EVE: Walking In Stations before Dust 514

CCP "expects" so, anyway.

EVE Online's senior producer Torfi Frans Olafsson told press today that CCP expects to release the Walking In Stations expansion to its space MMO EVE Online before the console shooter spin-off, Dust 514.

He stressed that this wasn't set in stone, however. "The two are decoupled and we expect Walking In Stations to come out before Dust," said Olafsson. "But notice the expect, there are a lot of unkowns."

Dust 514, a tactical multiplayer FPS that plugs into the same single, persistent universe as EVE Online, was first announced and explained at the gamescom convention in Germany in August.

It will be previewed in more detail at the EVE Fanfest convetion in CCP's home town of Reykjavik, Iceland, which starts today. We're there, so watch out for more information on this fascinating project in the coming days.

Walking In Stations, meanwhile, is the expansion to EVE that will allow players to create full 3D avatars and roam and socialise on space stations and off their ships for the first time. It was the focus of last year's Fanfest, and we covered it in detail then.

Olafsson was speaking at a press presentation titled "The Butterfly Effect", after the recent promotional video. The aim of both video and presentation was to underline EVE's unique strength as a "single-shard", undivided online universe, and the added importance this lends to player's actions and relationships. Walking In Stations and Dust 514 are both being designed as new ways to access and enjoy this universe.

"EVE is bigger than the game, we try to put as many paths of entry into this world as we possibly can," said intellectual property manager and EVE novelist Tony Gonzales.

"Iceland's population is 320,000, I think, something around that," said Olafsson. "We are aiming to surpass the population of Iceland quite soon." In fact, EVE has just under 300,000 active subscribers, but if the 30-40,000 players on free trials are included, it already has.

"Of course, we've long outgrown the population of adult men. There's more adult men in EVE than in Iceland," Olafsson added. Lead economist Eyjolfur Gudmundsson pointed out that EVE's ISK currency is currently stronger than the Icelandic ISK. (CCP must be the only game developer with both a novelist and and economist on staff.)

Asked how EVE's subscriber numbers were bearing up in the wake of Aion's release, Olafsson said it was too early to say, but noted that EVE had survived and continued to grow through many rival MMO launches in its time, including some CCP considered "massive threats". "But up to now we've withstood them all, and out-survived several."

Why? "We're better. But in fact I attribute it to our slow growth at the beginning, which has made the community and the player-base more resilient. We didn't spike a million at launch, we grew incredibly slowly, but the connections and the relationships that formed as the game spread virally between people, more through word of mouth than advertising, I think made these bonds much more resilient. As an example, 20 per cent of the people who signed up in the first month in 2003 are still playing the game."

Lead designer Noah Ward explained that his role was as much to react to players' needs and facilitate these connections as anything else. It was EVE's players who requested the ability to form Alliances; similarly, one plan for the future is a treaty system which will formalise the creation of non-aggression pacts and the like, something players are already organising for themselves in-game.

"We have players that play as Alliance leaders - they tell us that they are playing the game by writing emails and communicating on IM. They just log in every once in a while," said Gudmundsson. "Like gangster lords sitting at home in their home in Florida on the phone," added Olafsson.

In the future they may use New Eden, otherwise known as Cosmos, a web-based portal that will allow players to read mail, update their profiles and even play parts of the game itself. It's expected in early 2010 and we'll have more detail from Fanfest tomorrow.

But "features are just facilitators of interactions", said Gonzales, highlighting the splashes made by player actions like the recent insider trading scandal or destruction of an Alliance by a defector. "The single shard is an arena where people can be people."

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