EVE Evolved: 2016 EVE Online year in review
It's been another busy year for sci-fi MMO EVE Online, and an absolute roller coaster ride for both players and developer CCP Games. On the development side, we've had two major expansions with Citadel and Ascension and a significant business model change with the introduction of a free-to-play account option. Fan events EVE Fanfest 2016 and EVE Vegas 2016 brought us some fantastic insights into the future development, including a peek at some amazing work on future PvE gameplay and an all-new EVE FPS codenamed Project Nova.
Proving once again that the players in EVE are the most engaging content, this year brought us the political twists and turns of the now-infamous World War Bee, which became the largest PvP war ever to happen in an online game. We also delved into some absolutely crazy sandbox stories, including one player using $28,000 worth of skill injectors to create a max skill character as a publicity stunt, and the controversial banning of the gambling kingpins behind World War Bee.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look back over all the biggest EVE stories of the year, from the political shenanigans of World War Bee to the surprise free-to-play option and how expansions have changed the face of the game this year.
If you're a fan of the complex war stories and tales of political shenanigans that frequently emerge from EVE Online, 2016 was an action-packed year. Events kicked off when the game's largest military coalition, The Imperium, tried to extort money out of other alliances by threatening to invade their space. The Imperium picked what looked like a relatively weak target in low-security space, but the lowsec alliances put aside their differences and managed to repel the invasion. This was a signal to the rest of EVE that The Imperium was vulnerable, and EVE gambling website IWantISK decided to use its extreme wealth to bankroll a war against it.
We followed the ensuing war that came to be known as "World War Bee" as it evolved over the next few months into an incredible tale that could have been taken straight out of a good sci-fi novel. The Imperium ceded territory and began to lose member alliances and corporations at an alarming rate, while thousands of players started coming back to EVE or signing up to get in on the action. World War Bee was without a doubt the single largest PvP war in gaming history, with an estimated 60,000 people involved, and it wasn't the only PvP record EVE players broke this year.
Just a few weeks ago, the siege of a colossal Keepstar citadel in the M-0EE8 star system became the largest single PvP battle in gaming history with a world record breaking 5,337 players at its peak. The servers stayed online thanks to the ingenious Time Dilation feature that slows down time on the server when it's under heavy load to prevent the node from crashing. The defenders didn't even attempt to save the space station, so you can imagine how large the battle could have been if they had turned up.
It's been a big year for EVE Online, with several crazy news stories emerging from the sandbox in addition to all of the wars and political shenanigans. CCP introduced a way for players to extract skill points from their characters and sell them on the open market back in Februrary, and we followed the story of the player who used $7,000 worth of skill injectors to become the game's highest skillpoint character. That feat was dwarfed a few days later by a player using $28,000 worth of injectors to completely max out the skills on a new character overnight, all as a publicity stunt for his gambling enterprise.
Following the Citadel expansion, we investigated a player using a weird quirk of the Margin Trading skill to completely dominate the market for PLEX and turn 70 billion ISK into potentially over 300 billion, and that wasn't even the biggest financial story of the year. Later in the year, CCP outlawed third party gambling websites using EVE ISK and assets and permanently banned the owners of popular gambling website IWantISK for real money trading offences -- removing at least 25 trillion ISK worth $400,000 from the game.
CCP dropped an MMO news bombshell at the end of August this year with the announcement that EVE would be adding a free to play account option. If you follow the EVE Evolved column, you'll know that I've been a long time advocate of a limited free-to-play option on the grounds that it gives players the ability to remain an active part of the in-game communities even when unsubscribed. That way you'll be there whenever something big happens to your corporation and can either take part in a limited capacity or re-subscribe and jump right back in.
Starting in the Ascension expansion last month, EVE characters who aren't subscribed simply revert to a new "alpha" clone state with access to a limited set of skills and ships and slower skill training speed. Free players and new users are able to train about 5 million skill points worth of skills without subscribing, can only fly tech 1 frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, and can only log in one account at a time.
The response to the free-to-play option has been surprisingly positive, with EVE immediately breaking the 50,000 peak concurrent user mark for the first time in several years. A lot of old players have come back, and new players can now take their time with the game rather than being limited to 14 day trials. The Ascension expansion also came with a total overhaul of the tutorial into an immersive and fully voiced storyline mission, which it's hoped will keep a lot more players' attentions in those crucial first two hours of play.
The annual EVE Fanfest event in Reykjavik, Iceland, has long been the highlight of the EVE social calendar, featuring talks from players and developers about various aspects of EVE and giving players a chance to meet their corpmates in the flesh. Fanfest 2016 was crammed full of information on the Citadel expansion's launch, upcoming industrial citadels and drilling platforms, a new EVE mobile app, and the planned story-based overhaul of the new player experience.
We got to play a new EVE themed multiplayer first person shooter codenamed Project Nova that rose from the ashes of DUST 514, and learned that its long term goals do include some form of territorial warfare link with EVE Online. We heard from community manager CCP Falcon on the topic of harassment inside EVE, and CCP Burger and CCP Affinity gave us a stunning look into the bright future of EVE Online's PvE gameplay. Fanfest was complemented by the US-based EVE Vegas event in October, where we heard details about the Ascension expansion, the finished tutorial overhaul, and the first steps toward immersive PvE with real AI.
While last year's EVE was crammed with 15 major content and feature releases, they were spread throughout the year rather than gathered into major expansions and none of the updates made much of a splash in the media. CCP opted to bring back big expansions in 2016 with the Citadel expansion in April, which added a range of new player-owned structures called Citadels that can be anchored anywhere in the game.
Citadels are basically your very own space station that you can dock at and are designed to eventually replace the now-decade-old Starbase and Outpost structures, with three different sizes to be used by corporations and alliances of all sizes. Players used them to construct their own trade hubs, to build defensible homes for themselves in nullsec and even inside wormhole space, and even as staging points for war. This system was later expanded to include industrial structures in November's Ascension expansion, and a resource-gathering revolution is on its way in 2017 with the upcoming introduction of massive player-owned drilling platforms.