This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend EVE Online's FanFest. For those who haven't heard if it, it's a fan gathering that takes place in CCP's homeland of Iceland, and is attended by a growing number of EVE players each year. The numbers this year were reportedly sitting somewhere around the three thousand mark.
EVE's Fanfest is unique in the industry, and might just be the grandest fan gathering of them all. Not because of the impressive planning and presentation that makes up the event, and not because there is anything less about the fans of other MMOs who attend their favorite games' gatherings dutifully. Rather because of the nature of the game itself. EVE Online is, after all, the only successful single shard server MMO.
While some may marvel at the technology behind an MMO that can allow 60K people and more besides to participate at the same time, in the same world, it's the result on the community that I find most interesting and the honest reason that I can make this article's claim.
While there is a lot of talk about broader MMO communities, both among players and developers, EVE Online's single shard "world" will give it the advantage every, single time.
Over the course of the weekend, I had a chance to hear a number of different players talking about their favorite game, either in the smoking tent, in line for food or beer, at some of Iceland's pubs, or in the many, many roundtable discussions hosted by the developers in the hopes of pulling in as much player feedback over the weekend as possible. In every single case though, I heard friends talking to friends about a world that they all share. Nobody asked what server anyone else was on only to be met with head shakes and a sigh when the names didn't match up. Instead, they often laughed with the shared experience of it all, with everyone having either experienced it themselves or heard about it through the game's scuttlebutt.
This article isn't being written as a way for me to talk about the awesomeness of EVE Online. It isn't a game for everyone, the reasons for which are too individual, too many, too varied and too over-written about to talk about here. Instead, I'd like you to think of this article as about something that the MMORPG genre has lost.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with the current crop of MMOs, or the people who play them. I'm not making a judgement as to whether or not the genre in the post EverQuest II / World of Warcraft era has improved or weakened. I'm simply saying that this weekend in particular, I am acutely aware of what we have lost.
The success or failure of EVE Online doesn't rest on the shoulders of a giant budget, or a strong endgame product. It doesn't rely on a content team to continue to crank out quests that are merely a variation on a theme, and it doesn't rely on the popularity of a prominent outside IP. The success or failure of EVE Online rests more squarely on the shoulders of its players than anywhere else. This weekend, I didn't need to ask the devs how their game has stayed fresh for the last seven years of its existence. I just had to look around and open my ears.
Some of you reading this article may have heard of a group called Goon fleet. While there are a whole host of guilds (corporations) and alliances that have helped to forge the EVE universe and continue to do so, theirs is a story that is easy to tell and comes quick to my fingers. I should point out as well that this is the story as best I know it and as best it's been passed down to me.
For those who don't know, here you have a group of MMO players that made a name for themselves by jumping from MMO to MMO and doing their best to break them. To break their systems, and to break the will of their players with relentless ganking and otherwise griefing. Enter EVE Online.
The Goons entered EVE with those same intentions, but found that this game was different. They couldn't break EVE in that way because EVE was designed to adapt to them. Every time they griefed new players, or barricaded a system, they fed into the game's content. Getting past them became as much a part of the game as any content that the developers could have created. They became a powerhouse to be either feared, avoided, joined or railed against instead of a sweeping force of metagame destruction that game community managers headaches and made other players call for blood (or leave the games). The goons maintain a strong presence at Fanfest even today, and stand among the game's most loyal and supportive players.
Where else in the MMO genre, I ask you as I've asked myself, is this even possible? How did we get to a point where the term "online community" came to mean just a collection of people who play a game and stopped meaning a group of people who come together for a genuine, un-divided experience?
How, when confronted with a situation where I'm seeing with my own eyes and hearing with my own ears the benefits of an unbroken sandbox world, am I supposed to look around and wonder why this isn't being done more often and why this isn't an experience that every single MMO developer wants for their players.
Over the weekend, the CCP team's message was made very clear: EVE Is Real. I'll get more into what the developers mean by this as my articles stream out over the next week, but I wanted to make you all aware of it here first because it is the very real impact that players and groups of players like the Goons can have on the game that I feel like we've lost the ability to meet up with in other games. The "realness" of the virtual, living, breathing world has been replaced with the very artificial and constructed world of the "MMO experience".
Is it really any wonder then that developers the genre over are having trouble connecting with their communities and that often times communities are having a harder and harder time communicating with one another? Is it any honest wonder that I travel to CCP's Fanfest and marvel at the camaraderie between player and player as well as player and dev when I don't always do the same at other gatherings? Is it any wonder that as a non-EVE player, I feel like, when I'm there, I'm genuinely missing out on some grand shared adventure?
So here's the question I have to ask of all of you: Is there any reason why we aren't all screaming for this kind of experience in our own favorite games?