Looking around EVE Vegas, a small fan convention that CCP have adopted as part of their “wherever a few are gathered” approach to community, it’s easy to see the challenges facing CCP. This is a tiny gathering of intensely passionate players, predominantly invested in EVE, and their perspectives and concerns are almost impenetrable to outsiders. EVE has become its own intricate and insular world.
Marketing director David Reid and CCP have been trying to build new points of entry to that universe. EVE is now tied to Dust 514 and, soon, Valkyrie, the Oculus Rift-inspired space dogfighter. At the core, Reid’s and CCP’s mission is to make a proverbially complicated game more accessible to a wider audience.
“We all look at EVE now and say, we are proud of EVE being a hard game,” Reid explains. “But we can make EVE easier to understand. We don’t want to sacrifice any integrity of what has made EVE great, but if a hardcore gamer can’t figure out the game, we’re missing an opportunity to make EVE even better.”
“You have these great stories that come out of the sandbox,” Reid says, “You have the Fountain War, and the Battle of Asakai, and Burn Jita — And this never ends. Because it is always driven by players. And that makes for a fascinating angle, and we are always bringing new people into the game because of it.”
But Reid also seems aware that there are limits to how much CCP can broaden the space MMO’s appeal.
Reid muses, “Maybe EVE continues to be the gem that it is, and grows every year, and that’s a huge success story and nothing to be complaining about. But if you really want, as a more general player, to feel like you are a part of a universe where you are making an impact… maybe EVE isn’t the game we should ask you to play. Maybe we should give you a first person shooter that does that. And that really is the idea of Dust.”
Whether Dust ultimately proves to be that gateway remains to be seen. Reid sounds confident about both the game and its near-future of PS3. “This is just getting started, but you can imagine what Dust will look like 10 years from now when EVE is 20 years old. How rich this ecosystem between a few things would be,” Reid says.
To hear EVE and Dust players tell it, Dust will need a lot of that time just to deliver on its promise. The two games do not connect particularly well, each game remaining just barely relevant for the other.
“We’re doing great things, we just need to make it easier for people to see it and understand it,” Reid says. One notion they are toying with is including a picture-in-picture view of the action in EVE, where players providing orbital bombardment to the battles playing out in Dust on the planet below can observe the impact of their strikes. Little things like that will go far toward making the two communities more relevant to one another.
While Dust has been available for the better part of a year, it’s really a baby in terms of CCP’s plans for it. From Reid’s perspective, CCP has yet to really throw its marketing muscle behind Dust, because Dust is still developing as it responds to fans and tests new ideas. “It’s more Kickstarter-ish,” Reid explains. “As opposed to the ‘behold my amazing marketing campaign, and if I don’t have a great game at launch, I’m screwed’ model, which is the what the bulk of the industry has been doing for 30 years.”
With Dust, CCP started with an outcome — a shooter that would be connected to the EVE universe — and worked backwards toward the game. That’s created many of the challenges CCP are working to address as they further develop Dust. It’s also 180 degrees from CCP’s other major project, Valkyrie, which practically took on a life of its own and pulled its developers after it.
Tiger by the tail
“You work in the business, and you build a little pattern-recognition over time,” Reid says. “What I can tell you about Valkyrie is the trajectory this thing has been on in its early stages is not something you see very often. It went from a couple guys in Reykjavik building a demo to the darling of Fanfest to a huge story at E3 to like, okay, I see this and I’m like, ‘This has the potential to be huge.’”
The groundswell that took EVR from being a “maybe someday” side-project to the big-tent attraction that is Valkyrie basically forced CCP’s hand.
“When you see that, you have to think, ‘yes, we could wait it out and see what everybody else is doing.’ But look, right now, at this moment? I think CCP might be the premier developer in the world of virtual reality games, right? And you don’t want to concede that. You want to put a flag on that hill and own it.”
Reid admits CCP were lucky in their timing. Just as they were trying to figure out how they might want to develop Valkyrie, their studio in Newcastle completed its work on Dust, freeing an experienced development team at just the right moment. Then they brought in Owen O’Brien, the executive producer on DICE’s stomach-churning parkour game, Mirror’s Edge. His experiences there were a perfect fit for the new challenges CCP were taking on with Valkyrie.
It was just this amazing moment of talent and opportunity all coming together,” he says. “It was like, ‘Now this is how games are made.”
Increasingly, of course, CCP and Reid are not just in the business of making games. With a decade under EVE’s belt, CCP are branching out into media like comic books and television to share the stories of their universe, and the history created by their players. Reid promises that the first issues of Dark Horse Comics’ EVE series will start coming out in February, prior to a hardcover compilation due out in June.
“But I don’t think it ends there,” he says. “That idea, that this is a ‘true’ story 20,000 years in the future, is an interesting one. For our TV series, the challenge is getting a script together that has great characters, emotional moments, and a narrative arc that works. The [player] stories will find their way into that as well.”
Reid admits that none of this is exactly charted territory for EVE. But he’s confident in both their material and their approach, and that the result will be something that does justice to the universe they created with their players.
“We take our universe very seriously, we know our players do. This isn’t some side project for CCP, we are taking it seriously even though we’re [working with a team of veteran TV writers]. It’s important for us to treat all these things with the same integrity and respect for the product as we do for EVE online itself, or with Dust or with Valkyrie now,” he says. “We aren’t hiring Uwe Boll, right?”