EVE Evolved title image
Since its launch in 2003, EVE Online has adhered to a rough schedule of releasing two free expansions per year, one at the game's peak play time in the summer and one to tide players over during the long winter lull in activity. Each expansion has had a particular theme and a descriptive name, launching with several major features and then being followed up with a series of smaller sub-releases. At EVE Fanfest 2014 we discovered that CCP plans to change that strategy and instead produce around ten smaller releases each year, aiming to release one every six weeks.

Putting aside the mathematical impossibility of meeting that target with only 52 weeks in the year, the plan for smaller but more regular releases has been generally well-received. Players were very happy to hear that unfinished features will no longer be pushed out the door before they're ready just to meet an arbitrary expansion deadline, and it's great news that completed features and fixes will now wait a maximum of six weeks before deployment. There's no doubt that it's a great development strategy, but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes as a media strategy.

In this EVE Evolved opinion piece, I look at why expansion names are important, the problems with CCP's new development schedule, and what can be done to fix them.

EVE Evolved side imageNames are important to the media

Massively gets a lot of hits from people googling an expansion's name, usually to find out what's coming in a future update or to restrict the search results to only the most recent and relevant information. Right now we're getting a lot of hits to articles on Kronos, and it would normally stay that way until details of the next expansion is announced. This happens all over the web as people tend to search for the latest EVE developments and information using the current or upcoming expansion name. When the tech 1 battleships were rebalanced in Odyssey, just googling for "Dominix fitting" was turning up obsolete setups that no longer worked, but adding "Odyssey" to the search terms brought up all the updated setups people had made. That's a useful thing to be able to do.

The same happens with guides and opinion pieces, which are only relevant if they're about current gameplay that hasn't significantly changed since the time of writing. But with a new release and name every six weeks, nobody's going to realistically be able to keep track of what feature or change came in which update. Will you really remember whether that feature you want a guide on was overhauled in Kronos, Crius, Hyperion, Oceanus, Phoebe, Rhea, Tethys, Theia, or Themis? In addition to the problem of names being re-used for multiple things (Kronos and Hyperion are both also EVE ship names, for example), giving each minor update its own name erodes its usefulness to the gaming media and to players. There's likely to be fewer people looking up what's coming in future updates, and that means fewer ex-players resubscribing.

EVE Evolved side imageNames are important to players

Developers usually talk about expansions as if they're just collections of features wrapped in a convenient name, but as players we often see them in a completely different light. Each expansion represents a unique phase in the game's life cycle or evolution that will never return, and having a name attached to that phase helps to give context in discussions. World of Warcraft players will say that they ran a raiding guild in The Burning Crusade or played a Paladin in Wrath of the Lich King. Since the raids and classes changed significantly with each expansion, it means a very different thing depending on which expansion you played in. In a sense, each expansion isn't seen as a single release but as a separate era in the game's development history.

The same is often true of EVE Online, with many of its expansions being remembered fondly as iconic phases in the game's eleven-year history. We talk about Apocrypha as the start of the golden age of wormhole exploration, and Faction Warfare in the Empyrean Age era was a completely different beast than it is today. Exodus is remembered as a period of game-wide nullsec colonisation with the construction of the first ever outposts and titans, which is a stage in EVE's history that will never come again. Even the upcoming Kronos expansion may be remembered as EVE's own industrial revolution and the time that mining and industry became valuable professions again. All of these are evolutionary steps in EVE's development and types of gameplay that just aren't the same any more.

EVE Evolved side imageIs there a simple solution?

Of course, not every EVE expansion has managed to capture the same unique memorability and emotional resonance as the big names. We all know that the Incarna expansion was the crux of the Monoclegate scandal and that Incursion saw Sansha's Nation reborn, but do you remember anything important happening in Trinity, Inferno or Quantum Rise? With two expansions per year, some of them have been necessarily so light on content and features that it's easy to forget they even happened. My worry is that this will become the norm for EVE's six-weekly releases and the names become meaningless and forgotten, but there's a very simple solution to that problem.

In addition to giving each update its own inconsequential name or number, CCP could easily come up with a single overarching name and theme for an entire year of development. Content and features were already being released in stages with three or four major point releases per expansion, so the main difference to players in the new system is that there's no name collecting them together or theme to spark people's imaginations. CCP Seagull has also already revealed the development plans for EVE's next few years, and they can be neatly chopped up into themes like Corporate Infrastructure and Territorial Warfare.

EVE Evolved title image
There's no denying that releasing frequent updates is a better MMO development strategy than the traditional expansion model, but it feels like something important is being unnecessarily lost in the switchover. There's a lot more to expansion names than just a clever word and a list of features; It helps generate media buzz, lets people find only up-to-date information, and gives players a thematic name to tie their game experiences to.

EVE is steadily heading toward an endgame goal that will see the entire playerbase work together to build new stargates into completely unknown areas of space. But when people talk fondly of the time when the new EVE gates opened, what will they call that epoch? Will it be a random name chosen for one of a hundred short-lived sequential updates, a date half-remembered by just a few hundred players, or a year-long era with a haunting name that never be forgotten? I know which one I'd choose.

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.