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EVE Online Interview - Quadrants And Taking Risks

A Chat with CCP's Bergur Finnbogason and Sæmundur Hermannsson

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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Last week, CCP unveiled the next quadrant for EVE Online, Eclipse. This new quadrant represents what CCP calls a major change in the balance of power in New Eden, while the team is also looking to provide activities and events for players of all stripes. Culminating with the third and final part of the Triglavian Invasion storyline, CCP is setting itself up to continue this impressive clip of game updates that have really started since EVE Vegas last year.

In fact, the decision to start releasing content updates like Eclipse in Quadrants was unveiled at the Vegas player gathering last year, highlighting a fundamental shift in both the mindset of how the space faring MMO is developed and pushed out to pilots.

“It’s definitely been a little bit ‘learn as you do,’” EVE Online Creative Director Bergur Finnbogason (AKA CCP Burger) told me via an interview last week. “We started around Vegas time [doing] this, and we’ve been adjusting how we work and how we set up the team and how we set up our planning and stuff like that.”

As a result of this, both Bergur and Sæmundur Hermannsson, EVE’s Brand Director, tell me has been pretty positive on a few different levels since switching to this new way of pushing content out to capsuleers.

“[There are] a lot of lessons we’ve learned along the way, learn by doing and have already improved things,” Sæmundur tells MMORPG in the same interview. “It has been fantastic so far, even though it’s our first time. The development and publishing team is in much better sync. We have more development teams feeding into this overarching theme instead of just doing their work and then us releasing it – there’s much more cohesion. [Eclipse] is our announcement of Quadrant two, which will be filled with various events, updates, balance changes, new ships and weapons for the next three months.”

Eclipse is simply the second release of EVE Online’s new Quadrant format, which sees major releases, events, offers, and more as Sæmundur mentioned throughout the year, each bringing with it its own theme. The first Quadrant, Fight or Flight, with the team learning many valuable lessons along the way, according to Hermannsson.

For Bergur, he mentioned specifically the cool things his team is able to do with this faster release cadence, namely take more risks and experiment in New Eden, without sacrificing the focus the team has on completing the longer-term content.

“In this faster cadence, it allows us to do more experiments and tests. But at the same time, we also have teams that are working on longer-term stuff. And that basically allows us to kind of shield them from this rapid development than jumping on fixing something right now. And it has actually brought a lot of focus the development team.”

All these teams feed into one another though, playing into that cohesion Sæmundur touched out previously, allowing for greater communication and working more in sync than CCP seems to have before.

“The development teams,” Sæmundur added to Bergur’s comments regarding the faster cadence of development, “you have Team Talos doing balance changes and you have them actively discussing things with another team. [Another team] is tooling events based on those balance changes or there’s an event planned, and there’s a balance change around that event. So you have these awesome things like From Wormholes with Love, which had events in wormholes but also, like [quality of life] stuff, balance stuff related to it.

“And then Loyalty to Lowsec is another example of that. And then, in the Loyalty to Lowsec, we added the community event based on the old Kings of Lowsec, now called Champions of Lowsec. So the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts. I think there is a lot more good synergy and positivity between the creative, publishing and development [teams]. It’s the triangle now where we discuss things and how to optimize them.”

Building these Quadrants is actually a rather fluid process, according to Bergur.

“So it’s actually a really fluid process. We have some of the things we have planned pretty far in advance. We usually have a few things that anchor the quadrants. We have a few kind of anchoring projects that we design around. But there are also a lot things that come in and [out.] Sometimes an idea that creeps up on a Monday and we ship it on a Thursday. So it’s kind of a very big scale, the complexity of the projects we’re looking at.”

Sæmunder tells me the team had Eclipse basically locked down by mid-February – the major beats rather – but the team does have some flexibility to experiment and tinker during the regular development cycle now. This flexibility allows the team to come up with something early in the week, ship it quickly with an update or maintenance, and if it doesn’t work, remove it from the game just as quickly.

This also allows the team to be willing to try something, and if it fails, it can quickly be fixed to get rid of the new change. As a result, EVE Online’s dev teams can take quite a few risks with updates and iterating on the MMO, something I wonder if other developers would be so eager to do on their games.

As a result, though, this type of small, iterative change can actually make the game better for players. Sæmundur mentioned an event that players really enjoyed around Christmas that was meant to simply be a temporary thing, but based on player feedback, the team was able to quickly react and put it back in EVE on a more permanent basis.

“So what we’re doing now is allowing ourselves to do more iterative changes, putting quality of life, getting feedback, adjusting, moving forward. […] This strategy allows us to do certain things much quicker, [more rapidly] instead of overthinking everything and still not getting it a hundred percent.”

Bergur mentions this allows the team to test out hypotheses and arguments they have had in house for years. Being able to just say “Can we try it out and if it doesn’t work, we’ll take it out,” seems like it can be liberating as a creative. The willingness to shake up the sandbox isn’t new to the Quadrant cycle, though. One of the largest shakeups of the status quo was the Blackout which took place last summer. Bergur mentions that without the Blackout and the lessons learned from that there might not be the Quadrants.

“We probably wouldn’t have Quadrants if it wasn’t for the Blackout and the things we were doing in the Chaos Era. Back in 2019 we learned a lot from that period, both in terms of just publishing and development, but also it gave us the confidence to try out new thigs.”

The Blackout did more than just help influence the team in to try more with EVE itself, but CCP Burger mentions that he feels this helped break the cycle the team had found themselves in.

“In a way, we were kind of breaking a cycle that we had found ourselves in where we weren’t really pushing out that much and we kind of had to break a certain cadence we had gotten ourselves into. The blackout kind of unleashed the dev team and allowed us to do what we’re doing today.”

Bergur mentions that since Vegas when the new increased cadence was officially announced, the team at CCP has pumped out more I the last five, six months than they’ve doing in the year prior. This doesn’t seem to be slowing down, with multiple events and more scheduled for Eclipse leading up to the third installment of the Triglavian Invasion story. Hermannsson mentions that he’s seen a shift in the community since this started as well, stating that the players don’t seem as concerned when a new update hits as they look forward to what might be coming, not necessarily worried by something that does get updated and it may not be their thing.

All of that is to essentially say that the team has grand plans for Quadrant Two. More than just the story, the new Quadrant kicks off with an event today called “The Hunt,” and it’s designed to get more than just the EVE Vets involved, making the requirements easier for casual EVE fans to jump into the action as well. Additionally, things like login rewards and more events coming down the pipeline are intended to keep players in New Eden leading up to that long-awaited conclusion of the Triglavian story that’s been set up for so long now.

One phrase kept coming up – with Sæmi mentioning that, sure it’s technically a catchphrase but it perfectly explains what is going to happen in Eclipse – is that New Eden is going to see a shifting of the balance of power.

Either way, it feels as though EVE Online is setting itself up to continue pushing the boundaries of New Eden, tinkering with the sandbox and taking the types of risks that, while they may or may not work out, it’s worth trying. With the team promising another shake-up of the status quo thanks to shifting the balance of power in New Eden, it'll be interesting to track Quadrant Two throughout the next few months leading into the third Quadrant later this year.


lotrlore

Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore