Staff Editorials

EVE Online: Into the Future
Posted: 27.01.2009 16:56 by Comments: 7
Fresh of their latest expansion, Icelandic developer CCP are once again looking towards the future for both their company, and their flagship title EVE Online. With radical new changes planned for the massively-multiplayer game, as well as plans to expand the EVE experience into all aspects of a player’s life, just how far will their imagination take them?

With games as dynamic and as constant as MMOs, it takes a fairly motivated development team to keep such an entity going. These titles need to be kept fresh constantly and interesting so that, not only do the high-end players get something to do once they've done everything, but also so that there's plenty more features to entice new players. This is usually done through expansions, raising level caps, or adding new elements to the game, any developer can do it, so long as they want to keep improving the game. But it takes a team with true vision to take a title that they've worked so hard on and then to push and evolve it beyond the boundaries of itself.

EVE Online, a space based MMO is more of a cult classic than a mainstream heavy weight, has arguably been the focus of such a vision. Not content to sit back and just let the game run its course, developer CCP are constantly and stoically building and improving the game, and as it improves, so does their vision for it. This vision isn't always appreciated by the wider gaming community however, as there are still some fundamental problems that prevent it from being able to attain the subscription base enjoyed by the likes of World of Warcraft.

CCP themselves are not what one would call one of the 'big-time' game developers, and whilst they've done well so far considering they're not based in the UK or the US, their size means that they can only do so much. Still, there's a resilience that runs through CCP that few can match – even the current economic crisis seems to be passing them by. When concerns were voiced over the global recession, CEO Hilmar Petursson reassured the players that they were “largely unaffected by world events,” despite the fact that Iceland has been hit particularly hard with its currency value being cut almost in half. Never the less, Petursson claimed that “neither the company nor EVE were going anywhere any time soon” and that they've managed to increase their staff count to 365. Even the recent seizure of Icelandic assets by the British government seems not to have phased them, although it was the source of much amusement.

The game itself is also renowned for being a bit harsh to newer players, with a sharp learning 'cliff', and a brutal player versus player (PvP) model that doesn't forgive mistakes. Coupled with the amount of time that it takes players to get really good at the game; out-of-game activities, and its obsession with numbers and statistics; means that only the most dedicated and patient tend to stick around. It has even earned itself the nickname “Spreadsheets in Space” and “the menu game” amongst critics. CCP have known about this problem for a long time, but have so far been slow at doing anything meaningful about it. But, on the other hand, they're utterly devoted to improving the game in general, and seeing their desired plan for the franchise come to fruition.

During a keynote speech at their annual 'fanfest' event, Executive Producer Nathan Richardsson outlined the “Ecosystem” of EVE, which forms the core of their grand vision. If all goes according to plan, CCP will “break down the barriers” that separate the different mediums. According to them, this means an EVE-based social network website, an instant message client, the re-introduction of EVE-Mobile, and an expansion of their API program. Not only this, but there have also been hints of an EVE-based first-person shooter title as well. Whilst most developers wish to capture 100% of their consumer bases attention, few even try to go to such lengths as CCP seem to be. Even Activision-Blizzard, who own the number one MMO, World of Warcraft, haven't bothered to do half the things CCP want to do, although one could argue they don't need to.

And this is all on top of EVE's twice-yearly expansions, which is just one of the several things that make the MMO-title unique. Since it launched in 2004, CCP have been committed to this release schedule, and have so far managed to deliver the goods each time. The last two expansions to date, named 'Empyrean Age' and 'Quantum Rise', combined have brought about one of the most extensive evolutions to the game since its release, and has completely transformed the game. The most crucial of these recent changes are arguably the implementation of both the StacklessIO and the 64-bit software. EVE is notorious for having considerable 'lag' or latency in certain key trading hubs, especially the in-game system known as Jita.

CCP aren't going to stop there either. Always looking towards the future, CCP have already outlined their plans for the next expansion and beyond, which is themed on 'exploration'. Associate Producer Torfi Olafsson is very much looking forward to this instalment, as it will be “the biggest expansion for EVE to date, there are more developers, programmers and artists working on it than ever before.” And with it will come new map areas accessed only through wormholes; a whole new tech level, plus other major additions and revisions that they hope will make the game more appealing to both new and old players.

The most interesting of the upcoming changes though is the 'Walking in Stations' feature. At first glance, it may seem a trivial feature to include, and on some level there's really no need for it to be included at all, but CCP are doing it anyway. This could potentially unlock whole new aspects of gameplay for the players, as they can now use their avatars to interact with the environment. The depth of CCP's vision is truly highlighted in this instance, as from station interaction, the next leap would be planet interaction. Ambulation on planets, planet ownership and control, planet destruction would really be evolution on a truly unilateral scale.

You can't help but wonder what drives CCP, why they decide to do, what they do, the way they do. Another associate producer, Arend Stuhrmann, hinted that they may not even have a choice in the matter:

“We have a very demanding player-base. We like that, it is a challenge, but EVE as it exists today has a lot of things that were demanded or suggested by the players themselves. We don’t necessarily get our challenges from competitors; we get it from wanting to provide the best game possible out there, and for attracting new players and keeping our current players interested.”

This much at least is certainly true. The player base has always been known for its creative streak, and CCP have encouraged this by providing them the tools they need to do so. Because of this, many player-created services have sprung up in-game – from surprisingly obvious things like banks and financial corporations, to more subtle things like dedicated couriers and universities. In a way, this approach takes some load of the demands from the EVE developers, allowing them to concentrate on the 'big picture'. In-game Economist, Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, believes that it is important that user-generated content stays as such:

“Our philosophy has been that these ideas are user-generated and therefore it should be user credited. We would rather see some sort of ‘trust system’ evolve among the players themselves, because as soon as you put an official stamp on it, you have to start putting in regulations and rules and restrictions and some kind of accountability, and that’s not really the EVE spirit. The EVE spirit is about the individual being able to try something new, and have the free spirit to just go ahead and have no-one stop them in their goals.”

The important question though is can it be done? Will it be done any time soon? Will it be done right? As with most grand visions, it's more often than not a case of either biting off more than one can chew, or the vision simply not turning out how it was supposed to. CCP have other things to focus on as well, as even though they have over three-quarters of their work force working on EVE, like all developers they do have other projects. The most notable of these is 'World of Darkness', which is another MMO they are working on (as a result of their recent merger of White Wolf Inc.).

One thing is for sure however: EVE is no longer the game it once was, and if CCP and the players each get their own way, eventually it will no longer be the game it is now. Having just signed a new fiscal deal with Atari to once again bring a boxed product to the videogame stores, CCP will be able to look forward to an influx of new players. With new players comes more revenue, and with more revenue comes more resources for them to utilise – from there, the stars are the limit.
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By Kres (SI Elite) on Jan 27, 2009
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Jan 29, 2009
I saw. This next expansion is going to very interesting indeed. It's rare to see such a constant evolution in an MMO. Provided they fix the low level material so that it becomes more accessible, I envision great things for this game.
By AceofSpades (SI Member) on Jan 31, 2009
EVE online is unquestionably one of the top MMOs out there.
By Chaos1239 (I just got here) on Feb 10, 2009
This game is the best mmo i have seen dealing with this particular topic "space".
I have always liked the space games more than the others but never really have found any great ones but this... is a good game i only wish i could buy it,but im broke so i just have to keep playing trial version :( ONE DAY i will buy it lol
By xempyreanx (SI Newbie) on Mar 28, 2009
I realy miss the old EVE-online. Eversince Trinity came, my relation with the game has been a love-hate (or love-not like) relation. Pity :(
By RockPaperNuke (SI Newbie) on Mar 28, 2009
I always wanted to play EVE but never had the stomach to try.
By lichlord (SI Core) on Jun 02, 2009
i wish their was a way to play for free :/ but they gonna pay their super computers with something :(