5 Ingredients of EVE Online’s Secret Sauce

What does it take to create a virtual universe with a population approaching twice the size of your own country? EVE Online creators CCP Games has figured it out.
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Over a decade ago, on an inhospitable island straddling the Mid-Atlantic ridge, an online spaceship game was created by the descendants of a group of lost Vikings.

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Today, EVE Online‘s success is regarded with envious – and sometimes uncomprehending – eyes.

So what exactly have been the pillars of strength that have seen EVE Online outlive many newer titles? Why does CCP GamesEVE Universe continue to grow as other, equally deserving universes wither?

Icelandic culture, whose culinary tastes have been defined by the scarcity of food, has given rise to a people who learned, through necessity, to combine ingredients innovatively. Granted, this hasn’t always produced a popular result – as the Icelandic “delicacies” of urea-soaked rotting shark and boiled sheep head prove, but occasionally they’ll come up with something amazing, like the world’s most involved sci-fi MMO. Most folk will agree, they’re all an acquired taste.

Icelandic culture, whose culinary tastes have been defined by the scarcity of food, has given rise to a people who learned, through necessity, to combine ingredients innovatively. 

CCP’s secret sauce is a blend of many components and it would be fair to say the recipe has been adapted over the years, with some components not introduced until further along the cooking process. Here is an examination of some of the key ingredients which have contributed to the success of EVE Online and CCP Games.


Free Expansions

Twice a year, every year, EVE Online‘s free expansions keep the momentum up and keep players coming back for more.

The nature of the expansions has been varied, as has their reception. The most recent EVE Online expansion, Odyssey, was the nineteenth such release and saw enhancements made to several aspects of EVE, with a focus on the exploration of the unknown. The Winter expansion has yet to be announced, but already there will be much anticipation of what is yet to come, and that is powerful.

[For more on this topic, read EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: Free Expansions]

Players as Content

You may come for the spaceships, but you stay for the people.

From the sweet taste of victory to the burning desire for personal vengeance, nothing can provide motivation more than the genuine emotion which can only come from interaction with real humans. In New Eden, individual choices, unpredictable ambushes and the ebb and flow of player-driven empires are all powered by people. It’s not all destruction and explosions though, there’s also the complex society of intertwined player cultures to explore and become part of.

All of which can be destroyed and exploded. Ahem.

[For more discussion on this topic, read EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: Players as Content]

The Customer Relationship

CCP Games has had a long and colourful history when it comes to working with their players. There have been many highs and quite a few lows, but – like any relationship – ties have been strengthened as lessons were learned.

The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has grown from this relationship and has gained traction in recent years as an effective means of player empowerment and communication. It has evolved beyond a simple player advocacy group and become an active and contributing part of the creative process which leads to a better game environment for all.

And then there’s Fanfest – there’s nothing better for getting the customer on side than throwing them a party.

[For more in-depth information on this topic, read EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: Customer Relations]

Pay to Play or Play to Pay (PLEX)

In a world where striking the balance between premium subscriber content and free-to-play accessibility is a holy grail of the ever-changing MMO market, CCP Games quietly nailed it back in 2008.

PLEX (Pilot License EXtension) is a simple, elegant system which takes advantage of EVE’s mature player market to allow players to trade 30-day subscription tokens in game. Players can spend real cash to buy PLEX to sell on the in-game market, instantly providing them with resources to quickly get to the game content they want without crossing the “pay to win” line. Meanwhile, less affluent players can grind for in-game cash to buy PLEX to redeem as game time, effectively playing for free.

Everyone wins. Except RMTers.

[For more discussion, read EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: Pay to Play or Play to Pay]

The Evolving Sandbox

For participants, being part of something as unique and exciting as a virtual world which mirrors human civilisation is an experience that is far beyond “gameplay”, for some it is a lifestyle choice. CCP’s approach to delivering the ability for players to have real impact within the universe is critical, as is their understanding of the role they play – and the roles they shouldn’t.

Having a still-expanding persistent environment already enriched by a decade of history is something that simply cannot be replicated. Paradoxically, EVE Online is unique because it has been unique for some time. It’s just not something that can be coded. 

[For more discussion, read EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: The Evolving Sandbox]

To stir it all together, let’s take a look at where this all might be going in the ongoing taste test which is the massively multiplayer online gaming universe. Will we see more competitors adopt CCP’s methods or has CCP Games had its day in the sun? EVE Online’s Secret Sauce: The Menu of the Future takes a look and asks the questions.


CCP’s Secret Sauce Article List

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Mat Westhorpe
Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.