Interview: EVE Online's Kristoffer Touborg
PCG: That seems to be a common trend with hardcore gamers, though – this hostility and cynicism toward the idea of virtual goods. And obviously, the fear of “pay-to-win” schemes bleeding them dry is a big part of it. But it seems to run even deeper than that. Why do you think they're so afraid to spend real money in these virtual worlds they otherwise value – in some ways – more than real life?
KT: I think a lot of it comes from expecting to pay for something that's otherwise free. I think it seems like that very much when you're a player, although a lot of this stuff wouldn't actually exist if we didn't have a revenue stream to make it. So, when you have people that do clothing and all that stuff, you don't hire them because you have an abundance of money. You hire them because you're hoping that will keep itself running. And I think a lot of players expect that clothing would be made free, but the truth is that the five-to-ten artists you hire for this actually get paid through [virtual goods sales].
I think some people also feel that the subscription is enough. Even though buying virtual goods is strictly voluntary, they kind of feel like it's something they should be buying. And they've already spent their 15 bucks, so they're like “Why am I being forced to buy this?” I completely understand that sentiment. I think if people have complaints you should listen and respect their opinion.
PCG: For now you're cutting your losses and refocusing on ship content, but what about after things have settled down a little? Does the team still believe EVE can – and should be – something more? Is this just a temporary re-focus?
KT: It's definitely not a temporary re-focusing. If I were to give an example – and I'm just making up the numbers here – we imagine that 80 percent of the guys working on EVE were working on Incarna and 20 percent were on flying in space, we swapped that around. The large majority of people are working on flying in space, and there's no real plan to change that.
We haven't taken people from the Dust team, of course, because they're developing that product. But it's an internal shift. Flying in space is the core of the product, and we realize that shouldn't just change. There's of course a small team working on Incarna, so at some point, it'll have a future. It just won't be the overwhelming focus of our development.
What we want to bring is lifetime to EVE. At some point... like in World of Warcraft, how long can you keep stacking levels? Or, for EVE, how long can you keep producing spaceship content that's interesting? So inherently, I don't think that Incarna is at all bad. It just gets us the depth and quality we really want out of the game. I think it'll be good at some point, but right now, the realization is that it needs be on the backburner to give players what they want.
PCG: So, in essence, you asked players to take a leap of faith. They not-so-politely declined. A lot of developers, though, can get away with that based on past accomplishments alone. Like, take Valve, for instance. Players will say, “Man, I'm not so sure about this... but it's Valve, so it'll probably rock anyway.” Why didn't your fans give you that kind of creative leeway?
KT: I think it's because we screwed up. There are a lot of players that don't trust us in the community. For some of them, I'd say I disagree. But for some of them, I'd say they're right. I mean, we haven't been delivering the stuff we've been promising players. So, if anything, I hope we can regain some of the trust by doing all the spaceship stuff.
You know, there are some people who said, “We'll be quiet and trust you guys and give you whatever time you need to make Incarna good when it comes out.” And it wasn't. So there aren't any illusions at CCP that we've been delivering what we want to.
PCG: Ultimately, though, is your goal to bring EVE – the main game, not just Dust – to as many people as possible?
KT: I don't know if that's a goal, but I think if you ask any game developer “Is it your goal to have people play your game,” [they'll absolutely say yes]. But there's not a stated goal to just get as many people into EVE as possible.
PCG: Seeing as Dust is sort of a side door into the EVE universe, do you think there's a contingent of EVE fans that fear an onslaught of “unwashed masses” dirtying up their perfect space paradise?
KT: Absolutely. It has the same type of “outside-of-my-comfort zone” issues that Incarna has – maybe even more, because you have all these people that are perceived to be completely different. You see people on the forums going “Well, I don't want some 14-year-old kid who plays on a console to ruin our game.”
I think it's probably kind of unjustified. I mean, I know for a lot of players – like myself – when I get home, I have a desktop with all my PC games. But I also play Facebook games and games on my phone. I also have a PS3. I play tabletop games. So the notion that someone is either a PC player or a PS3 player is a little bit ridiculous.
Like, “Oh, we're gonna have an influx of strangers and they're gonna destroy our game” – I think it's a bit ridiculous. Cross-platform, cross-genre, I bet that a lot of people are going to play both games. At the end of the day, we kind of need them to tie them together. So they play the games together. And that will hopefully come through features that will make them mutually beneficial for each other.
PCG: Sure. And it's simple to break it down into “Nah, there's no such thing as console or PC gamers; we all just play games.” But the issue – as I see it – is that EVE is a type of game that very much typifies PC gaming as it is now. That is to say, it's very complex, in-depth, and slower-paced. Dust, meanwhile, is a rootin', tootin', 'splodin' shooter. Whether correct or not, that lumps it in with games like Call of Duty. So there's this natural night-and-day opposition there. That in mind, is making a shooter such a good idea?
KT: On one hand, I think you're right. I mean, Dust is gonna have some instant gratification. If you want to play Dust for 15 minutes, you can go on, do some random matchmaking, and just play. But we're really hoping to build a new tier of competitive gaming. I mean, people in EVE Online feel hardcore, but if you've seen a top-tier FPS player, they're not f***ing around either. They're really good at it. We hope we can bring those guys in.
So a lot of the similarity isn't really in whether it's complex or simple, it's that EVE is a game people take really, really seriously. And I don't think there's that much of a difference between hardcore EVE players and hardcore FPS players in terms of how much time and effort they put into it. So the EVE players may not like the kind of casual guys, but I think a lot of the hardcore EVE players will bond with hardcore console players in terms of reaching goals together. I think it'll turn out all right.