Someone in the discussion will inevitably mention EVE Online, and that's when things get complicated. The New Eden star cluster is lightyears across, and its 7,699 accessible solar systems have earned it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, but can EVE's map even be compared to accessible landmass in a fantasy MMO? All of the space between stars is currently empty and inaccessible, and players warp between points of interest within a solar system without interacting with any of the space in between. With that and the relative difference in scale between EVE and land-based games, it isn't immediately clear whether EVE Online still has the world's largest playable MMO map.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at how empty space works under the hood in EVE Online and crunch some numbers to find out whether it really does have the biggest playable game world.
Is empty space really inaccessible?
If you've ever been on voice comms for a fleet PvP op, you've probably heard one or more people mention grids or refer to enemy ships as being on-grid. This simply means that the ships have entered the same area as you and show up on your screen and overview, but there's something complicated going on in the server that makes this happen. Ships in EVE need to be sent detailed information only on objects that are nearby, so a single solar system is divided up into lots of distinct areas, and ships within each area are only sent information on what's happening nearby.
These areas in which objects can interact are called grids, and you can think of them as little bubbles of high-detail space in which battles and other interaction can occur. They exist at locations like stargates, stations, planets, and moons, but the interesting thing is that they're also created and destroyed dynamically. When you warp to a bookmark in empty space, a grid is created centred on the end point of your warp. If another player warps to any point within 250km, he'll be close enough to enter the same grid and see you on his overview. That means all of the empty space in EVE really is accessible, as you can technically interact with other players anywhere in a solar system.
When discussing the size of an MMO world, it makes sense to consider how quickly a player can move and where the content is. If one game has a continent twice the size of another but spreads the same amount of content over it and lets you run twice as quickly, both game worlds are functionally the same size. EVE is difficult to compare in this context, as it has three completely different methods of travel. Ships can move up to around 7km/s per second using standard thrusters, over 3AU/s at the peak of warp, and instantly from one system to another using stargates or capital jump drives.
You currently can't enter the space between solar systems, so we can safely ignore the distance traveled by jump drives and stargates. We also have to ignore interstellar space when calculating the size of the playable universe. And since you can't actually stop your ship mid-warp, warping is essentially like watching an animation while you slowly teleport from one point of interest to another. I would argue then that the only playable space in EVE with content you can interact with is contained within grids. The size of the playable game world is thus the sum total of the space in all currently active grids and so changes throughout the day.
A matter of scale
The average unmounted run speed in most MMOs works out to about 14 miles per hour or 0.00625856 km/s, but most microwarpdrive-fitted ships in EVE move at between 1km/s and 2km/s, and the fastest interceptors break 7km/s. This gives a ratio of 1118.47km traveled by the fastest pilots in EVE for each 1km traveled in another game in the same amount of time. For EVE to be larger than another world when taking differences in scale into consideration, the combined area of all accessible grids has to be over 1118.47 times larger than the area of the next-largest game's map.
To be equivalent in scale to World War II Online's claimed 300,000 square kilometer map, EVE would need to have over 335.5 million square kilometres of playable space. This is where things get tricky to compare because EVE allows players to move in 3-D while the MMOs we're comparing it to have 2-D maps. The worst case scenario for EVE would be if we ignored the third dimension and treated each grid as if it were a circle, and worse still, we could use only the 100km diameter central area inside each grid where combat usually occurs rather than the full 500km diameter circle. If EVE still wins even with those ridiculous restrictions, then it's definitely the larger game world.
The sum total of just the 100km diameter area around each planet's warp-in point on its own blows World War II Online out of the water with over 525 million square kilometers. The same area around each stargate adds around another 118 million square kilometers, stations add another 40 million or so, and I don't even want to guess at how much space surrounds all the moons, wormholes, missions, cosmic anomalies and other celestial bodies.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.