As I stepped out of the train and into the early afternoon sun that peered over the top of the tower blocks and shops of Berlin’s crowded centre, I found myself rather unsure of what to expect. Over the past three years, I’ve been to a great many EVE meets, but rarely as a spectator. There’s always been work for me to do, be it providing commentary or running a presentation, and given my position on the CSM I often knew what CCP would be announcing. So stepping back into the shoes of a regular participant - albeit one with the opportunity to interview members of CCP directly - felt at once both liberating and a little unnerving.
After a few hours of chatting with the various players who had coalesced near the venue, we all headed inside, and were treated to the welcoming ceremony hosted by the volunteer organisers of the event. This went through the history of the player ran meetups in Germany, which have been occurring annually for the past 5 years, as well as everything that the upcoming event had to offer. It also showcased the connection that EVE Berlin had with the rest of CCP’s Invasion World Tour, which has seen CCP travel to 6 of their 8 stops across the year so far, as we saw representatives from the company take to the stage and thank the G-Fleet team for their work in making the event possible.
This was followed by what had to be a highlight of the night for me, which was the screening of Jón Magnússon’s short documentary called Even The Asteroids are Not Alone, which focuses on EVE Online as a digital society. It followed the stories of fourteen different players, across a range and breadth of uniquely human experiences, dealing with a brighter side of the community than the backstabbing and treachery normally associated with it. Discussions of suicide prevention, and dealing with other mental health issues were deftly intercut with playful arguments about which player would be able to take home a corpse from a successful kill, presenting a perfect juxtaposition between the game and the reality of the people who inhabit it. I have to admit, it left me and a fair few others in the room a little choked up, which makes the fact that it garnered an award from the Royal Anthropological Institute unsurprising.
The first day of the event was wrapped up by something which has become a recurring feature of these CCP driven events, an open mic for those at the event to ask questions to the array of guests on stage. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to have been streamed, but we heard much the same things from the attendees as we have from around the globe. With questions such as “When will Logistics be on killmails?”, and “When will you fix Citadels?”, intermingled with suggestions for the developers phrased as questions. Whilst certainly interesting to see just how similar everyone’s thought processes were when given the chance to ask CCP questions, it didn’t come with any new revelations or information to share.
Still, this all served as the prelude for the real attraction of the first day, which was the opportunity to unleash nearly 300 EVE players on Berlin for a night of drinking and talking about the hobby everyone present shared. I found myself quickly getting into the spirit of things, swapping war stories and discussing every hot topic of the day with people who I’d normally never see in the game, as players from all areas of EVE Online’s ecosystem were equally represented at the table I was sitting at. This conflux of experiences from all across both the game world, and the real world managed to make the time fly by, until I ended up back in my hotel in the early hours of the morning.
The next day of the event was kicked off with a bang, as CCP led their keynote presentation of the event, which covered a wide range of topics over the course of two hours. It opened up with what seems to be CCP’s general view and vision of the game as it stands right now, with EVE’s retention problem and the power of player corporations in helping alleviate that being a continued theme from their presentations in both Amsterdam and Toronto. More interesting than that was CCP’s general view of what helps cause some of those retention issues, as the topic of the ever growing complexity in the game was pointed to as a major issue, and their belief that the challenge of the game has been lost for high skilled players - As shown in the contrast between an ideal gameplay flow and where CCP perceives various areas of the game to be in the diagram below.
After this explanation of how CCP sees the state of the game currently, and declaring their intent to correct this in order to make the game easier for new players and harder for veterans, the talk headed into more specific announcements. The first of these was a long overdue rehaul of the Bookmark system, bringing it out of being tied to the corporation structure, and into the Access List system. This will allow the easy sharing of bookmarks to other players, and also comes with an automatic expiration system, and a slew of other quality of life changes such as an unlimited number of bookmarks being able to be saved. This was a definitive crowd pleaser, with the applause being immediate and ecstatic.
Another crowd pleasing moment came a little later in the presentation, where CCP showed off a video of the new monument planned to be placed in the game to commemorate the Molea graveyard, once the PoS mechanic that made it possible is removed in the near future. This player run memorial has, for the past several years, served as a place for people to remember the players who’ve sadly passed away by placing small tokens of respect to those fallen pilots. As someone who’s had the sombre duty of placing a container there to remember a friend, this is a heartwarming gesture from CCP, and another potent symbol of the positive efforts the community has established.
The biggest change announced in this presentation was weirdly given a lot less emphasis than anything else, as after a talk by CCP Cognac that covered a wide range of the changes that have been made during what has been dubbed the “Chaos Era”, the Nullsec Blackout which changed how local operated in nullsec was announced to be ending the following Monday. This was met with what I can only describe as confused applause, with multiple people afterwards mentioning that they initially thought the reveal was the start to a joke, or expecting other a reveal of CCP’s future strategy with regards to nullsec to come after that.
The blackout has been undoubtedly controversial, with the playerbase of EVE Online being starkly divided into pro-Blackout and anti-Blackout camps, but with it having lasted for over two months it had been accepted as the new normal. Seeing it end so suddenly was a surprise to both sides, so I appreciated the chance to sit down with CCP Falcon later on in the day and discuss the Blackout from CCP’s perspective, and find out why things were being changed.
“I think it’s a combination of wanting to look at the Cyno Changes in isolation, also the fact that the blackout has been going on for some time now and we feel we have the right amount of data. We had a discussion around it lately with the strategy team where we asked ‘Do we have enough data now, is there anything else we want to learn?’ - Now we can take a look back at this and look at player behaviour after.”
Our conversation moved on from here to discuss the various ways in which CCP had taken feedback on the changes across a variety of platforms in a way that wasn’t as data driven, with everything from Reddit to the official forums being taken into account, although concern was expressed about the problems of “echo chambers” especially on public forums where agreeing with public sentiment in a bandwagon to score upvotes can corrupt the feedback being given. Still, I was reassured that both negative and positive feedback would be taken into account, and the possibility of this not being the last time we see a change affect local in some way didn’t seem out of the question - Although Falcon noted that as he wasn’t a game designer, that isn’t a decision that rests on his shoulders.
The next presentation I had the chance to attend was one that I’d been looking forward to for some time, which saw Andrew Groen, author of EVE Online’s very own history book Empires of EVE lead a talk that went through the political history of the game. With the ambitious task of covering 2003 to 2014 in only an hour, despite the fact that 2003 to 2007 had taken 274 pages to cover comprehensively in his book, I was astounded by just how great of a job he did. It didn’t lack for the kind of engaging details of that are Groen’s hallmark, and whilst there’s surely many more that were missed out, it served as an excellent teaser for his next book which will chart the timeline towards EVE Online’s most well known battle - The Titanomachy of B-R5.
Just a few minutes later, I was in the PvP room with another crowd of people, as we watched the finals of this leg of CCP’s tournament circuit. With all four players having their monitors projected onto the wall behind them as they sat on a stage and played, the pressure must have been intense, with every potential mistake being visible to the hundreds of eyes focused on them. The two teams battled tooth and nail, but in the end team “No Fox Given” consisting of Mikokoel and Urs Blank came out victorious, their prize being a free trip to Iceland for Fanfest 2020 where they’ll be competing in the capstone tournament of the year along with all the other winners from around the world - Which should make it a sight to behold, as well as one of the most competitive in-person tournaments of EVE Online ever assembled.
That marked the end of official proceedings in the event, with one exception, the closing ceremony. Here we saw the announcement of a partnership between G-Fleet, Cruises of EVE & Finfest to put on a 7 day cruise around the Baltic sea next year, as well as thanks to the horde of volunteers who’d spent their time making EVE Berlin possible - With those brave souls being treated to a standing ovation by the crowd. The standout moment for me though, was the announcement of just how much the event had raised for a local children's charity, with a last minute in-person bidding war over a hat taking the total to over €5,000 in a tremendous show of generosity from everyone involved.
With all that done, it was time to take a break for dinner, before attending the requisite party to celebrate an event well done. Much like the day before, I spent it talking to anyone and everyone, but I also had a chance to talk to one of the heads of G-Fleet Tairon Usaro. The both of us found a quiet spot away from the main picnic tables that had been set up outside the venue, and found ourselves wondering what made events like this so special that people were willing to pour months of work into setting them up, as we watched the crowd laugh and drink as. Eventually, it all clicked, and I gestured at that crowd and in my inebriated state managed to make one simple observation.
“That will outlast EVE.”
The friendships that start in EVE, and are then forged at these events in person, those relationships aren’t tied to the game that we play. They’re as real as the ones you have with the friends you went to school with, as real as those you made through any other hobby, and there’s something distinctly beautiful about that.
If you’re an EVE Online player, you owe it to yourself to try and make it to an EVE meet at least once.