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EVE FanFest 2017 In Review

EVE Online Columns - By Gareth Harmer on April 11, 2017

EVE FanFest 2017 In Review

After a week of camaraderie and high spirits, the 13th FanFest of all things EVE Online has finally concluded. By all accounts, it was a week of new songs, new discoveries, and heralded new adventures in the universe of New Eden.

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Despite signposting some information in advance, CCP’s annual gathering at the Harpa in Reykjavik included some crucial details (and interesting surprises) on those evolving plans, and how they’re shaping up for 2017.  Starting in a few short weeks, we’ll be facing up against complex AI that fight like players in the Blood Raider Shiphards, have a streamlined currency trading system for PLEX, and a new introduction for new players. Those improvements extend out into Winter, with more Empire-based PVE content promised.

Away from the capsuleers, EVE Valkyrie continues to receive updates, and Project Arena has become a virtual sport named Sparc. But, now that CCP is celebrating its 20th birthday, is it time for the Icelandic studio to start playing it safe?

Rocket-powered Retrospective

Throughout the universe of New Eden, much has changed over the past year. Launch shortly after FanFest 2016, Citadels – vast structured owned by player corporations – now play a pivotal role in the mechanical fabric, with over 16,000 now in existence. Whether it’s military, mercantile or industrial, they’re now seen as an essential component; as an example, Engineering Complexes have become so crucial, they now house 72% of all in-game production.

While those structures continued to receive updates in the June update, in-game events added further color to the darkness of space. Shadow of the Serpentis, Purity of the Throne, the Coronation of Empress Catiz, Crimson Harvest, and Guardian’s Gala all called on capsuleers to push back against ascending forces. And that’s not mentioning all the Alliance conflicts, such as the battle of F4R2-Q, Oijanen, or M-OEE8.

It was also a year that saw the introduction of a revamped new player experience, introducing capsuleers to the sandbox in an approachable and accessible manner. Paired with the introduction of Alpha clone states as a limited free-to-play option, and backed by a supportive community, the end of 2016 saw an explosion in player numbers, opening EVE Online up to new markets in Spain and Brazil. Finally, CCP’s virtual reality experiments started to mature, with EVE Valkyrie firing out of the launch tube on to all major VR platforms, and Project Arena showing an intriguing glimpse at the future of virtual sports.

Next Up in New Eden

From what we’ve seen so far, FanFest 2017 had less of a focus on big reveals, and more attention to player discussion and feedback. Several components of this year’s Spring release had been teased ahead of the event, and the overall direction for EVE Online had already been established for some time, resulting in fewer surprises. That said, Senior Producer Andie Nordgren did have some key points to share when revealing this year’s roadmap.

We’d already heard about some of the new Blood Raiders ships, but the May 9 update will introduce a formidable new PvE experience. Building on the artificial intelligence behind Circadian Seekers and Drifters, the Blood Raider Shipyards are extra large Engineering Complexes being used to build some incredible new ships, including Titan-class hulls. Disguised with advanced cloaking technology, these citadels are also heavily defended; NPCs will react to fleet composition, respond to and counter tactics, and play to their strengths with all modules their ships possess.  

This approach represents the next step in developing enemies that build their own infrastructure, much like player corporations and alliances, and who fight and marshal forces the way players do. There’s the potential for hundreds or thousands of NPC ships to be involved, promising some glorious battles over some serious loot. Should the technology prove itself, CCP also plans to use it at the heart of the Winter expansion to produce content within Empire space.

A vibrant environment with fresh challenges is one part of CCP’s plan, but another is about growing the tools that players can use to shape the sandbox. While the May release will focus on minor cosmetic touches to Citadels (such as displaying the Corporation or Alliance logo), the Winter release will introduce Refineries as a whole new type of player-built structure. These new industrial edifices will become the go-to method for refining and reprocessing, but also will be essential parts of the new approach to moon mining, converting an individual and passive process to a highly active group effort.

Of PLEX and Purpose

While most other MMOs seem to be increasing the number of tokens and currencies that players need to keep track of, EVE Online is simplifying down to a single currency for game time, ship skins, and other item shop purchases. Aurum (previously for cosmetic skins and skill injectors) is being converted to PLEX (used for game time, multiple character training, and so on). PLEX itself is being made more granular as a result – 500 PLEX will count as 30 days of game time, but ship skins and other services can now be other amounts. It also introduces a special inventory location known as the PLEX Vault, which may bring an end to carting it around in ships (and the entertaining PLEX piracy that resulted). On a brighter note, the in-game store will also support gifting, which may brighten the days of enough players to balance things out.

Following on from the original cell-based Project Discovery, Capsuleers will now be asked to help discover new Exoplanets throughout the cosmos. In collaboration with Reykjavik University and the University of Geneva, data and tools will be used to help spot repeating patterns in light from nearby stars in order to detect orbiting planets. Arriving in a smaller June update, we’re told that there will be an in-game purpose to the effort.

Speaking of purpose, that revitalised New Player Experience will continue to improve throughout the year, starting with a new introductory video that demonstrates the close bond between a capsuleer and the ship they pilot. Later in June, the experience will extend further to cement the relationship with their chosen Empire. Beyond these events, CCP is hoping that veteran players will share aspects of EVE Online that give them a strong sense of purpose, and help to devise ways for new players to generate those feelings of purpose for themselves once they complete the tutorial. Even so, the revamped introduction implemented so far has had an overwhelmingly positive response.

Fractured Realaties

While CCP are known for their heavyweight virtual reality experiments, EVE FanFest 2017 was also home to an alternate reality game, with the Harpa concert hall doubling up as a Keepstar-class citadel in the Postouvin system. Developed and organised by company P, the experience placed the resolution of a deadly Kyonoke plague outbreak in the hands of players, through a mixture of challenges and moral choices. It serves as a reminder that EVE Online has a story and lore running through it, even if player events are usually the ones that grab the headlines.

Back with VR, and EVE Valkyrie celebrated its first birthday by announcing a new update. Groundrush includes a fantastic new map that’s based on flying close to the ground at speed, but that’s not all that’s sneaking into the update. There’s new Wormhole maps, tightened matchmaking and a slew of bugfixes all arriving on April 11.

The sporty Project Arena has evolved into Sparc, a virtual sport that’s due to launch in 2017. While I was expecting CCPs latest concept to arrive on Oculus Rift (with Touch controls) and HTC Vive, I was surprised to hear that it’ll also be launching on PSVR. While it’s a significant endorsement of Sony’s console-based platform, it could also herald a new form of fitness focused gaming.

In fact, the only title to be taking a back seat at Fanfest is Project Nova, the PC-based replacement for first-person shooter Dust 514. After offering a hands-on experience at FanFest 2016, CCP have decided to bring development from Shanghai to Reykjavik in order to foster a stronger EVE feeling. That said, the studio was quick to emphasise that development is ongoing with the ‘boots on the ground’ project.

Emergent Adulthood

2017 is a year of milestones for CCP. After some turbulent teenage years, the studio has successfully emerged into adulthood, celebrating its 20th birthday with record revenues and contributing 1% of Iceland’s GDP. But it’s also a humbler studio that’s learned from its mistakes, working hard to cultivate one of the most invested and passionate fanbases out there.

It’s an approach that’s evident throughout the event, whether it’s electing the Council of Stellar Management as a voice of the playerbase, or with in-house group Permaband recording a rock ballad with community members. Even the latest book – a cross-sectional study of the Frigates of EVE Online -  is an extensive collaboration, not just across the studio, but particular players with real-world spaceflight knowledge.

That doesn’t mean the studio has abandoned taking risks. Experiments such as Gunjack, which went on to sell a sequel-spawning 500,000 copies (and is alleged to be the most sold VR game) are likely to continue, according to CEO Hilmar Veigar Pe?tursson. By choosing bets that can fail without breaking the bank, he feels that the studio can continue to explore, finding new nuggets to wrap into EVE Online or spin out into separate experiences. Those experiences, he hopes, can grow to become the highlights of peoples’ lives.

Gareth Harmer / When he's not blasting or fireballing his way through a virtual world, Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer can be found dissecting the mechanics of online games. Chua at heart, he's also our resident columnist for all things WildStar.