Countdown to EVE Online Fanfest: Is CCP Still Ahead of the Game?
With EVE Online, CCP Games has always been in pursuit of a specific vision. The clue is in the company name--Crowd Control Productions--and it alludes to a strategy that is the secret to EVE Online's success.
When EVE Online was launched in 2003, the concept of community-centric science fiction sandbox was far from accepted MMO doctrine. The massively multiplayer arena was then, as now, dominated by identikit swords and sorcery theme parks. Rather than trying to funnel players into behaving in a particular manner, the canny Icelanders instead opened the gates to New Eden and let the population have at it.
Empowering the player population and embracing emergent gameplay proved to be the stroke of genius which helped distinguish EVE Online, seeing it outlive it's direct competitor (Westwood Studio's Earth & Beyond) and allowing it to carve a niche in the MMOscape from which it has gone from strength to strength.
It is interesting to note that only now, a decade later, more and more MMO developers are casting envious eyes over at CCP Games' successful implementation of a self-maintaining environment of endless, cost-effective, player-generated content and are looking to move away from the traditional MMO model in search of a similar emergent gameplay experience.
Before It Was Cool
There were other key characteristics which have also contributed to EVE Online's rise and are likely now viewed with envy and/or emulated across the industry.
The single server shared by all subscribers means that any action made by any individual has the potential to affect any and every other player. Rather than the battery farms of duplicate worlds as found in many other MMOs, the single EVE Universe is most certainly free range and unforgivingly inclusive. This encourages lasting relationships, eternal fame (or shame) and a sense of scale not found elsewhere, which contributes hugely to the variety and longevity of the EVE Online experience.
EVE Online was also an early adopter of alternative subscription payment schemes with the innovative introduction of the 30-day Pilot Licence Extension (PLEX), which allows subscription time to be bought and sold with in-game currency (ISK). This creates a system whereby cash-rich, time-poor players can purchase PLEX with real currency in order to sell in-game, providing ISK to fund their in-game activities. Conversely, the time-rich can earn in-game currency through gameplay, which they can then use to purchase their subscription. A balance is maintained and everyone wins (except the gold farming RMTers who are effectively beaten at their own game).
Another master stroke has been the nurturing of an award winning and fiercely loyal community who produce far more content and marketing material than any PR corporation could hope to achieve; the EVE meta game is awash with quality news sites and diverse blogs, a cavalcade of podcasts, parody songs, slick video productions and a wealth of vibrant communities. Over the years, the big headlines have largely been due to entirely player-generated activities; intricate corporate heists, cunning scams and epic scale battles are not uncommon occurrences in New Eden.
These elements have all combined to make EVE Online an enduring MMO experience which has the capacity to envelop the player and keep them entertained for a good, long time. CCP Games have bottled lightning and they know it. They're even trying to make it strike twice with their new PS3 shooter DUST 514 which, by interfacing directly with EVE Online, contributes further to the unrivaled depth of the EVE Universe experience.
What's Left in the Tank?
But can the magic last forever? We have witnessed the almost unbroken, decade-long rise of a niche MMO created by a remote studio whose ten year odyssey has seen obscure outsiders become respected pioneers and then the envy of the industry. Surely there is nothing more to achieve? Now competitors have started to see the strengths in EVE Online's model, will the original sci-fi sandbox be put out to pasture as younger, fresher legs prepare to overtake it?
Or will Fanfest reveal an appetite that will see EVE Online's Second Decade pass as quickly and triumphantly as the first.
[Check out our other daily Countdown to Fanfest features for more information and speculation on EVE Online's Second Decade and the Party on Top of the World.]