more seriously. First, they hired Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson to oversee their game’s economy. Second, they plan to conduct some democratic initiatives that allow players to take a role in the game’s governance. He didn’t have share any specifics on what exactly that means (we’ll have to wait for Fanfest this fall), but if done seriously, it will be a huge milestone in the history of online worlds.

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