EVE Online interview: betrayal at Fanfest, Burn Jita, virtual reality, and the President of Iceland

Tyler Wilde

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CCP's E3 interview room quietly overlooked the show floor like a command center, which felt like an appropriate setting for a conversation with guys who call themselves "custodians of a virtual world." At the table with me were EVE Online Senior Producer Jon Lander and Creative Director Torfi Frans Olafsson, there to discuss EVE Online, its latest expansion, and its integration with F2P shooter Dust 514 .

In this portion of our conversation, however, the topic turned to player-made stories, including a tale of bribery and betrayal at Fanfest's Dust 514 competition, the Burn Jita attacks, and Hulkageddon . We'll have more from our conversations with CCP later this week.

PCG: I love talking about the stories in EVE. It's one of the only games where in-game actions make the front page of gaming news sites. And Dust could spread those stories to the console community, too…

Jon Lander, Senior Producer: We're already getting stories out of Dust. Dust is in closed beta, people are playing it right now, but back at Fanfest we had this big tournament which was just EVE fans. The hardest of hardcore EVE fans. So we held a Dust tournament and people just randomly pulled together, teams of 12 or 16, and they went through the rounds knocking each other out until the top two teams played for the big grand prize. One of the guys on one team found and isolated another guy on the other team -- not in the tournament, just found him and said “I will give you billions of in-game ISK if half way through the match you throw it and you turn on your own mates and sabotage it. I'll give out all of this in-game money within EVE.”

So already people are meta-gaming, and the guy threw the game and they lost. So this other team that paid him all of this in-game money, they suddenly won the grand prize. And [his team] was like “Oooh, what did you do that for?” And he was like “Ohhh, I messed up.”

PCG: That's fantastic. The meta-stuff happening outside the game is fascinating.

JL: Yeah, and it's player-made content.

Torfi Frans Olafsson, Creative Director: That's why we have to show this stuff when it happens. Like when Burn Jita happened, when it was blockaded, people are asking if we're rooting for the bad guy, the people blockading, and we are not. We are respecting the mechanics of the game, and our role as developers is to provide tools, toys, and mechanics, but it's not our job to write the story. The story is written by the players.

PCG: Burn Jita was partially an attack on the economy -- but you said there weren't any repercussions, except making people angry?

JL: Yeah, exactly, it made some good stories.

TFO: Trade went down 50% in Jita over the weekend, however we saw trade double in Amarr, so it created an opportunity, actually. Disruptive moments in economies create opportunities for some people.

JL: And this is a great thing -- we've got clever players who are always seeking out these opportunities. We've made some balancing changes, and there's the whole Hulkageddon thing that's going on – there's a mineral crisis and they're becoming more expensive. So all of the industrialists were shouting and screaming because it's more expensive to build things, and PvP pilots were saying it's more expensive to buy their ships. But I was reading on a third-party website that a lot of the older players were saying, “Brilliant, let me break out my enormous mining barge and start making some money.”

If you pay attention, and you've got your wits about you, you can avoid people coming in and ganking, a survival of the fittest kind of thing, and people are now able to actually make a much better living from mining because of things like Hulkageddon and Burn Jita, because minerals are more expensive. Previously nobody bothered mining, because, “What's the point, I can make more money doing something else.” But now it's becoming more profitable.

So, it's a massive economy. If you look at the amount of money that goes around the economy in-game. You get these blips and whatever, but it's hard to really throw that out of balance. And we've got an economist who is watching this like a hawk, and he comes along and says, “Hey, this is becoming more expensive.” So, OK, that means that these guys get more money for their minerals, so that's good, so there's, you know…

PCG: I was going to ask if it all gets hard to keep track of, but you have an economist?

TFO: Many economists. There's an economist leading a team of economists watching it.

PCG: Wow, a team? That's a lot of analysis, and with Dust adding to the economy…

TFO: Yes. We do a lot of analysis, of course. And then we do debates on whether inflation is good or not. Massive debates, it's just like politicians arguing whether inflation is good for the economy.

JL: [Laughs] It's very funny. We're the custodians of a virtual world, we're not really game developers. We create this world and hand it over to the players. This is why, if we do bad things in that virtual world, the players take it very personally, because it's theirs. It's actually not ours anymore. In 2003 when we started nine years ago, it was like, “Here you go, it's yours now. You get to look after it, or not look after it. However you want to behave in it.” And you really get the entire spectrum of good Samaritans, nasty evil dictators, and everything in between.

PCG: There's something very "cyberpunk" about that idea, that you're the custodians of a virtual world. And you'll still be growing EVE in 10 years?

JL: God, yeah. Oh, absolutely. I think the EVE universe will grow, and Dust will grow. We've got amazing plans for what we'd like to do in terms of building tools.

PCG: And we'll all be putting on John Carmack's VR goggles...

TFO: Yeah, yeah exactly.

JL: Yeah, absolutely, why not? I mean, it's literally a virtual world, and we've just scratched the surface of the potential that.

TFO: A lot of us were thinking about virtual reality back in the '90s, and some of us came from a virtual reality company and we were really obsessed with virtual reality. We all read Snow Crash and Neuromancer and we were just gonna make that happen. But I think this is closer to virtual reality than any goggle or glove. Goggles and gloves are all about fooling your senses and making you think you're somewhere else through optical illusion -- your senses.

However, cognitively, when you are engaged in a universe like this with 400,000 other people that are participating in an economy that follows the same rules as a regular economy, that is much more real than an optical illusion in your head with a massive helmet.

PCG: You've got an emotional connection to what's going on...

TFO: You do, and you see it in the emotion generated by the players when something happens good or bad. The fact that I just met a player here who's been playing since 2003 and he's got two Capital ships and an Avatar. He has seven accounts.

PCG: Seven accounts? I've got one little ship...

TFO: Avatar is the biggest type of ship. That's engagement.

PCG: One last question before we wrap up -- do you guys really hang out with the President of Iceland?

TFO: Yeah, yeah.

JL: He was in the office the other day. It was very weird. The phone number of the Prime Minister is in the phone book. It's really small. I live there now, in Iceland -- I'm English -- and it's just wonderfully different. It's fantastic.

And yeah, the President came in and said “hi,” and we went to his place last year -- we'd won an exports award -- so we got invited to his place.

TFO: It's very different.

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