For much of EVE Online's early history, the playerbase saw consistent organic growth with no end in sight and developer CCP Games was able to stay laser-focused on its single game. The EVE universe has even had to grow several times to accomodate the increase in players, most notably with the opening of the drone nullsec regions and Apocrypha's addition of 2,499 hidden wormhole systems. EVE has survived the launch of countless high-profile MMOs in its lifetime and even weathered the monumental industry shift toward free-to-play business models, but it hasn't been plain sailing. While subscriptions have reportedly grown year-on-year, EVE's average concurrent player numbers haven't really increased since 2009.
The active EVE playerbase isn't really growing, so it should come as no surprise that CCP has been trying to expand the EVE universe on other fronts. Though the first attempt with console FPS DUST 514 was an unmitigated disaster, EVE players still seem quietly optimistic about its PC reboot as EVE: Legion. Dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie has also piqued the interest of the emerging virtual reality community and has the potential to introduce EVE to thousands of fresh faces. EVE's Creative Director Torfi Frans Olafsson even hinted during Fanfest 2014 that EVE Online, Valkyrie and Legion might all share a single login and that characters may eventually be able to switch between games at will.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why I think a shared login could be a stroke a genius, and interview EVE's Creative Director and Valkyrie's Executive Producer to find out what the future holds for the EVE universe.
Shared characters make a lot of sense
As an EVE player, I think that taking my EVE pilot onto the ground for some first person action and then jumping into a clone that secretly works for the Valkyries would actually pretty awesome. If we can quickly switch between the three games and they all share a single community and chat system, it would give players a way to stay connected to EVE when there's nothing interesting going on. There's a hell of a lot of down time in between periods of action in EVE, and just being online when your alliance starts a PvP fleet or something else interesting happens is a huge factor in whether or not you'll enjoy the game. EVE's emergent gameplay relies on being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself, and you can't do that if you're offline.
The big hope I have is that Valkyrie and Legion draw in a new crowd that wouldn't ordinarily be interested in EVE, and introduce them to the universe and the community that lives there. Despite the occasional story of abusive players or sensationalised scam, EVE actually has one of the nicest and most helpful game communities that I've ever been a part of. If players from Legion or Valkyrie can successfully become part of that community, they'd have a much better chance of sticking with EVE Online if they decide to hop over to the internet spaceships side of the fence. Getting into a good corporation is literally the biggest factor in whether people stick with EVE in the long term, so there's a lot of potential to grow the EVE playerbase itself if we do get shared characters between EVE, Valkyrie and Legion.
Massively: Where exactly does Legion fall within the EVE Universe? Is it a reimagining of the same thing as DUST 514 or is it entirely separate?
Torfi Frans Olafsson: There is a narrative that combines Valkyrie and Legion and tells the story of Rán Kavik, where she comes from, how the Guristas created her and how she breaks away from them. Legion is a big part of that story and holds it together, and it actually ties into the Mordu ships in EVE this summer. This narrative has kind of emerged between the different development teams and it has helped us to get focus on the theme.
Do you find that having dropped World of Darkness and being able to focus on the EVE universe has really helped you tie all this stuff together?
No, I don't think that. I wouldn't put it like that because there was a separate team working on World of Darkness and unfortunately most of them were laid off so whether World of Darkness was going on or not didn't really affect whether we were moving forward with this. For me, I work solely with the intellectual property of EVE Online, and my job is to coordinate between these people. I wouldn't say that the unfortunate fate of World of Darkness affected us, good or bad.
Now that CCP is fully focused on the EVE universe, is there any plan to step outside that again or is it just laser focused?
It's laser focused now, because I think we all realise what an asset the EVE universe is, even moreso than it was five years ago or back in 2006. It's got a lot more history, more juice to it. It's got a narrative, and that's got both a player history that has grown from our community that's tremendous and magnificent, and the backdrop itself. Through chronicles and short stories and books and so on [that] has just become very massive and a tremendous base to build upon.
So there's more scope to do games within the EVE lore but not connected to the EVE server itself, is that the direction that things are heading in now?
Exactly. For now, for example, Valkyrie is set in the current time in EVE but it's not like DUST in the way that it's not connected to EVE. Thematically it's connected to EVE, but the Valkyrie are not engaged with the capsuleers in that sense and they're fighting their own battles. There's concurrency between the stories that are playing out in out the games.
We have faced competition before. We looked Earth & Beyond in the eye, Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, and other games that have come, even Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan. When Diablo III came out, we saw a dip in how many people were playing, but it totally recovered. So I'm not saying that we're invincible, but it's just such a big market and there are so many people out there that want to play games. Being a famous IP doesn't necessarily mean that your MMO is going to be successful.
I don't wish them poorly, I'm still a massive Elite fan and I played Elite as a kid and it was a huge inspiration for me, and I think what Star Citizen is doing is really exciting and amazing. But I think there's room in the world for all of us.
Though Project Legion is still far over the horizon, Valkyrie is currently aiming for a 2014 release as a launch title on the Oculus Rift VR headset. I caught up with Valkyrie's Executive Producer Owen O'Brien to get some information on how the game will compare to EVE and tie into the same universe and lore.
Massively: The Valkyrie storyline occurs at the same time as the EVE storyline. What kind of crossover can we expect to see between them?
Owen O'Brien: Yes, the whole point of the storyline that we've come up with for Valkyrie was to ground it in the EVE universe, and to provide a link to the EVE universe -- both to EVE Online and to DUST. There will be some crossovers there as well. The tech that the Guristas are using is an evolution on the DUST merc tech, so the storylines will intertwine.
Is there any kind of a resource management side to Valkyrie like in EVE? Do you build ships that are destroyed? Is there an economy as complex as EVE's?
You don't build ships, you unlock the blueprints for ships. The details for this are still being worked out, but there will be a money system and an in-game currency and you'll earn currency. Basically the Valkyries are kind of guns for hire, so you are given a contract to do and if you fulfill the contract you'll get X and if you fail you get Y, and if you burn up too many ships then that's deducted from your payment. There is a cost for burning through resources and there are advantages to taking high risk contracts with higher rewards.
At the moment the design is based on monetary rewards or penalties. We're still talking about whether we want to introduce some concept of resource gathering, but certainly at the initial launch we want to keep it as simple and accessible as possible.
We also heard that there's a skill system in Valkyrie. Is that going to be passive like EVE's or is it more of an active process?
It's active. There's not going to be anything silently ticking over in the background. A lot of this stuff isn't finally designed yet, but current thinking is that this is an action game so you're rewarded by acting. At the moment, you earn skills by doing stuff.
Is there going to be any kind of single-player component? Could this be the first CCP game with offline play?
I wouldn't rule it out later, but I think certainly for launch we're going to stick with multiplayer and get the core game mechanics working. None of this is fire-and-forget, it's a brand new world and VR stuff, so we will launch the game and keep updating it so it will be a live game.
Are you drawing any inspiration from MOBAs for the various game modes?
Yeah, I would say yes. The number of players per side is still in testing and development, it's not limited by tech at all, it's more gameplay. It's a dogfighting game and for each map that we build, we find that there's a sweet spot where you get great dogfights. The thing we talk about a lot is engagement time -- if you find somebody, how long does it take you to have that dogfight and take them out? Ultimately, at any one point it is always a one-on-one battle, so we want to get you to that point, and you'll never have a one-on-one battle if every time you lock onto somebody there's like six more locking onto you.
EVE Online's history is filled with players coming up with crazy strategies to get an edge in combat. Do you anticipate anyone coming up with similar strategies in Valkyrie?
Having a wingman or flying in formation are things we want to try and encourage, and we could give bonuses for doing that. We want to encourage teamplay, and we haven't really got into it yet but the new ship roles encourage teamplay. And even the heavy fighter's got a lot of features in it that will help other players if the pilot is playing in a particular way.
We've seen some tactical environments from the EVE universe in the Valkyrie videos and talks, things like wreckage and space stations. What other environments can we expect to see from EVE?
I've had this discussion with somebody before about how space is a bit boring, and it's really not because you can do so much with it. There is open space, but that's one type of turf; Then you've got asteroid belts with small asteroids and big asteroids, and maybe even moving asteroids and asteroids with holes in them. We'd love to do something with titans and space stations, there's a lot of opportunity there. We want to have interiors where you're flying inside something, and we can have dust clouds that affect your systems and provide fog of war, so there's a lot that we can do.
Can you play Valkyrie without the VR? Will it work on a normal PC or is it VR only?
When we first launch the game, it will be VR only because everything we're doing is tailored to VR, including the UI. We'd have to do some changes to make it as good in 2D as 3D, but it is absolutely possible. I want to make a great space dogfighting game that's enhanced by VR but doesn't have to be VR. But certainly at launch we want to be the Tetris Gameboy for VR and we are first and foremost a VR dogfighting game.
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 email@example.com.