Interview with CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson on EVE Online, EVE Mobile, VR and More
EVE Online is one of the juggernauts of gaming, comparable only to World of Warcraft in terms of longevity and dedication from its fans. Not just content making a massively multiplayer online game in space, the franchise has branched out into action-focused VR titles and much more. So when I had the chance to speak to CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, I couldn't turn the opportunity down.
I spoke with Hilmar at Reboot Develop Blue 2019, in Dubrovnik, Croatia. EVE Online is a big game which just got a new expansion (Invasion) and it looks poised to grow even bigger thanks to the relentless efforts of CCP Games. Fans of the game want updates, new content, and for some of the older aspects of the historical MMO to be updated, improved, and brought in line with the expectations of a modern MMO. From my chat with Hilmar, it's clear that CCP hears its fans, and the game will be continuously updated in order to bring it up to par, including a 64-bit version of the client.
Read our full interview with Hilmar Veigar Pétursson below, and keep checking Wccftech for all of the tech and gaming news and features you could possibly want.
I've been looking at conversations people have been having about EVE, and of course, EVE has a massive dedicated player base who adore the game. I've seen a lot of the hardcore fans asking for updates on features and social aspects. I know for a fact there's a bunch of people asking for walking around in space stations, which was teased recently. Do you have a plan for that in the near future?
Hilmar Veigar: So we did an attempt. And it wasn't a great delivery on our product, I would say. So we put that on hold. But it's certainly something that comes up again and again from our player base. I certainly hope at some point, we will be able to sort of open up the door on that. Right now, we're focusing on just the fundamentals. Yeah, we're doing some upgrades to the technical foundations, releasing a 64-bit version of the client. So there's a lot of digital foundation work now being done. We're also doing more work with Hadean and on EVE: Aether Wars. It's kind of a big experiment on, really, sort of incrementally improving the experience. So right now, it's just a lot of focus on internet spaceships. But I hope at some point we'll get to revisit this journey we started.
And on the subject of big spaceships, people want 3D printed models of their ships to buy. I've noticed that demand.
HV: Yes, we've done that the two times over the years. The quality hasn't been great. But it certainly has improved a lot in recent years. And we absolutely are talking to somebody just as of an email going around inside the company two weeks ago, where we are doing some experiments with a 3D printing company. So hopefully, we'll be able to say something concrete about that soon.
EVE isn't just EVE Online anymore, there's the whole franchise surrounding it, including Gunjack and Valkyrie, just to name two of them. What other places can CCP see the series going in the future?
HV: We're working on a big project with Netease, where we are basically reimagining EVE on mobile phones. Actually, just to give you a sense of what it looks like, I can show you, but it's not finished... Just so you can get an idea of what we're making. This isn't for release, but I have gameplay footage. To give you a sense of what bottom line is.
[Hilmar takes out his mobile phone and shows me pre-recorded gameplay footage of EVE Online on mobile. The game looks incredibly detailed for something running on a mobile chipset, comparable to many other space-themed titles you see on PC.]
HV: So this is EVE Online running on a mobile phone. It's just straight from an iPhone.
And on that note, what other platforms do you want to see EVE come to? Obviously, PC and mobile, but do you feel like consoles are a limited platform?
HV: We're working on the mobile version because EVE is kind of a point and click game that transfers over to a touchscreen. We would have to do something very different for it to work on a controller. So, obviously, we have Valkyrie on the PS4. There is already a console version of an EVE product. And now despite the state of VR, it sells quite well. It's still one of the best performing VR games, and we were among the first available VR games. So if we were to do something that would even sell on consoles, it would probably be some sort of next-generation version of Valkyrie, rather than try to solve the extremely PC focused UI.
I can assume that PlayStation cross play would also be an awkward subject...
HV: I mean, once we would've solved the user interface prototyping, it might be able to work, but at least we've decided, first of all, on smartphones for the experience. And mainly out of that, because our developers at CCP are obviously simplifying the user interface and everything that came along for making it for mobile phones. Maybe following up, we have some ideas of how we could extend that to consoles.
EVE is a game that obviously has its own economy, factions, and people sometimes like role-playing very, very seriously. What do you think sets EVE apart from other MMO style games?
HV: I think it is the fact that everyone's playing the same game. I think that is by far the most unique aspect, that there are no shards, there are no servers, it's just one economy. Everyone in place and it ensures a reality of sorts. I think that is the most unique aspect of it. And I think there are aspects which come from how the trading is a part of a topic. Only corporations, alliances, and all the politics are surrounding it. So yeah, and of course, because it's in space, that's pretty unique. Also, for MMOs, there weren't a lot of MMOs in space, there are space games, but you would you wouldn't necessarily call them MMOs. So no shards, trading, social constructs, and the fact that it takes place in space.
There's been a lot of news attention surrounding EVE lately after Brisc Rubal was banned from the game. Is there anything CCP can say about that? I know, it's a sensitive subject.
HV: I think no comment for now. It's kind of an ongoing thing, so, no comments at this time.
That's fair, I kind of expected that, but I had to just ask. I've always been a big fan of EVE, and I know a lot of people that really, really like EVE, but what would you say to people that are intimidated by the game? Because the community, the economy, the culture surrounding the game can be intimidating for outsiders. Are there any ways that you plan to make it more accessible to people? Is the mobile version an attempt at that?
HV: Yeah, the mobile version certainly is an attempt at that. But I would just encourage people when they join EVE to join some of the new player-focused organizations, that are organizations like EVE University, Brave Newbies, and things, where EVE players specifically organize to help new players to come into the game. And that is, by far the best way to join up. And EVE players, despite the reputation of all the politicking and all that on the high end, players are super nice people and very embracing of new players. Every EVE player knows that the more people that play the game, the better the game is, it's a very natural element. Because of the one shard, the bigger the society is it adds value to everyone else. It's a little different when you have just copies of the game, again, and again. Each new copy doesn't really relate to the other copies. Yeah, but EVE is not like that. So EVE players are actually very welcoming of new players. So I know it can be a little intimidating when they're starting up and reach out to some veteran players, but these organizations, EVE University, and Brave Newbies, are specifically set up to welcome new players, and they're really good.
That's great. It's a daunting game, but at the same time, it's a very rewarding game underneath it all.
HV: Yeah, and especially what it does, I think better than many games is that people really make new friends, people really make lifelong friends through playing in life. And that is why the game is around. The game is around because people have built lifelong friendships and because of the community, as I often say, they play for the game but they stay for the community.
Do you at CCP ever worry that some people take the game too seriously? I know that's a weird question for you, because, you have to take it pretty seriously.
HV: Yeah. So like, I have sometimes throughout the years, maybe wondered about whether people are taking the game too seriously. But lately, I don't think so. We've been doing some research into what really is the reason why people play the game for such a long time and are so passionate about it. And it really is because they build new lasting friendships in the game. And we all know that loneliness is an epidemic in the world, the number of meaningful relationships that people have are much less now than 10 years or 20 years ago. So if you have created something, like this particular game, that just makes new friendships, really deep ones, not just acquaintances, like real friendships, people talk about it. It's like going to war with somebody, that's how strong the bond becomes, and people that have gone to war are saying it. So they know what they're talking about. So when we started to kind of unearth all these findings through many avenues, like interviewing the players, we had a researcher go and spend many months and just kind of really researching the topic. Then I started to look at it differently. And taking the game too seriously started to mean something very different. It's just when it is a meaningful part of your social network, and if you are the result of the game, have a wider the friends network than the average person, then studies have shown that makes you live longer, be happier and have more purpose. So I think that's something we should take seriously.
Obviously, EVE is a very old game now and some things can fall to the wayside. Some people were saying that there were certain mechanics that they feel have been left unattended for a long period of time. With a game as big and as historic as EVE is, does that make it difficult to keep up with for CCP?
HV: Yeah, operating EVE Online is like operating a huge city. I often think of our city like Rome. Rome is a very longstanding big city, so some of the plumbing is ancient, fix that, and you have to renovate this neighborhood, you have to fix that problem, like over here. So it's just kind of a relentless less job of keeping everything up to date and adding new neighborhoods and all those things. So it's just something we tirelessly work at all these years. But, I mean, sometimes at CCP we've let things go for too long. But we tend to try to prioritize our work and becoming increasingly more data-driven about that. And often, we've been very opinion, feeling, and sentiment driven. But we're getting a lot better at doing it based on data and research into the elements which are holding the game back. For example, recently, we did a major change to a system called the War Declaration system, because we found out it was not really being used in the way it was intended. It was holding back new corporations being formed. So as a result of this system, and it was very hard for startups to become big companies inside EVE, so we decided to make a to that. And that was based on a big research effort to really find out what was going on.
How do you find it communicating with such a large community? I mean, like single player games can just be released and sort of forgotten about, EVE is a game where you have to be in touch with its players regularly. Is that a struggle? Is that a lot of pressure? Do you feel like the way CCP reaches out to the community could be better or worse?
HV: So we obviously benefit from doing it for a long time. So they've been able to establish processes and institutions in place like the CSM, like events, like forums, and round tables, and panels and things like that. So, we have always just tried to channel people's passion into something productive through making systems to support it. Because just having a subreddit isn't maybe the most productive way to move through things, even though that is always a part of it, of course. I find that usually the more we can just have developers and players meet in person, the more civil everything becomes.
It sounds like CCP is the council running a very large city.
HV: Yeah, that's exactly what it is. Yeah.
Can you tell me about how CCP intends to expand EVE in the future, both the main game and the franchise, because obviously, you have Gunjack, Valkyrie, and more coming. But this is definitely not the end of EVE, it's going to continue growing. So what's next?
HV: What's next, is a lot of these sort of foundational changes we were talking about, the client, DX12. As a result of that, we're doing a lot of code cleanup in the foundation, improving developer tools and getting faster for development. It comes in waves on these fronts. Obviously, when you run a game for such a long time, you sometimes have to really sort of address foundational elements. So there's a big personal effort. Another big push is embracing new players, we have a lot of people joining EVE every week, a staggering amount. And we could do a much better job of onboarding them, and also sort of guiding them into the player community. So we're doing some big improvements on that front, then we're doing this R&D push into the server-side technology to really make a sort of a quantum leap, for lack of a better word, of improving that, even though we have the biggest fans in the world, I think we can have them even bigger and even better. Then there's a push into mobile, which we're working on with Netease. But we're also releasing an update to our portable application, which is like a companion app to it. And we hope to develop that so that people can be interfacing with EVE more when they're on the go. Because I think that's just the way things are, people use their mobile phone to interface with a lot of different things. And I know it myself, it's hard to play when you're on the road and traveling, and I would love to be able to have a much more efficient companion. Yeah, that's kind of the key areas we have a plan for now. Then we are relaunching the game in China. Also, we've announced that we have a Korean localization of the game coming soon. So yeah, there's a lot going on.
I can imagine it's a pretty big effort given the size of the game.
Yeah. What is CCP doing now with VR, anyway?
HV: We have taken a pause and are sort of in a vacancy. We have our games running, they sell quite well, have vibrant communities around them. But we're not doing any new development. We're doing some maintenance work on our VR games. But we're kind of waiting and seeing. Right now, the market is not at a size where it's rewarding of the risk of making new developments, in our opinion. At least not the style of games we would like to make. But it will happen eventually, and there are some important new hardware and things coming out this year. So I think that will show us by the end of this year, I think after Christmas this year, we will have a kind of a whole new slew of data points to review.
Did CCP expect when you released those early VR titles that the market would have grown more by now?
HV: We at CCP expected it to be bigger now than it is now. Maybe not by a huge margin, but we expected it to be bigger. We also got support from the platforms to make the games, so that helped a lot. We almost broke even on our VR investments, but there was just no way to continue there. The market isn't big enough for a second wave, at least not to the size of the games we are making. Valkyrie still is probably the biggest dedicated VR game out there.
Okay, great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today.