"I’m increasingly starting to believe that there’s a strong argument for EVE, not WoW, as the most successful – and certainly the most unique – MMO ever. Just what is its secret sauce?"
Hugh Hancock, founder of Machinima.com
and Editor-In-Chief of MMO Melting Pot
Ripard Teg, a.k.a. Jester, can have a corrupting influence on those who do not play Eve Online. When I wrote about the emergence of New Eden's pajamahadeen I chose one of Jester's blog posts as an example of the arguments one could use in defending Eve from attack by those who wish CCP's flagship game ill luck. Indeed, Jester's well-reasoned (and frequent!) posting serves as an effective counterpoint to the horrendous posting seen on the official Eve Online forums and other places that tends to get picked up by the Mainstream Gaming Media.
The latest potential convert to the church of CCP is Hugh Hancock, the editor-in-chief of MMO Melting Pot. Jester's Trek posts are making more frequent sightings on Hugh's site and now the self-described World of Warcraft theory crafter is beginning to believe that Eve Online is possibly the most successful MMORPG in history. In a post yesterday, he began to ask what makes a game a virtual world.
When the subject of games as virtual worlds comes up I've always believed that, except for perhaps Tales in the Desert, Eve Online is the number one virtual world in the MMORPG genre. So what sets Eve Online apart? Simply put, CCP's writers are much better than those over at Blizzard, Bioware, SOE, Turbine, etc. The big difference is that in all the other games the writers are producing fiction while CCP's authors are Eve players making history. In other words, stories about players trump stories about NPCs.
To me, Eve Online is a giant shared universe similar to the space opera of David Weber's Honor Harrington series or Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series. The quality those two series share with New Eden is that no matter what the status of the character, from a galaxy-striding autocrat to a timid carebear flying around scared in low sec, their lives and actions have some meaning in the grand scheme of things. In almost every other MMORPG players are told that success means killing a lich king or an evil world-destroying dragon. In Eve's sandbox, as Mike Azariah explained in a brilliant post on Sunday, different players have different measures for success. And just like in real life, those measures are often perfectly valid.
That freedom to set your own goals and own play style is only part of what makes Eve feel like a real world. The other part is that the players like to record their deeds. At the alliance/coalition level we have The Mittani. Like him or hate him, his Sins of a Solar Spymaster column on Ten Ton Hammer is a great read and gives the line grunt and non-player alike a fascinating view into the highest levels of New Eden null sec politics and policy making. Going back a few years in history is the propaganda output by Seleene's Mercenary Coalition.
Perhaps my favorite Eve-related read of all time is a write-up of an MC campaign that occurred a year after the events in the above video, "The North Reloaded."
But New Eden is not just politics and conflict. Eve boasts perhaps the oldest player-run training organization in the MMORPG genre in Eve University. With a long history of training new pilots, the Uni provides training materials like its wiki and a beginner's video tutorial series to all capsuleers. Any world that contains teachers giving live lectures can't help but seem more real than
One of the other things that makes New Eden more alive is that players frequently surprise the developers in Iceland. One of the big surprises was the desire of players to live in wormholes after their introduction in the Apocrypha expansion. The new unknown space consisting of shifting connections attracted a lot of explorer types who, this being Eve, came into conflict and began creating their own colorful history, as the Rooks and Kings video Clarion Call 3 reveals.
I could continue on about other features that make New Eden feel like a real world. Things like an almost completely player-driven economy or how CCP does not step in when bad things like corp theft happen as long as all actions do not violate the EULA. But the "secret sauce" that Hugh is looking for is that CCP created a sandbox in which players could mold their world and then had the courage to let them do exactly that.
I think most game developers either don't trust players to come up with their own goals and game play or are too insecure in their own abilities to design a sandbox game that would attract and maintain players. And with the success of WoW, the developers all want the big numbers (and the big bucks) and are trying to copy success. Conventional wisdom is that PvP sandbox games are small and theme park games are big. But is that really true anymore? We don't really know since no one I've heard of is making such a game, unless you count CCP's World of Darkness that may come out in the next five years.
I had fun surfing the net looking for links and even asking Seleene for a link to "The North Reloaded" since my old one no longer links to anything. I hope you enjoy the links and the videos because this is the type of content that drew me into Eve and keeps me playing.