It’s an unwritten rule that all articles about Eve Online must start by waxing lyrical about ‘real stories’ from the game’s universe.
We’ve all heard them. The space battles that saw more than 4,000 players fighting simultaneously. The fleet that ambushed and destroyed a Titan, the devastating battleship that takes months of play time and a boatload of in-game currency to build. Heists and thefts of said currency that equate to thousands of real-world dollars.
David Reid, CMO at developer CCP, says his first memory of Eve is reading about a player who spent a whole year infiltrating an enemy corporation just to assassinate the leader. For myself, it’s travelling an hour and many virtual lightyears across the galaxy to reach my friends, only for them to destroy my ship and salvage it for parts.
There’s good reason for our fascination with these stories: they’re the hook that pulls people into the universe of Eve. They’re the most elaborate form of word of mouth there is, marketing a game to a more diverse audience than any trailer could reach.
The stories, Reid says, “are what makes Eve different”. And they’re central to CCP’s plans for the future of the brand.
Almost every other MMO firm has released countless titles in the ten years since Eve first went live.
“We actually have star players with more
Twitter followers than any of the CCP
developers because they lead these giant
efforts you’ve heard about. Why would
you ever leave a universe where you are
important? We think that’s what keeps
people coming back to Eve.”
David Reid - CMO, CCP
Most of these games have closed, converted to a free-to-play model or are clinging on to a small audience of stubbornly loyal fans.
CCP on the other hand has dedicated itself to a single product, Eve Online. Even more interesting is the fact that is has avoided the usual expensive retail expansions designed to generate and renew interest in the product. Instead, the 17 add-ons released for Eve have been made available as free downloads.
And yet CCP proudly claims Eve Online is the only title of its type to grow its userbase every year since its launch.
“All MMOs follow the same pattern,” says Reid. “They launch, reach a peak, decline – some more rapidly than others – and then hit an asymptomatic community that will never ever leave your game until you turn it off.
“Eve is different because of our sandbox mechanic. There’s no way to burn through all the content in the same way you do in Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example. That has a story written by developers and designers – a very high quality story but one that ends. We don’t have that: the players make the story, they make the content.
“We actually have star players with more Twitter followers than any of the CCP developers because they lead these giant efforts you’ve heard about. Why would you ever leave a universe where you are important? We think that’s what keeps people coming back to Eve.”
But Eve’s audience goes beyond just the people who play the game.
Coverage of these unscripted virtual space operas throughout the games press has piqued the interest of console and more casual gamers alike, and CCP is keen to bring these consumers new ways to experience the Eve universe.
The firm has already released a series of novels such as The Empyrean Age and Templar One, building on the fiction introduced in different expansions. Back in May, CCP’s second title in ten years, download shooter Dust 514, went live on PSN.
And earlier this year, CCP not only announced a publishing deal with Dark Horse Comics – known to gamers for its tie-ins to the worlds of Mass Effect, Halo and The Last of Us – it also announced a television series is in the works.
Teaming up with Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, the director of 2012 Mark Wahlberg flick Contraband, the developer will recreate many of the memorable tales from Eve’s history, as submitted and voted for by the game’s avid community.
The overly poetic but entirely accurate tagline? “Based on a true story, 20,000 years into the future.”
“True stories are exactly what makes Eve different,” says Reid. “The whole purpose of these transmedia products is to get that point across.
“We’re moving into the second decade of
Eve and CCP. The first decade was marked
by a lot of things that your average gamer
or person on the street might not understand.
Now we’re thinking about how we move into a
bigger universe with a broader group of people.”
David Reid - CMO, CCP
“Gamers who read magazines and websites regularly are probably aware of Eve and all the crazy stuff that happens there, but there are a lot of people who don’t. This may be the way to tell them about the stories that happen in the Eve universe.
“Whether they’re reading a graphic novel or watching a TV show, there’s a way to get them the message that Eve is a very different universe. It has more verisimilitude, authenticity and reality to it, there’s more consequence and freedom than in any other game. And you anchor that message with real stories about what players in our universe have done.”
It will be no easy task. Video game adaptations have a mixed history in Hollywood, and few have attempted it on the smaller screen.
And Reid observes that, unlike TV shows, Eve’s true stories don’t have the same focus on artificially-paced narrative, exaggerated drama or particular characters.
As Reid puts it: “There is no Luke Skywalker of Eve.”
But the CCP exec is confident the natural appeal of these true stories will shine through whatever efforts the developer makes.
“I, like many people, was a failed Eve player before I joined CCP, and yet I found myself entranced by the crazy stories you hear about,” he says. “We have a universe of gamers who love those Eve stories, but don’t want to play – they either don’t want to pay the subscription fee, or get lost in the number of things there is to do, or whatever.
“We’re moving into the second decade of Eve and CCP. The first decade was marked by a lot of things that your average gamer or person on the street might not understand. Now we’re thinking about how we move into a bigger universe with a broader group of people.”