EVE Fanfest is an annual event in Reykjavik hosted by CCP Games where fans of EVE Online from all over the world come together. The universe of EVE Online is harsh, cruel and one of the most brutal and predatory worlds someone could enter, though the opposite is true of the fan community when they return to Earth from their intergalactic wars and piracy. Paul Elsy is the EVE Universe Community Manager and spent some time with Hardcore Gamer discussing some of what makes the EVE community special.
[Hardcore Gamer] Tell me about what your role is as Community Manager.
[Paul Elsy] I’m basically responsible for all the forward facing communication like developing blogs and talking to outlets, I take care of videos that go out and run moderation for player assistance team. I’m also involved with RP development, so I write story line and back story for EVE. I guess I’ve got many professions involving EVE. The vast majority of my time is spent organizing things like this, I operate as the Fanfest and EVE Vegas program director so I take care of all the content at our events and we have an awesome event leader that runs the technical side of things, getting a hold of venues, all the legal side of things and getting the contracts.
How exactly did you develop this devoted fan base that is willing to travel from all corners of the world to meet and converge over their common love of EVE? Was this ever a goal from the beginning?
So I initially came from the other side of the fence, I was an EVE player since 2002 since the beta, and for a lot of the time I was involved with EVE I was on the other side of the fence as a player so I can answer that from both sides of the fence. To answer as an EVE player we have an incredibly close knit community. We have a lot of casuals that will dive in and do their thing and play here and there, and we have a hardcore, really loyal community that really dive in, like alliance leaders, fleet leaders, guys who organize player gatherings. Not all of the events are organized by CCP Games. In fact, the only ones that we organize are EVE Fanfest and EVE Vegas. We have EVE Down Under in Australia, in Sydney, we have events in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Glasgow, we even have Madison, Wisconsin, San Diego. We’ve had a couple gatherings in New York and some gatherings in Atlanta. Basically everywhere in the world. It’s incredible to see and this is all organized by players and truth be told a lot of it we don’t have a hand in. They’re incredibly resourceful people that play the game and they want to talk shop so all of the sudden we have a bar in London that’s filled with EVE players or a restaurant in New York full of EVE Players and it happened organically. We were kind of lucky that EVE Online was born at the beginning of the MMO era when there were only a couple of others out and we’ve been really fortunate to last as long as we have, which will be 15 years next year. Because of the age of our community and how hardcore our community is we’ve got guys from Australia talking to guys from the US asking “how did you organize this?” like how can I best organize this event so we’ve got this crowd sourced knowledge base putting together events and it’s just a group of players that does this. We have zero input on these events, but we’ll see this and say you’re organizing an event, we’ll ship a couple developers out to have a drink with you guys, maybe give speeches. We obviously encourage this and advertise it through social media channels, we sometimes send staff or merchandise, that kind of stuff. These events are entirely player spawned and that’s what happened over the community over the years. There are so many institutions and organizations in EVE Online, there’s EVE University, Pandemic Horde, there’s so many organizations that have just been set up purely to function to teach new players and that has been set up independent of us. We have a tutorial and New Player Experience but there are organizations, actual universities set up within the game that have full on teaching schedules and seminars on how to do things in the game. We’ve got very creative players.
I don’t consider myself the biggest expert on MMOs so this observation may not be 100 percent accurate, but it looks like EVE is unique in that has so many things within its gaming community. Things like universities and mining corporations. Looking at it from an outside perspective it somewhat resembles a societal structure that mirrors some of the elements of real life that don’t typically exist within video games.
EVE is an incredible social experiment. We threw a sandbox out there and it has its own entirely player driven economy. It’s like it gets to the point where corporations even set up IPOs where effectively, though not officially, EVE Online has its own stock market that is traded between players where people give shares to each other, they pay out depending on how much profit they make. And then there are organizations within alliances that are purely dedicated to information warfare. For instance there is full scale corporate espionage and corporate warfare so it’s really strange to think about now that you mention it but there are so many parallels in the EVE universe to what you do in real life as a business or a job. You have CEO of a corporation and directors and a guy who handles all the financials or someone who handles security or the guy who deals with all the fleet commanders so they do inherently take on an organizational structure that resembles real life corporations. It got to point where some alliances and corporations in EVE have their own websites and voice coms, they may have Slack Jabber or Hip Chat set up to stay in contact with people when they are away from the game. A lot of these guys and girls are the ones that go to Fanfest or EVE Vegas and player run gatherings. It’s almost like space business.
And then there are the stories like that bank scandal.
(laughs) Yeah, massive ponzi schemes, I think that one was worth about 860 billion ISK which is about a sixth of the turnover of one of the largest alliances at the time and there was like thousands of players that were out of pocket with that. The question from the player who lost out of pocket is like what is CCP going to do about it and the answer is well, nothing. This is how the game works. You’re out of pocket because you trusted a guy and his intentions weren’t perfect.
That’s an observation about EVE compared to other MMOs, it allows more freedom in what players can do to each other. The player climate on the servers can mirror the ruthless space pirate environment that takes place in the game.
The truth is in EVE you are never 100 percent safe. There’s a lot of PvE conflict and we intend to focus and expand on that but EVE is inherently about conflict with very few rules. Our actual terms of services and rules are about half the length of most other MMOs because there’s a lot of stuff you can do in EVE that we don’t have rules against like ripping people off, scamming, deception, corporate espionage. These are things that are openly permitted and sometimes encouraged. This goes back to when CCP was founded and the game was initially designed and we wanted something dark and hardcore and we’ve stuck to that. We do have policies and rules, and even though we have less of them we do enforce the ones we have because extreme stuff does happen in EVE but there always is a definitive line and when you step over that line bad stuff happens.
What are your thoughts about EVE being such a ruthless environment where players do horrible things to each other and come to events like this and hang out? Between ponzi schemes, destroying 80 billion ISK ships or obliterating a structure that took two years and hundreds of other players to build and the corporate warfare to let’s take a break and drink together.
I’m not sure how that works actually. It’s really odd and I don’t know how that came to be. One of the benefits is we have a pretty mature player base, it might not seem like it when you have all this craziness going on. We do have a mature player base compared to other MMOs and a lot of players come from very educated backgrounds, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, military, engineers, IT specialists, all sorts of people. It sort of breeds an atmosphere where you can let your hair down and be a space pirate and be a jerk to people and in all honesty it’s one of those things EVE is about, it’s about sabotage, it’s about espionage, it’s about PvP and conflict and politics. It’s about using every aspect of your personality to get an advantage on someone else. It’s cut throat without a doubt but as soon as you step outside of EVE and get involved with the community these are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and this is why I do the job that I do and feel extremely lucky to do the job that I do. I’ve been a part of the EVE community since 2002 and I ran my own pirate corporation for a decade and I had police officers, air force pilots, like generally being total criminals in EVE Online while being stand up citizens in real life. There have been a lot of law enforcement and I’ll tell you, as soon as I meet these guys out of the game they are the nicest guys ever. They’re the guys with a wife, two kids, a dog, and a mortgage, average Joe guys that go to work, do their thing, pay their taxes, and get into EVE Online and are raging space pirates. To get back to the out of game side of thing, I’ve seen guys that have had rivalries that are over ten years old. They have completely opposite military and political ideologies and they’ll come to Fanfest and sit down, have a drink together and laugh and talk about it. Outside of EVE I don’t know where you’ll see something like that and then the next day they’re back trying to kill each other.
That is one of the more interesting things about EVE Online. It makes me think of the Civil War where families were split apart in the North and South and are shooting at each other in the morning and then go have dinner together, granted a real war is completely different from a fantasy MMO.
It’s incredible. It’s something I’ve been fascinated by since I started playing EVE because what also takes it further in EVE is there is a real sense of loss. You or I could get killed and we’ll respawn and have all our gear in other MMOs. In EVE if a group of guys jump me and take my ship that ship is gone and all the effort I went through to get it is erased so there is a big sense of loss, especially to the guys that paid 70, 80, 90, or 100 billion for a ship. Some guy that loses a Titan, loss hurts, and I know since I have lost a lot of very expensive ships over the years. There have been moments in my EVE career where the mouse goes across the table, I stand up, I curse horribly and walk out of the room like I’m never playing this again and four hours later I’m back in because I’ve cooled off. It can get very extreme and the emotions can get very extreme but as soon as you get out of the game they’re a very cool group of people. Fanfest is the perfect example of how the EVE community really is. Everyone comes together and has this common interest, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you do professionally, going to a bar in the middle of volcanic rock isn’t most people’s idea of vacation but you come here to celebrate EVE and celebrate each other and you just come here to have a drink and communicate. It’s fantastic to see so many people willing to travel all these hours to meet up with some random people they play an online game with about space ships. You hear about guys flying from Australia and it’s like 38 hours of travel and they get here dog tired and the next morning they’re up at 5:30 ready for Fanfest and drinking like the rest of them. That’s dedication. It can be a bit of a culture shock coming here but it’s a beautiful country and people really seem to enjoy it and like coming here. I quit my last job to come out here and it was really hard, I was like see you guys I’m going to go work in Iceland and they were like what? I’m moving to Iceland and they were like why? And I really couldn’t explain it how they would understand, well I’m going to go work on a video and work in community management. It’s super difficult to explain sometimes.
I think EVE Online is one of those things where it’s really difficult to get an outsider to see the appeal of it.
It’s a very challenging game but the rewards for getting into it and when you start getting immersed in the community are infinite. I’ve been involved since 2002 and I’ve got so many friends all over the world from it and seen people get married, have kids. I’ve been invited to weddings of six or seven EVE players. I played the game since before I worked for CCP and I’ve flown all over the world for it, it’s great.
Social communities in games are just so much bigger than they were a couple decades ago. I know a ton of people who like many players you described, married with kids and careers and are still quite involved with video games, and just as many that stopped gaming when they were 14 and can’t fathom why I enjoy events like this. But the ones that do have made real friendships with people they haven’t even met in real life and end up getting to finally see each other face to face at these type of gatherings.
I’m in the same age group so I know what you mean about the two types. I have a sizable group of friends that are like why do you work in video games like it’s something just for kids. I used to be an electrical robotic engineer and I decided to go have fun with this. A lot people don’t get how rewarding or enjoyable it can be to work in the industry.
I get a lot of questions about why I write for a game site, and then something like getting assigned to cover Fanfest in Iceland comes up and suddenly the people who don’t get it become jealous.
(laughs) Exactly. I moved out here and everyone except family is like you won’t last, it’s cold, dark, miserable, and after a couple weeks I’m posting pictures of the mountains and the office and just having fun on Facebook and everyone is like wow it looks so amazing out there and I talk about how amazing it is to work in this industry and work in the great community I work in and people are like how do you get a job where you get paid to do this? What is the secret? For me I guess it was luck but it is such an incredible group of people to be involved with. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. It’s very very rewarding.
It’s not an easy industry to break into but I love getting assignments like this where I get to talk to players and developers and learn about the games. It’s one of the few professions where the majority of people I’ve talked to in the industry seem to be really grateful for being able to do what they do. What do you think makes the EVE community different from other fan communities?
You meet all kinds of people. I’m sure every community manager has all kinds of stories about the people they meet in the community. There’s always interesting characters and people that really stand out and there are so many of those in the EVE community. There are so many people that are right on the front lines in terms of propaganda or big shots that run major alliances or fleet commanders or really good PvPers so I think we are blessed in that we have a vibrant community that live and breathe the game. We don’t have the biggest community in the world. If you compared us to World of Warcraft or League or Legends or Hearthstone it’s like a fraction of the size but what we have is an unbelievable and unbreakable core of people that have been with us since the start. EVE is a different type of game than other MMOs that caters to a different audience, EVE is extremely complex and caters to the hardcore MMO fans that like the level of depth and working with all the numbers to best maximize their characters and ships and to know everything about the game. I will have been playing for 15 years next year and there are still areas of the game that perplex me and that’s just how it is. It’s a learning experience, every day I’m still learning new things about the game.
I don’t think anyone will ever truly master EVE, you can have all the skill points in the world or all the ISK but there is always someone out there smarter, richer, or just luckier than you are. And you can always get outsmarted. One of the most humiliating things that happened to me was I was caught out flying a Falcon which is a really really paper thin light weight cruiser. I was pinned by a new player when I was a nine year vet and I just got pinned and did the thing every vet does at some point in their life like ah, what happened? It took me like 10 seconds to realize what was happening and by that time I was screwed and I got ripped to death by members of my corporation for about six months because I lost a very expensive ship to someone I never should have lost to. I never live that down, it always found a way to come up. But everyone has a story like that in EVE and I don’t know how it happened since I should have been able to wipe the floor with that guy. It was just a screw up on my part. There are so many stories like that in EVE where people just screw up, like the Battle of Asakai that was in the media. It was a massive that drew a huge amount of media attention to EVE and it all happened because a guy pressed the wrong button in a menu. He jumped his ship instead of just creating a portal and there just happened to be a guy on the other side flying by and was like oh I’ll pin him and call my friends to join in and that started a several thousand man food fight. It was just pure luck of the draw because one guy made a dumb mistake. And that is how so many of the best stories in EVE start since after it’s done we sit back and relax and are like what did we learn today? I don’t even know what I did, and you have moments like that. It’s super interesting.