developers CCP are based in the northernmost capital city in the world;
tiny, friendly Reykjvik, with its black mountains, expensive beer and
icy seas. It's a geologically dramatic backdrop for a community whose
continued success is doing much to redefine the landscape of MMOs. This
is not a project that has relied on predefined templates for its
success, and CCP are forthright in their opinions as to the
significance of the directions their project has taken. Now independent
and publishing online, CCP are writing their own future with the
beautiful and foreboding EVE Online - a game whose beauty, like Iceland itself, is something of an acquired taste.
our many questions on the growth of the iconoclastic space RPG was
Nathan Richardsson, who left Iceland Telecom, the company that handles
CCP's server hosting and customer support, to become senior producer on
the EVE project in early 2004. He first talked a little about
the origins of CCP's attitude toward game design – an attitude that has
created a game in which real losses are possible.
“The founders had two passions which they wanted to join,” explained Richardsson. “The sci-fi feel and vastness of space from Elite and the social interaction of massively multiplayer and player vs. player gaming from Ultima Online. I should also add that they were quite active PvPers in UO and this is the main reason for our emphasis on PvP.
We feel that the emotions involved with losing something of value is
just as important as gaining something of value, it makes a very
immersive experience. There have to be lows to make the highs more
enjoyable. PvP allows us to achieve that.”
It's worth noting that EVE
has two strands of character development: one that simply adds skill
points hour by hour as the character gets older, and one by way of
actively building up assets in game. Learning can only be erased in the
very worst situations, but losing assets is all too easy. Huge losses,
potentially setting back the accruement of wealth by days, or even
weeks, are a regular feature of gaming life in EVE. For this reason alone, the game has seemed awkwardly intimidating to many gamers.
This interest in player versus player competition has set EVE
apart from other MMOs. In terms of ruthlessness and the intensity of
conflict over the game's resources, no other game comes close. A recent
heist, initially an in-game grudge but escalating to a mass
infiltration and betrayal in one of the game's player-corporations
(guilds), led to the ‘theft' of around $16,000 worth of game assets
(based on Ebay prices for traded game cash). All of this took place
entirely within the game mechanics, with a touch of out of game
collusion. In fact, CCP had always expected players to come up with
events like this by themselves. Their faith was not unfounded: events
like this are a dramatic illustration of both the commitment of EVE
players and the complexity of the game world that allowed them to pull
off such a plot. Player alliances, player economies and player wars
have emerged in EVE since the earliest weeks of its launch, and
with CCP's most recent content patches, which allow for mass
player-organization and the creation of player-owned structures, these
socio-political machinations have reached a new intensity.
Gamasutra: Are these events a direct result of CCP's (rather vocal) dissatisfaction with contemporary MMOs?
Our strong belief in PvP and a single universe is probably the main
differentiator between us and other MMOs. We strongly believe that MMOs
should focus on social interaction between people, but many MMOs tend
to go in the opposite direction. We don't like instancing and we don't
like sharding and we believe that too much focus on player versus
environment is taking us more closer to the newly coined term
‘Massively Single Player Games.'
fully understand the reason behind sharding, instancing and the PvE
focus. A lot of players want this kind of experience and these tools
are far more commercially viable to fully control the experience and
content created. We however decided to take the more difficult path and
try to take on those obstacles head-on. It certainly has a lot of
unpleasant side effects and EVE will never be a mainstream game. We're
complex, we're open ended, we're fully PvP oriented and you can lose
six months work in a second. But we believe this is what makes EVE so
unique and we're trying to follow this vision and principles as well as
Gamasutra: So CCP has a distinct philosophy with regard to game design?
Power to the players. Nothing compares to a player that is enabled to
affect the universe. We create tools for players to create content. For
example, a massive alliance of corporations – our versions of guilds –
with real, legendary players, leading them, controlling large areas of
space and building up infrastructure is truly awesome content. We can
never create that, but we can create the environment and tools enabling
also very iterative in our work and keep continuous feedback cycles on
the features we do, then regularly improve them based on that feedback.
The community is an incredible source for how to improve the game and
what they do within the game gives us constant inspiration for what we
should implement next. Being so open-ended means the players do what
they want and we try to keep up and add support and tools to take
emerging behavior further. Embrace and evolve are the keywords here.
Gamasutra: The activities of the players really do seem to have had a major effect on the direction of EVE
– the loophole of ‘can mining' (which made mining asteroids far more
lucrative than CCP had intended) is well documented as an unforeseen
consequence of players exploring their environment – but to what extent
do you think that the players actually define the developmental
direction of EVE?
Richardsson: The players are the foundation for what we do next in EVE.
We follow what they do and listen to their dreams and again: ‘embrace
and evolve.' When playing ourselves, we try to put us in the position
of “what would I really like to do here?” and then try to develop that.
set the course a long time ago on what we wanted to do and we are very
open about ideas. Openness creates a certain atmosphere where early in
the development cycle you get player reactions and suggestions, which
help make the feature better. It's kind of like “open source”
development of ideas and as a result, players have a lot to say about
course, it's not all as peachy as this sounds. We do lots of mistakes
and in most cases we simply can't do what players ask for. We regularly
have to do bad things, nerfing some aspect of the game or changing it.
It's constant balancing and we often piss people off, but it's a
necessary evil with PvP games, you always have to be on your guard for
imbalance and as a result, we lose a lot of customers for it. But it's
something we accept for following our vision.
Gamasutra: Many people have criticized the limited number of quests and missions in EVE. I seem to remember a few of the reviews at launch complaining that there might never be much to do in the game.
Yes, we're only 50 people here at CCP and we haven't had the personnel
to create very much PvE content. We've also been more focused on
creating tools for the players to create content than us creating
content for them, but recently we've stepped up content creation and we
realize that we must supply a higher level of PvE content to be
competitive. It's also part of player behavior, we see that even the
most hardcore PvP players want some form of PvE experience, destroying
huge NPC installations or working for an NPC faction to be able to buy
faction-specific equipment from them. We are however looking into
creating an environment and incentive for players themselves to create
“dungeons” and missions for other players.
Gamasutra: And player owned space-installations are part of that.
Player owned structures which create resources for a player needs to be
defended. Since it's profitable, it will be attacked by players that
want to either take that profit from you or own the location himself.
By creating more locations where you can put player owned structures
and defend it in more innovative ways, players start creating content
for other players.
Gamasutra: Even without extensive PvE experiences EVE
has managed to attract a large complement of risk-taking, dedicated
players – there were over 14,000 concurrent users online together just
a few nights ago. Is CCP surprised by this success?
Richardsson: Yes, we're always surprised with EVE.
That also makes it more fun to work on. Having such a steady growth is
not something we directly expected, our churn is incredibly low and our
players stay for very long times. We believe that the community and
large social structures within the game are the main reasons for this.
Many play MMO's to be with friends and to achieve common goals with
them. The original plans were off the charts of course, it included
world domination, bestowing world peace, the cure for cancer and the
question to the answer 42… (A reference to Douglas Adams' answer to
Life, The Universe & Everything that has a special significance to EVE, since it was the arbitrary number on which the algorithm that auto-generated the galaxy structure was based.)
quickly became more realistic as the project evolved and according to
our down-to-earth version of our plans, we're above the projections. We
expected growth to stop and lose a considerable chunk to World of Warcraft. Blizzard is a very strong brand with sci-fi players but fortunately we still had positive growth. However, we played WoW
quite a lot ourselves and we noticed a drop in our concurrent user
numbers so we think a lot of people tried it out. Now we see them
coming back in droves.
Gamasutra: Of course EVE's community is miniscule compared to WoW, representing just 1% of Blizzard's total subscriber base. EVE
isn't for everyone; its mix of economics and complex real-time space
combat can only expect to appeal to a limited number of players, but
often those are players who are likely to be dissatisfied with a
simpler fantasy game like WoW.
We think Blizzard have considerably increased the market for people
that play MMOs. We get a lot of players that now have played another
MMO before that want to try it out in space, earlier it was mostly
newcomers to the MMO's that were more looking for a sci-fi space games.
CCP seems to have benefited from become independent, adding over 20,000
subscribers since moving to online-only publishing. But do you think
you needed that publisher push to get off the ground? Do you think
games can effectively be sold simply using the net these days?
We couldn't have done this without support from our publisher (the now
defunct games wing of Simon & Schuster) and their producer, Mike
Wallis. Having said that, being our own master has contributed to a lot
of our recent success and we feel we are doing so many things which we
otherwise could not have done if we were working for a publisher. This
can range from utilizing marketing opportunities to implementing a
less-than-politically correct feature, which we feel fit with the cruel
nature of the game but might not exactly be the nicest thing to do.
more than confident in the net being a solid distribution method for
games, both technically and financially. The technical aspects doesn't
need to be proven by us, just look at the illegal distribution scene,
they have the games even before the computer store across the street.
That's what I call quick and effective distribution.
commerce over the Internet has matured very much and people are more
trustworthy of using their credit cards. We're probably in a more
unique situation where we have already internet-savvy people playing
our game, but eventually this should spread out and be a more accepted
way of buying games and software.
So far you've stuck to a single game, but do you have anything else
planned for the near future, or are you dedicated solely to EVE?
Richardsson: We're currently only working on EVE but we have a plans for at least one more game in the near future in addition to any sequels to EVE. That would however be a totally new team and separately funded, the EVE
team will continue to grow. We have more than five expansions worth of
features that we want to implement and the list is constantly growing.
can easily see us having more than two games in commercial service. We
have investors eager to participate in ventures with us and we think we
have a lot of good things to bring to the table. We're all gamers and
we have lots of games that we'd like to make. We often get those
“wouldn't it be cool to make” moments; it's just a matter of time.
Gamasutra: So in the meantime we'll see EVE deliver ever more complex spacewar?
Richardsson: We think that constant evolution of MMOs is required. We have the full team still working on taking EVE
further – and all our expansions are included in the subscription. We
consider it something which should be included in the subscription,
because that's what you're paying for: Evolution.