CCP on EVE Online, White Wolf MMO

The world of EVE Online is in a constant state of transition. With over 200,000 players, and up to 35,000 online in the same universe at the same time, the game has developed a social structure unlike another other in the realm of MMOs.

It's to the point where the developer CCP is currently in the process of drafting a democratic council for the virtual realm and recently appointed an in-game economist. Where rogue players can walk away from online heists with merchandise valued at thousands of dollars in real-life currency.

To learn more about what CCP has in the works, and also just what's happening with the upcoming White Wolf MMO it has in development, I spoke with communications director Valerie "Pann" Massey, community manager Mike Read, and director of North American marketing Peter Gollan.

Shack: What can you say about the player committee you're in the process of putting together?

Valerie Massey: Right now, we've spent a lot of time working, just a very small team of us, working on just a foundation document. I don't know if you know this or not, but Iceland is the home of the very first parliament in the world. Hundreds of years ago, they were the first ones that did it. So it's kind of fitting that CCP eventually would bring that to [EVE].

Even before EVE launched, there were conversations where the guys knew eventually it would come to where we needed to have some kind of player government because of the very political nature of the game. We had an early iteration of it probably within the year after EVE launched where corporations--we took different sizes, small, medium, and large and then [we] also had a couple of independent players--would form this committee and we rotated them out, I believe it was every six weeks. It's been a long time.

What we want to do now is something similar but on a larger scale, democratic to where the players would actually get to vote. That's what we've been working on, the voting system, the ground rules, what the community will do.

I think there's some misconception where people believe that they would be able to come in and actually make decisions about the company. That's not going to be the case, it's gonna be focused on the EVE universe.

We've made the internal document, now we have the company at large making comments on it so we can make sure that everybody is on the same page with where we want to go. Probably closer to Fan Fest we'll get to talk more about it.

Shack: I know people have been confused about how it will operate. I've heard some wonder if the committee will be at the studio, constantly looking over the shoulders.

Valerie Massey: That's partly why we needed to step back and not talk about it too much until we had all our ducks in a row, so that we don't continue to perpetuate rumors and cause misconceptions.

Shack: How will voting stay democratic, especially as members of the larger corporations could easily sway the results?

It's Darwinism online.

Valerie Massey: That's one of the things that's still under review so we can make sure we have the best processes in place and that everybody, at least on our side, is in agreement about that. There are a lot of ways to do it. We want to make sure that everything is on the level and fair.

I promise you that there is no concern that the players have that we haven't had ourselves, that's why it's very important for us to take our time and do it right.

Shack: I think it's pretty interesting that you're forced to face a lot of real world concerns with these decisions about EVE's virtual world.

Valerie Massey: That's one of the amazing things about EVE. From the political system to the economic system, it does parallel the real world a lot.

Shack: Speaking of the economic system, how is the appointment of the in-game economist working out?

Valerie Massey: DrEyjoG [Dr. Eyjo Gudmundsson], he's doing great. His first report will probably released, I'm thinking, some time in October (Ed. Note: The first report is now available). I've seen some of the preliminary things he's studied, it is so far beyond me--I'd be good to balance a checkbook. The things that this guy knows and understands, they blow my mind.

A lot of his focus is not only on the in-game economy, but also to work with academia. He's had a lot of interest, to the point where we don't go out and look for it, we've got universities approaching us. There's so much potential there to study how a product can go over in a virtual society, virtual banking.

Turn the page to learn about CCP's plans to improve game performance, as well as upcoming features and content. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: What is this Stackless Python stuff I've been hearing about?

Valerie Massey: I can just give you the basics, because I'm not a programmer. Let me start with a disclaimer: if I say something wrong, I read it and I must have read it wrong.

Stackless Python is a programming language. The basics that I understand is it makes an easier way to do the coding, and by adopting that, it's made it easier for our programmers to go in and change things without having to go through a whole big progress. It just whittles it down, which in essence, makes it easier for us to make changes to the game, to make improvements to the coding, so that the game perform better.

One of the things that the community understands, from dev blogs and interviews and things we've done, is the guys have adopted this need for speed, which isn't an individual feature, but more like a mindset that CCP has taken on where any time we make a change to the game, [we ask] how is that going to make things better as far as the client performance goes.

Lag is one of the problems every [online] game faces. With the need for speed initiative, even if it's just a simple change as to how players interact with NPCs, [we ask] is this going to make it easier for players to have a better connection? How is this going to affect that?

Doing things like the Stackless Python upgrade, we can make the coding end better, we can make the game perform faster. Changes to the mission system, where before you would have to go to a certain agent in a certain station, so we had areas of space that were congested because all of the players kept going there. Now they can just go to an agent that's in the same corporation. That'll help alleviate some of that too.

So Stackless Python and the changes to the content, all that kind of stuff comes together in need for speed, which is just about making the game better for everyone.

Shack: What about the problems with large-scale fleet battles, which can involve so many players that they cause server and performance issues? Any plans to address that?

Mike Read: I think that sort of leads back to the whole need for speed initiative. It's not a hidden secret, Oveur has made several blogs on the issue across the years. We know that when you get this many people in a system, that there's going to be lag issues and things that crop up.

I know we recently addressed the desync issue that's been happening, where the client becomes behind what's happening on the server and it finally catches up and nobody's really in sync with what's going on.

It's all playing into the overall scenario with the need for speed iniative, it's something that's being addressed. As for how we support it, it's coming soon, I guess you could say, but that's really a tough one that a lot of people want to address.

Valerie Massey: Something too I heard Noah talk about recently is that they're trying encourage people to do smaller-scale battles.

The population of Iceland is 300,000...our goal is to get [beyond that].

Mike Read: Oh, absolutely. There are some things that have been talked about in trying to break up the way people do fleets. Do we lock down the systems? What happens when one side has more than the other and then the system locks down? It's not the funnest solution, that's what some have said about capping systems.

What the solution is, they're looking into the overall [situation], but as for right now, in terms of support, I honestly don't know what we can do to support the scenario. We know it's an issue.

Shack: What sort of features and content are coming up?

Mike Read: There's factional warfare, which is a big one that's been talked about since before Revelations came out, which was again addressed in Oveur's latest blog. We don't want to release something like that until we're absolutely ready.

What I think that's also going to do, it's going to encourage people--when you start getting in Alliance battles, these guys spend hours and hours just lining up their fleets, getting ready for battles, and then eventually they end up in these large fights. Some people don't want to take that amount of time.

This is going to allow people to jump in and immediately get into a combat mode. It's also going to be a bit of an ISK sink as well, taking some currency out of the economy and giving people a chance to experience PvP without having to get into the larger-scale [encounters]. It's going to encourage smaller-scale battles.

Keep reading to find out how CCP deals with in-game heists.

_PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: How do you handle in-game heists, such as the massive take by Flatliner?

Valerie Massey: He was already in the corporation though. If you just hear "this guy got in this corporation and took all this stuff" you're like "whoa that happened again," [but] this guy was actually already in the corporation and he had access to the stuff and one day he decided to take it. It wasn't like he had planned and planned and schemed.

Mike Read: He was a long-time member of that organization, and eventually he turned on them. From my knowledge, he cleaned out their hangars and walked away. There was a lot of finger-pointing going on, "oh that's not him," but eventually he came forward and said "you know what, it is him." How much he walked away with, I have no idea.

Peter Gollan: Once it did happen, we did pause his account to verify if it was an actual event, if there was no sort of scamming. Once we were able to verify that it was an actual heist, actual sabotage--

Valerie Massey: More like just an embezzlement.

Peter Gollan: --we reactivated his account and away he went. When you look at the scale of what this character did, it's actually quite amazing that one character was able to perform this against such a large corporation.

Mike Read: Especially given the statute that corporation has and is known for being very secure and not giving incorrect roles to members. It completely betrayed their trust, and it's all part of the game.

Peter Gollan: I think it goes back into a lot of things we've already touched on, about how dynamic EVE is. It's horrible for the corporation this happened to, but still, it shows how hardcore EVE truly is.

Shack: What is involved in the verification process? Where do you draw line, when would his account have been suspended?

Valerie Massey: If we had traced the IPs and saw that it was an IP that normally did not access his account, we would investigate to see if he had been hacked. Or if anything that he took, say you clean out someone's bank or game hangar, and then you notice that's there's been RMT, so if he started to sell those things for real-world value.

But as far as to infiltrate a corporate, or to do what this guy did, which was basically embezzling from a corporation he was already part of, that's part of EVE.

Mike Read: It had been initially suggested that his account had been hacked, but then we actually did an audit on the account. We're sure exactly what happened, we let the public know what happened. We investigated it to a certain extent and found that there was nothing wrong.

Peter Gollan: Especially with movements like his actions, we want to make sure that we take more than enough time to investigate fully. I believe it was paused for about a week--

From the political system to the economical system, it does parallel the real world a lot.

Mike Read: It wasn't even that. This was taken care of relatively quickly, this was taken care of within a couple of days. I think about a day after it happened it ended up on the forums and then everyone sort of moved on from there. We were quick to address it.

Valerie Massey: I know it sounds harsh, I had a really hard time with it at the beginning. I was the original community manager for EVE, so the first time I saw something happen like this, it was very unsettling. I will freely admit it, I am a care bear.

I was like "oh but this guy he stole all of their money" and they're going "he didn't do anything illegal, he didn't hack them, there was no scam involved, it was a legitimate thing." Just like in the real world, you have to be careful when you do business with people. You can get one bad apple in your corporate barrel and that can wipe you out. It's the same thing with EVE.

Mike Read: It should also be noted that when these accounts are locked down in this manner, we do reimburse them for the time that they've been locked down.

Valerie Massey: It's Darwinism online.

Don't stop now, the next page has the latest on the White Wolf MMO and amusing tales from the mother of CCP's CEO. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: Did anyone at CCP see EVE getting this big when it was just starting out?

Mike Read: That's hard to say, at least for me. I first played this game back in January of 2001, and at that time, it was a very bare bones game. There was no documentation, there was really no discussion. I didn't really pick it up again until 2005, and I thought "you know what, this game will last about a month with me." I ended up falling into it, and three years later, I'm now working with the company itself.

It is bit of a misconception with a lot of people that EVE is nothing but a mining simulator, there's a lot more to it than that. We have the 14-day trial, which at times I don't feel is enough to show what the game is all about. There's just so much to it that people need to explore and see to really understand why it's been so successful and why it's taken such time to build up.

Valerie Massey: One of the things I thought was interesting is our company's chef is actually the mother of our CEO. Our CEO and EVE's creator have been friends since they were little boys. One day she came in and I was like, did people think they had lost their minds? Here's two guys in Iceland saying "yea, we're gonna make this game."

She didn't understand what it was, she said she thought it was something just the two of them could do in the garage or in the basement. So they're "no, we have to hire this person and that person" but they told her, "it'll never be more than 20 people."

Of course, now we're at 250 and growing, especially with the merger. We've got the office in Reykjavik, a tiny little three-story building that's gone through this history. It had been a home for artists at one time, used to be a recording studio where Bjork recorded--

Mike Read: Next to one of the most popular clubs in Iceland.

Valerie Massey: Then we outgrew that little building and now we've got this huge [office], it used to be a fish processing plant, the oldest fish processing plant in Reykjavik, and they're renovating it for our office. The cool thing about that is there are people that work at CCP who had relatives that worked there when it was a fish processing plant. We've just grown and grown and grown.

She said it was really funny when they got past 20 people, "it'll never be more than 30 people," and then they would hire another 10 or 15. The guys had vision, but I don't think even they knew it would do as well as it did.

Now we're the leading exporter of software in Iceland, 55% of the software exported from Iceland is EVE. It's really awesome. The old taxi drivers that have probably never touched a computer know where CCP is.

Mike Read: You get in a cab and say "take me to CCP" and they know where they're going.

Valerie Massey: The population of Iceland is 300,000. The entire island, 300,000. We have about 200,000 EVE players. So our goal is to get [beyond that].

Peter Gollan: One of the best things about EVE, I think, is the social aspects of the game. Yes, there's PvP, yes, you can make a ton of ISK in the game, you can make an economic powerhouse. But it's this political intrigue, whether it's backstabbing someone or the council we're trying to develop. The social dynamics of this game truly set it apart from anything.

Mike Read: A lot of games out there, especially MMOs these days, are charging servers. You have 10,000 people here and 6,000 people here. When you start throwing 200,000 people into the same universe, it creates social infrastructures that are completely daunting.

The social dynamics of this game truly set it apart from anything.

Peter Gollan: We had 35,000 people logged in at the exact same time. Think about it from any type of game, a table-top game or an MMO, to be in a living universe with 35,000 people at the exact same time. Everyone's making different decisions, within real life, that are affecting the game for everyone else.

Shack: How will the development and eventual release of the White Wolf MMO affect EVE?

Peter Gollan: We're so far off with that, it's really hard to gauge. As we kinda touched on, there's still a lot of growth that can go on with EVE and we continue to push that forward. We're really excited to reach 300,001.

Shack: What's the current status of the White Wolf MMO?

Valerie Massey: Yes.

Shack: [laughter] Yes?

Valerie Massey: That's all I can tell you.

Shack: It's in the works?

Valerie Massey: It's in the works. We talked about it at Fan Fest. It's a big secret everybody knows and we can't talk about. It's going to happen.

Shack: 2012?

Valerie Massey: Oh god, I hope not [laughter].