If you polled the vast majority of EVE Online players at the beginning of 2019 asking them whether or not they would anticipate an almost entirely new community team within a year, more often than not they likely would not have thought it possible. However, that’s almost exactly what happened. When Svienn “CCP Guard” Kjarval left CCP Games in March 2019, it left the EVE community rather shocked. Guard was the Face of EVE Online, the frontman of the in-house band, Permaband. Towards the end of 2019, in November, Paul Elsy, AKA CCP Falcon, also departed his role on the Community team.
Flash forward to April 2020 and the team that interacts most with the capsuleers that make up New Eden looks almost entirely different. With the recent hiring of Jessica “CCP Aurora” Kenyon, as well as bringing on Dan “CCP Convict” Crone last year to complement Senior Community Dev Kamil “CCP Dopamine” Wojtas, the team feels poised to help navigate through the waters of EVE Online’s massive fanbase.
It’s incredibly interesting to see this take place as well, as it feels EVE Online is undergoing something of a rebirth. Development is happening at a faster clip, with the development team able to experiment more with some of the updates they release, as CCP Burger told us in an interview last week. So with this rebirth we can see that mirrored in the community team that interacts with and works with the community to make EVE Online a better game.
Each member brings their own background to the table, with Dan being heavily involved in a few different aspects of EVE Online before settling into his role at CCP.
“I first started playing EVE Online in 2004,” CCP Convict told me via a phone interview. “I got dragged into the game from the Homeworld community. Players in the Homeworld community were being recruited into EVE by EVE players in the Homeworld community, and I got carried along with that. I went through a trajectory which is unfamiliar to other players where you start playing EVE, and obviously it was a different environment back then as well, but you play for a little while, you go AFK for a little while. Something drags you back then eventually you have that magic moment that makes you committed to the game.”
Dan mentions his “on/off” phase lasted until about 2009 when he happened to “stumble” into the right Corporation. Since starting in August of 2019, Dan seems to have had an interesting trajectory – the weekend he moved to Iceland he was on a plane heading to Fanfest Home in Finland. While that is definitely a great way to break into the industry, Jessica might have him beat.
Since joining CCP, the global situation has deteriorated all around us, which has definitely affected Aurora’s ability to have a normal on-boarding phase with her new company.
“I’ve had a very interesting start up here,” Jessica says. “I worked in the office for about four days, before we were sent home due to the global situation. Which means I’ve not worked from home about twice as long as I had spent in the actual office, which was already half empty when I arrived. So it’s been a very interesting way to start a new job in a new company. That said, they’ve been doing a really fantastic job onboarding me.”
As far as Jessica’s in-game persona, she’s a well-known leader in EVE Online, having started playing in 2006. Since they she states she’s done a little bit of everything, from starting off in a Highsec corporation to leading fleets in the Fountain War in 2013 for her Nullsec corp. More recently she’s been known to help newer players in Brave, teaching players how to get started in EVE in her Alliance - which obviously helps with overall player retention as well.
Interestingly enough, both Jessica and Dan are new to the video game industry, while Kamil has been around with multiple companies such as Blizzard, working most recently with the community team in the European Offices on Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft 2 and more. The team feels poised to cover a lot of different angles within their roles, with Dan and Jessica bringing some solid EVE know-how (though that’s not to say Kamil is no slouch and he himself is an established and well-respected Capsuleer in his own right), while Dopamine brings the hard industry knowledge to the table, understanding how communities work and how to engage them with your game.
That being said, again, most EVE players would not have anticipated this shake up - something Dan himself admits when looking back on it, as well as what it felt like to be the new kid on the block coming off the departure of, what essentially is an EVE icon.
“The community wouldn’t have anticipated the change. And you know what - coming into it, I kind of stepped into Svienni’s shoes. I’ve never considered myself replacing CCP Guard because that is impossible, he’s absolutely an icon of the game, of the community and will always be.
“I was a little bit nervous coming into it, though, knowing that it was on the back of his departure. I’ve been doing a lot of [things] like stream hosting and things, like I get out there and I am the talking head, I do all the goofy stuff on EVE Pulse. [...] So I was nervous coming into it, whether or not the community would embrace me as readily or if they would be like, ‘Oh, this guy’s just trying to be another CCP Guard.’ But it’s actually going super well. Some people have already remarked that even though I’ve only been here a relatively short amount of time, it feels like I’ve been around for much longer in terms of activity.”
It’s intriguing to me looking on from the outside, because when you look at all the things CCP have done and have been talking about during the last year - from the Blackout which shook things up for better or worse during the summer, to the drumbeat of player retention during the EVE Invasion Tour, the community team today feels poised and ready to take on the challenges awaiting them. The hiring of Jessica, for instance, feels like it targets not only a great EVE ambassador, eager to push the game forward, but also someone who has worked within her Alliance to help player retention - some EVE has historically been struggling with.
“If I may comment in regards to what you were asking,” Kamil noted during our interview, “about hiring and if that was a conscious decision in terms of building the community team for the future. To some extent, obviously, yes. You know, things were happening quite rapidly last year. So I wouldn’t say that this has been planned all along, because obviously those plans have been changing constantly. However, we have been extremely serious and diligent in terms of trying to find people and characters with specific sets of skills that would help us compliment one another, as opposed to perhaps having a team of people who shared the same strengths. Because from my perspective, that could leave us with some weaknesses that would have been difficult to overcome. And even right now there are very likely areas that all of us might be a little bit weaker than the others, at least we can leverage our strengths and make sure we work on everything else at the same time.”
With all three developers having rich EVE Online backgrounds, one thing that makes this team a bit different from other community facing teams in EVE’s past is down to the fact that they don’t actually need to play the game anonymously anymore. Until recently, CCP employees had to hide their identity when they played EVE Online. This all changed last year when that restriction was lifted. As a result, both Dan and Jessica have essentially been able to keep playing the characters they’ve made a name with over the years without fear of “being caught,” so to speak.
“The developers could always play EVE,” Dan said. “But the anonymity requirements with that old policy just meant that trying to venture into like, Nullsec, wormhole groups - anywhere where there’s a high degree of security and attention to what your IP is, what your flag is on Teamspeak, you know, play hours made it a minefield. If you wanted to embark into certain areas of gameplay you would always have to be very defensive. Because there were...not disciplinary consequences, but certainly some overhead should you get outed and then Internal Affairs has to help you relocate, scrub your character, those kinds of things.
“So by alleviating that, that anxiety and that concern from the development team from CCP when they’re playing EVE as players, they can now engage in any part of the game.”
Dan actually started at CCP when the old policy was in place, so effectively his characters were, essentially, “put on ice” for a few months as he got ready for them to undergo CCP’s witness protection program and receive new identities. But the policy changed, meaning he essentially got his characters back that day. He knew this would be something he’d have to deal with going into his new gig - something he juggled with was how he would handle the process with his main character, something I think every MMO player can empathize with.
“The witness protection aspect of your characters is kind of dependent on your profile before you join the company. So in my case, my main would have undergone a witness protection, get a new name, wipe corp history, new portrait - those kinds of things. And that to me, because my identity and my experience in EVE was so tied up in that character, I was considering maybe not even taking him off ice because I didn’t want to have to change his name, his portrait. Because when you’ve played for so long with a particular character, you’ve connected with so many people through that avatar, your identities are intrinsically linked to it. So being able to still be that character now when I’m playing EVE is surprisingly fantastic, and was a lot more important to me than I had anticipated until just before I came to CCP and realized the implications of what would happen to that character.”
Jessica mentions that even in her short time working with CCP she’s noticed the shift in policy has actually helped the team - and EVE Online as a whole.
“From what I can see, in my short time here, it’s actually helping a number of people in the company already. From what I can tell, there have been a lot of people inside CCP who have played EVE for a very long time. But there’s no way for the community to see that because it was so secretive. And I think now that that’s changed, it’s opened up a whole bunch of new playstyles. It’s allowing a number of developers to get a better idea of what’s going on inside the major EVE communities that they weren’t able to get before. And I think, even just over these last few months, that’s actually made a really positive impact on development of the game.”
All in all, it honestly feels like the community team is in a stellar place to make a difference in EVE, even compared to even just last year. Kamil mentions that while Svienni and Paul will always be important fixtures in the community, the team is in a great place today and looks forward to what the future holds for the three of them.
For my part, just interviewing the team (as sick as I was that day as well), things bode well for the future of EVE. Each member brings passion and their own flair to the community team, something they each will leverage to make the whole of New Eden better. As New Eden goes through a rebirth of sorts with more engagement, new updates and the looming threat of the Triglavian invasion throwing the power balance into chaos with Eclipse, EVE Online feels like it’s in good hands.
For Kamil, the senior dev on the team now running the show, he says he’s excited to see things move forward.
“In terms of the future, where I see us going - I’m super excited now that Jessica is onboard that actually opens up a lot of opportunities for us. There is only so much you can do with two people on theteam. An additional person who brings a lot of expertise and skill gives us the opportunity as well to pursue all the different projects that we wanted to do for a year in terms of engaging more with our players. [...]
“So personally I see a bright future for us.”