"In the Phoebe release, we're making some of the biggest changes we've made to EVE in years. And those changes are just the start. In November, December, and the whole of 2015, we're going to bring some pretty drastic changes to EVE Online. All of them with the ambition to strengthen everything that is unique and amazing about EVE and to make your experience with EVE better."
- CCP Seagull, EVE Vegas 2014
Andie Nordgren (aka CCP Seagull), the executive producer for EVE Online, is not a flamboyant speaker like Sony Online Entertainment's Dave Georgenson. But that's okay. Georgenson, the director of development for the EverQuest franchise, is trying to make and popularize two new games, EverQuest Next and Landmark. Nordgren's task is far more difficult. She is attempting to modernize an 11-year-old game so that new players are not immediately turned off while at the same time reinvigorating the passions of veteran players with improved features and new gameplay. Given CCP's history of unfinished and uniterated upon features, a voice of authority who doesn't overpromise is what EVE needs at this point in time.
Having seen Nordgren speak in person at the last two Fanfests held in Reykjavik, I think she gave her best presentation yet at EVE Vegas this weekend. I'm not sure if the reason is she was more comfortable in a smaller setting than the main stage in the HARPA center, the fact that she just has more experience with speaking before large crowds, or she has more confidence in CCP's ability to carry out her plans. I suspect the truth is a combination of the three, although Nordgren strikes me as the type that really hates to not deliver on a promise. The universe beyond the player-built stargates she's repeatedly mentioned since that Fanfest 2013 presentation, what I call S-space (or Seagull-space), is a pretty big promise.
In her EVE Vegas keynote presentation on Saturday, Nordgren expounded on the upcoming features coming in Phoebe on 4 November as well as giving an update to the roadmap she laid out at Fanfest 2014 in May. Knowing how the person guiding the direction of the game thinks is pretty useful information. After the introductory section of the presentation, Nordgren expounded on her vision of the sandbox:
"First, our changes to force projection are a first significant step towards our plan to really evolve the sandbox gameplay in EVE Online. And this involves spending a lot of time next year directly addressing game systems and gameplay in null sec, but the EVE sandbox encompasses the whole game. And the changes we're planning are aimed at creating new opportunities and new gameplay across every part of EVE Online. We're not focusing on single pieces of the game. We're treating EVE as one great sandbox that we are going to make even better.Next, she continued on to talk about the very popular change to the skill queue to allow for unlimited length of the queue. Nordgren, however, doesn't want players to view the skill queue change as an isolated change. She explained:
"And part of that is making changes where we have more unpredictable outcomes. Now, we've made a lot of changes to EVE Online in the last year. Some of them big, some of them small. But I would say for most of them the outcomes have been fairly predictable. Maybe not on the small scale but on the big scale. And we believe that if we are going to take sandbox gameplay in EVE Online to the next level, we need to make more changes where we can't predict what's going to happen because if we can predict it, so can you, and probably better.
"So, I will say though, that we are not just going to make changes just to see what happens. Because even if we make very big changes, if you can easily predict what's going to happen, then there's no point, right? And so we are going to challenge a lot of old truths and a lot of old ideas about how things have to be in EVE and we will do that with the community.
"But, we kind of have a new test on changes. We shouldn't know what's going to happen, and you shouldn't know exactly what's going to happen, because EVE should really be a game about playing and outplaying people. So we have to make systems that have room for players to take initiative and do unexpected things. And this, to also be clear again, is something you can do solo and in a group. If you're playing the market, you're thinking about how to outplay other people.
"So this is not a singular focus on a particular part of the game. This again is looking at the entirety of EVE as a sandbox where you should be able to do this. If you are smart about figuring out how EVE works and how the systems in EVE work, then you should be able to outplay other people who are trying to do the same. Because this kind of open ended gameplay is really what EVE is about and what we will go full force with for EVE in the future."
"So, the other symbolic change is the unlimited skill queue. And this is one change in a line of other similar changes we have done recently such as scalable overviews, PLEX game time donations, EFT format fitting imports, bookmarks in space, configurable notifications. They are all part of the same direction.The next part of the presentation is one that interested me as an observer of the MMORPG industry. With the failure of recent game studios like Carbine to produce regular monthly content for games, a theme has developed in the gaming media that doing so is, if not impossible, then certainly impractical. Even ArenaNet, who managed to publish updates to Guild Wars 2 at the breakneck pace of once every two weeks utilizing 4 development teams, eventually had to slow down after a year of pumping out content.
"We take quality of life in EVE seriously. And while many of these changes are made by individual developers who are responding to player requests, this is a fully supported direction for all of EVE development. So you can expect more of these kind of changes in the coming year, because we are questioning a lot of old truths and assumptions.
"And for the skill queue overall, it was hostile to an endless list of player scenarios. And it was blocking things we want to be able to do, such as long term skill planning through the ship identification system, or importing skill plans from other tools, and so on. So we got rid of it and I hope you like that.
"So we will be taking a similar look at a lot of stuff in EVE in the coming year. And we will do that with these same goals in mind. To strengthen what is unique and amazing about EVE and to make your experience with EVE better."
At Fanfest this year, Nordgren announced a change in CCP's development cycle, from bi-annual expansions to 10 named releases per year. But CCP's plan was a bit different than that of other studios. Instead of coming up with content that had to release on a certain date, CCP decided to go with a model of prioritizing content features and if a feature was not ready, then wait until the next release date. I wanted to hear Nordgren's experience as CCP readied itself for the launch of the fifth release, Phoebus.
"We, of course, made this change because we believed it would have a lot of benefits. Be we, of course, didn't really know if it was going to work out, you know? We had to get used to this too and see if we could turn our development organization around to actually get the benefits we thought we would get. To be able to ship smaller changes to you faster but also to be able to take on bigger projects.
"And since we made the changes we've shipped four releases: Kronos, Crius, Hyperion, and Oceanus. And we are really getting our heads around how to roll with this new world. Now, Hyperion and Oceanus delivered a lot of significant changes, but most of them were kind of the size of one or maybe one-and-a-half development cycles for us. And in Pheobe, you are seeing a number of features -- and I've just marked them a little bit -- things that have actually been in development for a couple of months and had time to mature before we're releasing them to you.
|The Phoebe feature list. Medium size features in green.|
"So these can be called kind of medium-sized features, not like the super huge things, but Phoebe is really about those kinds of changes now hitting as well. So you'll see things like the invention changes following on from the big industry revamp in Crius and you'll see things like notifications that we shipped as an opt-in feature last release to be able to iron things out and let you test it on TQ before we ship it to everyone and it's now going out in a full release.
"And we also then in Phoebe have changes like the jump fatigue introduction that we can make now because we are completely confident that we are going to follow this change up with the next phase of changes very, very soon. And so this really is an experience of what you can expect in 2015 for EVE. More of this and the next phases of the things we are starting with: the force projection changes. And that is something that we will do with you, with the community, with the CSM to bring about that change.
"And we will continue with this release model into 2015. If anyone was doubting that, here are the planned release dates we'll publish and so on. We'll keep rolling with this.
|The planned release dates for 2015.|
"And the names we'll reveal one-at-a-time as we get closer to the releases this time. We're kind of closing out this titan cycle and we're going to bring in a new thing, but you'll hear about that as it gets closer.
"And really, about this release model, I just want to say that, in all of my time with EVE, I have never been more excited and confident about both the roadmap we have and our ability to actually deliver on it."
The final part of Nordgren's part of the keynote involved reviewing the current state of the roadmap. Perhaps more than an update on what we would see in Phoebe, I wanted to know CCP's view on their progress. Nordgren more than delivered.
|The real original roadmap (corrected thanks to Neville Smit)|
"This is what I showed at Fanfest. I showed a high-level plan where we want to take on and make significant changes to a number of systems in the game that are absolutely core to the sandbox gameplay of EVE and build up towards being able to do interesting things with that sandbox gameplay. Eventually take you guys to a place where you can build your way out of the known universe and see some really new content and gameplay in EVE Online.
"And this overall approach still holds, but as we now are really getting our heads around the new release model, we are also changing this up a little bit. So the approach is the same, but you could say the updated version looks more something like this:
|Updated version of the roadmap|
"Where we are going to now, based on how the game is doing, and what we think is good changes to pull, we are just going to pick pieces of all of these big areas of the game and put together packages of changes to EVE that will bring to you in these releases we're making. So if there was this kind of an idea of a sequential order to this in the past, now we're just going to adapt and see what makes sense to do next.
"And we are done with the big industry overhaul, but industry and logistics and so on is going to continue to be an area where we make changes to make the sandbox gameplay better. And with the force projection changes, we are starting of course earlier than we had maybe planned before to touch sovereignty and so on. And we will just keep rolling with this in the phases that were outlined in the dev blog about the long-distance travel changes, and I've just recapped them here:
|The phases from the dev blog.|
"The first phase is the changes we are shipping now in Phoebe. And the phase after that, which is really starting in 2015 right away, is real changes to null sec space holding and infrastructure. And as soon as we get to more interesting pieces we have plans for revamping corporations, alliances, structures and so on, we'll also start building towards more ambitious changes to the sandbox gameplay. More things to do. More player driven infrastructure. Just more pieces to play with, with the overall goal to create more things to do for everything from the solo person to small groups, more bigger diversity of small groups as well as the megagroups that you guys organize. So phase 3 is really about combining all the new stuff we want to do into the next level of sandbox gameplay in EVE Online.
"And on this kind of updated version of the roadmap, at the end of this year I would place us somewhere about here:
|Estimated progress on the roadmap.|
"And I don't want you to get too into the details and the timing of this picture. It's not meant really to be a timing exercise. More like the roadmap approach. But like I said, we're done with the industry stuff and we are going full force into all of these important pieces of the game."
Perhaps I went just a little overboard transcribing and posting so much of Nordgren's presentation. But these types of insights into the progress of the game rarely are recorded in words, just voice. Given the importance of Nordgren's thoughts on the progress made so far, I thought the effort was worth it.