While 2008 Game Developer's Conference I had the opportunity to talk to Hilmar Petursson, the CEO of Crowd Control Productions, better known to the world as CCP, the makers of EVE Online. While Keith and Laura each had interviews on specific aspects of EVE Online, I took this opportunity to ask the tall, red-haired CEO about the company in general while my colleagues talked to others about specific aspects of EVE.
For those who might not know, CCP is currently running three offices: one in Iceland, one in Shanghai, China and one in Georgia here in the United States. The most recent addition is the American branch, opened after the MMO company merged with White Wolf, the company behind such games as Vampire, Werewolf and other games set in the proprietary World of Darkness. I had hoped that this GDC would be the show where someone from CCP could be coaxed into talking a little bit about the upcoming (though still officially unannounced) MMO based in that universe. Unfortunately, San Francisco in February is still not the place, and even though many of the CCP devs were walking around in World of Darkness shirts, nobody was talking, including the CEO.
With the subject of the Atlanta office already on the table, I asked how the company had fared in integrating the new office into their international family. Hilmar told me that while they (CCP) had been expecting and bracing for a difficult assimilation, the process went very smoothly for which Petursson credits the "strong people and managers" that joined the company with the White Wolf merger.
Next, I asked how much influence the integration of a Pen and Paper company has had over the way that CCP develops games. The answer was that it hasn't had as much influence as it's going to have over the next year. The EVE team has plans to start integrating more "missions and story stuff", although they are also being mindful that EVE is a sandbox-style MMORPG, and that while the addition of new story and mission content is important, it is also important that they are careful to keep the original feeling intact.
Personally, I suspect that there is a concern that too much story will lead to "railroading" players through content at the expense of the rich and deep player-created political world that has been evolved since EVE's launch and that keeps players coming back for more. So long as the developers are aware of the possibility of this problem, I think that adding to the story of the game and adding a few missions won't disturb the sandbox so much as add a few more toys to it.
Still, on the subject of the White Wolf merger, Hilmar said something to me that came as a little bit of a surprise:
"There are more similarities," he said, "between Pen and Paper worlds and virtual worlds than single player games and virtual worlds."
Those similarities have allowed CCP to continue to thrive as they build and grow. On that note, I asked about the seemingly continuous rounds of hiring that the company has been doing. While they are still actively hiring, the CEO feels that the company, in all of its offices, is slowly getting to the point that they are happy with and he feels that by the end of this year, they will have settled into a state of cooling off.
With that thought fresh in my mind, I asked what we could expect from CCP over the next year and was met with a short, but far from complete list:
First, Hilmar told me that we should expect to see two new expansions coming out, following the success of their most recent Trinity expansion which garnered the game 20,000 new accounts virtually overnight, taking the game from 200,000 players to 220,000. Trinity, it turns out, was much larger and more work and time-intensive than any other EVE expansion and the development team learned some lessons from its launch.
"Trinity was so big," Hilmar told me, "when you release all of that at once, it can be overwhelming for the player."
As a result of this, we should expect to see more intermediary releases between the two expected expansions, taking some of the burden off of a sudden launch.
Beyond expansions we are told that in this coming summer, the dev team will be looking "aggressively" at the idea of story-based factional warfare that would see players be given PvE quests that would lead players into PvP. The hope is that this will get more players more excited about joining the living, breathing political world of Corps, PvP, territory control and more. All of this, we are told, will be done with the idea of maintaining the sandbox in mind. Once again, the company has recognized the potential threat that adding PvE content can have on a sandbox and is taking steps to prevent it.
Finally, Hilmar tolked breifly about Ambulation, or "walking on stations" as they have been calling it. This feature will take EVE from a ship-only game to a more involved universe that sees characters gain new avatars as well as the ships that they pilot. While there was no new information that he could give me, he did point out the enormity of that particular task. While Trinity was a huge expansion, both in terms of content and dev team effort, Petursson predicts that this new initiative will be "Trinity times two".
Speaking with the CCP CEO always has me walking away musing on the success of CCP and EVE Online. In a world where so many MMOs are steadfastly sticking to a genre formula, this company continues to fly in the face of convention and yet continues to thrive. Where many other studios are closing or slowing down production, CCP continues to grow. The conclusion that I always come to is that CCP's success comes from: an understanding of their player base, a willingness to make and address mistakes, careful attention to what is added to the game and how it will affect the players' world, and a real sense of fun that becomes obvious when you speak with anyone from the company from the CEO to the most junior designer.