EVE Evolved: Calling time on EVE Online’s five-year vision

When Andie “CCP Seagull” Nordgren walked onto the stage at EVE Fanfest 2013 and delivered her long-term vision for the future of EVE Online, the excitement in the room was palpable. EVE was riding its highest peak concurrent player numbers in the game’s history following the overhauls of the Crucible, Inferno, and Retribution expansions, and players were ready for a new blockbuster feature to fire their imaginations. CCP delivered its ambitious five year vision to hand the reins of EVE‘s living universe over to its players, with player-built stargates and deep space exploration in completely uncharted star systems.

We’re now about four months away from the five-year mark on that vision, and many parts of it have now been completed, but no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. We’ve seen some big feature drops such as the release of citadels, the industry overhaul, and the recent moon mining overhaul, but that deep space colonisation gameplay still seems far off. Some players feel as if EVE is currently in a holding pattern, with everyone waiting for the next big feature or overhauls to their favourite part of the game before deciding what to do next. So what does come next?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I break down the progress toward Nordgren’s 5 year vision so far and talk about the possible next steps I think CCP could take to make it a reality.

Year 1 Progress

The first year of progress toward Nordgren’s vision began laying the ground work for everything to come, with the release of new anchorable structures such as the Mobile Depot and Player-Owned Customs Offices and the beginning of a planned overhaul of EVE‘s industrial gameplay. It felt like a cautious first step toward deep space exploration, and a good proof of concept for what was to come. One of the problems with developing new gameplay for a game as old as EVE Online is that sometimes old code and game mechanics need to be completely replaced, and I think everyone respected that.

Year 2 Progress

CCP seemed to switch gear in the second year to focus on quality of life changes and small features, improving everything from skill training and exploration to ship graphics and wormhole space. The colossal project of rebalancing all the tech 1 ships and modules in EVE got underway, and CCP began experimenting with new advanced AI tools using roaming Drifter NPCs. We got some big wormhole content such as the Thera wormhole hub, and the industrial gameplay and UI overhaul finally arrived, but we didn’t seem to make a lot of visible progress toward Nordgren’s vision.

Year 3 Progress

The third year’s blockbuster feature was the Aegis sovereignty system, a total overhaul for EVE‘s aging territorial warfare mechanics and a necessary step toward the new player-owned citadels. This year’s progress ended with the release of the Citadel expansion right after Fanfest 2016 and we got our first taste of the freedom and world-building that this new class of structure brought to the game. This was the first time in three years that I felt EVE had made a major leap forward toward Nordgren’s vision. It also felt like a step into the unknown as CCP had no idea how players would end up using Citadels.

Year 4 Progress

The following year saw major progress toward the vision with the release of Engineering Complexes and major iterations on territorial control and structure warfare gameplay. We also got our first major in-game wars under the Citadel mechanics, providing valuable feedback for developers. Dwindling player activity was stemmed with the release of the free to play alpha clone option, regular in-game events, and a total overhaul of the new player experience. This year felt a lot more balanced between pushing the vision further and keeping the game healthy, but with four years down there was still some distance to go.

A giant asynchronous board game

The latest major update comes to us from EVE Fanfest 2017, where CCP laid out plans for player-built refineries as part of the Lifeblood expansion and gave us an update on its plans for structures. It was during our in-depth interview with Andie Nordgren at the event that everything finally clicked for me, and I began to see that CCP’s big vision for EVE had evolved into something wonderful. Handing the reins of the universe over to players is just one side of the coin; On the other side will be NPC factions and deadly pirate corporations trying to rip the reins from our hands.

Nordgren likes to describe EVE as a giant asynchronous board game on which players can place their pieces, and NPCs are now beginning to place their own pieces on the board with pirate Forward Operating Bases. This is where we are today, with players building and warring over huge structures and NPCs beginning to do the same. The old player-built starbases and outposts are being phased out, and we’re starting to see what a living universe populated by both players and advanced AI might look like. We’re just four months from the five year mark on what was initially a five year vision, but the vision itself has evolved in that time and it feels like we could be right on the cusp of some incredible new gameplay.

Bringing the vision into focus

So what might that “incredible new gameplay” look like, and how do we get to player-built stargates and eventually deep space exploration? What I’d personally love to see is a territory-based expansion that encourages players all across New Eden to stake a claim to a home, even those in high-security space. With moon-mining coming to highsec soon, corporations living there could be encouraged to stake claims to valuable moons and defend their refineries from attack by both players and NPCs.

The Pirate Forward Operating Bases feature could be expanded to create moon mining bases owned by pirate corporations and NPC factions, who could claim moons for themselves and even launch attacks on your refineries. You could leave a rival refinery up and attack them during their mining expeditions, or group up with some friends to take the refinery down and steal all the minerals they’ve farmed in the past week. But mostly you’d want to take them down because they’re attacking you, or are occupying a moon you want.

What about player-built stargates?

The headline feature for nullsec could be the release of the first player-built stargate structures designed to replace the various travel functions that are currently spread across a range of structures and ships. The medium stargate could act as a jump bridge and a cyno jammer, and could have a cynosural field module to eliminate the need for cyno alts in rookie ships all over EVE. They could be limited to one or two per star system built at the planet’s star similar to how the moon mining limitations work so that taking one out would be a significant blow to an alliance’s logistics chain.

CCP could even use this opportunity to eliminate jump fatigue and build a new mechanism to stop people from rapidly projecting capital power across the map. For example, stargates could emit a sphere a few lightyears across that allows cynosural fields to work or counters cyno-jamming, making them strategic objectives in war because shutting them down will stop the enemy from hotdropping in a certain radius. Capital ships could become synchronised to a field for a certain amount of time after jumping, and unable to use a cyno in a different field for the duration. As soon as we have player-built stargates, there are a lot of options open to developers here.

The large stargate could have longer range and additional strategic functionality, such as allowing players to jump supercapital ships through them and maybe even the ability to change the local channel to delayed mode. Finally, the X-Large stargate could be left out of the update so that it can become the centrepiece of a future deep space colonisation expansion, an industrial megaproject for alliances to fight over just like in the 2014 Prophecy trailer. Now that’s a future vision I can buy into!

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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