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Interview:  EVE Online , And The 'Necessary Evil' Of A Steep Learning Curve

Interview: EVE Online, And The 'Necessary Evil' Of A Steep Learning Curve

June 1, 2010 | By Jeff Fleming

June 1, 2010 | By Jeff Fleming
More: Console/PC

CCP's space-faring MMORPG EVE Online is known for what some may term mildly as "accessibility issues." But while many game developers are clamoring to attract a wide base of users through better accessibility, CCP is focused more on nurturing an existing hardcore fanbase.

By doing this, Reykjavik, Iceland-based CCP has been able to maintain an EVE subscriber base of around 300,000. MMORPG released in 2003 and has had several expansions to give players a reason to keep subscribing month after month.

The company has taken steps to make the game a bit more appealing to new players, but at its heart, EVE Online is an unabashed hardcore MMORPG in a world where the buzz word is "accessibility."

Here, the CCP senior producer Torfi Olafsson talks about the importance of nurturing that hardcore fanbase, and how the game's "learning curve is a necessary evil if you want to provide the game that delivers such a broad range of experience."

He also comments on CCP's fight against real money trading in EVE -- an operation CCP called "Unholy Rage."

EVE Online' learning curve has been described as "vertical." Was that a debate or concern? Or were you guys saying, "Look. That's just the way it's going to be."

Torfi Olafsson: Well, we always knew that the game would be hardcore. The majority of the players are players that immigrate from other MMOs then say, "Okay. I've reached the level cap. That was great. Now, I want something that's really challenging."

So, we surely want to bring more people to the game, and we have taken great strides in bringing people into the game, improving our new player experience through metrics, through observing behavior, analyzing our players, and building better tutorials, etcetera.

But truth be told, it is impossible for a player to learn all the intricacies of such a deep and wide game -- we are now developing our 13th expansion pack for it. So, it's grown and deepened a lot since the launch in May 2003.

We took strides in trying to improve it, but I think that as well is a necessary evil. The challenge and learning curve is a necessary evil if you want to provide the game that delivers such a broad range of experience.

And you feel that if you made it too accessible, you would lose that.

That's the thing. The crisis... I'm not going to dumb it down and paint it pink. Not on my watch. We are constantly trying to make the outer sphere or the outer layer or outer atmosphere of EVE more accessible.

Nurturing those hardcore players is very important to us, and we maintain a really good relationship with our community through our fanfest, through our forums, through our democratically elected Council of Stellar Management.

A large majority of our game designers are actually previous EVE players that have just a passion for the games and left their family and friends to move to Reykjavik and work on the game that they love. So, catering to the core is highly important to us, but we realize that the core alone won't pay the rent, so to speak. And also, there are a lot of gamers out there that are hardcore players but just don't know it yet. So, we're trying to attract those.

In the end, I would love everybody to be hardcore players. But then again, people's situations perhaps don't allow for it. People don't have the time required to really dig into the game.

So, with the actions against the real money traders, what was that operation called?

Torfi Olafsson: It was called "Unholy Rage."

What a great name. [laughs]

And we took a very strong effort in throwing out real money traders. It's hard to know who was the same person [under different accounts], but we threw out between 10,000 and 20,000 for real money trading.

What effects does real money trading have? What are the negative that you guys were looking at and saying, "We need to cut these people out?" I'm assuming that to them, they were just trying to play the game to whatever edge that they could.

Right. For one, they use macros and hacked clients regularly for speeding up making money. So, they were causing a very large amount of server load. Once we threw them out, we saw our server load drop significantly. Because they were causing server load, they were actually making the player experience for other players worse.

They were essentially slowing down the server, because a classic macro is very often trying to press a button even if it's not there. It's firehosing the server with commands and requests, eating up bandwidth and CPU cycles. So, that's one problem.

Second, we found that very often, real money traders would be operating out of countries that were out of our jurisdiction and hard to reach, and they were using scamming and kind of illegal methods to just get their accounts. So, even if they were listed as paying accounts, very often, they were being paid for using illegal, stolen credit card numbers, etcetera.

So, there's a heavy amount of fraud, which goes with real money trading. And dealing with fraud is time consuming. It's expensive, and it just takes our focus away from other things that we would like to be doing for players. So, we did see fraud drop significantly as a result [of banning accounts].

What were some of the methods for rooting them out? How were you able to identify who was taking part in real money transactions?

I don't want to go too deeply into it because we don't comment on security. It's a bit like the casinos in Vegas, maintaining their blacklist and figuring out who's cheating.

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