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The challenges of storytelling in EVE Online's player-driven setting

James Egan

MMO storylines finding their way into books is becoming increasingly common, but typically it's the fantasy titles we see in print. Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, and of course World of Warcraft all have their lore fleshed out in paperback form. But sci-fi lends itself well to novelization as well, and in the MMO scene as it exists today, EVE Online is a prime example. The game's far-future setting of New Eden is known for its sweeping warfare between vast empires, republics, and federations, but the game's lore has also shown there's a lot happening on a much smaller level.

That sweeping warfare was the focus of the first EVE Online novel, The Empyrean Age written by Tony Gonzales, and this was tied in with the storyline events leading up to all-out war between the game's races. However, EVE's creators CCP Games will be showing a different side to the game with the second novel, The Burning Life, written by Hjalti Danielsson.

The Burning Life will explore the impact that the capsuleers (which every player in the game is counted among) have on the galaxy, and will perhaps show what the fallout from typical daily player actions has on the common person in New Eden -- that is, those who don't have access to multi-million ISK starships and immortality through cloning as all EVE players do.

There are some unique challenges to writing fiction set in EVE which novelizations of other MMOs likely don't encounter -- the game is largely a setting where the players themselves create their own stories. Unlike some MMOs, EVE is not so much about completing quests (missions) as it is carving out your own niche in the game. You can be an industrialist, you can be a mercenary or a pirate. In time, you can run further with these ideas -- engage in market manipulation or establish a monopoly in the game, form a mercenary alliance taking jobs for the highest bidder, or rain hell down on New Eden as part of a dedicated pirate organization. These are only a few examples of what gamers do in EVE Online. Regardless of the path chosen, all player undertakings weave something into the fabric of the setting, and your actions in-game often affect other players. However, reflecting this essential nature of the game in EVE's fiction is problematic, at best.

Given this nature of the game, is it possible for player actions to make their way into EVE Online novels? This was the basis of an interview with EVE's Tony Gonzales and Hjalti Danielsson, by Kotaku's Brian Crecente.

Gonzales said, "Though tempting, the fact is that doing so would have been an unnecessary risk and thus inappropriate for the first foray beyond gaming into the greater science fiction community." He added, "The main reason is because EVE Online has incredibly competitive gameplay. Player actions of a scale considered momentous enough to build a novel plot around tend to happen at a direct and often unpleasant cost to other players."

Ultimately this means there's a separation between developer-created storylines and player-driven events in EVE. Crecente noted, "creating fiction in a fictional world not totally controlled by the author can have its challenges." But this doesn't mean there's a complete separation between the two.

Danielsson said, "There is the lore we create and the lore the players create, and a myriad of overlaps between the two." His comments at Kotaku hint that we'll be seeing some of this overlap in The Burning Life when it's released this winter.

If you're a fan of EVE's lore, we recommend you read the full story over at Kotaku in "Novel, Write Thyself" and let us know -- do you feel having player actions intertwined with the game's lore is appealing, or should there be a clear separation between stories the developers write and those the players live?

[Via @CrazyKinux]

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