EVE Vegas 2018: Senior Producer Sam Barton Discusses the Return of War of Ascension

EVE Online is an ever-changing online game where the history and lore is written by the players. EVE Online is known for having one of the most hardcore fan communities in all of gaming which can be seen at any of the many events they have every year throughout the world. Hardcore Gamer was in attendance at this year’s EVE Vegas, and in between playing Project Nova and taking part in the after hours events, we talked to a few developers about what we can expect from EVE in the coming months. One of the people we spoke to was Sam Barton, Senior Producer for EVE: War of Ascension.

[Hardcore Gamer] Not too long ago you launched the mobile game EVE: War of Ascension. It recently vanished off the market but it’s on its way back, can you share the story behind that?

[Sam Barton] Essentially we announced the game about this time last year so last EVE Vegas was when people first learned it even exists. Our plan at that point was really a learning experience for CCP to get their toes wet in learning mobile, however the response we had at EVE Vegas and after the play test blew us away so from that point we realized we had to take things more seriously with this project. Everything had been running pretty well to schedule, we launched in some test markets this April and we got tons of data analytics and metrics back saying that we’re in good shape but what actually happened was we realized two of the big features we needed to get into the game were significant enough where for our relatively small team of about nineteen people it would be really difficult to keep the live game running while working those features in. We really would have loved to keep the game running throughout the change but we decided the best thing to do for the game was to temporarily take it down and put these two new features in and bring it back to these test markets. We feel that is the fastest route on getting the game where it is now for the global launch.

I remember at Fanfest earlier this year writing a news blurb about it to kill time while waiting to board my plane and there being a lot of excitement about EVE coming to mobile platforms. My next logical question for you is what are these features that you are bringing to War of Ascension?

The two major ones, one of them is Corp management. One of the things we’ve learned is the player base really needs corp management closer to EVE Online then we initially implemented into the game. At the moment you can start the game and join a corp and there are some limited things you can do to change a corp. Players really want to revolve their time in the game around how the corps are run and we’re developing a hierarchy of how those corps are managed allowing different tiers and options for leadership in there, allowing players to kind of decide how group resources are distributed, if it’s kind of on a round robin basis where the leaders decide who gets what or more like a communist basis where everyone gets the same things. That was one thing that would be quite hard to do while the game is running because the guild system is how it is. The second one is kind of the deal breaker and that is the Ascension system itself. This is our system to move players between maps. You start at a map in your corp and the map holds about a thousand. The method for moving between maps is about meeting corp objections and you’re racing against other players on your maps and you’re trying to meet those corp objections first allowing you to move to different map tiers where the higher ones have more resources and additional content on those maps. It is a race against those other corps and this is such a large feature to begin with. Initially we thought this was something we could just tack on the side but we’ve gotten such feedback from the players that this is the core motivation and this is what players want to do, they want to navigate to the top of their corporation, so expanding this feature of the game is very difficult to do with the live game running.

It sounds like doing that would just completely disrupt everything overnight when the change goes into effect.

Right, it would end up resetting everything so instead of trying to do that while the game is live which essentially would only allow half the team to work on the updates while the other half keeps the game running, we take the game down and can have the whole team work on the updates to getting these features up and running. It’s the fastest way to get War of Ascension back into everyone’s hands.

That makes a lot of sense. Do we have a projected ETA for when War of Ascension may return?

We’re dedicated to global launching sometime in 2019 but expect to return to test markets in the first part of 2019. Our aim is to get the game out there as quickly as possible, we think it has proven itself on a base level and the biggest thing people ask us is when people outside of the test markets can get their hands on it. It’s not something we’re dragging our heels on but we want to get all these features in it before we launch. It’s a tightrope of trying to get it out as quickly as possible but also exceed our minimum threshold of quality. We want to bring out something that is playable and people can have a great time with it. We don’t want to release it and have to promise it will get good eventually, we want it to come out good and then we can work on updating it to make it better based on player response.

On the topic of tightropes, I recall this being a free-to-play mobile title with in-app purchases. What kind of paid content will be in War of Ascension?

Most of the paid content will be based around what we consider quality of life. For starters, nothing in the game that can be purchased can’t also just be earned through engagement. There are a lot of timers involved with building things and upgrading things so you can buy timers and resource packs bundled together with other things. We’re trying to make a game here that is not pay to win and so everything we design in terms of gameplay we want cooperation and a deep understanding of battle systems and we want the other systems in the game to be primarily objective like the battles. While purchasing may be able to give you a bump in the right direction, like facing a group of players at a higher level or with better equipment it can help balance the interaction but cooperation and understanding of the game is more important. So far the feedback we’ve gotten on this has been positive from the players in the beta phase.

So essentially time savers. You could get all the stuff just by grinding it out or you could skip ahead and save time by making the purchase.

Yeah it’s a lot of quality of life stuff. We don’t want players to feel that they have to monetize if they are going to be competitive in the game, there are other ways to do it. You can pay with your time or work with other players that can bump you ahead.

Within the context of the greater EVE universe, is there any connectivity between War of Ascension and EVE Online?

So right now there are a lot of similarities to link the two games together. We have looked to EVE Online and liberally taken many aspects of gameplay and tried to simplify it for a mobile audience but they are separate entities. There are no plans to link the two games at the moment but that’s not to say it will never happen. In War of Ascension you run a corp and a fleet of ships so the individual ships are not your concern. You’re building larger fleets and directing them around as a group so its taking that more holistic look over what you’re doing. We have slimmed down a number of things you have done in the game. You’ll still be mining resources, fighting other players’ fleets and taking over other space stations and outposts to control territory. We won’t be going with as broad of a focus as EVE Online. That’s not to say we won’t expand on that because there are a lot of good things in EVE Online that may work well in a strategic mobile game but we want to start relatively simple with our focus because each of these systems are complex and deep within themselves but we want the complexity to come from how they work with other players, how you set yourself up within your corp to play with other people. We wanted systems that are reasonably shallow by themselves but when you add in other players and working with other players that’s where we want the depth to come from. We think right now we are close to achieving that.

Are there any plans to include any PvE in War of Ascension?

Right now it is entirely PvP but we hope to add some PvE prior to global. War of Ascension is primarily PvP but we want to include some PvE as kind of a lower stakes way of getting new players into the game. The only way to get into the game now is to throw your ships and fleet against another player and that can be a reasonable daunting experience for a new player. That is something that we want to do but it is primarily a PvP game, but on an individual level such as sending out your fleets and stealing resources and bases from other players but also on a meta level in that your corp will be directly competing against another corp to move up from your map into the next level.

I can see that being intimidating if you’re a new player and you’re going up against veteran players that have the nice equipment and game experience.

Right and that’s something that we hope the tier system addresses. As players move up the tiers they’ll end up with other players of similar level. In a lot of these other games there’s a lot of noob stomping. You start on your one map and stay there the whole time and whenever new players arrive you can just decimate them. With Ascension we try to avoid that by making sure the new players are playing with other new players until they gain experience and can move up to the new experienced players. We want there to still be a potential king of the playground scenario but we only want that at the top level when the most experienced players are competing against other very high level players. We don’t want someone to be king of the playground because they keep kicking all the little kids. We want them to be king because they’ve beaten the next strongest kid to them.We want it to be competitive, we don’t want to encourage a lot of combat that is just very one sided and no chance for one player to win. There will be a bracket range of where people are on maps, there will be some people a few levels higher and a few levels lower so there will be a challenge but also a chance for victory, we want no such thing as a guaranteed fight. There really isn’t much benefit for stomping noobs, the resources you’ll get for that won’t even make a scratch on what you’ll need to make the next upgrade on your space station so we’re making it so players are mostly around people at comparable levels and also removing the motivation for going after much lower level players.

I was surprised to hear War of Ascension was being taken offline but it makes sense with the reasons you’ve shared.

Well another reason we did it was to shift develop back over to CCP. War of Ascension was handled by PlayRaven which is a Finnish studio and we’ve now ended our relationship with them, it ended very amicably. We just felt we wanted to do this game justice and we felt the best way to do that was to bring it back internally to CCP so we’re running the development from CCP London which gives us a lot closer development with the existing EVE Online team and allows us to have greater control over the brand and control over making the game we want to make. We talk about it on the same stage as EVE Online and Nova and all our other projects and we want our players to embrace it and as something we want to take seriously we feel it’s best to develop it at CCP. We had a really good relationship with the players and set up a Dischord for them and telegraphed to them before hand that this is happening and explained the reasons why and recorded who has been playing so far and have some rewards for those guys when we come back like a badge of honor saying that they were here first and kind of helped shape the game.

What’s something you’re most proud of about War of Ascension?

The biggest thing that’s cool about this game is how it’s been built, with a hand in hand collaboration from the EVE community. When I stood on stage last year there was no small amount of nervousness on my behalf, coming in to announce a free-to-play mobile game at a big EVE conference would not go down particularly well but the players were on board and willing to give it a chance before dismissing it. We kept the play test we opened at EVE Vegas last year running and without a doubt this game would not be as good as it is without that constant feedback from players and the constant data we’ve been getting back from EVE players. We love that it’s not just a CCP-developed project but also developed in hand with the EVE community so a massive thank you to everyone that has participated. We know it’s frustrating that we’ll be offline for a few months but we hope the players give us a chance when we come back. We really want to continue that relationship between devs and community to make the game as good as we can.