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Kristoffer "CCP Soundwave" Touborg Interview

By Garrett Fuller on July 15, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

Kristoffer "CCP Soundwave" Touborg Interview

MMORPG.com Industry Relations Manager Garrett Fuller sat down with EVE Online Lead Designer Kristoffer "CCP Soundwave" Touborg to discuss the game and some of the more recent events, including the release of Incarna and the emergency Council of Stellar Management Summit.

MMORPG.com:

Give us some background on your roles at CCP and on EVE Online.

Kristoffer Touborg:

I’m currently the lead game designer for the flying in space part of EVE. I work on a high-level vision for flying in space and spend a lot of time going through the designs made by the department. On the side, I’m the product owner of Team Best Friends Forever, which has been my home for the last four releases or so. Now and then I host a spaceship tournament and go to conferences/player meets. I guess I do a lot of stuff.

I’ve been with the company for a few years and this winter will be my first release as lead. I’m a long time player, so my passion for EVE started long before I got a job here. Hopefully that will show in the direction we go, with more focus on the small things, such as ship balance.

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MMORPG.com:

From your perspective, how did the talks go with the Council of Stellar management this past week?

Kristoffer Touborg:

The talks with the CSM went really well. The big challenge with democratic elections is that you’re not always guaranteed that the people who are elected are easy to work with. I think this particular CSM is one of the more competent and hardworking ones, so even during the rough times where they yell at us, you know that things will work out. A lot of that is due to the fact of institutional knowledge growing over time within the CSM. While I think we’re very lucky to have them here, representing the players, I’m sure they’re a little tired of constantly flying to Iceland though, so we’ll try and stay away from big emergencies for a while.

Overall it was very good though; they came up here and conveyed a lot of the issues the community have and we got to explain some of the things that have been going on. Apart from the obvious issue with us communicating about as well as a bag of rocks, it’s really important that we be able to explain exactly what’s happening and why. I think we’re doing a lot of cool things and it would be a shame if they drowned in miscommunication.

MMORPG.com:

When tackling the microtransactions with fans, what approach did you take with the newsletter? Do you feel it was the right approach?

Kristoffer Touborg:

Looking back, probably not. When I was asked to write the piece, I wasn’t given a word limit, so I wrote a piece about three times as long. One of the parts which was cut contained reflection on how to give away AUR for free. Basically seeding the virtual currency, either as a kind of frequent flyer mile you get every month or based off achievements etc. There was a lot of stuff in there which I felt would bring a lot of value to EVE, but in the end I had to make cuts that condensed it into an obvious “pro” piece. I guess I ended up with a slim piece that painted a different picture than my intention.

That’s not to say that I was in any way forced to take a position I disagree with, that certainly wasn’t the case. I’m a big fan of games like World of Tanks, League of Legends etc, so I’ve become pretty used to dealing with virtual currency on a daily basis. That made writing the “yes” piece relatively easy and while I’m not personally interested in buying virtual helmets or high heels, I completely understand and respect that it’s important to a lot of people. Initiatives like the virtual goods store are a cool addition to EVE that I fully support and the fact that we launched about as gracefully as an elephant doing ballet doesn’t really change that.

MMORPG.com:

In your own opinion how does the store fit with the sandbox environment of EVE? Is there a way to make it better?

Kristoffer Touborg:

It fits in pretty well. I think we could definitely make it more “sandboxy” by allowing more customization. So instead of us designing everything, letting the players design/customize their own clothes and then re-selling them to other players. I’m a pretty massive fan of adding as many different playstyles into EVE, and the thought of someone only playing to maintain their fashion empire is pretty awesome. Player created professions are extremely powerful and much better than anything we could ever create.

Now, whenever we talk about customization, we inevitably end up with the issue of TTP (time to penis; the measurement of how long it takes your users to place the first penis on something). We’d need to find some way of moderating the creations before they hit the general public, while at the same time keeping a relatively easy to use and fluid creation/distribution process. But yeah, having the stuff be made and traded by players would be amazing.

MMORPG.com:

Can you give us some insight into the culture at CCP and how they interact with fans? Some players may not have made it to Fanfest yet.

Kristoffer Touborg:

We’re a very open company. A lot of us post on the EVE Online forums; quite a few of us have a twitter account etc. Most of us really love spaceships and don’t mind talking about them whenever we get a chance. I don’t answer every single tweet with my name in it, but I manage to reply to a lot of them. It’s pretty cool, I think all the secrecy in entertainment is pretty silly, so I enjoy being able to talk to the community about everything from the Reykjavik weather to internet spaceships.

The majority of concerns people have aren’t exactly industry secrets, so there is no reason to gag your employees. Are Blizzard or Zynga sitting there, hoping I’ll leak the next class of ships to balance? Probably not, it’s more likely no one really cares except our customers and I think we really benefit from just being open with them and keeping them excited. So anyway, if you tag me in twitter (I think that’s what the young people call it these days?) you’re likely to get a response. I’m on there as @ktouborg.

MMORPG.com:

What are the main things you take into account when designing a new system for EVE? Do you actively work with the CSM when a new idea arises?

Kristoffer Touborg:

CCP has a set of design principles, which we try to take into account. If I were to select my favorites, that I think are most important to the game, it would probably be maximizing human interaction, verisimilitude and emergence. I almost exclusively play multiplayer games, so human interaction is really a big one for me. That’s probably what makes EVE so great, these massive communities of people doing things together. That kind of ties in with emergence of course; from the interaction something (interesting) will emerge. Take Incursions for example, a group PVE feature we launched last winter. An alliance in EVE would run the low-sec ones and advertise that players outside of that alliance could pay to join the fleet. Once the payment had been made and the stranger reached the system, they’d shoot him. That scam wasn’t really something the system was designed for; it just sort of happened because a group of people got together and thought it would be hilarious.

Verisimilitude means a lot to me too. The monetary and emotional value that people put into EVE is amazing. Back when I was a player, I used to be so amazed that I’d help blow up ships that people regarded as being worth thousands of dollars. If you look at some of the top level block FCs, some of them are good enough to be paid to do it. EVE is an incredible game and the boundaries between game and reality are very, very thin. EVE is the greatest game on earth if you feel that leaving a footprint in the sand matters.

I’ve started using the CSM quite a lot. They’re the first line of sanity check we do, so whenever we make a large change, that’s been run by the CSM. The original design/thoughts are put on the CSM forum, they give us feedback, and we make changes to the design and then implement it. You shouldn’t underestimate just how important they have become to the process. We’re doing 0.0 development work right now, and they’ve been shown most of the stuff we’ve come up with, pretty much straight away. It’s a bit strange at first, to have work reviewed like that, but once you get used to it the feedback is invaluable.

MMORPG.com:

Is there anything you wish you could change in how the microtransactions were handled? Now is your chance to turn back the clock.

Kristoffer Touborg:

Everything? I think we should have been much clearer with the community in terms of what is sold for AUR and what’s not. The gold ammo debate was so stupid because we should have just pre-emptively killed it a long time ago. I have no issues with selling clothing for AUR, because I think for a lot of people, customizing their character gives them value. Gold ammo on the other hand messes with the competitive balance, so watching that discussion was painful. I would have loved to just copy paste “GOLD AMMMO GETS INTO EVE WHEN IT’S TAKEN FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS” everywhere. That’s not to say that gold ammo is universally awful, I just don’t think it fits into our particular universe.

We have a pretty good tradition of building on stuff we’ve released, but that didn’t work well with the shop. Having a larger range of items to chose from would have been preferable, but we went with what we had at the time. I think the shop will be much more graceful and cater to more people when we have 50 different items out in different price ranges. Launching with a low number of items definitely hurt us quite a bit. You live and you learn, except I guess if you learn that you didn’t pack a parachute while skydiving. Otherwise though, live and learn.

But yeah, I guess my ex girlfriends were right, it’s all about communication.

MMORPG.com:

In your opinion what is it that sets EVE apart from other MMOs? It is such a strong stand out in the industry.

Kristoffer Touborg:

I think our design principles stand out. If you read through our principles and compare them to five other companies, you’ll probably notice one thing; fun isn’t on the list. Does it sound strange that we’re a game company and “fun” isn’t a design principle? Probably, but on the other hand, we’re building a game which is meant to be meaningful and real. Are wormholes fun? Not in the traditional, fast paced combat style, no, but it’s still a great feature that a lot of people love. Not trying to be other games, but instead making features that fit within the EVE framework is really important. It can be tempting to just try and copy everyone else, but I don’t think it would work. Apart from that, I’m also pretty convinced our approach is right for EVE. We’re not Counterstrike and we probably never will be. That doesn’t bother me at all.

Another factor that really contributes to the verisimilitude is that it’s a single shard game. The more servers, the more regional restrictions etc, the more you’re reminded that it’s not only an artificial network, but you’re an irrelevant cog in a big machinery. In EVE, you can reach anyone, anytime; something which takes the competitive nature of the game to an entirely new level. There’s always someone playing, no matter what time of day, it gives you that vibrant feel that’s wonderful.

MMORPG.com:

What can players expect over the next few months with EVE?

Kristoffer Touborg:

Expect the flying in space side to be a little more old-school. We need to get back to our roots if that makes sense. I think EVE has become a little soft, as strange as it sounds. It’s really easy to make money, it’s pretty safe, it’s become too much of a happy fairy land where everyone holds hands and eats lollipops than the dystopian universe it’s supposed to be. There needs to be more opportunities for people to take massive risks and strike rich. I’ll tell you where it starts though; 0.0.

So this winter, we’re going to do two things. First of all, we’re going to crank up ship balancing efforts. Continual balancing should be part of the EVE universe, it shouldn’t be a special event that happens every year or two, it should be a constant process and that’s being kicked off. A ship, modules, everything under the sun needs a bit of a shakeup. CCP Tallest has taken the banner on this and is currently rebalancing super-caps. I think we need to give the power back to the masses, so expect to see an increased role for sub-caps. That EVE is real trailer? That’s where we need to be.

The second part is 0.0, where we’ll look at resources. Resource scarcity or exclusivity is something we’ve done really well when it comes to stuff like tech 3 and so on. In other areas, such as minerals, ice etc, we’ve not done so well. So I’d like to take some of the broadly distributed stuff and kind of slim down the availability. Hopefully that will create more professions for people, and make content that’s currently underutilized interesting again. I think people generally need some sort of identity and letting people do everything at once detracts from that.

I basically want to give some people a special set of shovels to build massive sandcastles, while at the same time giving another set of players reinforced steel boots that come with directions to stomp said sandcastles. Winter is going to be a ton of fun, whether you like creating, or just tearing everything down.

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