Develop: The support, release schedule and promotion for EVE Online is clearly stepping up a notch or two, but why now?
Richardsson: I’d actually put it in the reverse - we’ve been supporting and evolving EVE for six years by constantly increasing the development team that works on EVE and are working up to releasing two expansions every year. Stepping up our promotion makes that effort more visible, especially as we’re trying out new ways of reaching different audiences.
Develop: Why did you go with making the forthcoming expansion free, and what do customers get with the Apocrypha expansion?
Richardsson: We’ve always believed that expansions should be included in your subscription as it’s part of what you pay for. There are also fundamental gameplay reasons against it. There are more support issues, you are essentially wasting development effort which only a subset of your subscriber base can enjoy. More importantly, you are segmenting the players and fragmenting a social network, which is the real bond you don’t want to disrupt in a massively multiplayer world. It’s why people stick around – to be with the friends they play with.
There certainly are arguments that the distribution of expansions through a retail chain provides additional revenue. While some of that is true, it should compliment your business model, not be a short-term gain at the cost of long-term subscription revenue.
Develop: And what are the reasons for a boxed release only now, so long after EVE Online’s debut as a downloadable product?
Richardsson: We’ve found a publishing partner who understands the long-term business model of online worlds and we’re working together with Atari to bring EVE to retail in a manner which complements our product strategy as well as theirs.
You’re getting EVE with all current and future expansion included, extra gametime tokens and exclusives which we refresh on a regular cycle, differentiating retail from digital distribution through included items and hopefully reaching a broader audience.
Develop: What exactly does the New Player Experience offer?
Richardsson: We’re constantly improving our New Player Experience. With EVE being developed for a total of 10 years now, it has amazing breadth and depth which puts our learning curve into more of a cliff territory.
Massively multiplayer gaming is constantly reaching new audiences that haven’t tried it before, which results in a challenging start when coupled with complexity of EVE. We strive to expose the gameplay in a simpler manner, easing players into the different areas of gameplay rather than “dumbing down” EVE. We’re working on everything from usability to re-implementing existing features more intuitively.
Develop: A press release for the new expansion mentions attracting new and re-joining players. Have you noticed former players straying recently?
Richardsson: Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to retain every one of our customers...yet. Over the years, the group of players that have played EVE is bigger and bigger and we’ve always made a big point of catering to our current and former customers just as much as to potential new customers.
After all, we are running a service which is fundamentally different than a single-sale or sequelitis business. Tending to your customers is a huge part of operating a successful service. The more customers, the more we can evolve EVE, the more everyone is happy! We’ve been fortunate enough that our playerbase is loyal and has stuck with us through thick and thin and we believe the way to repay that is for us to stick around as well.
Develop: The concurrent user record you just set was an incredible milestone. Now that has past, what other goals do you have for the coming months and years?
Richardsson: We have many goals for EVE and some for CCP as a company, which are inherently tied to EVE. We’re expanding to full body avatars in order to focus on socialisation, personalisation and some good, old-fashioned gambling. We want to hit the 300,000 subscriber milestone so that there are more pilots in EVE than there are inhabitants in Iceland and we would also like to continue breaking the concurrency record.
It’s something that isn’t just about the number of people though – we’ve simply put in incredible effort to maintain a single-shard universe and being able to having all these pilots concurrently proves that what was once believed impossible, can really be done.
Develop: What are the challenges up maintaining such high user numbers, and how do you tackle those challenges beyond expansion packs?
Richardsson: The challenges are on all fronts and you have to think about everything you do and ask yourself: does it scale? A feature can’t cause unnecessary load, so game design, art and engineering work together to make sure that it scales, quality assurance tests it and they all work with server operations to get the appropriate hardware and software mix to run it.
Scaling doesn’t stop there. Customer support load needs to be taken into account for they are a valuable feedback channel. It’s awareness everywhere; finance needs to plan for expansions and marketing to plan campaigns to ramp up on a sensible scale in order to manage growth and so forth. Awareness is probably the short version of it.
Develop: Could you tell me what the EVElopedia offers, and the reasons for its creation?
Richardsson: It’s simply that the collaborative effort of the entire playerbase and development team gathering knowledge and information in one central place is much greater than the sum of its contributors. We’ve had knowledge bases, FAQs, guides, forums and so on for years but they were all plagued with their own quirks.
We know wikis work and we decided to have an official one which wouldn’t go away and is maintained by us as well. We also integrated it into the game client so that you can contextually look up things in the user interface.
Check back tomorrow for Develop’s interview with EVE Online’s in-game economist Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson.