Last night I watched the mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr, unveil a monument to EVE Online on the city's waterfront. "I don't believe in reality." he said, inexplicably, as he swung a giant knife at a rope, dropping a sheet and revealing the sculpture by artist Sigurður Guðmundsson. Thousands of EVE pilots' names are inscribed at the base of the sculpture; a fitting tribute to a game that is defined by its player base.
Fanfest is a yearly expo organised by EVE developers CCP in Iceland's capital. It's an event for both fans and press, with a thousand players from all corners of the globe flying over to attend. The venue is the Harpa concert hall, a futuristic-looking glass building in Reykjavik's harbour. As I type this I'm sitting on the roof looking across the water at a snow-capped Lord of the Rings-esque mountain range. EVE generated $72 milion last year, so hiring an extravagant venue like this is no big deal.
The average EVE player is between 25 and 35. It attracts an older audience than most games, but as I explore the enormous halls of Harpa I'm struck by the variety of fans here. Whether they're young or old, though, they all have one thing in common: they really love EVE. Like, really love it. There's a makeshift tattoo parlour, in which I watch a guy getting an emblem from the game inked on his arm. In an auditorium players listen intently to a talk about the game's economy. These people are utterly devoted to EVE, and CCP know it, encouraging us to talk to them as much as the developers.
The highlight of the day was playing EVE: Valkyrie. This is the first time I've had a go on the new 'DK2' Oculus Rift, which has a higher resolution screen and better head tracking than the old model. While a lot of people find EVE Online a daunting, impenetrable game, Valkyrie is a way to experience its universe in a much more immediate, immersive way. I've played a lot of Rift games, and this is one of the best. Chasing after an enemy ship, locking on, and letting rip with a volley of missiles that leave swirling trails of smoke in their wake is incredibly satisfying. It couldn't be further from the distant, point-and-click combat of EVE Online. You know those space battles in Battlestar Galactica? It's basically that.
Which may explain the presence of Katee Sackhoff—y'know, who played Starbuck in BSG—who's lending her voice to Ran, the leader of the Valkyrie, a squad of elite, immortal pilots of whom you're a member. Her appearance at the Valkyrie keynote had the crowd erupting with cheers. It's probably a safe bet to assume most EVE players are fans of Battlestar Galactica. Celebrity endorsment aside, though, I'm really intrigued by Valkyrie. Rather than just a flashy tech demo for the Rift, it seems like it'll have some depth, with EVE Online-influenced ship customisation.
The DK2 is seriously impressive, and there aren't many of them in the world, so it's cool that Fanfest is giving EVE players a chance to test it out as well as the press. So rare are the DK2 tracking cameras, in fact, that when I heaved myself up onto the Valkyrie demo 'stage', I grabbed what I thought was a metal bar, only to discover it was a camera stand. The panicked cry of the developer alerted me to their preciousness. Sorry, mate. I was just so damned excited to stick my head in your game. The fate of Valkyrie rests on whether VR, whether it's the Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus, or something else, can break into the mainstream. Hopefully all those Facebook bucks will help make that a reality.
So that was my first day at EVE Fanfest. Iceland is a strange enough place, looking like a barren alien planet as you fly in, but it's rendered even more odd by this event. It's incredible that a single game can spawn such a big event, and it's great seeing so many players sharing their passion under one roof. I'll be back tomorrow with more reports from the show floor.