The developers at CCP aren't like other boys. Neither are the fans of its space MMO EVE Online, which we would probably describe as "cult" if a quarter of a million subscribers worldwide didn't make it a bit bigger than that.
EVE's Fanfest, which took place a couple of weeks ago in CCP's hometown of Reykjavik, Iceland, makes BlizzCon look like Pride. The developers and fans alike are serious young men, dressed in serious black clothes, who are serious enough about their game to attend an economics lecture at 10am on a Friday morning.
Don't think we're being rude - it was a fascinating event, in a beautiful country, attended by an unusually friendly, passionate and knowledgeable crowd. And as with BlizzCon - if on a more intimate scale - an amazingly frank and humorous exchange between developer and fan was the heart and soul of Fanfest.
For much of the event - especially the presentations of the blockbusting next expansion, and the slightly further-off paradigm-shift of Walking In Stations, the voice of EVE to fans and press alike was its senior producer Torfi Frans Olafsson, who everyone just seems to call Torfi Frans.
An earnest Icelandic technocrat with rimless glasses, a dry sense of humour and a nonchalant manner - when the Walking In Stations client crashed on its first public outing, he simply said, "oh f***" - Olafsson spared us some time to answer questions at Fanfest after the Walking In Stations demo, but before the announcement of the expansion and the publishing deal with Atari. He toyed distractedly with a small pistol-grip Nerf gun throughout.
Eurogamer: How do you feel Walking In Stations went down?
Torfi Frans: It went well. I really just want to communicate that the expansion is about growing EVE Online as the general-purpose science fiction simulator out there, and in our game design we've taken great care not to take existing gameplay and make it more complex or irritating just for reality's sake. The whole idea is just to deepen the experience. I think we've communicated that well. And to the new player, it's showing what the potential of EVE Online is. I mean it's a five-year-old game, how many five-year-old games out there look like something that's going to be out in two years - look next-gen and have all this stuff in it.
It's really what sets us apart from a lot of other MMO companies - many of them have huge budgets to begin with, they have massive development teams, then they release and switch over to a smaller skeleton live team. With CCP the experience has been the reverse. There are actually ten times more people working for CCP today than there were back in 2003.
So our capacity to deliver a compelling product has grown tremendously, and it's thanks to the players who pay a monthly subscription that makes that possible. So it's a self-feeding cycle, you know. And we made it a very strong decision to never leave it at that. We never feel that EVE's development is done.
Eurogamer: There must be a risk involved though - when you have a successful game that's still growing - in making as radical a change as Walking In Stations? We've seen with other MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies that major changes to an established game sometimes don't go down at all well.
Torfi Frans: No, and I think the entire MMO development community learnt from [Sony Online Entertainment's] experiences really well. And therefore, when we release Walking In Stations, its impact on the existing gameplay will be negligible. It will be merely an addition that will be optional for you to participate in. There's nothing in there that compels you to go there or that you need to find in there in order to succeed in the game as it is today.
However, we plan to build it gradually, iteratively, just as we've developed and built EVE Online and systems within it gradually and iteratively in close collaboration with the community, to make it a more and more integral part of the overall EVE Online experience. So my vision for the next three years on is that somebody starts playing EVE and he doesn't even realise that he never had an avatar, never had a body. Just like now people can't imagine how the game was without agent missions or without alliance warfare or all sorts of things that we brought into the game as it progressed. All it had in the beginning was just mining and being killed.