On June 3rd, Crowd Control Productions, better known as CCP, turned 10 years old, and my-oh-my how they've grown. In honor of the anniversary, I wanted to write something about the history behind CCP, and how they got from where they started to where they are today with over 200,000 subscribers worldwide.
The company was founded in 1997 by Reynir Harðarson, who wanted to make what would eventually be EVE Online. Unfortunately, as most of us know, the idea of making an MMORPG and the reality are two very separate things. The story though, of how EVE came to be is actually an interesting one, and one that should be noted in an article about the company's anniversary:
In order to help to finance the game to come, CCP, in its first three years, developed a board game. Available only in Iceland, the game was described fondly by Hilmar Petursson, CCP's CEO as a "PvP" game that could cause fights on family vacations.
By 2001, the company had raised 1.6 million dollars toward making their game, but still needed more. By the end of that same year, the team had worked two thirds of the way through the game, but were totally out of money. In the case of most companies, that would likely have been the end, however, the team stayed on - without a paycheck - for three months in an attempt to get the game done and the gamble paid off.
In 2002, CCP signed a deal with publishers Simon & Schuster. Again, that could have been the end of the story had Simon and Schuster not decided after the deal to leave video game publishing. Obviously, this left CCP in a bit of a bind. With S&S still holding the publishing rights, CCP had no way to distribute their game until 2004 when they re-acquired the publishing rights from S&S, allowing them to begin their own distribution which they accomplished through digital download.
That brings us much closer to the modern day, and the big year that CCP had last year, both in launching EVE Online in China, and in the merger with White Wolf, one of the biggest names in pen and paper role playing with the World of Darkness series under their belts (Vampire: The Masquerade being their most famous product).
Today, CCP has around 210 employees between their three offices in Iceland, Shanghai and now, Atlanta and are continuing to grow, not only with EVE Online, but with a new project being developed (did I mention the number of t-shirts I saw that said "There are no such things as vampires?). As such, they are continually hiring (more on that later) and continuing to grow as a company.
Hilmar told the gaggle of reporters in attendance that the key to the growth of EVE Online (a game which continues a visible curve of growth since launch) to the fact that they view their game as a service, and that they are constantly looking for ways to try to improve their service and "evolve it with the people who use it". That doesn't mean they always get it right the first time, but it does mean that they will try to address and fix a problem when one arises.
He went on to talk about the idea of Virtual World Societies, which Hilmar feels are an evolution of MMORPGs. He defined it like this:
"If you look at the events that have happened in EVE for the first weeks and years, it doesn't really look like the people that are a part of the game, experience it as a game. It feels real to them and they react to it and they talk about it and have feelings about it as if it was real. If you have 200,000 people being a part of something that they regard as real, it is real... There are real feelings, there are real friendships, and there are real enemies."
That may be especially true of a game like EVE Online that fits so nicely into the category of MMORPG traditionally known as a "sandbox" game. Hilmar, however, threw out a slightly different analogy to describe the two categories of MMORPG.
The first kind of game is the "Theme Park" game. Theme parks are essentially organized fun zones. Patrons are told where to go, and what lines to stand in, in order to have a good time on all of the rides that have been specifically designed to produce a certain kind of fun.
"A theme park," says the CEO, "is a carefully constructed experience which is supposed to be fun, condensed, easy to access. It's entertainment, it's really well-defined. You always know what you're supposed to do."
Conversely, the playground approach is more free-form. Again, according to Hilmar, there are some toys scattered around, but usually fewer toys than there are people. People make their own fun.
"Someone is trying to build a sandcastle," he explained, becoming quite animated in his analogy, "but the others are trying to mess it up all the time..."
The part though, that Hilmar seemed to be making was that at the playground, people tend to make friends. That's a big part of the point in going to a playground. At a theme park, that isn't as much a focus. People go, often with their own friends or families, but don't really talk to anyone else, even though there might be thousands of people doing them same things you are, right beside you.
In the playground, you need to make friends to enhance your fun and to help protect your sand castle from bullies. In the guided fun of the theme park, that isn't as important.
Both of these are wide categories, and no game falls specifically into one category or another, but EVE definitely looks more like a playground than a theme park.
Growth is a good word to use when describing CCP. EVE Online has continued to climb in both total user numbers and concurrent user numbers. CCP as a company is also continuing to grow, with the White Wolf merger, and the inevitable World of Darkness MMO.
After a brief tour of the office (as made apparent by the pictures that line this article), I had a chance to sit down with Helgi Mar Thordarson, the Human Resources Manager for CCP and we talked about some of the opportunities that are coming up within CCP:
They are looking to add people in all development areas, from artists to engineers, to everything else in between. On the website currently, there are approximately 40 positions available, covering most development areas in China, Iceland and the US office in Atlanta.
I asked Helgi what it was like to work for CCP, and he told me that I should take a look at the white board that was located just inside the office's entrance. When I went back later to check it out, I found that it was full of people answering that exact same question. The answers ranged from totally nonsensical (which in and of itself says something about the morale of the people working there) to the glowing. One employee wrote that "CCP is a cmpany full of talented and very cool people." Someone else wrote that "I have the best job in the world". Clearly, those people who are currently working at CCP are happy in their jobs. The attitude seemed to prove itself in everyone that I talked to, to a person, they are enthusiastic about their jobs and talk passionately about the game.
Sure, CCP has come under some pretty heavy fire in the last month regarding their handling of an incident of accused cheating. Still, that issue has been discussed again and again on our forums and elsewhere. All that I can say on the subject is that the people who worked there (at least those who I spoke to) seemed to be genuinely hurt by the accusation that they would purposely cheat in the game, and that unlike the picture that some would paint of CCP employees, they are not sitting at their desks cooking up schemes and scams, but rather appeared to me to be people who were fully engaged with making their game as much fun for everyone as possible.
Do CCP employees play their own game? Yes, and the game can only be better for it. Do CCP employees occasionally make friends with players? Yes, and in and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that. It is the perception that some individuals might take advantage of that situation that causes a problem.
My experience at their offices has suggested to me (and I would pass it on to you to do with what you will) that the folks behind CCP and EVE Online are genuinely trying to make the game as much fun for its players as possible. Sure, mistakes can be (and have been) made, but they are learning from these mistakes and seem to be taking steps to assure that similar incidents don't crop up again.
It's like Hilmar told us: They see EVE Online as a service as well as a game, and they really are trying to "evolve it with the people who use it."