The 'sleeper hit' of the MMO business in the last few years has been space trading game EVE Online, which now has more than 200,000 active subscribers, according to recent press reports. Of course, it is well-known that the game makes no apologies about its steep barrier to entry, so it should come as no surprise that the fourth annual EVE Fanfest took place in Reykjavik, Iceland during some very cold and wet November weather. Despite the remote location, EVE developer and publisher CCP Games was able to attract over 1,000 attendees from several different countries.
Particularly for game developers and publishers -- CCP is both -- it would seem that companies tend to hold new features very close to the vest, only announcing them when plans are near completion or implementation is well along. In contrast, CCP Games was remarkably open about a lot of material that is still quite early in development.
The developers and management make no excuses for the fact that they haven't yet figured out how announced systems and technology will work. They also solicited player feedback in a very active and direct manner. The roundtables at the event typified their approach. The developers actively listened to the participants and directly addressed their questions and concerns.
The tone of the interaction was refreshing. There was very little defensiveness on CCP's part, even for issues which they couldn't address to a participant's satisfaction. Each roundtable had a CCP employee present whose sole duty was to keep notes of participants' suggestions. Implicit in the open nature of the face-to-face forums, they put a fair amount of faith in their player community that the participants wouldn't monopolize the experience for each other. And for the most part, their goodwill was justified.
Part of this seemed to be due to the attendee demographics. Although Gamasutra doesn't have an exact breakdown, anecdotally the crowd seemed to skew a little older. Because there was an open bar at the event, attendees had to be 18 or older. Most were considerably so. The average age appeared to be in the late 20s to mid 30s. Many attendees also worked in tech, IT, and game development themselves. Women players seemed to be fairly represented, too.
The three-day event covered a range of presentations, roundtables and activities. For Thursday, November 1st, most attendees were still in transit. The doors didn't open until 2pm, and the sessions were smaller and more specialized. These included an explanation of the development and theory behind EVE's in-game heat generation and dissipation systems, a session on expert PvP strategy, a tutorial on how to create and promote EVE fan sites, a discussion on the upcoming EVE novel by author Tony Gonzales, and an evening group event at the Blue Lagoon hot springs. Roundtables for the day featured opportunities to discuss most-wanted features for future game expansions.