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Interview with Nathan Richardsson

Frank Mignone Posted:
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Nathan Richardsson, the Senior Producer of CCP's EVE, goes in-depth

The Senior Producer behind EVE Online - our 2005 Reader's Choice Awards winner for favorite game - took the time to answer fifteen questions in this in-depth Q&A with our own Frank Mignone. Read on for all three pages of this interview!

MMORPG.com: As Eve Online continues to gain popularity, more gamers are becoming curious. Add to that the free trial currently being offered to new players, and gamers start to get more than curious. To those who've never played before, what would you say the game is all about? What is Eve online?
Nathan Richardsson:

Epic Space Opera! Well, not really but it has a grain of truth. EVE is the pilots that fly in it’s universe, the people that drive the economy, the leaders that create the intense political environment, the lonely pirate that can mess it all up. EVE is a vast universe, where a single person can affect the whole universe – even by reputation alone.

The first thing you will notice is that you are not a walking avatar, you are in a spaceship – and by changing or re-fitting spaceships you are effectively changing roles. The economy is player driven, the items largely player manufactured and the universe is vast, 5000 solar systems inhabited by 100.000 players.

EVE is probably as free-form as it gets. You decide your own fate, create your own goals and try to make other players spread your reputation. It’s all about player interaction in some form or the other – and the competition between the players.

The large player organizations and social structures are probably EVE’s strongest sides, with Alliances consisting of 100s of players, achieving common goals together and trying to prevent other organizations from achieving theirs, especially if it’s in the former organization’s space.

MMORPG.com: Entering an established MMORPG, particularly one as complex and in-depth as EVE online, can be an intimidating ordeal. With frequent expansion packs released, constantly adding new content and depth, how does the game work to integrate new players without overwhelming them?
Nathan Richardsson:

Last year we started a team to address that specifically. We were looking at usability studies, focus groups and interviews with players that were starting out and found that we could improve this aspect immensely.

We now have two developers working full-time on the New Player Experience which will, in its next phase, be stretching even further into the game. We want to introduce players to more aspects of EVE and eventually play matchmaker with them and player corporations.

We’ve always believed that the best way to experience EVE is in player corporations. It’s the best introduction and “crash course” you can get for EVE and any tutorial we create will never be able to fully deliver the same experience and give the accelerated advancement a player corporation gives. EVE is about the people and if you aren’t playing with the other people, we believe you’re missing out on some essential aspects of the game.

MMORPG.com: In Eve Online, all players learn new skills in the same manner, a real-time advancement system that allows the learning of new skills whether or not you are online. This means that new players learn new skills at a fixed-rate, regardless how much effort they make. As this also applied to veteran players, how does a new player effectively compete with an established player community in a game as PvP-intensive as Eve Online?
Nathan Richardsson:

There are three main factors to keep in mind regarding the EVE skill system. Although it is real-time advancement, the speed at which you train your skill is based on your attributes. The higher your attributes, the faster you learn skills.

When EVE started, there were no implants to boost your attributes and there were no advanced learning skills to raise them even further. Therefore, the oldest players have trained most of their skills at a slower pace than a new player does today. This is where we boost the newer players with content; today, it’s possible to effectively double or even triple your attributes from the get-go.

Secondly, EVE skills are all based on a rank and a level. All skills have five levels which you need to train to give you added benefits (or the ability to use something new), and the skill levels take longer to train the higher the level. As an example, training from Level 1 to Level 4 takes less time than training to from Level 4 to Level 5.

Therefore, a person that has a certain skill at Level 4 might have a 20% bonus while the person who spent considerably more time training to Level 5 only gets 25%, so diminishing returns come into full effect here. Better skills then have higher ranks, which act as multipliers on training time. A Rank 2 skill is thus a doubling of the time taken to train, while a Rank 4 skill quadruples the time taken, compared to a Rank 1 skill.

The third – and probably most important – factor is that you need to specialize yourself in something to become effective, and by doing that you can become very useful quite fast.

The thing is, a character which has trained for three years simply means he’s more versatile, he can fly frigates, cruiser and battleships from 2 or even 3 races but to be competitive against him in frigates you only need 3-4 months of training, less if you are flying with friends. Three “young” frigates can easily take out a poorly fitted battleship.

So to summarize, diminishing returns, specialization and new content balances the whole system.

MMORPG.com: Factional warfare, a long awaited feature in Eve online, is to begin with the launch of Kali. What can players look forward to in this new aspect of Player versus Player (PvP)? What benefits or rewards will earning ranks earn players? What benefits besides bragging rights will participation provide to players?
Nathan Richardsson:

Factional Warfare is something of a holy grail for many of us. We have a rich backstory which we can tap into, but we’ve always felt that we’re not fully delivering that experience into EVE. Factional Warfare enables players to fight for their factions against other players, which should in turn increase awareness of the factions and their rich story.

However, it’s a can of worms on an epic scale. We have to take into consideration a wealth of factors. We can’t make Factional Warfare into something that sucks the life out of the thriving player alliances and their eternal battles for dominion in the outer regions. We have to cater to the already established roleplay community that has been the driving force in the player storyline between the factions.

And last but not least there are the practical aspects; balancing the forces, preventing “blobbing” and having real objectives and victory conditions in all the engagements that really set their mark on the universe.

The rewards for fighting in your empire’s armed forces is glory, reputation and respect. You can gain rank, medals and easier access to military issue equipment but there is very little “material” gain from fighting.

MMORPG.com: You have recently released many new expansion packs such as Cold War, Red Moon and the up and Coming Kali Expansion (due to release in the second quarter of this year). They seem to have a myriad of excellent features, enhancing PvP play even further, factional war one of the largest aspects. In the near future, might we begin to see a plot where true Realm versus Realm gameplay between the 4 races, where gaining specific star systems benefits for your race/faction? Perhaps even PvE (player versus Environment) aspects revolving around this concept, letting players who prefer that type of gameplay contribute to the war effort?
Nathan Richardsson:

Factional Warfare is all about conquering solar systems from the races and other factions, you are either attacking or defending and you need to balance the two. The effects of the war will start to materialize when the the solar systems start changing hands.

We’re still debating what the direct benefits are – where the wars are waged and what the global effects should be – and the main battle, really, is between practicality and our PVP orientation. We want this to be really free-form and cause real ripples throughout the universe, but at the same time we need to keep in mind that we can’t allow the full collapse of the central empire infrastructure. We also want the player Alliances to eventually play a role, they themselves fighting the empires or pirate factions for their space. This is an even bigger can of worms, but we feel it’s a necessary aspect to keep the focus on player alliances and corporations.

Whether to include NPCs in Factional Warfare or not is also heavily debated. The question is, how to use them and where. Many want NPCs to be a part of Factional Warfare but only in a supportive role.

Objectives might have a minimum NPC garrison which helps the player soldiers defending it, but the NPCs would never be something which rivals a real player force. As such, NPCs might be an objective or part of an objective, but you should always expect other player soldiers to be either at the objective or right around the corner.

But we’d prefer Factional Warfare to not only be about fighting, but also include more aspects of the game such as manufacturing and logistics. Whether we’ll be able to include this in the first run of Factional Warfare remains to be seen, because it’s quite tricky to do in a way that makes sense and actually has an effect on the final outcome of the conflict.

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Frank Mignone