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Fan Fest Intro: How They Got Here from There.

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EVE - Fan Fest Intro: How They Got Here from There.

News Manager Keith Cross attended Fan Fest for CCP's EVE Online. Today, he recounts the story of EVE Online's virtual birth and some of the growing pains that have come along the way between CCP's founding and today.

Last week I had the privilege of attending EVE Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland, the homeland of CCP. More than a thousand fans from around the world descended on the venue at Laugardalshöll to gather and celebrate all things EVE Online. There was no shortage of things to do at this year’s Fanfest. Between a trip to the renowned Blue Lagoon in the middle of a brisk gale force breeze, and the Party at the Top of the World where the CCP dev band RoXor showed how much they like their day jobs by being good enough to quit their day jobs, there were plenty of panels, seminars, discussions and competitions to keep any pod pilot pleased. For the next few days I’ll be relating the details of the various events, but to ease us all in I thought I’d start with a brief history of EVE, which CCP founder Reynir Harðarson was kind enough to relate on Saturday morning.

In 1997 CPP started up with no team and no money. Since making a massively multiplayer online game is something of a titanic and risky challenge under the best of circumstances, let alone when you’re without employees and cash, CCP decided that its first undertaking would be the creation of a board game. The hope was that this first project would allow them to build their team and generate the revenue they needed to make an MMO.

Hættuspil was the product of this endeavor. It was a board game marketed in Iceland that has been described by CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson as a "PvP" game that could cause fights on family vacations; and by Reynir as a game where you mortgaged your grandmothers. Reynir also pointed out that that description of the game wasn’t too far off, as members of CCP had to risk family assets to get the funding to make Hættuspil happen. Luckily, the game turned out to be very successful in Iceland, selling 10,000 units. To put that in perspective, Iceland has a population of roughly 300,000 people and the United States has a population of roughly 300,000,000. So you can think of selling ten thousand of something in Iceland as selling 10 million of something in America.

With a successful title under their belts, some capital to work with, and Grandma’s life savings intact, they were primed to begin their work. There was only one problem: they needed employees. So CCP embarked on a recruiting drive. Reynir illustrated the results of the recruiting drive by showing us a number of pictures of CCP staff new and old enjoying a few drinks, which was a running theme across several of the presentations during Fanfest, as CCP is the type of company that isn’t afraid to show all of its sides.

By 2000, EVE was starting to take shape. They had launched a website, and 800 people joined the forums in the first week alone. They made a trailer for the game, and set out looking for investors, being able to secure funding in the same week that the dotcom bubble burst. That year Hilmar Pétursson was hired as CTO, and they set an optimistic March 2002 as their launch target.

When 2001 rolled around they set their sights on Los Angeles and E3. They had a successful run at the show and generated a lot of interest as EVE was one of the prettiest games of the day. But the game’s fine graphics would turn out to be both bane and blessing.

The next year was crunch time. People were working long hours and they were still unable to find a publisher. The problem was, the game was too beautiful, and publishers didn’t believe that the game could be real. Under other circumstances having people think your game is too good to be true is a great complement to a dev team, but at the time it was more of a frustration as funds were running low. By February 2002 they had run out of money. Most of the time when the money runs out on this type of project the dev team runs out soon after. But the CCP crew kept on working for 3 months without pay and it paid off. They found their publisher in Simon & Schuster Interactive.

SSI helped CCP through one of its rough periods, but it wasn’t precisely a match made in heaven. During an early demonstration of the game, the CEO of SSI described EVE as “the worst interactive experience I’ve ever had.” The launch date for EVE had been pushed back to the end of 2002, and then again for 6 months until its May 2003 launch and SSI just didn’t seem to understand EVE. They didn’t like the dark color schemes of the game and pushed for brighter colors on the box and on the promotional material. Reynir was kind enough to show us an early trailer, which featured words flying at the viewer while relating a superficial telling of EVE’s back-story, with a seemingly random assortment of ships flying around interspersed with action shots, all the while with The Who’s “Who Are You?” playing in the background. Why The Who? Because the parent company of SSI also owned the rights to CSI. The point is, it just didn’t fit with what EVE actually was.

Soon after, Simon & Schuster got out of the online gaming business, leaving CCP with no way to distribute EVE, as SSI still owned the rights. Fortunately, CCP was able to buy back the rights and distribute the game in a downloadable format. From there on in it’s been relatively smooth sailing. There have been a few bumps but they seem minor compared to what it took to get the game out in the first place. Several expansions, upgrades, and additions later, we have the EVE Online of Today.

CCP continues to work on improving EVE as CCP itself continues to grow. In 2005, CCP had 45 employees. The current total is at 267 as of Fanfest 2007. The pace of game improvements seem to be continually increasing as well, with such projects as the Trinity graphics upgrade, the Ambulation project and much more on the way.

Incidentally, I’ll be writing about Trinity, Ambulation, and the ‘much more’ as the week rolls on, so stay tuned.


Keith Cross