EVE Online is a game unlike any other, so not surprisingly, an equally unique company runs it. At the 2007 EVE Online Fanfest held last week in Reykjavik, Iceland, CCP Games continued to flaunt conventional wisdom and laid out near and long term plans for the game.
An event that would normally be mostly about socialization morphed into a three day conference on the status of what CCP believes has become a genuine society. Each of the three days was packed with panels on every conceivable aspect of EVE Online. Literally, each half hour, someone would be there to speak. The sheer volume and variety of information dwarfed several mainstream game conventions held this year, which really isn’t a surprise given the topic.
“War on the impossible,” is the company’s latest mantra, according to CEO Hilmar Petursson. But, EVE Online has always defied expectations. It launched as a shell of a game to a very limited to subscriber base, yet while most games follow a very predictable life cycle, EVE refuses to quit growing. As of last week, the game has 197,773 subscribers, up substantially from last year. It creates a growth chart that looks more like Google’s stock price than the typical bump and decline most games see.
Part of this success is how the world of EVE has taken on a life of its own. While most games divide their players between servers for technical and gameplay reasons, CCP capitalizes on the infinity of space and runs a world that recently hit 37,290 concurrent players logged in. The value of this is not just technical, and their Fanfest demonstrates the fact perfectly.
At most events, fans are seated by server. In Iceland, they sit by corporation. When someone mentions an event, a player or a group, the fans react. The players of EVE Online are unified by shared experience, while players of typical MMOGs can only relate through mechanics and, more often than not, complaints. In EVE, the world holds such an emotional spot in the hearts of those who dare jump into it, that to leave it is to end a life, not a subscription.
Petursson’s “war on the impossible” extends beyond server capacity and concurrency records. Over the course of the week they showed off their short term plan to redo all the art in the game, their medium range goal of an entire avatar system and then launched into a long term plan of planetary control. The sheer scale of the things they suggested so off-handedly is absurd to consider, but history has shown that to doubt their will is a mistake.
A year ago at Fanfest, they pitched the idea of “walking on stations” as a theoretical exercise to their fans. It was something they had one guy assigned to as a kind of experiment and most fans thought it was cool, but didn’t seem to hold their breath. Then, a year later, “walking on stations” is called Ambulation, was demonstrated for the crowd and is now the centerpiece of their 2008 expansion plan.
It’s developments like this that add weight to their words. “We’re not going anywhere and we have so much left to do with EVE,” Senior Producer Nathan Richardsson told the assembled crowd on the final day. They truly view it as an organic universe and while the bar graph shows growth, they’re not afraid to run off into left field to grow that vision.
Typical game companies won’t discuss more than one expansion in the future, and build entire updates around new dungeons, races and classes. CCP plans to redo all the art in a nearly five year old game, fully integrate voice chat, launch a completely new avatar system, begin a democratically elected player advocacy council, launch the game on the Mac and Linux, reconfigure the game’s base architecture and migrate it to a network of super computers and completely re-write two version’s of the game’s client to support new visuals and DirectX 10. This is just on the road map for the end of next year, it’s all free and doesn’t include actual gameplay improvements or any of their many side-projects, like a novel, EVE Web Wars, a trading card game and, of course, World of Darkness Online, a completely new AAA MMOG project.
All of this does not mean they’re flawless. Originally, the expansion now called Trinity was just a third of a larger expansion originally called Kali and due to launch quite some time ago. Sometimes, their imaginations get the better of their production timelines, but as they explained each area of expansion, they made clear they had plans in place to make sure they achieve their targets.
For example, in Ambulation, players should not expect combat; the graphics upgrades are confined to space objects and not space itself; and DirectX 10 support has been pushed back until more users adopt Vista and the necessary hardware.
The goal of everything for CCP is to grow their world. Petursson projects the game will surpass 400,000 subscribers in two years, effectively doubling their current universe. In the near future, they hope the population of their virtual world surpasses that of their native Iceland and at some point in 2008, the number of player man-years spent inside EVE will surpass 250,000, which means more human effort will have been spent in the construction of EVE’s society than is estimated on the construction of the pyramids.
Over the course of this week, WarCry will bring you a series of focused articles that look at the upcoming Trinity expansion, Ambulation, the world’s economy, CCP’s “democratic” initiatives and a look at the general plan for EVE’s future.
As we continue this week’s articles, we will bring you more focused pieces. Here is the list: