CCP Discusses Running EVE Online

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. Andie Nordgren is the Executive Producer for EVE Online and she spent some time with Hardcore Gamer discussing some of the things she oversees in EVE Online.

[Hardcore Gamer] Tell me about your role in EVE Online.

[Andie Nordgren] My role is I am responsible for EVE Online, and that means both the budget we set for it and the targets we set for ourselves. I’m also responsible for the development team that reports directly to me so I have to set up the organization there, I basically try to describe it as I set the organization that makes EVE Online. Setting  up long term vision and strategy for what are we trying to do and why.

What are some of the more interesting challenges you’ve had to overcome in that position?

The first one that I really stepped into was stepping in front of the EVE Online community trying to convince them I should be allowed near their game and that was both exciting and terrifying when I took the senior producer job and stepped on stage here at Fanfest for the first time and said hey I’m the new person for the game and I’m going to tell you about its future and what we’re doing with it and why. The EVE players are very passionate about the game and rightfully so get worried when someone new takes over.

EVE Online is very different that other MMOs with its corporate structure and EVEconomy. What are your general thoughts on EVE Online evolving into its own living virtual society that mimics our world more so than other MMOs?

That’s one of the strongest and most amazing aspects of the game. Having a stable gaming community with its own cultures and institutions in the game makes it very rewarding to work on. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that practically everyone is playing on the same server. We’ve made this analogy a couple times to these elaborate board games played in someone’s garage over a period of several months and EVE is like a distributed online asynchronous version of that where even if people don’t all play at the same time everyone is standing around the table making moves that are potentially relevant to everyone else. I think that creates dynamics in EVE Online that are seldom seen in other games because in other games you might care who is first on your server to do something but we think about them like a normal board game where we might like to play the same game but what you do in your session has nothing to do with my session. It’s not like we will have a lot to talk about just because we like the same game since what we do in our games have nothing to do with each other but EVE is different. If two random EVE players run into each other at an airport they can talk about events that happened because they were both playing on the same board in the shared universe. If you tell someone you fight there or live there in the game they have some relationship to it.

People can never play together but still share the same experiences. I know quite a few people who play other MMOs and they never have any stories similar to say The Battle of Asakai.

It’s also because everyone on that board sees it and is oh what’s happening over here? We’re coming! Geronimo!

It’s pretty wild how involved everyone is, it’s great. You mentioned coming in feeling nervous being this new person who is charge of things and changing stuff. Since you’ve taken over what were some of the major changes you were instrumental in implementing?

A lot of what I have been leading is really a focus on the aspects of EVE that make it so special and I think I’ve brought some perspective on how to understand that since a lot of discussions when I showed up were how to address different play styles, should we make content for PvPers or PvEers? Or should we make content for new players or old players? And I didn’t think those were the right discussions since everyone is sharing the same board and they take different roles and parts, it’s not really about new or old, it’s more interesting if you are an organizer and a person who wants to lead other people to do stuff or if you want to join in with other people and how to approach playing in this world. We’ve been able to bring in some features where we are equipping players to have things to put on the board and players are able to build things to put on the board. It used to be most of the infrastructure was all built by NPCs and part of the vision I’ve been driving is more of the board should be up for grabs for the players to build up and defend, so the motivation for wanting to defend it is something that the players actually built and put pieces on the board and someone is coming to take them, not because there is some abstract game system that says someone has this system and someone else has this system, you should be defending it because it is your asset. We really invest more in those parts now. We also recently brought in a free to play option so we’re setting it up for the next ten years. We are working more with new players and trying not to treat new players like some alien species, we want to help them find their path so they can join in and make their moves, either big or small, on this shared board.

What are some steps you have implemented to make new EVE players feel more welcome?

One is we have put a lot of effort into making an engaging story that brings you into the universe and we thought a little bit about how we engage with people because they come at the game from a different place, instead of just being a marvel in space people expect to be shown more, like why they should care about it so we put a lot of work into that but equally important we put work into the existing community by giving players and corporations exciting pieces to play with because then when they are excited for the game they want to share it with other people. Partly out of the joy of playing EVE but also because they need people to achieve their goals and that’s just one of the ways to bring new people to the game, but we have to make it so new players also contribute to the experience for old players. If as an older you feel that the company that makes the game is only focusing on new players, you might feel like you are being robbed of something so I think its an existing part of our work that our existing players feel that we love and care for them as much as the new players.

What are the differences between the free to play and pay to play options for EVE Online?

What we’ve done with the free to play is to open up part of the skill tree for free and to have access to the rest of the skill tree you need the Omega state for your clones. The Alpha state has taken part of what can be done in the game made it available to everyone to play for free as long as they like . There is quite a distinct difference in the two but the business side of things is stable. It does allow people to come in and out of the game more freely since before if the subscription expired you were just booted out of the game and you couldn’t even log in to check if your character is there. Now if the subscription expires you can still log in, you won’t have access to all the content but you can resubscribe and it all comes back. This allows players to keep their characters if they need to take a break from the subscription and allows anyone to take part in the world. A new free player can take part in a battle of thousands during their first week, they just won’t have a substantial damage output compared to an older player or a subscribed player but they can still be there and contribute and I think that a lot of limitations in other games might be more harsh where they restrict areas of the game to paying players only. I’m proud of how we did it and how it turned out and how we made one of the most hardcore game communities in the world not hate that their game went free to play. I’m proud of how we did it and how we announced it and how we talked to our players about it and why we did it. Once we resolved one or two points of feedback from people the whole community was super excited about it and went into with us, fully embracing it. We changed a lot about how we communicate and we made a lot of changes in game and changes to structures in the game. We don’t hold it all back to make a big splashy announcement like at Fanfest. Players have invested a lot into what they have on the board and into their skills and ships and structures so that when we were making changes if you hear about it in brief in a keynote you panic so what we do now is like two weeks ago we put out a dev blog about the moon mining structures and went into a lot of detail to let everyone parce it in their own time and let them come back with feedback and feel like there is a chance to give back feedback before it goes live so we aren’t just springing changes on people. We can do stuff like the for the Blood Raiders Shipyard since nothing like that exists in game so we can do a big reveal on that since it doesn’t impact stuff that is already there. That can be some excitement but we don’t really do this announcement driven development for most things since it makes people feel safe, like they’re not going to have nasty surprises from us which has sometimes been the case in the past.

The new active mechanics for the moon mining system sounds like a pretty significant change. What was the inspiration for that?

We think that it is a driver of more interesting gameplay. The current system, while the person doing the mining itself does the set up and keeps it going and they have to empty and take the results and so on but because it was a passive source of income a lot of gameplay went around it and there was a lot of defense of the moon. As the game developed it became this passive bit of gameplay in a bigger picture and some of those aspects of moon mining will be retained in the system where the corporation will have to make the investment to deploy this thing and it gathers up a bunch of resources over time so you won’t have to be there everyday. When the chunk of the moon is pulled into space for harvest time that is where we are adding to the gameplay and we think that will be a more interesting driver of content than what is there now. People still need to defend their refinery so you still have the battles for the moon but we’re adding battles for the actual resources.

What can you tell me about the Blood Raider Shipyards?

The intention is that they bring a type of content where the world kind of pushes people into interesting decisions because now the Blood Raiders built this thing, which are the blueprints for some really badass capital ships then once this thing pops up and the Blood Raiders build it people are going to have to make some interesting choices about whether they want to go after it when everyone can see it. It has two reinforcement timers, the first one takes it out of stealth and the second one everyone knows its there so you’ll have to not only fight the blood raiders but everyone else interested in getting it who shows up so its a way for the world to potentially trigger the same type of fights as someone who pressed the jump button instead of the bridge button and causing some huge battle. Completely player driven stuff and I think that is the future for EVE in that the world itself plays more of a role in triggering those type of situations.

Can you tell me some more about Project Discovery and the exoplanets?

We are super super proud and excited about the exoplanets research into EVE Online. That is just something I will repeat to anyone who wants to hear it about how excited we are about that. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to bring EVE players and let them be part of mapping real space. We’re basically enlisting as an integrated part of the gaming experience players to help identify potential planets in orbit around star systems. We’re bringing that into part of the lore and the story line so that when you contribute doing these research tasks you’ll get some sort of reward, like some cosmetic item and some other stuff for taking part of this scientific endeavor that’s fully integrated into the game, and it can be done while mining online or you can just do it because you like it. There’s a feature in the game now where you’re analyzing tissue samples and there are some players that have really played with a lot of that and the EVE community has went through all the material super fast. This also gives us some indication of why we shouldn’t try to manually author content for players because they will just go right through it.