Eve-Online – The other way of making games

After the server statistics I pasted below I think it’s useful to take another, completely different example:

Does it look different? Eve-Online has seen a constant, regular growth of subscriptions from the release of its first expansion till today. The launch of CoH, WoW and other games didn’t affect it in the slightest.

What I find interesting and amusing is how this game is able to shatter all the commonplaces I use to hear. For example the commonplace that a “bad launch” is a disaster that cannot be recovered for a mmorpg. We have examples like Anarchy Online, Shadowbane and… Eve-Online. Often the poor results of the first two games are “excused” and ascribed to just the bad launch, not the game. Well, Eve-Online had one AWFUL launch following months of desperate beta phases. I won’t go in the details but I followed this game closely and I was in the beta since the August of the previous year (the game was released in May). I had high expectations about it and as I joined I was positively impressed. Then things started to go wrong all around. The devs decided to basically rewrite everything, from the netcode and the server backbone to the whole UI (which was redone completely 5-6 times just in the beta). From the second phase in September to the third only a week or two were supposed to pass. Instead the game was stuck for more than a month (with a release planned for early December) and when we finally were able to log in again the status was horrible at best. Nothing was working, the lag was massive and the game was simply unplayable. But aside these “details” the point was that the game was going downhill and the situation just became worst as the time passed and I was between those believing that the game was just going to fail at that point.

The launch went badly. The beta was used like a huge public trial version and only a few players decided that the game was worth something. One day before release the server were still badly lagged and most of the game just didn’t work or had the majority of the features planned removed and forgotten.

It couldn’t have gone worst than that. In particular if you add that the game had relevant problems with the distribution and never reached the shops in NA.

If we follow the commonplace at this point, it’s obvious how this game would be doomed. It would have been impossible to get players back if the commonplace was correct and valid as it was for AO and Shadowbane. In particular if we consider how the setting of the game is way less popular. Shadowbane seems to have fallen below 20k of subscriptions despite its supposed appeal and genre, Anarchy Online about the same and they are probably counting the free accounts. Both games don’t have much to say anymore. And Eve?

These are interesting times we live in. EVE now has more than 64 thousand subscribers, we are releasing more content faster and we have at least 5 expansions worth of features and content just waiting to be implemented.

Not bad for a sci-fi game where you cannot even see and move your avatar and where the whole gameplay is mostly about spreadsheets and slow paced interactions that bore to tears 99% of the players giving it a try.

How this could have happened? It’s simple, the subscriptions depend on the unique qualities of a game. Eve-Online has those unique qualities and was able to break completely the awful trends in both the development and game mechanics. You don’t hear from them planning for new games like Mythic, SOE, Wolfpack and everyone else is doing. Their whole team is completely focused on *this* game. All their resources, talent and work is going into a precise direction. They *believe* in the game and kept believing into it from day one when everything seemed to go wrong. Instead of trying to bail off they just kept working harder and now they see the result of that work and that attitude. Guess what? Now they don’t need to hype new games and promise they learnt from their mistakes. Because the fact they learnt is blatantly obvious from the quality that the game reached.

This is probably the best “Virtual World” we have out there. It’s not just a polished combat simulation like every other game out there. The players have an impact on the world. The PvP model is open and interesting and there’s a direct interaction with the environment. The players aren’t figures moving on a fixed background and growing e-peens. Instead they ARE the game, affect the game and create stories and dynamic situations. Give this a look. Recently CCP added the possibility to conquer and control entire star systems and build space stations. This doesn’t happen in a fucking private instance where noone can enter. This happens right in the world that everyone shares. That same world that just a few days ago reached more than 13k characters logged in at the same time.

The development follows this attitude. They know that in order to keep a “Virtual World” alive they cannot work on optional expansions. A “Virual World” is a cohesive effort, you cannot plan it as retared optional patches. In fact this is exactly what they are doing. They develop expansion but they are included in the monthly fee and released to everyone.

What I wrote not long ago is still valid and confirmed by the developers themselves. They didn’t paint themselves in a corner chasing that stupid model of the mudflation to excuse the production of more content. They don’t need that because a self-consistent Virtual World already implicitly holds a depth and a potential that are just endless. Thinking about sequels or exansions is simply ridiculous because you will already have so many ideas of cool new features to implement and integrate with the game. And you don’t have pass time to figure out what to invent next because your shoulder e-peens cannot become bigger than that.

we are releasing more content faster and we have at least 5 expansions worth of features and content just waiting to be implemented.

You might not have noticed a lot, but this is understandable. Small gradual improvements over a long period of time tend not to register and most of what we did was in preparation for KALI. Sounds strange doesn’t it?

KALI is much more than “more features”. KALI is a brand new code branch. Remember EXODUS? Remember the performance increases that client had compared to the old Castor client? That was because EXODUS was a new code branch where we could start large overhauls and even rewrites to major systems.

The main thing I didn’t convey in the previous blog was that KALI is so much more than just new features. It includes A LOT of improvements, performance increases and system rewrites.

They don’t sit on their asses and do not postpone the development of new features to different projects. They don’t need to plan sequels to realize the potential of their ideas and they demonstrated more than once how every part of the game can be expanded and rewritten in a RADICAL level. Constantly trying to push the potential of the game instead of sit back and surrender to the flaws. Or, even worst, keeping trying to work around them, gliding on the surface.

So let’s speak of those retarded common places that are so diffused. Let’s speak of horrible launches, let’s speak of the lack of retail boxes on the shops, let’s speak of the need to plan sequels in order to get new subscribers, let’s speak of product lifecycles.

I love how this game and this company are shattering every single one of these stupid commonplaces. Keep going and good work.

Since I was remembering the old times… How much I hated “Campion”, that stupid producer that I’m sure was responsible for more than one disaster in a way or another. I passed all the time in the beta arguing with him and receiving back retarded answers. How happy I was when he finally left CCP a few months after the launch (before they went independent and the game started to see the positive trend). And how happy I am NOW that I read that he also had to leave Turbine and MEO after having joined the last year as the producer (read on Gamerifts).

Keep that guy away from your games.

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