|EVE Online: Into the Future|
|Posted: 27.01.2009 16:56 by Joe Robinson||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.
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.
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.”
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.