EVE Evolved title image
Last week I celebrated the fourth anniversary of the EVE Evolved column with a competition to win one of two 30-day pilot's licenses. Congratulations to winners Dong Yi and Atrameides Denard, whose prizes have been contracted in-game. Today EVE Online itself turns nine years old, and so this week's EVE Evolved column takes a look back at the top EVE stories of the year. It's been a rollercoaster of a year for CCP, with the infamous monoclegate scandal hitting subscriptions hard during the summer and only recently starting to recover.

The drama kicked off as the much-touted Incarna expansion drew close and CCP revealed that it would contain no multiplayer elements and would introduce a microtransaction store for vanity items. Players didn't seem to mind the cash shop as long as it contained only vanity items, and CCP had previously promised that microtransactions would be limited to those types of items. When the Incarna expansion finally launched and players got a first-hand look at the cash shop, however, it became apparent that something was fundamentally wrong.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look back at the top EVE stories of the year, from the incredible videos and scams to the story of how CCP brought EVE Online back from the brink of disaster.

EVE Evolved side imageMonoclegate

When Incarna launched, every item in the new cash shop was priced higher than a similar item would be in the real world, with basic skirts, shirts and boots costing upward of $20 and the now infamous monocle priced at around $70. The quirky story of the crazy Icelandic devs and their $70 virtual monocles spread across the internet like wildfire, but it soon took on a very sinister tone when an internal company newsletter containing details of CCP's microtransaction plans was leaked. The Fearless newsletter seemed to indicate that the high prices weren't an oversight but a deliberate plan to squeeze as much money as possible out of players.

The newsletter contained talk of eventually selling standings and ships outright, going against previous promises not to implement gameplay-affecting microtransactions. When questioned as to whether gameplay-affecting microtransactions were on the cards, CCP went oddly silent and players began to protest. A leaked memo from CEO Hilmar to all employees dismissed the player outrage as noise, and a derogatory devblog from CCP Zulu served only to throw more fuel on an exponentially growing fire. Players began to talk with their wallets and unsubscribe from the game in protest, forcing CCP to call an emergency meeting of the CSM to figure out what went wrong. A general consensus was eventually reached, and CCP held a press conference to answer all remaining questions.

EVE Evolved side imageThe road to recovery

In the short history of MMOs, there have been several cases of games failing because the developers refused to admit their mistakes. CCP has always had a reputation as a company that listens to its playerbase, but this time the developers didn't back down until 8% of all subscriptions were canceled. CCP was forced to lay off 20% of its staff worldwide to make ends meet, and several high-profile employees walked out in the months that followed. To bring things back from the brink, CCP returned its development focus to in-space EVE features and made a promise to continue developing internet spaceships for the current players.

Players were understandably apprehensive about resubscribing based on a promise, but so far, CCP has definitely lived up to it. For the Crucible expansion, CCP gave developers free rein on producing small in-space features and ended up having one of the most feature-rich expansions in the game's history. Interesting video devblogs gave players a look behind the scenes at CCP and showed off the incredible new system backgrounds, tier 3 battlecruisers, engine trails, and the lag-busting time dilation feature. CCP was back in the saddle and on the path to world domination.

EVE Evolved side imageThe year in videos

EVE Online is most known for its incredible videos, and this year was no exception. May saw the release of the third part in EVE's most incredible machinima: Clear Skies. Blending in-game footage with avatar scenes composed in the Half-Life 2 SDK, Clear Skies follows the adventures of captain John Rourke and his crew of misfits. The characterisation and action make this series the best EVE machinima ever produced, and if you haven't seen all three parts yet, then you're missing something truly great.

Rooks and Kings is famed for its incredible videos of carrier tactics in action, and this year the group released an amazing video telling an epic tale of wormhole wars, exploits, and "the infinity gun." CCP had its fair share of fantastic videos this year too, with an awesome trailer highlighting the player behind the space ship and a great dubstep-laden trailer for the Crucible expansion.

EVE Evolved side imageCrucible was awesome

The Crucible expansion was extremely well-received, introducing hundreds of popular small features, balance changes, and quality of life fixes. We got a new agent finder interface to make getting into mission-running easier, engine trails made a comeback, implants were added to pod killmails, and a new bot reporting feature helped flag up botters to GMs. Tier 3 battlecruisers gave players another style of play, and awesome new nebula graphics gave them a sense of where they were in the universe. Hybrids were finally balanced, assault frigates got the boost they desperately needed, and starbase fuel was simplified with a fuel block system.

The big feature of the year was definitely time dilation, an inspired idea that involves slowing down time on the server when the node hardware hits 100% CPU usage. Instead of commands being queued up on the server and leading to module delays of several minutes, everyone on the server node has a responsive game but at a much slower pace of combat.

EVE Evolved side imageDUST 514 is coming

If you tuned into this year's Fanfest livestream or were lucky enough to be in attendance, you'll have noticed the unmistakable DUST 514 theme. CCP has been developing the upcoming sandbox MMOFPS for several years, and it's finally almost ready to show to the public. At last year's E3, developers gave out details of the game's incredible realtime integration with EVE Online. DUST players will physically connect to the same supercomputer that runs the EVE Online universe, and they'll be able to join EVE corporations. ISK will be freely transferable between the two games, with DUST marines able to buy tanks and armour with it.

The most ambitious part of DUST 514's plan is that wars might be fought simultaneously on the ground and in orbit. Ships in orbit of a planet while a battle is in progress can launch air strikes down at the surface, and ground forces holding the field can fire ground batteries up to shoot ships out of the sky. At Fanfest 2012, CCP successfully demonstrated a live air strike from an EVE Online player to a DUST match. While EVE players have generally approached the game with reservation, there's a real buzz about it among console gamers and FPS fans. DUST 514 will launch exclusively on PS3 this summer, but as it will feature full keyboard and mouse support, a PC version is likely to be released in the future.

EVE Evolved side imageScams and drama

It wouldn't be a good year in EVE Online without copious amounts of drama, a few high-profile scams, and other interesting stories that just wouldn't come from any other MMO. Alliance Tournament IX ended in controversy when the final match turned out to be fixed, but it later became known that the two teams in the final were actually allied from the very start. In a brilliant display of the EVE metagame, Hydra Reloaded fed intel to the other teams to manipulate the brackets and ensure both teams would end up in the final to claim both of the top prizes.

The biggest scam ever recorded closed up this year, netting over a trillion ISK (worth over $50,000). In May, CCP ran its PLEX for Good scheme again to raise money for storm relief aid, allowing players to donate in-game ISK and directly benefit a real-life charity. A month later, the EVE server was temporarily taken down in response to flooding attempts by hackers calling themselves Lulzsec. Most recently, CCP offered players the chance to exchange in-game ISK for new NVIDIA graphics cards. Only 100 cards were made available as a test, and the entire stock was bought in less than two minutes.

EVE Evolved title image
The past year has been a remarkably challenging one for EVE Online, but CCP seems to be pulling things back from the brink with its renewed development focus on in-space features. With EVE recently launching in Japan and developers sticking by the subscription model in a market in which free-to-play is becoming increasingly common, things are looking good for the year ahead. This summer we look forward to the upcoming Inferno expansion and the release of DUST 514. Inferno will revamp faction warfare and empire wars and shake up the PvP landscape with several new modules. Hopefully, at next year's 10th anniversary milestone, we can look back at a very successful year.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.
One Shots: Sequelizin'