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Connecting worlds with Dust 514 and CCP chief marketing officer David Reid

Xav de Matos, @Xav

There is no road map for taking a first-person shooter and injecting it into an existing MMO universe, so developer CCP Games is attempting to draw one. Combining the worlds of the (extraordinarily intimidating) cult hit EVE Online and its upcoming, self-published free-to-play console shooter Dust 514 isn't as easy as tying a narrative thread between both games, there's a sensitive balance the developer has to consider.

"If there's anything about EVE that's particularly notorious, it's the fidelity of its virtual economy. You can equate the loss of a giant ship in EVE to some real world amount of money, just based on the time and effort it takes to build," CCP Chief Marketing Officer David Reid tells Joystiq.

Reid says that because EVE's in-game economy is so unique, it's essential for the developer to introduce changing aspects – like a completely different game's economy – gradually. Currently in closed beta, Dust 514 is testing its in-game links to EVE Online, but it's a careful play of checks and balances and minuscule tweaks that will make the games work well in tandem.

Gallery: Dust 514 (8/21/12) | 13 Photos

"It's really important that, when we do join the games, and we do allow ISK [one of the in-game currencies in both games] to flow between EVE and Dust that we don't accidentally institute some hyper-inflation in one game or the other."

Reid says that, in Dust 514, there may get to be a weapon or vehicle that is worth a lot of ISK; however, those items "really shouldn't be as expensive" as a starship in EVE Online.

"We have to make sure we tune those dials carefully before the currency starts swimming between both games," Reid adds. The intention, once all systems are in place, is for players to be able to share ISK between Dust and EVE freely.

But the vision of connecting both games isn't limited to its currency systems. The vision, Reid says, is for Dust 514 marines to be able to interact with EVE Online characters in the future, specifically once the MMO's upcoming avatar system is in place. "That is exactly the idea," Reid says, pointing to CCP's 'Future Vision' trailer, which teased the ability to put both avatars in the same 'room.'

"Your Dust marine can walk into a station and meet an EVE avatar, and rather than negotiate a contract over text chat, you could do it 'virtually in person.'" CCP won't place a time frame on when that reality will be manifested, but that concept is "absolutely the vision."

Part of that vision includes adding "space elevators," where players can go down onto the Dust 514 planet battleground or up into the EVE space stations regardless of the game you're playing at the time.

Despite its link to an MMO, CCP looks at Dust 514 as a game made "for shooter players more than for MMO players." Reid says that players who jump into the free-to-play experience will immediately understand its mechanics from shooter experience, and over time they will come to realize the game's "depth and complexity."

"I remember some of the coverage out of E3 and there was a lot of talk about, 'Wow, here come the free-to-play shooters.' And yeah, you talked about Planetside 2 and Warface and Hawken, but only one of them is on PlayStation 3. We really like being that singular, free-to-play, 'Triple-A' shooter that has got an MMO angle to it on the sixty-plus million PlayStation 3's that are out there. It feels like a really good opportunity to educate gamers what it's like to be in an MMO without requiring them to go out and play an RPG on their PC."

Reid won't specify the number of players that have jumped into Dust 514, but says the "nucleus of activity" between regions is "not very different" from how EVE Online works based on the area of the world and time of the day. Dust 514, he says, is very active, previously telling Joystiq that "hundreds of thousands of people" have joined the closed beta.

"We are also seeing the notions of corporations taking a more global view," Reid adds. Corporations in Dust 514 are collective groups of gamers working together under one team banner, similar to the concept of clans. "Corporations are forming that have people around the world in them. It becomes a fascinating technical experiment how a battle server in a North American cluster or how a battle server in a European and Asian cluster are working together to bring all those people into one single shard universe."

Reid reveals that North America is the biggest region for player concentration in the Dust 514 beta, which he says should be expected due to the popularity of the shooter genre in the western gaming world. "I don't think we have any expectations about that type of thing, though. We're just at a moment in time where that's how it is."

"We're seeing a lot of the patterns that have manifested in EVE over time," Reid says, noting that this gives CCP confidence that their "unprecedented" combination of two worlds seems to be on the right track.

Yet, a lot about Dust 514 is changing and evolving. Reid says the team is always looking to upgrade the game's quality from balancing its game systems to its visuals – one of the aspects we noted needed work in our recent preview. It's an ever-changing experience, he promises.

Connecting worlds with Dust 514 and CCP chief marketing officer David Reid
When the Dust 514 open beta launches, CCP anticipates a complete stat and experience wipe will come with it, bringing everyone back to the beginning as more and more gamers enter. For those that have made purchases within the game – buying content like the Mercenary Pack – CCP will issue in-game currency refunds, ensuring players don't lose the money they have invested. Despite its content and fears of a pay-to-win model, Reid says the game's fundamental philosophy is to be purely based on skill.

"The fundamental social contract that you have to establish with your gamer is, especially with Dust and especially connecting with the EVE universe, is that it is a universe based on skill. Fundamentally, the superior player that spends less or no money should prevail over the less-skilled who chooses to spend a lot of money.

"The Mercenary Pack is a very popular item, principally because it's a really good deal. You're getting some exclusive items you can't get any other way, you're getting a very good deal on your virtual currency and things like that. But beyond that you're seeing a lot of things that have manifested successfully in other big free-to-play titles. One of those things are the boosters, it's sort of that trade-off between money versus time. If you have less time and have a little money, you can buy a booster that increases the amount of skill points that you're going to get."

Reid promises that if you "utterly do not want to spend money," you can still earn the same number of skill points, it just takes more time. That trade-off, he says, is something that works very well in the free-to-play market. Closer to launch, Reid anticipates cosmetic items will be the more popular pieces of content, but boosters are Dust 514's current best-sellers.

CCP doesn't plan to fully execute on all of the links between EVE Online and Dust 514 until at least the game's open beta launch. The PlayStation 3-exclusive shooter will remain in closed beta until the end of 2012, Reid previously told Joystiq, with an open beta coming not to far into 2013.

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