The Dust has finally settled in Reykjavik and the locals have got their restaurants and bars back. The hundreds of players who came to celebrate their favourite science fiction MMO have left their undoubtedly weary CCP hosts to shamble back to the office and return to pushing boundaries.
Unreservedly, I can state that everything I witnessed in Iceland underlines the courageous and pioneering attitude of one of the world’s most innovative video game developers. There is no desire to roll out products that are facsimiles of their competitors; CCP have a unique philosophy in their approach to game design and an equally unique relationship with the community that grows around it.
ENGAGING THE SOCIAL HYDRA
Fanfest was a fantastic environment to meet and begin to understand the many diverse layers and cliques that comprise the EVE player base. In his CCP Presents presentation, CMO David Reid (CCP Pokethulhu) described fans of EVE Online as “The Nation of EVE”. There is a truth to that statement that may help outsiders to better understand there is not one community in EVE, but many. Just wandering the halls of the Harpa Centre and beyond in the bars and restaurants of Iceland’s capital gave me the opportunity to speak with groups of thoughtful industrialists, enthusiastic combat pilots, inspired writers, passionate alliance leaders and one girl who likes to lick people(!).
Always on the forefront of social gaming, EVE Online has evolved over the past nine years into an absurdly complex socio-political model mirroring many aspects of human civilisation. Whereas other MMO environments attempt to control and oppress player culture, EVE Online’s developers are brave enough to allow it to thrive. Of course, pushing the boundaries of social gaming in a world where internet anonymity encourages poor behaviour means that moral boundaries are also sometimes tested. Such is the burden of the pioneer. The benefits far outweigh the risks.
The real beauty of the EVE Online society is easily seen from within. Sadly, it is woefully misunderstood from without, being portrayed as ugly, brutal and cold. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike many other MMO games, the freedoms provided to EVE players mean that almost anything can (and often does) happen. Like real life, this means that some individuals, organisations and regimes are able to behave cruelly and of course, these are always the stories that find their way to the press. But human nature being what it is, the very threat of these adverse gaming conditions has brought about a necessary response. Like in nature, adversity creates community. With strength and safety found in numbers, vibrant communities have formed, sharing resources and information, better protecting themselves and even fighting back.
SADDLING THE FUTURE BEAST
Over the next year, it is in this very column that I intend to show the wider gaming world the truth behind “The Nation of EVE”. During Fanfest, I took the opportunity to approach several well-known player organisations in EVE society and I will be integrating with a number of these communities over the next year as an “embedded journalist”. I hope to compare and contrast the differing cultures and gameplay styles that exist across the universe of EVE whilst they explore the exciting new content that was showcased at Fanfest.
I was pleased that the overriding message of Fanfest was one of embracing the backstory of New Eden, as evidenced in the superb new cinematic trailer. The upcoming summer expansion Inferno will be focusing on the Faction Warfare gameplay elements, improving the aging system behind EVE’s answer to realm-versus-realm combat. Undoubtedly this will breathe new life into the colourful narrative behind the warring nations and I look forward to spending some time with the Faction Warfare community. I hope there will be scope to delve into the roleplaying community here too.
Additionally, proposed refinement of the mechanics behind corporation war declarations and the Crimewatch standings system may bring about some fundamental changes to player interaction across the more protected regions of New Eden. I know some less-than-salubrious characters who will undoubtedly already be trying to figure out how to take advantage of the changes. I hope to spend some time with them, where I will learn the ways of the “ninja salvager” whilst clinging tightly to my wallet and my kidneys.
There are exciting ideas in development for the introduction of new forms of mining (planetary rings) and the tackling of the age-old “dead horse” issue of the laborious starbase system, commonly known as “POSes”. The Player/Pilot Owned Starbase is EVE’s answer to player housing and they provide a unique platform for manufacture, storage and defence. Starbases are vital for a long-term presence in remote wormhole systems. However, the construction and upkeep of these structures has also proven to be insanity-inducing. CCP aim to fix that and I hope to spend some time with some industrialist corporations and wormhole explorers who can show me the ropes.
Another issue that has long been a thorn in the side for both CCP and many players are the mechanics underpinning the never-ending sovereignty warfare waged by thousands of players out in the null-sec regions. This is a system that many of the presiding members of EVE Online’s elected body, the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), are passionate about and will be attempting to push CCP’s development focus in that direction. It will be interesting to get a view from ground zero on the current and future state of sovereignty mechanics in null-sec; home of the massive fleet fight and a jewel in EVE Online’s crown.
Of course, the Big Question many were asking at Fanfest was regarding the details of linking the established universe of New Eden to the Playstation Network to facilitate the ground-war that will take place in the PS3 exclusive DUST 514. Now the impressive cross-platform orbital bombardment system has been showcased and light has been shed on the mercenary contract system, the question has been partially answered. But the social impact of the introduction of an entirely new demographic to the Nation of EVE is something that really cannot be predicted. I almost made it onto DUST 514′s first e-sports champion team. Perhaps as the Stuart Sutcliffe of the victorious Team Haggis, I can worm my way back into their ranks to discover the progress of DUST 514′s premiere mercenary outfit too.
In summary, Fanfest has exposed much about EVE Online’s future and I aim to be on the ground to see how it develops – many questions have been raised and I intend to be there to witness the answers. I look forward to my year-long journalistic odyssey through New Eden. It will be a unique experience to witness the growth and maturation of the most complete socio-political science fiction experience in existence.
Also, spaceships are cool.
[This article was originally published on 30 March 2012 on the Guild Launch blog.]