Eighteen years is a long time for anything, especially an ongoing video game like EVE Online. In a genre where many games come and go before even reaching four or five years, EVE has weathered the test of time.
“There are lots of MMO games which have both risen to the top and sunk in this time period,” Sæmundur Hermansson, EVE Online’s Brand Manager told me in an interview earlier this month. “It’s just an honor. So I think that honor and humbleness, without jokes or anything, just to get to be a part of a community and a dev team that is working on keeping EVE Online going and growing.”
EVE’s Creative Director, Bergur Finnbogason echoed Sæmi’s sentiment of being humbled working on the sci-fi MMO.
“It’s just incredibly humbling to work on EVE Online. It’s such an epic, epic thing. I mean, eighteen years, it’s unheard of. It’s absolutely bizarre. Throughout my years at CCP, I’ve been here for eleven years, and I’ve worked with a lot of people that have worked on other MMOs that have become huge and that disappeared, that have never seen the light of day, and creating an MMO is daunting. It’s a difficult task maintaining and keeping an MMO up and running.”
In the years since EVE Online first launched in 2003, many MMOs have come and gone, while others have stuck around almost as long. Maintaining an MMO, not just with the active user base but also keeping it going with new players to call New Eden home is a task the team has taken seriously over the years, with improvements to UI, user experience, revamping the new player experience and more.
Recent graphical overhauls to the inside of one of the major trade hubs in EVE Online, Jita 4-4, was in part a way to boost the fidelity for new players who seek out this port of call for the first time. In a year that saw 1.3 million new players start their journeys in EVE Online during 2020, getting those players to stick around the next 18 years is a task the team is taking very seriously. While 1.3 million players may have tried EVE Online last year, not all of them stuck around, as Bergur notes the opening moments is still a problem for many newbies.
“We’re also extremely good at killing these new players,” Bergur said with a laugh. “We’re still suffering a massive, massive loss in the first moments and minutes and hours of gameplay. And we went through it [in] quite [a lot of] detail at the World Tour in 2019. And it’s something that we’re still focused on, and it’s something that we haven’t mastered properly. Last year we did a lot of kind of ‘stop the bleeding, fixt the stupid’ and we’re just fixing a lot of really dumb shit. And that’s kind of what we’ve been doing the last two years and then late last year we kind of doubled down and started really focusing more teams on this problem and kind of addressing it from a much wider perspective than we’ve done in the past.”
As the team wrestles with this problem, the MMO is moving into the next phase of its life, with the recent drop of its Quadrant, Foundation. Going back the roots of the original Empires in EVE, Foundation has already seen some interesting events heat up New Eden, with NPCs bombarding planets, creating some incredible, FOMO-inducing emergent events. Bergur states this is all part of a plan to look “inward.”
“Like with everything we do, it’s always just another puzzle piece in a way bigger puzzle, and then a way longer story. And I think we’ve been doing a lot of really fantastic and important work on kind of the fringes of the game. I mean, the Invasion, Drifters, and things like Abyssal Deadspace, things like that are kind of pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
“But with Foundation, we’re kind of looking inward. We’re celebrating, I mean we’re turning eighteen, so we’re celebrating that milestone, we’re celebrating the achievements that we’ve made. We’re celebrating these empires, the core empires as kind of the foundation of the game. It’s so important in anything you do, you need to have a strong backbone. You need to have following on these kind of core elements to be able to build properly on it, and the stronger the foundation, the house will withstand way more earthquakes and volcanoes and all the shit that’s thrown at it.”
Sæmi touched on as well how the player appetite and excitement fuels the team, as well as how they are approaching New Eden’s history and story when coming up with these emergent events and long-term story arcs.
“It’s just awesome to see the appetite and excitement that is in the community for stuff like this. I’ve gotten pinged all over, seen activity on Twitter. People tend to decipher what is happening [and are] participating in it. And I think, like in discussions with the [Council of Stellar Management], and what started more concretely with the Invasion in 2019, even starting before that with Abyssal Deadspace, is both the appetite for and excitement about seeing New Eden progress the storylines, change, and develop and evolve. Secondary characters becoming more emergent in the storylines, not just random spaces, but they’re like these famous people in New Eden’s history and what’s happened to them. So that was a great learning in innovation.
“And with Foundation right now, we’re setting the foundation for more contrast between that person […] and showing the faces of these Empires and who are you siding with when you choose an empire, and what [they are] about.”
“Everytime we’ve introduced strong characters, there’s a big part of the community that really kind of leans on it quite heavy,” Bergur added. “We really want to create that attachment and that connection to the empires. Give the empires more of that human scale, feel and element to them so players can mirror themselves and kind of create stronger connections to them. And the empires are at the foundation of the game. They are one of the core elements that we built our narrative in our universe around, they are incredibly important. Kind of as a bridge to you creating your own name, your own life within New Eden.”
With the focus on the empires, the team seems to be trying to rekindle the core narrative not just for veteran players who are taking part in the activities throughout the storyline right now, but also help create more of a connection for new players who start up their journeys in New Eden. By focusing in on the, well, foundation of EVE, CCP hopes to use these empires as a building block for those new players to grow from.
“It’s way too hard to tell people, day one: download EVE, create your character, find a name, go through a new player experience, find a corporation and start your legacy,” Bergur continued. “That’s like asking someone to marry them on the first date. So the empires play an incredibly important rol there where they can give you the backdrop so you can spend the mental energy on learning how to navigate, learning how to fit modules and shoot others. Learning what the hell skills are. So yea, the empires are way more important than a lot of people give them credit.”
In the end, crafting a continuing story while also returning to its roots with Foundation, CCP seems poised to take on the next eighteen years. In an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, CCP Games’ CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson stated that EVE is “never going to die,” the team is gearing up for the “third decade.” Things like fixing UI and user experience to keep new players, or even investing in technology to completely 3D render characters in the game, like the recent Aura update, just set the stage for the future of EVE.
“Like we’ve said before,” Sæmi said, “we’re setting up for the third decade. And with eighteen years of experience, there come a lot of opportunities for learnings and insights, especially when we are sitting here now looking at, like the technology and the tools and levers and everything that we have for a project like Aura, or a project like the native Mac client.”
“It’s like we were saying earlier,” Bergur concluded, “when you think about it, it is pretty crazy that an eighteen year old game actually does, you know, there’s a massive investment into rendering characters when you know, it’s a game about spaceships. And it’s like Sæmi was saying, it is just a testament to our commitment to the game and our commitment to kind of push it and constantly evolve it and constantly innovate, and constantly push the boundaries of what is possible.”