Occupying a niche that has been relatively untouched by the larger MMO market, EVE Online has been going from strength to strength over the years as it continues to develop and expand. So, it came as no surprise that the team behind this infamous title were also present at Leipzig. As part of our coverage, Strategy Informer was privileged enough to speak to Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, the Lead Economist, Research & Statistics and Arend Stührmann, the Associate Producer.
With EVE enjoying a sizeable player-base – over 250,000 – in one persistent world, the in-game economy has grown to such an extent that it now warrants its own economist. We quizzed Dr. Gudmundsson about the economy and how it has developed over the years…
Strategy Informer: Looking at the state of the in-game economy now, how has it changed and evolved since the early stages of inception?
Dr. Gudmundsson: There have been some basic changes that have happened with the economy now, such as it is completely player driven. In the beginning, when we had only about 30,000 players in the first year, the universe was so big and not many high-level players that we had to constantly make sure there were enough products on the market for people to buy; so we had to participate in the Market. Then when we reached that ‘critical mass’, somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 players, the Market was obviously becoming large enough to sustain at least some of the production, so little by little, we have been withdrawing ourselves from the market, and making it completely player driven. In total there are about 7,000 items in the Universe, with about 5,000 items that can be bought and sold on the Market, and 2,000 which have to be traded through the player contract system. Last time I checked, about 90% of the Market items were only sold by players, so that last 10% are still sold by us. But then again, players can buy those items from us, and then re-sell them at another location.
Strategy Informer: Where do you see the (in-game) economy going from here? Will you keep adding items or is there a specific plan in place?
Dr. Gudmundsson: Well it will continue to grow, yes. You will continue to see new items being added, and the economy in general will continue to grow. Currently there are around 66 regions in the game, but you can only ever pull up the market data for the region you’re in. A good trader will try and collect that data, so they can buy low in one place, and sell high in another. What I see is this kind of trade that happens between a couple of regions moving to encompass more and more regions, and as such the economy will continue to grow, with new trade hubs springing up in different places.
Strategy Informer: With the economy becoming more and more player driven, is there a danger that new players will find it hard to get a ‘foot in’ or make money in a world which is dominated by well established players?
Dr. Gudmundsson: Actually it is vice-versa, because it’s a very competitive market, so those that are producing they are trying to out-sell there competitors. So the prices have been declining over the past two years and because it is relatively easy to gain the manufacturing skills and trade skills, almost everyone can start trading and selling within a few weeks time. So from that perspective it is easier for a new player now to buy a more advanced space-ship than it was two, three or even four years ago when we started. On the other hand, there are certain items that are in very high demand, such as some technologies, that we’ve started to see a sort of ‘shortage’ appear for these items – thus increasing the prices.
Strategy Informer: Do you think the in-game economy is prone to real world economic problems such as market crashes?
Dr. Gudmundsson: Oh absolutely, but the system is so efficient at tackling these problems that it adapts to new information instantaneously. I have some data which shows that when we make some slight changes to the mechanics, prices jump almost as soon as those changes are published – this shows how efficient the market really is. There are no ‘government interventions’ – everything is still player driven. If there is a ‘crash’, it simply means players are over-producing – the prices will come down and those particular players will stop producing and then the market will right itself. There will definitely be fluctuations; there will defiantly be ‘interesting’ price movements, but those as such will not be problems – they will simply mean more fun for the gamers.
Strategy Informer: Is there anything you can add to the current economic model? Any other ways of getting in-game revenue?
Dr. Gudmundsson: Well, the players themselves have actually created a lot of extra services, which allow them to earn income through ‘in-direct’ game mechanics. We have players who specialise in logistics – they move goods from one place to another for a fee. There are player-run banks that are being established, who provide financial services – people can even live off of the capital that these services earn. There is nothing official that supports these things in-game – the players themselves figure out how to make it work. So you see all the basic functions of a modern economy in the game – people are always looking for new ways to earn money.
Strategy Informer: Do you think CCP will ever legitimise these extra services? For example, by creating official banks?
Dr. Gudmundsson: That’s an interesting question, and one that I have no concrete answer to. Up till now our philosophy has been that these ideas are user-generated and therefore it should be user credited. We would rather see some sort of ‘trust’ system evolve among the players themselves, because as soon as you put an official stamp on it, you have to start putting in regulations and rules and restrictions and some kind of accountability, and that’s not really the EVE spirit. The EVE spirit is about the individual being able to try something new, and have the free spirit to just go ahead and have no-one stop them in their goals.
Strategy Informer: How do you think the economy in EVE compares to the economies in other popular MMO’s like World of Warcraft or Age of Conan?
Dr. Gudmundsson: I would say that we have the most advanced economy that you could find in any MMO. It is definitely one that has the most depth in terms of the items that can be produced and sold, and simply in terms of the size of the market. All the other MMO’s have their player-base split into several smaller markets because of the different servers – EVE is one single persistent online world and that by itself creates a depth in the market that nobody else can match.
With out a doubt, EVE has one of the most interesting and extensive economies to be found through-out the MMO world. Not even World of Warcraft with it’s 10-million strong player-base can quite match it.
Next up, Strategy Informer spoke to Arend Stührmann, an associate producer, who talked about what the future held…
Strategy Informer: Can you just give us a brief run down on your latest expansion, and what the future holds for EVE?
Stührmann: Well, at the start of the summer for this year, 2008, we launched our new expansion – Empyrean Age – which introduced factional warfare into the universe. It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last two years, and we’ve finally delivered it. It’s proven to be incredibly popular, it was designed to be an introduction to player vs. player combat, with relatively low risk, but a lot of entertainment value. We’ve had over 40,000 players try it out in the first couple of weeks. We’ve had a very cohesive core of players formed who only really play factional warfare … so, it’s proven really popular.
Following on from that, at the start of September we’ll be launching Empyrean Age 1.1 which will patch the current version of Empyrean Age. We’ve sort of dubbed it our ‘Power to the People’ patch, because our stated goal with it was to address as many of the internal problems as we could that were raised by the players themselves. Let’s face it there are a few bugs with regards to functionality and so on, so we’ve tried to deal with as many of those as possible. I think some people will be pleasantly surprised when it comes out.
There isn’t really a lot of ‘new’ content in this patch, but new content will be appearing in Empyrean Age 1.2. One of the big things within that patch will be ‘Certificates’ – which is part of our New Player Experience Project Group. We at CCP sat down and decided that we need to give more guidance as to what players can actually do in EVE, and the Certificates will help provide that. We realised that we keep seeing certain roles filled by players, so we thought we could introduce these certificates so that once you have developed a certain skill, the system will award you with a certificate in a variety of levels. So for example you could tell people “I’m a Level 2 Industry Pilot, I can pilot the following ships, here’s my certificate to prove it…” and because it’s there for people to see, they know you are telling the truth. I think this will help provide a more robust framework for people who are coming into the game – EVE is a very complex game and as you take your first few steps you are hit with wave after wave of information. Our ultimate aim is to make the entry into EVE as smooth and problem free as possible.
Aside from that, we of course still have our twice annual expansion updates. Come December we will be launching our second big release of the year. We don’t have an official title yet, but the internal working title is ‘Midus’ because it is to do with industry. So in the summer we gave you all out war, come winter, it is the machine that drives the war. We’re looking at ways we can improve on the industrial processes, how we can make things easier or add more elements to it. We’re really looking across the board with Industry and just seeing what we can add to or improve on. I don’t actually have any specific details yet because it is all only in the design phase. But it’s coming, and it’s going to be just as awesome as factional warfare for those who prefer industry.
Strategy Informer: EVE is a bit notorious for being very difficult to get into as a new player, what are you doing to address that?
Stührmann: Well this is why we are doing things like certificates; we are also constantly re-vamping the tutorial, and revamping the availability of information in the game. It has been identified as a problem for us, and we’re trying our very best to address as many of these concerns as we can. EVE is growing, and the player base can be extremely helpful when you make contact with them, it can’t hurt to have a little more guidance at the beginning.
Strategy Informer: At the moment, EVE is one of the only decent space MMO’s around. Even though you have games like World of Warcraft and Age of Conan out there, they can’t quite compare to EVE – would you say you’ve had it easy up till now?
Stührmann: I wouldn’t say we’ve had it easy. We have a very demanding player-base. We like that, it’s a challenge, but EVE as it exists today has a lot of things that were demanded or suggested by the players themselves. So I would never say we had it easy, it has always been a challenge to find new things to add into the game, to implement the things that players want in the game, and factional warfare (for example) came about because people said ‘well you have all these factions, why aren’t they at war with each other?’ and it took two years to get it right. We don’t necessarily get our challenges from competitors; we get it from wanting to provide the best game possible out there, and for attracting new players and keeping our current players interested. This is why we are always looking to improve things, to fix issues, to add new content. It may at times take a while in some cases, but the end result (I hope) always addresses the needs of the players.
Strategy Informer: Obviously Jumpgate Evolution is coming out soon, which in some cases will prove to be one of your only ‘direct’ competitors – what kind of challenge do you think they will pose?
Stührmann: Honestly, I can’t say until it is released. Jumpgate is slightly different to EVE, it is more combat focused and it’s flying from a first-person perspective – so visually it will differ as well, but I honestly can’t say until it comes out. We’re keeping a close eye on it, we do talk with the NetDevil guys and we know a lot of them personally. We don’t talk about secret project details or anything but I wish them the best of luck. It’s a beautiful looking game. I still think EVE will be around though even after Jumpgate because EVE offers something that no MMO can. We have five years worth of evolution and expansion and of course the players themselves. At the end of the day, you are playing against other people and sharing their experiences – that’s something you can’t just create out of thin air.
Strategy Informer: Would you say that your twice annual expansion schedule is one of your strengths? Not many MMOs mange it in the same way as you do.
Stührmann: Definitely. We are committed to constantly evolving the universe. We are committed to always looking at how we can improve the game, what’s gone wrong, what’s working, what can we add, how much more information can we provide … are we even providing it in the right way? For instance, we have an API program interface that allows for data exports from EVE so players can build applications from that. So we’re looking at what else we can make available through the API, should we put out more market data, for instance? More economical data? We’re always looking at these things and always evolving because it keeps us competitive.
Strategy Informer: There have been rumours going round that you plan to introduce a feature that allows you to walk around the stations. Can you confirm that?
Stührmann: Yes I can. We are working on it, and we even have a working prototype… [At this point, Stührmann shows us some early builds of the feature on his computer, showing a fully represented avatar standing in a corridor, with all the standard user interface options. Early days yet, but it still looks impressive.]… Unfortunately I can’t give you a screen shot to take away with you, but there it is, and this is in-game. So instead of just looking at your ship in the station, you can walk around and interact. It’s coming along in leaps and bounds, we’ve been working on making sure that, from the concept arts, and each of the four races has a unique visual identity. So you can say ‘Oh this is Mimitarr Station, or this is a Caldari station…’ We’ve also tried to make sure that even the clothes you can wear fit in with these principles, and with the style of EVE itself. We actually have fashion designers working on the clothes. We’re also working on lighting and textures, as well as the voice communication aspect so you’ll be able to join conversations just by going up close to people just like real life. We’re really putting a lot of work into the technical aspects of the game, but also making sure it feels like EVE. It’s a lot of work, I mean we’re pretty much creating a whole new game which will then merge with EVE, but I’m positive that it’s going to be a brilliant addition to the game.
Strategy Informer: Sounds Good. Before we go, just one last question: in terms of the bigger vision for the game, do you think that the EVE Wormhole will ever be re-opened?
Stührmann: Well… Maybe. Someday, in 10 or 20 years time… We don’t know. Our game design is being a lot more fiction driven these days, we’ve recently launched our novel with Tony Gonzales, which tied in with Empyrean Age. It might happen, maybe not in the way some people expect … but I’m leaving that entirely up to the fiction and game design teams. If it’s necessary for us to do so, we might just do something like that.
So it seems like it is business as usual for EVE. The design teams are constantly working hard to improve what is definitely a unique game. Stay as Strategy Informer plans to bring you more in-depth coverage of the latest EVE developments, and for more Leipzig coverage.