Independent consultant, EVE Online veterna player and lawyer Alexander "The Mittani" Gianturco gave an impassioned talk Thursday at GDC, urging developers to examine the inherent "espionage" metagame of EVE Online and take inspiration from it for other products.
"In my opinion, espionage is the ultimate in user-generated content," said Gianturco. "You don't constantly have to crap out new raids, players will amuse themselves by trying to tear each others' throats out."
The metagame Gianturco referred to is practically unique to EVE Online: high-level players may manipulate others through means outside of the game client itself in order to attain their goals, be it that player's in-game currency, the advancement of his affiliated group, or something else entirely. While this is not an official feature of the game, it is supported by developer CCP's hands-off approach, meaning players have practically created it from scratch.
"Players in an espionage metagame get to use cunning and manipulation as a skill, which is rare in games," he continued. "For those of us who like that sort of thing, it's a huge draw."
Gianturco defines an espionage metagame as having three key components: player-created factions, significant consequences, and a developer-supported environment.
"Espinage cannot exist in an arena where nothing is risked," said Gianturco, explaining that a loss in World of Warcraft might result in an annoying temporary setback, but a screwup in EVE can literally cost a player $4,000 in assets.
There are of course significant risks in giving your players as much freedom as CCP does with EVE. According to Gianturco, game makers who might allow and foster an espionate metagame must be prepared to field significant user complaints.
"You have to deal with people whining and complaining," he said. "If you can't deal with that, you can't have an espionage metagame worth playing."