Making EVE Online better than reality

CCP DICE presentation

“EVE is real,” CCP’s Hilmar Petursson boldly stated at DICE last week in his presentation, “The Human Brain is the Platform: Gaming in the Golden Age”. And he didn’t mean real in the way that every piece of media is real, that they exist. He was referencing the goal that CCP set themselves in 2008: create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life.

With countless wars, riots, political maneuvering and the millions of dollars worth of property damage that have taken place in EVE, he thinks they are on the path to achieving that.

Back in 2003, Petursson was on paternity leave, taking a break from work at CCP. He played a lot of EVE during his break, and found himself in a mining coorporation determined to get everyone in the group in battleships. And they had discovered an exploit that allowed them to mine a lot more effectively.

Petursson was worried, not because players were abusing an exploit, but because he thought it would lead to everyone progressing too quickly, leaving them with nothing to do in the game. He decided to “embrace the chaos” though, seeing that the ingenuity behind abusing this exploit was actually making the game better for the players.

It was giving them new experiences outside of what CCP had designed. It was the flicker of emergent gameplay which would grow into what EVE has become most known for. And this emergent aspect of EVE has made it a dynamic, reality-mimicking universe.

Most of the major events in EVE are player-driven, often meta in nature. While Occupy Wallstreet was in full swing, players organised their own protest which led to a riot over a monocle, of all things. But the fashionable piece of eye-wear was just the manifestation of some poor choices CCP had been making. A $60 piece of useless, cosmetic tat caused thousands of players to protest the game’s mismanagement. It was a real protest. It was Occupy EVE Online.

CCP acknowledged their mistake, and even commemorated the event with the construction of an in-game monument.

Behind every conflict or eye-catching headline like “$500,000 lost in giant war”, there are countless stories of plots, espionage, grudges and under-the-table deals. Petursson recollected the state of the universe in 2003: Sectors became controlled by groups bound together by geography. There was an area where all the Scandinavians hung out, a part of space that was Russian controlled, a sector dominated by Americans and so on. The Russians were the big dogs. They had the most ships and a secret code (really they just hacked the game so they could type in cyrillic), but they couldn’t push the Scandinavians out of their territory and steal it.

Eventually they discovered that the Scandinavians were being secretly funded by the Americans, so they brought the French into the war, had them disrupt the supply lines, and eventually pushed the Scandinavians out. The destruction and the fighting wasn’t the real story, it was the foiled plots and secret alliances.

Giving players the freedom to create their own stories and experiment in a sandbox brings it closer to the experiences we have in the physical reality, but it goes beyond that.

“If all the items in the game have been produced by someone who spent energy and time to make them, and then the game is constructed so it can all go away, then we have the basic principle of the implementing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Petursson said. The emotions people attach to objects they buy and can lose are what makes them important, “coding something emotional into the physical reality.”

“If we accept the premise that we have created in EVE real objects through upholding the laws of the universe by not creating something out of nothing,” explained Petursson “If we accept that, then we can start to construct everything else on top of that, and then you can actualise all the emotion that we can have in reality, in the computer game.”

Petursson closed by hoping that the Oculus Rift – which CCP are developing Valkyrie for – will bring us one step closer to accepting games like EVE Online as reality.

You can watch the entire presentation on YouTube.