INTERVIEW

16 Years of EVE Online

The Evolution of an Online Legacy

Words By: Brendan Frye
Published Feb 5, 2020

First launched in 2003, EVE Online is one of the oldest MMOs still running today. Known as one of the hardest online games to jump into, the stories that trickle out—from the epic battles to the massive heists—make the world of EVE seem like a no man's land, one that is ruthless but rewarding. At least this is the view I had walking into the EVE Online event taking place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Before visiting an EVE event, I always viewed the brutal reputation as the aspect that made it so difficult to draw in casual players or even allow new players to the universe to feel welcome or accepted. Yet, even with this brutal nature and cut-throat world, the fans that are devoted to this game have invested time, effort, and love into seeing it expand, grow, and become the fabled online landscape we all read about.

Now under new ownership, the world that CCP built is still going strong, the fans are just as excited and the future is looking bright for the MMO. EVE is evolving much like the rest of the industry, and slowly working to bring in new members and players.

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Eve Online - CCP Games

“We're always trying to improve the new player entry into EVE Online. This is something that's a huge priority, because more players means more content for everyone else,” outlined Joshua Bayer, Senior Gameplay Designer for EVE Online. “In a sandbox game, the interactions between players are what keeps everything going to have a good supply of players coming in. We're always trying to look at areas where we can reduce the amount of overwhelming complexity for new players and smooth things out. The veteran players are big allies in that they create in-game organizations to teach new players. There are groups like EVE university that exist just to teach new players.”

Bayer continues, “These groups, like Pandemic Horde or Karma Fleet, recruit players and bring them out into the dangerous areas of null sec space. They are the people that often give us the best hints of what kind of new player activities we can simplify and how we can make things easier for people to stick around. It's not a question of having to fight them, as they're really trying to work towards the same goals.”

But even with this sentiment and drive to build a game anyone can play, there is still the stigma; the sense that EVE is a game that is simply too big to enjoy, too complex to master. As Paul Elsy, Senior Community Manager jokingly discusses, “My favourite quote about EVE is: ‘EVE is the most interesting game I've never played.’ I love that quote. You see it time and time again, when you see these big fights and PC Gamer or Kotaku or Wired are reporting on them, and you see the comments section, it's like, “So I love reading about this game so much, but I never think I could play it because it's just so complicated.” Or, “it sounds so brutal.” That's part of the challenge, right? It's just like the guy who basically takes care of the community for CCP. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and I'll go read over our little forums, I'll see something and think “what have they done today?” 

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Eve Online - CCP Games

It is this difficulty that was often celebrated in the early days of EVE online. It became a mythical experience that once you cracked would be a new life you could step into. Played by spies and executives across the world, EVE was an experience like no other. Players could amass great fortunes, built corporations, even wage total war on their enemies. Unlike many MMO experiences, EVE did not hand hold, and instead gave players agency to build the world they wanted, to join their friends to craft an experience like no other.

“At one point, it was almost celebrated how hard EVE is. We had marketing campaigns about the fact that EVE is hard,” explained Senior Brand Manager for EVE Online, Sæmi Hermannsso about how EVE is changing in response to the times. “But it was also new and exciting. So it had natural growth. But we still have so many thousands of people trying out EVE every day, we're just focusing on now. Yes, EVE is hard. It's complicated. It's deep. But too much complexity and difficulty and challenge in the beginning just puts people off. Our job is not to necessarily bring them up and down, but to create a slope that is clear and easy and fun to experience so people can get up to the top.”

This focus on bringing new players is seen throughout CCP, as Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP Games outlined when asked about what people can expect from EVE moving forward: “Next for EVE Online is more mystery and challenge for our veteran players and smoother onboarding for our new players. As has been observed over the summer, a new chaos era is afoot in the outer regions of New Eden, while the inner circle is becoming more civilized. We also continue to memorialize the history that our players have created over the past decades—now we have lots of tourist attractions in EVE,gaming history in the making!”

Pétursson continues, “Developing EVE Online is a very dynamic process. Even though the core DNA of the game stays the same, the game itself is quite different from the game when it was first shipped back in May 2003. But by making sure that we give players the tools they need to write their own stories, we make sure that the game is always new.”

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Eve Online - CCP Games

Throughout every discussion about the future of EVE, everyone wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: the core experience of EVE Online will not change. This is a game built around its fans. Players that have spent countless hours building the world and making something special. CCP knows this and embraces its audience. While the game may evolve, what makes EVE special is not going anywhere. That complexity and depth is what fans of the series love. They are willing to help bring new players in, but the last thing they want is to change what makes this game stand above all the rest.

“EVE is big and complex, there is no way around that. Actually, it’s genuinely part of the appeal for some. We've been spending a lot of time over the last few months on looking at ways to improve the experience of getting into the game, simplifying without dumbing it down,” explained Bergur Finnbogason, EVE Online creative director. “The big shift for the studio now is that we don't look at this as a single team’s effort but a studio-wide effort, so we are looking at everything from our web pages and messaging to how we teach players how to manufacture amazing spaceships.”

Finnbogason further elaborates, “Another important aspect is how we work and interact with our community, if it's the CSM (Council of Stellar Management, a player voted council that comes to Iceland two times per year to sit down with the studio for a week at a time) or if it's at a player gathering. What we've started to do is share even more information with our community to get their take and input on how to make the initial experience better for our new players, who may well end up joining the corporations and alliances organized by our veteran players.”

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Eve Online - CCP Games

EVE is special for both its fans and its developers. These are people that have devoted the better part of two decades to the game, and that love is always present. As gaming evolves, so too must EVE, but they are doing it their way—bringing new players into the wild world of EVE, rather than dumbing it down. It is a game to spend time in, and it is that initial hurdle of difficulty that hampers many players from experiencing what is exciting, complex, and fun.

“I mean, it's almost a split, right. You've got the old grizzled veterans who've been around for like, 15-16 years, some guys that have played since beta. There's an expectation that EVE was always going to be a certain thing for them—you know, it's always going to be cut-throat, it's always going to be brutal, it's always going to be a sandbox,” said Paul Elsy, Senior Community Manager at CCP speaking on how EVE is changing and working to bring new players in. “Then you've got the new guys who come in from a younger generation of gamers and their attention spans are a little bit shorter; that used to play stuff like Fortnite, or Heroes of the Storm, or I don't know, League of Legends or whatever. They're not actually used to the sense of loss that you get with EVE. They're not used to the nature of EVE, the fact that it's uncharted, the fact that it's persistent. So we really were catering to an older audience, but also a new, and I guess, just a totally different audience at the same time. And that's why I think some of the evolution of EVE more recently has been”

Diving further into the potential daunting nature of EVE, Elsy explained, “I guess casual or soft core gamers would be terrified by that prospect of potentially two years of work could be stolen from them. I think you've got to break down barriers, you’ve got to think that yes, two years of your work can be stolen from you, but if you respect the game, respect the environment, teach yourself about it, you're never going to get ripped off. I've been ripped off once in 17 years. It was a really good friend of mine and we still laugh about it to this day—but I got revenge on him. I think it does scare some people, but I think it also draws in a certain crowd, and it draws in a really hardcore crowd, which is nice.”

While it may be the most exciting game many have not played, CCP are looking to change that. From building scaffolding to draw new players in to constantly expanding what is capable within the universe of EVE Online, while CCP maybe under new ownership, that drive and passion at the core of the studio remains. This is a team that love the universe, they love the community, and they love the game itself.

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Eve Online - CCP Games

It is no wonder the excitement around bringing new people into EVE expands beyond making the game more profitable, but also to bring more people into the community, and to let more people experience what so many fans spend countless hours a week on. Even the relaunch of EVE in China is treated with excitement, interest, and a sense of wonder.

“We’re also looking forward to the relaunch of EVE Online in China, in partnership with NetEase. We will bring Serenity, our Chinese server, up to the current version of Tranquility, the single-shard server we use for the rest of the world.” Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP Games outlines. “This means integrating updates and expansions such as “Onslaught,” “Into the Abyss,” “Lifeblood” and “Ascension,” which will enable EVE to be played for free for the first time in China. It’s a very complicated operation with a lot of moving parts, but our team has a solid plan in place to make it happen. Going forward, our plan is to keep both servers on the same version with zero to minimal delays. I have always been seriously impressed with the exploits of Chinese EVE players, for example the legendary battle in 49-U6U that even topped the kill count of The Bloodbath of B-R5RB! I am very excited for this new phase of EVE Online in China in partnership with NetEase, and I’m sure that together, we will take EVE to new heights.”

As I walk out of the Delta Hotel and say goodbye to the EVE Online community for now, I can’t help but be energized by the excitement, be drawn in by the stories, and be enamoured with the dedication. EVE Online is a game that has lasted 16 years in the public consciousness. It has built up a legacy as a world filled with wonder, and it has reached near mythical levels of infamy.

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Eve Online - CCP Games

It is hard to say what the future holds for EVE Online and CCP going forward, but if the passion and drive is anything to go by, the future is bright for the Icelandic MMO. Building communities, connecting galaxies, and inspiring fables, EVE Online is a world that needs to be experienced to be believed. While it may not be for everyone, my time with the universe has inspired me to install the game and give it another try. Will I stick around? It is far too soon to say, but one thing is for sure, it will be an interesting dive into a world we can all dream to be a part of, even if it is a challenge to get past the starting line.

This Interview First Appeared in Issue #37 of CGMagazine