Eve Online: 500k subscribers and what CCP learnt along the way
"Many of the greatest inventions in Eve Online have been people breaking the game."
Spaceship MMO Eve Online is more popular than ever; for the first time in its nearly 10-year existence, the game has boosted past 500,000 paying subscribers. Yes Eve Online continues to be a law unto itself.
"A lot of games as they enter their 10th year, if they are still alive, are living with a community of huddled survivors clinging to servers hoping the game doesn't get turned off," CCP chief marketing officer David Reid told me in an interview yesterday afternoon.
"But not in our case. We know our best work and our best days are ahead of us."
CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson added: "It's kind of funny to be saying it after I've worked on this game for 13 years now that our best work is still ahead of us, when, frankly, it is a bit of an amazing thing to have gotten this far.
"We're really committed to stick to our guns on Eve Online and have it in a place where it will truly outlive us all by growing and thriving for many decades to come."
But it wasn't all plain sailing. Not so long ago - roughly 18 months ago - Pétursson and CCP faced an Eve Online community in revolt. It boiled down, eventually, to CCP taking Eve Online in a direction the players didn't want.
"It was really difficult as you say," Pétursson told me. "For sure it changed a lot of things at CCP. The company was fighting many wars on many fronts and trying to do too many things at the same time."
There was company-wide restructuring and lay-offs, and secondary MMO project World of Darkness was put on the back-burner (more on that in a separate story). 18 months later, Eve Online is in much better shape.
"We have seen that the core experience of Eve, when we work on it, really is a much stronger element than anyone ever would have dreamed of," Pétursson said.
"We will continue to be laser-focused on that."
As Eve Online surpasses 500,000 subscribers - a milestone that must equate to a tidy income - Pétursson assured me that, "We're not that arrogant that we don't listen to reason and change our minds."
A recent example of CCP reacting to its community is the 3000-player Battle of Asakai. It was sparked by a player clicking the wrong button, not by the mechanics CCP created to encourage big space fights - fun in spite of Eve's dedicated systems, if you like.
"We have seen that the core experience of Eve, when we work on it, really is a much stronger element than anyone ever would have dreamed of."Hilmar Veigar Pétursson
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson and CCP aren't deaf or blind to that. "Many of the greatest inventions in Eve Online have been people breaking the game," he acknowledged.
"This is what it's about; this is what emergence means.
"Every time our users find a way to break the game, we take a look and it's like, 'OK, how can we make the game better such that it naturally facilitates this activity?'"
In Asakai's case it may mean fleet formations make their way into Eve Online sooner rather than later.
"Fleet formations is something we've talked about a lot over the years," Pétursson said. "That might be a good way to make it [screenshots of the battle] look less like a spaceship soup, as you so fondly referred to it as.
"Maybe there's a way to have it more structured without disrupting the core experience; maybe there's a way to make that more accessible - manage all the very fancy and sophisticated tactics that people use to manage their fleet fights. There are better tools to bring to them, and this is what we will be focusing on in the second decade."
What else CCP has planned for Eve Online in its second decade will be announced at the Eve Fanfest convention at the end of April. It's an event that has gained a reputation over the years for drunken behaviour that last year broke out into controversy.
"Well I mean it's a celebration and people have their ways to celebrate," shrugged Pétursson, "and ultimately these are your players that come to Iceland to celebrate.
"Players are going to be players," he added with a smile, "and we're not here to change that. When people come together and celebrate, yeah, sometimes it's like that.
"But we will certainly just manage the experience more overall so that if people want to engage with that, they can; people don't want to engage with that then there will be plenty of experiences that we will offer to cater to that."
Eve Online remains a game we love to write about at Eurogamer because it epitomises what a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game can be. "Eve is the game people love to read about," Pétursson boasted. "In the second decade we will also bring those people in so that you will also love to play it."