"The world record is obviously awesome," Sæmundur Hermansson, EVE Online's Brand Director told me via a phone interview last week when asked about the team's reaction every time a new one is seemingly added. However, his follow up was more interesting than I considered at first glance. "But to me, it's also about what the world record represents."
Oftentimes when we hear about CCP Games filing away yet another world record for their massively multiplayer game, EVE Online, it's easy to just dismiss it as it's old-hat. At this point, multiple records have been racked up over the years, leading me to joke during the interview that the team is going to have to install a whole new shelf at the office for all the records that come in. But, while the team can justifiably take some pride in what their game is doing, they are also quick to remind people that it's not them setting the records per se. Rather, it's the players themselves doing the hard work.
"If you think about it, the world record, for most players, the new one was achieved on a Tuesday, starting [at] like 2pm Icelandic time. And it went on for 14 hours on a random Tuesday," Sæmi continued. "There was nothing special about this Tuesday apart from the World Records. Having in place the logistics that go behind it, having like a schedule to keep players logging in when others need to leave. Having this stream going on and explaining what's going on like a[n] election night. 'If you're now tuning in, here's to give you a brief of what's going on.' All that effort from the players is what is so cool about this. They are the ones getting these World Records, and all the stories and all the effort that goes into it. That is what is so amazing to me ."
The records Hermansson is talking about are the ones stemming from the massive battle of M2-XFE, which saw literally thousands upon thousands of pilots all trying to access the same system, yet crippling EVE's servers in the process, the effects of which are still being seen today with the current Hellcamp of the battle site.
M2-XFE saw the largest engagement of Titan-class ships in EVE Online's history, as well as the largest fleets ever assembled trying to duke it out in the huge player war dubbed World War Bee 2. Instead of the massive Titan fight some had been looking forward to, the servers just couldn't handle the sheer volume of players trying to enter the system resulting in crashes, ghost Titans being spawned, as well as players who could successfully warp into the system being unable to move or interact, essentially becoming a turkey shoot for the awaiting Goonswarm pilots already camped in the system.
For CCP Games, it's a mixture of pride and an "oh shit" moment, according to Bergur Finnbogasson whenever one of these new records are achieved.
"It's a mixture of blows your mind and oh shit," Bergur said in our interview. "Because, I mean, we're in a race with our players. It's a strange race that we're playing with our players. Eternal race that we're kind of playing. Everytime we scale up, they just find a way to get even more players in. So yea, it's a tricky one."
This echoes something that Jessica Kenyon, also known as CCP Aurora from the EVE community team told us last month in an interview as well, that there is a long-standing arms race between CCP and the developers.
"We saw over 4000 in Goon staging, over 6700 in T-5 which is the attacker staging. And then in the system, there's another 6000. And whenthis broke out, there's so much interest because it was guaranteed to be massive that all of a sudden it was 12,000 people attempting to rush into the same system. Which is amazing that that many people wanted to take part. But also, it kind of broke the long-standing arms race that we've had with the player base in terms of technology versus numbers that a battle can take," Kenyon told me via a call in January when asked about the server problems that plagued the battle in M2-XFE.
Servers and the arms race between the players and CCP is nothing new going back to wars that formed the backbone of many of the alliances and power struggles still seen in EVE today. Where many MMOs struggle to figure out how to get a couple hundred players on the same layer at any given point and make it stable, CCP's unique single shard set up for EVE Online means that they are having to solve for the problem of thousands of pilots all in the same system at once at any given time. Jita for example can usually see upwards of a thousand players all around each other at any given moment. Even during it's busiest, most MMOs don't see those kinds of numbers on a single layer.
"When I talk to my colleagues at other companies and they're kind of talking about how excited they are about the 129th character they get onto the grid, or the 257th character, I'm like 'Yea, like, we got a 12,000 number the other day. You know, it's complicated. 6700 is a way less number to talk about," Bergur jokingly said when talking about player numbers during these massive battles.
It is crazy to think of the amount of players all trying to cram into a system at once, and how the servers are meant to handle those numbers at the same time. It's something, Aurora told me last month, that players who are commanding these large fleets and alliances, actually plan for, especially given the history of EVE warfare.
"This having to think about the server is not anything particularly new, right?" Aurora said in our interview. "It's always been a thing that these Alliance leaders have had to keep in mind, that the large scale fleet commanders have always had to consider, especially when it comes to capital warfare. So I think it's just another experimental metric on their theorycrafting chart."
In the aftermath of this large scale battle that is still seeing players trying to log into M2-XFE to save their Titan ships stranded there, CCP Games also released Reign, the first quadrant update of 2021, and with it we saw a new trailer for the quadrant. Sæmi, in our conversation this month, pointed out some of the small things players are actually picking up on with their cinematics, namely the use of ships that are actually seeing action during these large scale wars versus just the ships that just look cool. It's something the community itself is picking up on, as evidenced by a recent Talking In Stations stream, discussing this topic.
"We put a lot of effort into visually showing it like it's played, how our veterans play it," Hermansson said, beaming with pride as he said it. Naturally that led to asking when we are going to see Time Dialation, the system that slows down activity on a server to allow the infrastructure to process everything in the order it comes in during these major fights, portrayed in a trailer.
"Maybe we need to slow it down," Sæmi responded with a chuckle.