Eve-Online: still niche?

This last Sunday Eve set a new record of active users online at the same time: 23.811

That number beats even City of Heroes highest daily peak, with the difference that those are also spread between fifteen servers. So, still niche?

The subscription numbers are the highest between the mmorpgs not coming from the major, consolidated companies and, probably, already above some major licences. The gap between other medium-sized games (but with zero growth) like DAoC is quickly growing thinner.

Eve launched nearly three years ago (5 May 03) and is picking up just now, again demolishing the assumptions about product life cycles, players chasing the “new shiney” and the predominance of the fantasy settings. This despite the game has a very, very bad accessibility and a type of gameplay that most players don’t feel effective.

A week ago the whole server cluster running the game has been replaced with 64bit hardware to buy some space for the growing playerbase:

tranquility returned at 0019 gmt, eve is reborn
reported by kieron | 2006.02.22 19:11:27

The Hardware Upgrade has been completed, Tranquility has returned with 70 dual-core, dual-CPU AMD Opteron LS20 Blades in 5 new IBM Blade Center Chassis.


reported by Oveur | 2006.02.22 20:40:36

Well, this upgrade went according to plan. Ok, not according to plan, it went a lot better than planned and for a while we were wondering if we were really CCP anymore, delivering before the schedule. We’re at least grateful that this upgrade was the one Mr. Murphy took a vacation from and we think you’ll agree.

It hasn’t been a completely smooth road though. Our websites (which also moved to the new hosting center) have had dns problems, the load balancing protocols has been acting up causing three days of intermittent availability and our download service didn’t propagate the mini-patch which told the client to connect to the new Tranquility IP address.

Next, we intend to upgrade our database layer to 64-bit 4-processor monsters allowing us to cram in a “couple” of Gigabytes of RAM. Does 64 Gig worth sound ok to you? It does to me! We’re also looking into more RAMSAN solid state disk storage in that upgrade. Nothing but the best for EVE! ;)

There’s a new patch nicknamed “Blood” scheduled to go live this Thursday (2 March) with more server-side optimizations and (finally) the addition of the four new asian-themed bloodlines. Plus a bunch of other minor tweaks and fixes. The patch notes are available here (but you need a valid account).

And this is just the beginning before the next major update (Kali), scheduled for June. Even if you can safely bet it will be delayed.

The game is alive and kicking. It seems things are starting just now.

Beside the elements of success already underlined in the past, I think that a big role is being played by the business model. We discussed in the last months about removing the barriers between the players and work on a game world more consistent and coesive. Where all the elements are connected together. But the very first step to achieve these goals is about approaching the development so that those solutions are made possible.

Eve-Online doesn’t have a fragmented dev team between the expansions and live content, they don’t shift the developers from a position to another and from a project to another. The development process itself is built as something coesive and consistent. The major content patches aren’t limited to improve the “margins” of the game, adding more zones and content at the perimeter of a mudflated, arid model that isn’t advanced in any way (and that the developers are actually SCARED to even look at). Instead there are core progressions on all levels. The game is taken, observed and maintained as a unit. The players aren’t selected and divided by the expansions, instead these expansions are IMPOSED on everyone. They aren’t optional, they are mandatory because they are part of the game at all levels. Without lines of division. Truly delivering the myth of “ongoing development” that isn’t just limited to maintain and stretch the life cycle of a dead-end.

A “sandbox” game also needs a whole new approach to the development. Eve has it and is demonstrating its validity. Even if its accessibility barriers are still chocking its full potential:

The average EVE player only stays for 7 months.

Every single game that aims to move away from the linear model (from point A -> to point B), needs also to steer away from the standard development process. This is an obligatory requirement. Not anymore an option.

Hoax:
In the Diku clones, different play-styles can barely interact with each other. If one friend is playing his first MMO and catass’ing to the extreme he will leave the other guys in his dust and they will not be able to do content he can. Meanwhile your saying he’s a shitty friend if he doesn’t want to go repeat content he already repeated 100 times to get where he is now?

Bullshit.

The system sucks, it stops people from playing with the people they want to play with.

Sure, f13’ers are starting to reach a level of MMO-maturity that they know how to avoid this, look at the EQ2 guys. The people who play tons spread their playtime over 2-5 characters while those who are ultra casual just level one. Meanwhile there is the whole sidekick/exemplar/whatever system so that they can make more efforts to play together.

In EvE, we dont have as many of these stupid problems.

a) offline training means there is no required /played to access content.
b) EvE lends itself well to solo + chat play.
c) The different playstyles fit together nicely, in WoW a crafter is off in stupid zones hitting up resource nodes and a pvper will never see him. In EvE the crafter wants the combat characters around to cover them while they mine. The industrial players are the ones that make the corp strong, combat characters provide BPO’s (when we can afford them) for items we repeatedly need for war.

But for people who are just getting into MMO’s they almost invariably will have a hard time playing with the people they originally set out to play with, just too many things that are setup to divide the population into sub-groups. Raiding is not the only culprit but it is by far and away the worst.

Simply put: in a “systemic” game world all elements are tied together, the dots are connected. Each element has a “weight” in the system that affects everyone else.

In a systemic model:
– The players are brought together. The model is represented as a circumference, where the players/dots create groups or “cells” and move within while bouncing one against the other (creating alliances, conflicts, politics etc..). The space belongs to them (known) and is “managed”.

In a linear model:
– The players are spread apart. The model is represented as a segment, where the players are pointed toward an obligatory direction and have a set position that “qualifies” them toward the other players. The space is external, alien (unknown) and only conquered and progressively consumed.

By delving some more it is possible to transform those two into cultural models but I won’t do that here. Which one is more appropriate for an online game? You choose.

And yes, mmorpgs work as living bodies.

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