When Uprising launched in November of last year, EVE Online felt, to a degree, somewhat revitalized. The expansion, which was the first in years for Icelandic developer CCP Games, brought massive changes to some of the most central gameplay systems in EVE Online, most notably its Faction Warfare system, as well as promised at a more sprawling, focused narrative for capusleers who are seeking to engage in the universe in new ways.
It's been a few months since Uprising released, though, and with it is the fear that EVE Online might decline as players peel off to jump onto other titles. The goal here for CCP Games is to build upon Uprising and continue to improve upon what's there, build new ways for players to find fun and create meaningful moments in EVE Online, and provide a clear runway as the MMO turns 20 this year.
Thankfully, it seems that EVE Online hasn't diminished, as CCP Games tells us that since Uprising, EVE still sees some of the highest player counts in recent memory.
"It's been a very long since we have seen an expansion with this longtail," EVE Online's Creative Director Bergur "CCP Burger" Finnbogason tells us in an interview earlier this month. "Usually you have kind of a hockey stick effect. [...] [O]ur [daily active user] numbers are still way higher than we expected. We maintained a super healthy DAU from November all the way through Christmas. And now, January, we can see that people are going back to work and school. But our numbers are really healthy, factional warfare numbers are really healthy."
Factional Warfare was the big focal point of the Uprising expansion, bringing sweeping changes to how these systems operated, as well as how players interact with them and each other in this space. It's brought about daily battles, seen players adopt metas to get into a scrap quickly while not risking the big ships that cost a lot of ISK, though when they do bring the big guns it's certainly a memorable experience.
It's also bringing in new players, something that has been a goal of CCP Games for years now as they've revamped their starting experience in EVE Online, creating a new way to learn the MMO through EVE Academy and more. However, Bergur sounded more excited than I normally hear him on these calls when talking abou the number of new players jumping into Faction Warfare in EVE since Uprising launched.
"What's actually been really interesting to see is the amount of new players in Faction Warfare," Bergur tells me. "The amount of peole who have been playing the game for two, three, four days. I was very pleasantly surprised coming into it. I haven't played that much faction warfare before, but the amount of cheap fits, quick thrills - you never spend more than 30 minutes before you're invited to a random fleet. And every fleet is completely different than I've been in. It's a lot of fun, and a lot of new players are falling in love with the game because they're flying with all this like on day three."
But the work of Uprising helps to set up this monumental year for CCP Games as they ride into 2023 with a ton of ambition. Riding the wave of Uprising and the success and momentum from that expansion, the dev team has planned out two expansions this year: one releasing in Q2 2023 with the other releasing in Q4 after its annual Fanfest celebration.
CCP Games released a roadmap last week showing some of the high-level features and updates players have to look forward to throughout 2023. While it's by no means comprehensive, it does touch on what could be the major milestones of the year, starting with the Excel integration, which CCP tells me they see helping to "democratize" the information gathering players can do in EVE Online, but also fundamental changes to how you actually interact with a militia in Faction Warfare.
Until now, you've had to join one of the NPC-run corporation militias in order to meaningfully interact with Faction Warfare. As a result, while you do gain a community of like-minded players who are all there to play in Low Sec too, if you're a long-time player with an established corporation, you then have to choose between leaving that corp and community or simply not playing Faction Warfare on that character.
It's a problem CCP knew about before Uprising released, but they also knew they needed to get right. The newDirect Enlistment feature is coming in Q1 according to the roadmap, and community developer Peter "CCP Swift" Ferrell tells us the team is meeting with the Council of Stellar Management to continue to iron out the details.
Swift highlights an interesting point: how will this work if, say, you are on opposing sides of a player war and you happen to also be on opposing sides of the Faction War. Do we see proxy wars spring up because players are destroying each other in the militia? According to Swift, it's certainly going to cause some headaches.
"We're quickly creating a whole new diplomacy wing required for some of these mega coalitions where they're gonna be like, 'Hey, our allies are in Minnmatar, but I've joined Gallente - how is this going to work?' Well, enjoy. So that's going to be fun for them. They'll figure it out, but we're going to cause a few headaches, I'm sure."
It's not as simple as just flipping a switch, as these types of features are being built on 20-year layers of previous game design. Bergur mentions that it's all gotten pretty complicated, pretty quickly, especially as null bloc players join the fray.
"Once you start to kind of break it down it becomes quite complicated very quickly. 'How does this override? What does this overwrite at all like, do public fleets overwrite your enlistment?' You have multiple layers stacked on top of each other. And that's the nitty gritty that the design team is going through with the CSM and we kind of want to allow them a bit more wiggle room before we start to go into the details of it."
The open enlistment is only the opening salvo of the ambitious plans CCP Games has for its MMO, as the two expansions loom large on the horizon. Bergur made it sound like the team was riding a wave of excitement, getting down to the business of building these new pieces of content and going all out to make the 20th anniversary of EVE Online unforgettable.
The Third Decade Is Finally Here
For years now we've heard about CCP Games setting the MMO up for its "third decade." On stage at Fanfest, whether it be at the Harpa in Reykjavik, the Laugardalshöll arena, or even on stage in Las Vegas during its years of EVE Vegas, the "third decade" has been heralded ad nauseam. It goes back to the idea of "EVE Forever," where this MMO outlives even the developers on the game. And it's a true goal the team has, but I sensed a bit of relief when talking to the team last week now that the "third decade" is finally here.
I joked with them that if I had taken a shot every time I heard Bergur talk about the "third decade," I might have liver poisoning at this point. He chuckled and agreed that he too was ready for the third decade to get here. Though now that it has and he can stop talking about all the years of preparation work he and the team has done, it's about building upon that foundational work the last few years to launch EVE towards its fourth decade (yes, I'm starting early).
"I mean, I'm getting super tired of like, 'preparation for the third decade,' " Bergur said with a laugh. "Thankfully we've actually been [preparing] because we've been in so much foundational work - like, we've been cleaning house now non-stop it feels like four years or something like that. So we've done a lot of preparation and Uprising was the first fruits of that labor, like actually doing stuff that's not just cleaning house, but just way more of like, let's do something amazing and fun, something great that people will love.
"I mean, 2023 is going to be balls to the wall."
Much of that foundation work Bergur is alluding to goes back to the Scarcity Era, the Invasion and more, changing much of the fundamental building blocks of EVE's meta, rebalancing the economy, and much more. And it wasn't always met with praise from fans, most notably when a beloved (though truthfully overpowered) mining vessel the Rorqual was nerfed.
In fact, looking on the last few years of EVE Online and seeing the reaction to adjustments and updates that the CCP team made by the players, it feels like we're in a very different place in January 2023 than we were in December 2021 when the Rorqual discourse really hit its zenith. The community has been, and I would wager still is, largely at a low point in terms of just being unsure of what these changes were actually meant to accomplish. The scarcity, the changes to ships, industry changes - everything.
However, following the success of Uprising, the conversation seems very different. While there is still some uncertainty among capsuleers, it doesn't seem to be the doom and gloom it used to be when wading into Discords or conversations about the MMO with the community. Now there seems to be more excitement, mainly because there are more ships to blow up, which isn't that what EVE is all about at its core?
"December, January of last year was definitely a very tough period," Bergur said in agreement when I asked about the change in mood with the community. "I wouldn't maybe go as far as saying EVE being at about its lowest point in history - we've gone through pretty low, lows. But like, we knew we had to do it. In hindsight, maybe we did it the wrong way, maybe we were too fast [with] these changes we had to do. It's easy to be smart with hindsight. But we're in it for the long run. We're not here for the sprint, we're here for a marathon."
However, with ambition can come the unintended consequences of game development: crunch. So many studios have had to face this seemingly normal practice at studios, especially when games start to come into the finish line of release. With two expansions on the horizon for 2023, it's easy to be worried that CCP Games will fall into the same cycle of crunch within the studio.
Bergur says that one of the keys here is setting expectations on what an expansion is with CCP. When you only have a "set amount of marbles you can spend on an expansion, squeezing more marbles might not be the best thing in the long run," he says as a way of an analogy for their design process.
"We strive really hard to have people not crunch," Bergur says when asked how the CCP will ensure that workers will have that all-important "work-life" balance. "Uprising was a very ambitious plan. Some expansions might end up being bigger, others might end up being smaller."
Bergur also points to the incredibly high tenure of CCP employees at the company as an example of the culture there, with a lot of developers who have been on staff for more than a decade - he himself there for thirteen years. Bergur points to that tenure, and by extension that accumulated knowledge, as being more valuable long-term than simply trying to squeeze for more content last minute.
Where does EVE go from here?
So can EVE Online really ride that momentum throughout 2023? Part of me says emphatically "yes," while the other still has some pause. EVE Online is a game with an incredibly passionate player base (that might even be an understatement), and keeping that playerbase engaged in a way that feels meaningful to the whole of EVE is key moving forward.
CCP Swift says that the community reaction has been one of surprise to the announcement of two expansions, but also one of somewhat anxiety as EVE players look to distill these updates down to what they can use for their segment of the MMO in advance.
"So far I think people were also kind of surprised that there's going to be two expansions. I think if you were to boil out or distill som virtues of EVE players, like they want to know everything in advance to be able to plan around it. So there's some little naggings of anxiety of like, 'Oh, there are two expansions? What are they like? I want to know what's in them now. Do I have to change my mining setups?' There is a lot of excitement, specifically after the end of Uprising."
As a result, Swift - an EVE developer who started his journey in the MMO as a prolific player throughout the years - can see the imagination of other EVE players running wild, especially as the foundational updates and changes are done. Uprising is, put simply, just the start of things to come.
As a result, we might see some explosive things happen within the community as more players join in Factional Warfare. Could we see the next major Nullsec war break out thanks to a single pilot in Faction Warfare targeting the wrong ship? Could we see these frontline systems turn into proxy systems for these large player alliances to assert their dominance on EVE even more?
With Lowsec turning back into the Wild West it's supposed to be, will more EVE players turn to piracy? How will these updates spill into Highsec, where even now it's not really safe for many players as gate campers have started to get even more bold?
CCP Games is poised to really ride this wave as far as they can, truly encapuslating on what has seemingly reinvigorated much of the EVE community these last few months.
However, my concern is whether or not that momentum and excitement will extend to new players. Will CCP Games continue to see new players jumping in and turning into F1 jockeys within a few days of undocking for the first time? Is it sustainable, or will see see new players drop off as other MMOs release content, or they simply get bored and try to do something else in EVE, only to find out that the day to day of an explorer or miner is vastly different than the high stakes, fast-paced combat in a warzone?
Time will tell, but as EVE Online starts its journey in 2023, it'll definitely be interesting to watch it all unfold.