Q&A: EVE Online's Hilmar Petursson
The head of CCP Games talks to GameSpot about the new EVE Online video, which shows player characters on planets, the allegations of developer misconduct within the online world, and the progress of other EVE Online products.
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EVE Online is a massively multiplayer online science-fiction-themed game, which first went online in 2003. The game is different from the World of Warcraft style of MMOs in that gamers play as a spaceship and trade, mine, and battle within the vast universe.
In November, EVE Online developers CCP Games merged with pen-and-paper role-playing company White Wolf, and also announced that the two companies would be collaborating on making White Wolf's World of Darkness into a MMORPG, along with bringing EVE Online to pen-and-paper, novels, and card games.
The game world is also different in that the developers favour a hands-off approach, with some players taking part in various unsavoury activities including ship-to-ship piracy--and, famously, a heist committed by an in-game guild, who infiltrated a company before virtually assassinating the CEO and stealing billions of credits worth of property.
CCP also came under fire in February when a player posted allegations on the forums saying that a team of the game's developers had been using their status to obtain valuable items.
At the Edinburgh Interactive Festival this week, Hilmar Petursson showed the video premiere of the new phase of EVE Online, which allows gamers to step out of their spaceships and chat with other player characters in space stations, along with exploring the planet's surface in-ship. The video showed two characters, a woman with a Pulp Fiction-style bob and figure-hugging black outfit, and a military man, saluting each other before walking through a variety of rooms in the space station. The settings included a meeting room, a bar, and a reception area. The primary focus of the spaceship bases will be social, Petursson said, and they would be places where groups could get together to discuss deals in a more personal setting, rather than chatting via their spaceships.
He also discussed upcoming expansion pack Revelations III, which he said will "revolutionise" the graphics in-game, and showed examples of screenshots.
GameSpot caught up with Hilmar Petursson at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival to ask him about these events and other EVE Online news.
GameSpot UK: Can you tell us anything about expansion pack Revelations III?
Hilmar Petursson: I think we're up to the point where we're going to announce other features. I know we've been trying to get factional warfare--which players have been talking about and we have been presenting as a way of getting involved in the political aspects, to build a little bit of a directed experience around that, so you can participate in that without having to go full-on into the politics--but I'm not sure if that will make it out for Revelations III. Our priority is the graphics update, so we may have to cut some of the other features.
GSUK: The video with characters stepping outside of the spaceships was awesome. Can you tell us more about that?
HP: We're a little bit silent about that other than showing the video that you saw--that's about it. That video has never been released.
GSUK: You have been famously quoted as saying "women don't like to be spaceships." Did the whole idea of being able to step outside of the spaceship come from that?
HP: That's like this slogan which I'm constantly reminded of! [Laughs.] I meant more that a lot of people, they see Eve Online, and they think it's all about spaceships, which is easy to understand because on the surface, it is all about spaceships. But what I was trying to show today is that there's a deep human intrigue and socialization that happens on top of that spaceship setting. It's difficult to get that out to the market. People don't understand because really it takes an hour-long presentation to fully explain it. But when we put more of a human face on it, it allows us to speak to the market under those pretences, so it's more like even though there's this catchphrase of "women don't like to be spaceships," I think we get this response from a lot of people, particularly women, that they would try the game out if they could be a character.
GSUK: You also showed a funny example of people moving into areas of space by country and fighting each other. But don't you think that's also kind of sad, that people continue to segregate themselves by their countries, even in a virtual world?
HP: There are alliances that are really multicultural. But the reason this happens is often around language--German players, for instance, they want to speak German, they may not speak English, they may not feel confident with their English, or they may just want to speak their native language, so they feel more at home by playing with people that speak the same language. So, it's understandable by that. It's also the time zones [that] often force people to do this. For instance Americans want to play at a certain time in the evening, so they end up meeting more Americans than they do Germans or Russians. It also gives it a flair, it's kind of interesting to write about--this kind of war of the nations reflected in virtual reality. And you know, it was a little bit exaggerated for presentation purposes.
GSUK: EVE is one of the few sci-fi MMOs out there. Richard Garriott will soon be releasing Tabula Rasa, another sci-fi MMO. Are you concerned this might take players away from EVE?
HP: Not really. The launch of other games, regardless of their genre, hasn't really affected us that much. I would say that when World of Warcraft came out, initially we saw a bit of a slowdown in our growth, but we started to see positive things six months later, just because the orbital space had grown so much and there were so many people who know knew how to play the game and understood the basic concepts. So it seems like the market opportunity is so big that more titles are still just expanding the whole concept and creating more of a positive factor.
GSUK: So would you say your players are loyal?
HP: Yes, definitely. We have a lot of players who have played the game for all of the four years and still play and have stuck with it, so the longevity of the gameplay is certainly proven by that.
GSUK: How do you keep a game fresh when it has been running for that long?
HP: By doing constant developments. We do an expansion every six months, we have huge numbers of people working on the game--we have more people working on it now than we ever had. CCP in total has about 250 employees, and it's probably easily 200 people that work on EVE.
GSUK: How is the merger with White Wolf going so far?
HP: It's been great. It's been really effortless; it's actually been surprising how easy it was. When it's merging companies, especially two creative companies, it's usually a challenge, but this has been such a good fit that it's been truly effortless.
GSUK: How is World of Darkness coming along?
HP: Of course, when we announced the merger, we announced that we would begin work on World of Darkness, and that is indeed what we have been doing. We're in the preproduction phase for that game right now.
GSUK: How about the EVE Online novels?
HP: The first EVE Online novel I think is coming out in the first quarter of next year.
GSUK: The "card games and physical products"?
HP: We already have the card game out, and there will be a huge tournament at Gen Con this year, where I think we're giving out $25,000 in cash prizes for the EVE card game. It's into its second expansion.
The RPG is under construction, and we have an art book coming out. I've seen the early copies of it and it's amazing. It's a nice coffee-table book, and I was really blown away when I saw it. It's inspiring to reacquaint oneself with the concept art and all the material we have produced over the years. It's in print now, or shipping, I'm not sure which, so it will be out really soon.
GSUK: When you first started EVE Online, you wanted to have a closed economy but that became impossible, and you're now practising an open economy. Could you tell us about that?
HP: The idea for a closed economy is that each time a valuable exits the economy, it's kept somewhere and then it reenters the economy again. You still have to inject more items into the economy as the game grows in terms of subscribers. But the process of maintaining the books on this is quite a heavy process, especially when you have this large single-shard world, so we ended up really just having resources flow through the economy and not go in a circle, and just manage the inflow and the outflow.
That's an ok approach to do it if you monitor the situation quite closely. We've now hired a real-life economist.
GSUK: Tell me about the real-life economist. Do you pay him? What does he actually do?
HP: He used to run a university department in Iceland and has a PhD in economics, and left his career in academia to come and be the in-game economist for EVE. Of course we're paying him (laughs). He's a full-time CCP employee. He does nothing but economy for EVE Online. He will be doing stuff like producing reports and the same things an economist would do in any economy, and also working with the design team to identify what are really the sore points in our management of the trickle-through economy, where we have to manage the inflow and the outflow, to have a proper dynamic going on. Also, he's working a lot with academia, to get more academic research into the economic behaviour of EVE Online, because really there's this massive social simulator of 200,000 people participating in an economy where you can track virtually everything, and that's a really interesting research arena for experimental economists, and things like that.
GSUK: The great EVE intergalactic bank heist was controversial. Why did you guys not intervene?
HP: We have had heists like this before, and we have really put out the message that the people of EVE have some ownership of the world. This is their world, and we are there more to do housekeeping rather than dictate agendas. And when things come up like this--which is not an exploit, nobody's hacking-- people are using the tools of the game, to play a certain element of the game. It might be a negative element, but it's still an element of the game. And ultimately, what's being broken is trust, and trust is an equity in virtual realities, and you have to explain to people that it has real value, and therefore you need events like this for people to understand what are the implications of trusting somebody--they could do something like that.
By not touching it, we are telling the world that this is something that can happen in the online world.
GSUK: Do you have a player-created police force or anything like that, then?
HP: Yeah, we have some players that have decided to vigorously go after macro miners and things like that, so we have a little bit of a vigilante task force going on.
But I haven't really followed this situation, because this has happened so often before, so it's almost getting to be routine for us, as funny as that sounds. But again, events like this really test and prove our commitment to really allow people to play the game the way they want to play it.
GSUK: Any news about EVE Online mobile?
HP: We have been working on that for some time now, mostly with a university in Iceland where we have done pilot tests, and it's certainly a concept that works, but it's also something that we have to prioritise with all the developments in the game. Ultimately this will use some of our programming resources, which are so much overtaxed on managing the scalability and the graphics update and these things.
We're still working on it, but it tends to be prioritised lower than addressing the more pressing concerns.
GSUK: Will the Jove race ever be playable?
HP: We haven't released any details on that, but it has very much been our goal since the beginning that at some point the Joves would be playable. But we want to make sure it is something truly interesting once that takes place, and there are so many things that we want to do before we turn around and revisit that.
GSUK: Last question, could you tell me a little more about the oversight committee that you've set up to watch for anti-corruption, among other stuff?
HP: What should I tell you about that? I think there has been some misunderstanding on what exactly it is, and it really stems from the fact that we haven't released a lot of material on it, so people have been speculating. They have been putting it a lot in the context of the events that happened earlier this year where we were being accused of developer preference and things like that.
I wouldn't say that is the core motivation of doing it. This is something we had in our plans ever since the first presentation of this at the Fan Fest in 2005, where the lead designer of the online was alluding to things like this. It's more that when you have a society--well, we think it is a society--then we should treat it as a society. And that involves empowering people to take action to address concerns within society. And this is really a vehicle to do that.
Exactly what will become of it is more something that we will work with the community and the people that get elected, in properly defining that. Because, this isn't just some Band-Aid on some allegations that came up this year. We were looking to build something much more sustainable and much more lasting out of this. But we very much want to do it with the community and the people that get elected, rather than dictate the agendas too much in the beginning.
We'll certainly make sure that the election process is transparent and understandable, we have solid minority protections, and we'll do our best to get off on the right foot, but this committee will be a collaborative thing with the people that play the game.
GSUK: And they'll also get the ability to put their ideas for future content and improving the game to you guys?
HP: Of course. That's one element of it. But it's also that there are concerns, like heists and things like that, and having the conversation with a smaller group that have been chosen as community representatives is often a more fruitful way of coming to a conclusion than trying to speak to 200,000 people on a forum. This is also a way to have a public forum where things are discussed openly, and people appreciate the fact that that is being done, rather than us shouting on forums, which is a blunt-instrument tool way to address things like that.
GSUK: Thank you for your time.