EVE Evolved: How would you reboot EVE Online?

    
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EVE Online has been pretty comfortable in its hardcore sci-fi MMO niche for over 15 years now, working its way through dozens of expansions and major updates to become the complex beast we have today. Iterative development has kept the game’s visuals up to date and helped the gameplay stay fresh after all these years, but it also means that EVE can become a drastically different game every year or so. It’s not surprising then to see comments on EVE articles occasionally suggesting that CCP should develop a sequel to EVE from the ground up, launch a second server to give players a fresh start, or even release a new legacy server with the original gameplay and content.

CCP has always maintained that an EVE Online sequel wouldn’t make sense, but even CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson has admitted that incremental updates have kept the sandbox MMO afloat far longer than originally expected and that the time may yet come for a hard reboot. While I don’t expect a reboot or legacy server to happen for a long time (if at all), I’ll admit that the opportunity for a server-wide fresh start or a return to the 2003 era does have a certain appeal. I can imagine getting very caught up in a vicious arms race as corporations rush to grab power without trillions of ISK in accrued wealth interfering. But would some kind of reboot or legacy server be feasible for EVE, and what forms could it realistically take?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I speculate on the potential for legacy servers, reboots or sequels for EVE, and consider one way that a fresh start could be achieved without disrupting the sandbox.

Getting in on the nostalgia game

It’s human nature to be nostalgic about the past, and for MMO gamers who want to return to a simpler time the lure of a legacy or progression server set in an older version of their favourite game can be irresistable. RuneScape has a thriving community in its 2007-era OldSchool RuneScape release, and EverQuest II has progression servers that slowly work their way through all of the game’s expansions. Even Age of Conan and RIFT are now getting in on the nostalgia game, and there’s been so much support for unofficial vanilla World of Warcraft servers that Blizzard is finally rolling out its own.

Though EVE Online‘s most defining feature is its single-shard sandbox universe, there may be some interest in a legacy or progression server that starts in the 2003 era and slowly introduces each expansion. But how far back should such a server start, and what would you be willing to give up for that nostalgia hit? There have been hundreds of optimisations and quality of life improvements to EVE over the years that were undeniably positive, and advancements in user interface design and game balance that nobody would want to see disappear. How old is too old for a legacy server?

Legacy servers aren’t easy

Another major issue to tackle when thinking about legacy servers is technical feasibility. It’s tempting to imagine that MMO studios must have an archive of their old server code and game client lying around somewhere and could just boot it up, but the reality is that it would be a hell of a lot of work to get a legacy server off the ground. Even if the original server code still exists, it was designed to run on the server infrastructure of the time and will need to be adapted to modern hardware, database systems, and networking requirements.

This isn’t just a one-time job, either. It would require maintaining two separate server codebases on an ongoing basis and two sets of server hardware, most likely with dedicated staff working on the legacy server. Even just integrating the old game with a modern login system can present a significant technical challenge, as Blizzard recently encountered when planning the World of Warcraft legacy server. Both the technology and laws in this area have changed considerably over the past 15 years, with today’s online services expected to fulfill some pretty strict data protection and security requirements.

Old versions of a game will also be riddled with bugs and exploits that were later fixed, a problem that has reared its head several times in Maplestory over the years due to its global version rolling out updates several months behind the Korean version. There are plenty of EVE players out there with in-depth knowledge of historical bugs and exploits, and I wouldn’t trust players not to abuse them. Ultimately, a legacy or progression server would be a huge development undertaking that could end up not being popular enough to justify its expense.

A modern reboot or sequel?

In an interview with NewsWeek earlier this year, Hilmar said that “there will probably become a time where more of a reboot from a technology standpoint will be required,” but that it probably won’t be in the next few years. CCP has been able to integrate new graphics technologies and gameplay systems into the existing codebase for over 15 years now, but this is an ongoing technical challenge and it’s conceivable that it might some day make more sense to start again from scratch.

All it would take is a major new technology or significant market trend to come along that’s too difficult or costly to adapt the current game to, one that would make it much easier to build from scratch without the weight of 15 years of technical debt. This seems more like planning for an uncertain future than something the studio is actively considering, though, as CCP’s incremental development strategy has proven very effective in the long-term.

EVE Online is also in an interesting position as its biggest draw is its dedicated community and the emergent interactions of players rather than the graphics and gameplay designed by developers. A modern reboot would have to preserve the community above all other considerations, so it would have to be less of a sequel and more of a major game overhaul. MMO sequels also often run the risk of cannibalising the main game’s audience, so I’d hate to see EVE head down that road.

While a legacy server would be a significant development project for a questionable payoff and a sequel would risk fracturing the community, the one type of reboot I could get behind would be some form of seasonal fresh start system. It would be possible to do this as a completely separate server, but I think there are ways it could be done as part of the main game and without fracturing the playerbase.

Players could send clones into brand new unexplored star systems that are cut off from the rest of the game, for example, and would then have to harvest resources and compete to dominate that area with none of their existing assets. The star system would have to reconnect to the main star cluster after a few months, and groups that have amassed enough resources might be able to build private stargates back to normal space to help bring in assets and solidify a hold on their new territory. That would be pretty cool.

So what do you think? Is EVE Online the kind of game that should just never be rebooted, or is there a way you think it could work?

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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moleverine
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moleverine

My biggest issue with EVE Online is that as hard as I try, I’ve just never been able to enjoy the ship combat in the game. I thought EVE Valkyrie was a cool idea, but being VR-only at launch and not being tied in to the actual EVE servers made its appeal drop significantly for me. Give me the option to pilot a fighter drone from a carrier in my fleet and I’m there; as long as doing so actually matters.

Ultimately, I’ll probably have to play Elite: Dangerous to get my spaceship fix.

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NeoWolf

Umm.. the Power Button? ;) (well you did ask)

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Telcontar Dunedain

I think they HAD the right strategy (very early early on) they just failed as they were afraid to execute.

That was to create alternate gameplay in the same New Eden ie *cough* Dust514.

The problem was that –

A- ccp

B- ps3

C- Eve players being afraid of change.

D- On planets instead of shootinginstations.

I think having PC FPS players ****ing up New Eden with drama would be pretty fun addition overall.

Eve players could themselves join in by just alt-tabbing.

Smuggle fps players into a system, land them on a Keepstar, fps players attempt to offline components, “contracted” merc fps players come in from defenders… dramadramadrama.

Fps players come to New Eden for manshoots, get Eve accounts because the games are deeply interrelated, more subs, more drama.

But…

ccp and eve players, so it won’t happen.

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Utakata

…I would make sure every ship that gives out a quest has a yellow exclamation mark over it!

(Also rolling a small pink pigtail’d character would also be optional! And comes with a free monocle for anyone that does that.)

<3

Grave Knight
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Grave Knight

Also pink pigtails that can be equip to ships.

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John Mclain

Reboot it? I would change some core fundamentals of the gameplay.

1. Add hefty maintenance costs for all non-rookie ships, even ones just being kept in storage, preventing the infinite warchest stockpiles that ruin eve today.

2. Vastly increase time to kill on all ships across the board, while simultaneously removing logistic ship’s ability to repair during active combat, and vastly reducing self-rep/boosting abilities. Also add a damage-cap to all ships so no more one-shotting aside from special weapons like doomsdays. (Basically stuff would die constantly in combat, but much slower than currently.)

3. Replace pve missions with totally random arenas and npcs so it would be unpredictable.

4. Make “ALL” mining require a “complex” minigame be performed during mining to instantly destroy all the nullsec mining bots. (And this game would get a modified UI/layout every single patch/expansion to keep bots from adapting. Though it would be complex enough to where a bot couldn’t do it anyway.)

5. Add actual “FUN” group pve content to the game in highsec. (No incursions are not fun.)

6. Scrap the wardec system entirely, and replace it with one that has actual counter-play between blobs and small groups. And also allow 10-man and smaller corps to be immune to wardecs entirely if they wish it.

7. Remove the cash shop entirely.

8. Dial back mining rates DRASTICALLY, remove the rorqual’s ability to mine entirely. And significantly increase the costs to build capitals/supers.

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

No need to reboot at all. Only need for expansion, such as proper in-station walking. I dunno why they abandoned it but if done properly, with proper VR support, it would provide nice alternative to “something to do when you don’t want to fly the ship or stare at market browser”, especially for RPers. Would also give more reasons for people to buy cosmetic items – no one cares about ship skins because most players just don’t zoom in to other ships to notice them, this would be different with character cosmetics especially in large social lobby areas/bars.

April-Rain
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April-Rain

Maybe a reboot but no legacy servers even though it would be nice to see an end to the the goons.

But dam they were on the right track, the tech looked amazing and it would have been so cool and for me it was a missed opportunity to push the game far bigger than the 30,000 avg, I have so many friends who were interested in joining me when this was the next new big thing and I was pretty stoked for it as well.

Having a real avatar pushes the immersion far further, but the room you had on the station was slow to navigate and a bit of a tech demo

Walking in Stations……..

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ghostlight

At the risk of sounding like a one-note samba, I would return in a heartbeat if they brought back space legs in a big way.

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mysecretid

I wouldn’t, Brendan. The game as it exists has such a hardcore fanbase, and a reboot risks losing or splintering that.

It’s probably hubris to attempt to catch the proverbial “lightning in a bottle” twice.

Sure they’ll want to keep tweaking graphics and options on offer as they go, but I don’t think a full reboot or a sequel would help things.

I suspect it would simply split the playerbase between players who liked EVE “the old way” and those who prefer the new version. Probably not the desired effect.

My opinions, anyway,

Cheers,

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Robert Mann

You don’t, unless you absolutely have to. Instead, you take all the lessons learned, put them into another (high quality and different project), and keep Eve as it is for as long as you can.

When it becomes so completely required that it is unavoidable, you tell the players as much. You work to make the same experience with some nice additions (improved interface options *not forced, OPTIONS*, graphics, etc.) but not really much if any mechanics changes. And you say something BEFORE you go there, including the chance for feedback on things that are just no fun (like somebody mentioned an hour of hitting one key every minute in high-sec here not long ago).

The other project can be completely different, non-competitive with Eve, and can help maintain finances while Eve goes through the reboot woes (because it will) until it stabilizes.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I think legacy server or full wipe will only hurt EVE. If you do it on new server it will split community which is very bad. If you do on current server many vets will ragequit cuz they gonna loose tons of stuff. EVE aged very well so there is no reason for reboots. They need to think of new fresh features and ideas that will bring in casuals and PvE crowd