As I’ve covered EVE Online since about 2017, one striking aspect about the studio that develops the internet spaceship MMO that has stood out to me has to be the number of players who have made the jump to developer.
While every major studio working on a long-running title can boast hiring players in roles such as community managers, developers, GMs and such, none seem to have these new developers thrust into such public-facing roles as CCP Games does. In recent years they’ve hired some of the most prolific EVE Online players onto their staff, from Dan “CCP Convict” Crone to Jessica “CCP Aurora” Kenyon, both who were known widely throughout the EVE Online community when they were just regular players.
During EVE Vegas this past weekend, I had the chance to sit down with two “players-turned-developer” who came out to the community-driven event to talk about their histories in the MMO and what it’s like turning that passion for playing the game to passion in creating it.
Peter “CCP Swift” Farrell has been playing EVE Online for over a decade, and over the course of his life in New Eden has seen his fortunes rise from helping out with the esports-focused Alliance Tournament to serving on EVE’s Council of Stellar Management.
“So I was super active in the game,” Farrell tells me over the weekend during some downtime at EVE Vegas. “I was an alliance leader [and] I really enjoyed it. I got hooked into one of our esports events called the Alliance Tournament. I was on a very good team - like our team was the most winningest team ever. We were the best.”
Swift eventually took the player knowledge he had of participating in the AT at the highest level and turned that into commentating, eventually flying out to CCP’s home city of Reykjavik, Iceland to cast live. It was that level of interaction by CCP with Swift, plus what he witnessed while in Iceland, that gave him his first glimpse into the corporate culture of the company behind the MMO he had grown to love over the years.
“I applied to be a commentator for the Alliance Tournament. CCP took player commentators and flew them out to Reykjavik to cast live the whole tournament. And that was my first real hint at the corporate culture at CCP: talking to people, seeing how the company works, and really getting involved with the community, which was super cool.”
Swift’s engagement with the community around him only intensified at that point as well. He was going on podcasts, attending EVE events such as EVE Vegas and EVE Fanfest, and eventually he applied for the CSM.
“Got in one the second try, first try failed,” Swift said with a smile. This will seemingly be a pattern for him.
Growing up with EVE Online
“Do the developers even play the game?”
This is a constant refrain I hear across forums, Reddit, Twitter and pretty much anywhere else where video game discourse is discussed. Oftentimes it’s the result of dissatisfaction with a patch, a game design decision or just built up anger over the direction of a title. However, with EVE Online players, for me personally at least, it feels a bit misplaced, especially considering the wealth of game hours some of the most visible developers have combined.
However, one person who is integral at getting EVE’s messaging out is a bit more behind the scenes, though he grew up with EVE Online and turned that love of the MMO into a full-time career.
Páll Grétar Bjarnason, otherwise known as CCP Spider, started playing EVE Online when he was 11 years old. Living in the UK at the time, it was a sense of both national pride at playing this game from his native Iceland, as well his love of things science fiction that drew him into the MMO.
“I saw my dad playing the game and I was like, ‘Oh! Spaceships! I love Star Wars and I loved watching Battlestar Galactica with my dad. He signed me up on a trial and I got hooked on it. At the time, I was living in the UK, so you read about these legendary developers, like these dudes from Iceland. I’m like, ‘I’m from Iceland!’ And you have that weird, like, I’m in a different country so everything you see coming from your home country it gives you a sense of pride.”
From that point, Spider states he knew he was going to grow up to be a developer, specifically to work for CCP Games.
However, you could say that to get Spider hired was something of a grassroots effort on the part of the community. After destroying everyone at a trivia night about EVE Online when he was all but 18 years old, the community started to petition CCP’s CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson himself to hire the young player.
Surprisingly, Hilmar reached out to Spider on Twitter for a CV, and the rest is, as you’d say, history. From there he was handed over to CCP’s head of customer experience and rose through the ranks of the GM department. From there, though, the question was where to go next?
“They looked at me and I’m like, 18 years old and I have no idea what I’m doing, and they’re like, ‘Ah, we’ll give it a chance, we see some potential here,” Spider says. “So I got a summer job, and then I got offered a full time position. And I had a bit of a ‘grow up’ moment, you know, ‘This is the real world, you’re getting paid to do this.’ This job, this is my future career prospects, so you know, time to put on the big boy pants. And so I just rose through the ranks in the GM department and became a senior. I’m doing coaching, writing policies, [and] training others. Going to Argentina to train their contractors, having fun. And always I have always [thought], ‘What’s my next logical step? Game design?’ Maybe not, I’m so invested in the community.”
Spider started to poke and prod and eventually fell on the radar of CCP’s Head of Public Relations George Kelion, who brought him into the PR fold. Since then he’s balanced working on the PR strategy for EVE Online while also running the MMO’s social media accounts. All the pretty spaceship screenshots and teases on Twitter? That’s Páll’s work.
Second Time’s A Charm
CCP Swift had a different experience making the jump from player to developer. A corporate lawyer, Peter tells me he had started to feel a little burnt out in his current gig at the time, but didn’t feel as though it was possible for him to change careers. He mentions that his time on the CSM really helped him understand further what it might be like to work for CCP, since the CSM, in Peter’s words are basically treated like internal employees. After failing his first time in his bid for election to the Council, Swift made it the next try and enjoyed the experience.
“I could really see behind the curtain,” Swift says. “Because CCP shows you basically everything, they treat you almost like an internal employee. They ask you questions, really solicit your feedback. And I was like, ‘Oh this is really, really cool. But at the time I didn’t think it was possible for me to change careers or anything, or change my trajectory into gaming. So I was just there.”
“I just continued working with CCP, I had a podcast, a lot of community involvement, because that was a lot of fun for me. I just got burned out at work, I didn’t really like it. And one of my friends who was actually working at CCP says, ‘Well, every time you talk about EVE, you have a smile on your face. So have you ever thought about working at CCP?’”
Peter reached out to CCP and while they didn’t have a fit for him at the time, they kept him in mind for future roles. Once CCP Dopamine was building the community team, though, Swift applied again on a whim.
“I applied on a whim and got fairly far into it. I got to the last two, and they had an impossible decision between myself and the guy that ended up getting the job,” Peter said. However, it wasn’t long before he got another call from Dopamine, offering the gig.
“Eight months later, I got a call from Dopamine, and he was like, ‘Alright, we’ve got a spot for you. Do you want it?’ And I just jumped at it, and I’ve never looked back.”
Translating Player Concerns To CCP Games
Right now, as CCP Swift says, the community team itself is comprised of some fairly prolific players, from CCP Convict to Kamil “CCP Dopamine” Wojtas. Across the entire community team there are over an estimated 150 years of experience in EVE Online collectively. But it’s not just on the community team that we see high-level players taking their love of EVE Online and turning it into career prospects.
Over in the QA department, former CSM member (three times over) Suitonia has become CCP Kestrel, while Razorien, who is known for their amazing screenshots of New Eden has become, fittingly, CCP Aperture. Players such as CCP Aurora have taken their wealth of knowledge of EVE Online and moved beyond community, taking up a position in the game development department and, by all accounts, is crushing it. High-level and incredibly popular streamer, Bjorn Bee, has joined the team recently on the community side. Across the board there are people who spent their free time playing this MMO from CCP Games and have, in some way, become the next wave of those individuals creating it into the third decade.
One of the best results of this hiring of players is the ability for those now developers to understand more intimately the concerns of the player blocs and what they are looking for while playing EVE Online. Now there is effectively a “Google Translate” layer between the game designers and developers and the playerbase with the community team acting as that translator, taking the concerns of players and fundamentally understanding where they are coming from and relaying that information back to the team in actionable ways.
However, CCP can’t just rely on hiring players to fill the ranks, as there will always be the need for seasoned game industry veterans as well in key positions. Looking back, though, Swift thinks CCP Games has struck a good balance between players and developers at CCP Games now, where before it might have stagnated a bit.
“I think CCP has finally found that perfect balance between players in the company at key positions, and just industry professionals. I think early they relied heavily on th players and recruited a lot from the community, and that probably stagnated a little bit of growth there. And then they added more industry professionals, but names - like, people with game design experience. And that kind of helped EVE evolve as a game.”
Having players in key positions, such as CCP Aurora now working on game design, or CCP Kestrel working to fix issues in the QA department (a task which both Swift and Spider said Kestrel is “crushing” at) help to not only make key aspects of the game better, but the game itself better overall.
Rather than just looking at the raw numbers or data on something, that insight these players who have lived and breathed EVE Online for years bring to the table helps to make the MMO better for everyone. It’s not about fixing things that that individual player-developer doesn’t like, but rather as Swift put it, “This is what each EVE player wants.”
Looking into the future
Nothing is perfect, and not every decision made by CCP Games is going to be lauded by the community, no matter how necessary it might seem (see the uproar over the Rorqual changes, something few players at EVE Vegas tell me was blown out of proportion by the large powerful empires who wanted to keep the status quo in place). And while every major MMO company out there can boast hiring players as developers on their title, CCP Games feels a little different in just the rate - and public personas of each of these new hires - that it feels almost part of what has helped EVE continue on into what will be its 20th year next year.
It's pure, unbridled passion by people who have spent hours participating in the great social experiment that is EVE Online now being knee-deep in the creation of its future.
For someone like Spider, who has been playing since he was 11 years old and almost 30 now, EVE Online in some way or another has been more than half of his life. But, from the sound of it, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“At the end of the day, EVE is such a bit part of our lives, for all of us, going from being a player to working at CCP. Hell, EVE has been a part of two-thirds of my life, CCP as an employer has been a third of it. It’s all I know,” Páll said with a smile.