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As Eve Online Retribution expansion launches, CCP reveals master plan to make its famously impenetrable MMO accessible

John Lander lays the foundation for the next decade of Eve.

Free Eve Online expansion Retribution sets CCP up to make its famously impenetrable MMO accessible, the game's executive producer has said.

Retribution, which launched yesterday, improves existing systems such as Crimewatch and the user interface to make them easier to understand, John Lander told Eurogamer. But he insisted Eve Online will not be dumbed down now or in the future.

Learning curves of popular MMOs.

“It's important to look at some of these features with a certain context,” he said. “Eve has always been thought of as a notoriously tough game to get into. There's a great graphic about the learning curve of Eve.

“We don't want to dumb our game down, we don't want to make it easy, we don't want to make it anything other than the game in terms of the content and the experience as it is now, but what we do want to do is make it accessible. We want people to be able to get to the good parts of our game without having to fight through some of the complexity which is there to be honest either because it just grew up organically over time or because somebody in the early days had quite a sadistic tendency to put people through hell.”

This is just the first step in making it so you don't need a degree in playing Eve Online to be able to play Eve Online

Eve Online executive producer John Lander
The Bounty Hunting system has been revamped to make it a viable career choice for newer players as well as veteran players.

Eve Online is a gritty science fiction MMO famous for its complex systems and realistic virtual economy.

For nearly ten years developer CCP has employed a janitorial role, allowing players to get on with the business of playing without interference - even if that includes griefing.

But Eve Online has been criticised for being too hard to get into, and addressing this complaint is priority number one for CCP, Lander said.

“What we're going for is an easy to learn hard to master view towards what Eve is,” he said. “We don't want Eve to become a super casual, very shallow not very complex game, but it shouldn't be impossible to learn how to get into the depths of what Eve is.”

The aforementioned revamp to Crimewatch increases the visibility of the choices a pilot has made so that others can choose to act or react accordingly.

“Crimewatch was serving no purpose,” Lander said. “New players had to write threads asking, 'can someone explain this to me?' and then it takes 400 posts to do that. What we've got now is a system that facilitates some really good gameplay but isn't impenetrable to either new or veteran players.”

One area of the game that has been labelled particularly archaic is the user interface. Retribution makes a number of changes to it.

“It was very unintuitive,” Lander admitted. “You didn't necessarily know what the buttons did. You didn't know where to go. Things were hidden in nested right click drop down menus.

“A lot of the changes we're now putting in with Retribution - and we've got really big plans for as we go through 2013 - is to bring Eve up into a game that should be around in this day and age, taking on some best practice, working out the best way for people to be able to access the information they need to play our game as simply as possible, without it having to require some sort of degree in bad interface use to be able to navigate.”

I don't ever want Eve to be nice and fluffy and it's a wonderful place to be

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Improvements have been made to targeting, the display of information and the feedback to players from what it is they're doing. “That's just the first step in making it so you don't need a degree in playing Eve Online to be able to play Eve Online,” Lander said.

CCP walks a fine line between satisfying veteran players and newcomers. The last three expansions, Retribution included, have focused on polishing existing features - that is, getting them to a state CCP is happy with.

But veteran players have called for new features to be added to Eve to combat what some believe is stagnation. Lander promised new features will be added to the game in 2013, but stopped short of revealing what they are.

“Retribution is a great foundation for what I'm calling the second decade of Eve,” he said.

“We're putting a lot of planning into how we go about getting the right things to concentrate on through 2013 and beyond. But one thing is very clear: we need to make sure as well as doing these great big features we continue to look after the systems we already have. We cannot just ignore that side of things. But also we're making a real play for that simple to learn, hard to master.”

He added: “I want to try and reduce that barrier of entry to playing Eve. I don't ever want Eve to be nice and fluffy and it's a wonderful place to be. I think there's a place in the MMO world for a dark and dangerous, really good sci-fi world where you can be the goodie, the baddie, a criminal, the Good Samaritan. But it's very important we allow as many people as possible to get access to that game.

“So some of the things you'll see will be very much around accessibility for all players while keeping the depth of what the game is.

“But you're right, we will put in some really good big expansive things we've been looking at. We've done a lot of prototyping over the last year, but also we've got a backlog of things which could probably take us through another 20 years.

“There are some good things coming. We almost have too much choice, which is a great first world problem. As soon as we've prioritised what it is we want to do, we'll start communicating that out.”

Eve Online celebrates its tenth birthday in May 2013. Fanfest, its annual Eve Online-focused get together, will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, in April.

Retribution upgrades NPC AI so players should find a tougher challenge awaits them.

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Wesley Yin-Poole


Wesley worked at Eurogamer from 2010 to 2023. He liked news, interviews, and more news. He also liked Street Fighter more than anyone could get him to shut up about it.