EVE Evolved: 2017 EVE Online year in review

We’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s certainly been a busy one for EVE Online. This year saw heavy gameplay iteration, with improvements to everything from the UI to ship balance, and the Lifeblood expansion’s total moon mining overhaul. PvE-focused players got a new AI-driven Resource Wars activity in high-security space, and an experimental user interface named The Agency has helped tie seasonal in-game events together. New refinery structures caused a bit of a land grab on moons and gave alliances more to fight over, and CCP Games lifted some of the free to play alpha clone restrictions to help bring in new players.

It’s the players that make EVE Online special, of course, and this year had no shortage of crazy political shenanigans. We followed The Imperium’s war for revenge in the north of EVE that eventually fizzled out, watched as The Judge betrayed his alliance and stole the largest sum of ISK in the game’s history, and sat aghast as the leader of that alliance was banned for threatening to cut off the thief’s hands in real life. CCP Games itself hasn’t exactly made it through the year unscathed, with the company unexpectedly pulling out of the VR market and laying off around 100 staff worldwide.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look back at the past year of EVE Online news and summarise the highlights.

Lifeblood expansion and beyond

This year saw the release of the Lifeblood expansion, introducing player-owned refinery structures and replacing the 2004-era passive moon mining mechanics with a new active group mining activity. The expansion also rolled out the new Resource Wars feature across the game, and showed the power of AI-driven gameplay with pirate forward operating bases. This has been an important step toward CCP’s long-term vision for EVE Online as a deep sandbox populated by players and AI-driven NPCs and where both can place their pieces on the board. We hope to get an update on this at the next EVE Fanfest in a few months.

The release of a free to play account option was a real high point last year, giving new players access to tech 1 cruiser sized ships and below for free and eliminating the barrier for former players to return to the game. CCP intended for a portion of the playerbase to remain on free accounts indefinitely, but it turned out that players just treated it as an endless trial system and many subscribed soon after starting the game. EVE did see a spike in player activity following the free to play release, but has since returned to normal. This year developers expanded the free option to allow the use of tech 2 weapons, battlecruisers, battleships, and multiple races. It’s not yet clear what the impact of those changes will be on long term player activity, but it’s a great step toward a truly viable free tier.

Political betrayal and intrigue

The one thing you can pretty much count on every year is that some huge story or drama will kick off in the political sandbox of EVE Online. This year’s biggest story broke in September, when Circle of Two alliance’s diplomatic officer absconded with 1.5 trillion ISK in assets and currency — the largest heist in the game’s history. The theft was particularly brutal as the thief sold the alliance’s main space station to its worst enemies. The story soon took a sinister turn as the head of Circle of Two then attempted to get the thief’s home address and threatened to cut off his hands in real life.

Earlier in the year, we also followed the story of a potentially huge political war brewing in the north of EVE that picked up where last year’s World War Bee conflict ended. The Imperium vowed revenge after being kicked out of its home in the north, and annexed the Delve region in the south to farm ISK and rebuild its capital fleet. After a year of intense farming, the Imperium war machine lurched into gear as the alliance jumped over 1,000 dreadnought capital ships across the map to the north of EVE overnight. The war was shaping up to be one of the biggest yet and the story of how it unfolded is pretty interesting, but the conflict ultimately de-escalated and didn’t have its record-breaking moment.

EVE Fanfest and EVE Vegas coverage

This year’s Fanfest was a cause for optimism, both for EVE Online and for CCP’s other games. We got hands-on with VR sports game Sparc, learned about the Groundrush update to EVE Valkyrie, and confirmed that the EVE FPS Project Nova was still in development. We also heard all about the moon mining overhaul destined for the Lifeblood expansion and got an update on the company’s plans for everything from ship balance to structure warfare, and heard all about how Project Discovery’s new minigame would help search for exoplanets in real life.

We got an exciting glimpse into the future of the sandbox during our in-depth interview with Andie Nordgren at Fanfest, and by EVE Vegas 2017 we started to see that future in action. We got a preview of the new Resource Wars gameplay and pirate forward operating bases, including AI pirate ships roaming the star system and attacking passers-by just like real player pirates. The announcement of an EVE mobile game codenamed Project Aurora caught a lot of players by surprise and the update on Structure Warfare caused the crowd to erupt in a cheer, but the optimistic atmosphere at the event was somewhat soured later that month when CCP unexpectedly pulled out of VR and had a round of layoffs.

CCP pulls the plug on VR and more

The biggest EVE story of the year was indisputably the news that CCP was unexpectedly pulling out of developing VR games and laying off about 100 staff worldwide. The Newcastle studio that developed EVE Valkyrie and has significant VR expertise is currently in the process of changing hands to a new owner, while the Sparc team was disbanded. While CCP initially announced that the layoffs would not affect development on EVE Online, it soon emerged that a lot of non-development staff had been let go.

The Atlanta studio that was originally acquired as part of the White Wolf merger was completely shut down, and several devs who had been with CCP for over 10 years were cut. It was soon revealed that EVE‘s entire community team had also been let go, leaving only the two senior community team members CCP Guard and CCP Falcon. The immediate fallout from this included one major in-game event being cancelled with no notice, and the effect on future events and even EVE Fanfest is still unknown.

It’s been another big year for EVE Online and its developer CCP Games, one filled with gameplay updates, political twists and turns, and emergent sandbox events. Though we’ve had some bad news this year and lost some key developers, there are still big things ahead for EVE as we enter 2018. The future vision of player-built stargates and deep space colonisation is still in the works, CCP has said that more resources will be available for EVE Online going forward, and the new PC FPS Project Nova may even be stepping up development.

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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