The beauty of EVE Online is often cited as a major draw to the game. EVE's graphics presently come in two flavors: Classic graphics, which is essentially EVE as it's always looked, and Premium graphics, which came out in 2007 and is quite an improvement over Classic. Despite how good Premium graphics look now, according to EVE dev CCP Zulupark, they could look even better.
In fact, CCP Games would like to push ahead with EVE's graphics, but supporting the game in Classic in tandem with improving the Premium graphics has been holding them back. Essentially, CCP has been supporting two different clients and thus a dual pipeline, where they must create two versions of each art asset introduced into the game. Zulupark says, "It complicates build and patching processes considerably and, for the most part, it simply doesn't allow us to make EVE look as beautiful as we want." The solution to this problem, he states, is for CCP to drop the Classic client altogether and focus their attention on Premium graphics as the game moves forward.
While Premium requires ShaderModel 3.0 hardware, they're aware that not all players can handle this with their systems and said they're planning on allowing for "Premium Lite" settings in the client, which would only require ShaderModel 2.0 hardware and essentially downsample some Premium textures while skipping others entirely.
The plan CCP Zulupark mentions in his dev blog "I can totally run that on my Amiga" is that CCP Games will discontinue Classic (and ShaderModel 1) with the March 10th release of the Apocrypha expansion, replacing it with Premium Lite and higher minimum requirements to run EVE. They're also considering phasing out ShaderModel 2 support with the Winter Expansion 2009, requiring the playerbase to step up to the level of graphical performance they would like to deliver on.
However, given that -- to date -- EVE Online has been playable on most computers built after 1998, the announcements have stirred up some debate on the forum thread linked to CCP Zulupark's dev blog. (For those who remember the carrier nerf drama, we only half-jokingly wonder if Zulupark gets extra pay for standing in front of the forum firing squad with his announcements of major changes to the game.) However, it's exactly this kind of player response that CCP Games said they're looking for, in order to determine how much of the playerbase would be affected by these changes.
For the EVE players amongst our readership, what's your stance on this: Will CCP Games lose scores of subscribers who run EVE Online on older hardware, or will they pull in more subscribers by enhancing the look of the game? At what point should an MMO developer drop support for outmoded hardware?