Sunday, September 24, 2023

The EVE Fanfest 2023 Keynote Address

With all the usual suspects writing about the EVE Fanfest keynote address, I feel I need to bring something different to the table. After watching the presentation twice, I think I found the proper angle. That's right, how will the presentation appeal to our overlords in Pearl Abyss' headquarters in Anyang, South Korea? Perhaps more importantly, how can the C-Suite spin the news coming out of Fanfest in the best possible light to cover up the assumption Crimson Desert will miss its Q4 2023 release date. The next Pearl Abyss earnings presentation should occur in the first full week of November, six weeks away.

Fortunately the tone of events usually isn't important. A good thing as I do not believe CCP Games' CEO  Hilmar Veigar Pétursson received the warmest welcome. Hilmar has some unusual views about virtual worlds being more important that the real world and some of that did creep into his presentation. But I think more of that occurred due to Hilmar addressing some topics the hard core players attending Fanfest may not have wanted to hear.

Recent technology focuses

For example, Hilmar touched on CCP's VR gaming history, which ended last year. What players may not want to hear is that Valkyrie turned a profit and Gunjack was so successful it spawned a sequel and a special edition for the PlayStation. The discussion about the Friendship Machine fell into Hilmar's overarching theme of virtual worlds being as significant as the real world. The mention of artificial intelligence also fell into the same bucket. And Quasar? I think in the beginning most players equated the system, if they thought about it at all, as a cause of failures of the chat system. 

The big concern, of course, was Project Awakening. Players held a revolt to keep blockchain technology and play-to-earn out of EVE Online. In the closest as to what blockchain technology had to offer, Hilmar stated:
In this project we're leaning very heavily into third party development and we aim to invent a new more inclusive business model around these kind of things and these are takaways from our journey so far.
All we basically learned is that CCP was working on the project with $40 million in outside funding. 

But for our overlords in Anyang, Hilmar's opening presented good news the C-Suite could share with investors. Despite the age of the game, CCP was upgrading the Carbon engine to Python 3. Quasar, the cloud component of the game's infrastructure, is allowing interesting new features like integration with Excel. Technological advancement is a favorite story Pearl Abyss likes to tell investors. And, of course, progress in CCP's venture into blockchain technology.

Perhaps the most significant portion of the keynote for our overlords in Anyang was presented by CCP Orca (aka Eyrún Jónsdóttir, Vice-President of Publishing at CCP Games). While Pearl Abyss struggles to finish development of Crimson Desert, CCP announced two new game projects and an expansion in games not named EVE Online for the rest of 2023. First, CCP is partnering with Titan Forge to create a strategy board game set in the EVE universe. The Kickstarter page already has over 5000 followers.

Next comes an expansion for EVE: Echoes, CCP's first mobile game. Echoes just had an expansion in August adding Cobalt Edge to the mobile universe. But CCP mentioned Echoes would also see advanced black ops battleships, so is another region on the way?

The final non-EVE Online news was the introduction of a new 4x strategy game due out in the final quarter of 2023 in selected regions of the world. The game is called EVE: Galaxy Conquest. Initially available on Android and iPhones, the game will eventually receive a PC port. While still in pre-Alpha, the game will undergo a public test sometime in at the end of 2023. Sign-ups are now available.

Other talking points CCP Orca announced that might appear in a Pearl Abyss earnings call Power Point deck included:

  • Members of the EVE Partner Program get advanced access to Singularity and Twitch drops.
  • Next year's 20th Alliance Tournament will be the biggest yet.
  • EVE's crowd sourced science content, Project Discovery, is switching focus from COVID-19 to cancer research in 2024.
  • PLEX for Good is becoming a permanent fixture and players can contribute whenever they feel like contributing.

A big concern for the Pearl Abyss leadership, of course, is the continued sustainability of EVE Online itself. I always get the feeling that both the C-Suite and investors are puzzled how EVE just keeps going and going like the Energizer bunny. Can EVE maintain player interest?

The world will find out on 14 November with the launch of the Havoc expansion. In a first for EVE, players have the opportunity to align with one of two pirate factions, the Angel Cartel and the Guristas. A new system, Zarzakh will become a pirate haven under the rule of The Deathless. As a demonstration of what is currently in the game, CCP broadcast the activation of Zarzakh's jump gates live during the keynote and performed a brief tour of the system. With his own shipcaster to fling players toward the front lines of factional warfare, New Eden is about to become more interesting.

The aim of the pirates will be to enter factional warfare space and engage in the new feature we call pirate insurgencies. Those capsuleers that are aligned with one of the pirate factions can participate in insurgencies by completing objectives that will reward them with new loyalty points. Successful completion of objectives will also increase corruption in the system which means the rules of play in that system will be altered. Pirate aligned capsuleers will also have in their disposal a new pirate station within the war zones to use as their base. 

Those who choose to oppose the pirates will have a chance to disrupt pirate activities by successfully completing their objectives first and increasing the suppression in systems. That will also trigger new effects and rules within the system. 

The new pirate group is not just about PvP. The Deathless Circle, Angel Cartel, and Guristas will also need aid from players to conduct their research. At the beginning, this aid will give participating players early access to the new Mamba and Mekubal-class pirate destroyers. In addition, the new Deathless Circle loyalty point store will provide New Eden with the new Alligator and Khizriel pirate battlecruisers. 

The final piece of pirate news was perhaps the biggest of all. The long-awaited Angel Cartel titan will make its debut in Havoc.

While potentially very attractive to players, Pearl Abyss gives a preference to moves that will attract new players to its games. The potential growth provides talking points to give to the investor analysts on the calls. In a presentation following the new pirate gameplay, CCP Rattati introduced EVE: Vanguard.

Vanguard is a first-person shooter module that links small scale ground fighting with the actions of fleets of space ships in war zones. But more importantly, unlike the mid-2010's console shooter DUST 514, Vanguard is actually a part of EVE Online. From a gameplay standpoint, Vanguard is played on PC, not consoles, thus allowing players to move from flying spaceships to shooting rifles easily. At this time, EVE Online characters are unable to move to the FPS module. Currently we do not know if spaceship characters and ground fighting characters can share the same account.

Vanguard is built on Unreal Engine 5 for the game engine and Quasar for the networking software. Many Fanfest watchers observed how fortunate CCP was in not choosing to use the Unity game engine. While not mentioned in the keynote, I assume CCP eventually will port all EVE Online characters from Carbon to UE5 to allow for the closer socialization and association between players Pearl Abyss likes to brag about.

Vanguard currently is in a pre-alpha state. But unlike the effort around Crimson Desert, CCP has set up a website for players to sign up for testing. The first public test event is scheduled for December 2023. From comments about the combat demonstration shown during the keynote, the module is in pretty good shape, at least graphically. If all goes well, EVE Online will Soon™ attract a different demographic, FPS players, to the 20 year-old game. 

Some quality of life features will also appear in Havoc that probably will go unnoticed by our overlords in Anyang. The two biggest are the ability of logi pilots to appear on killmails and set up automatic SRP payments to pilots. Other features include the ability to log the LP and Evermark payments of individual pilots. While not as sexy as other changes, they will help the players who run and manage the player organizations Pearl Abyss wants investors to know they treasure.

Overall, the keynote presentation gave me hope for the future of EVE. I was worried that CCP had lost any spark of innovation and was determined to settle on questionable practices like NFTs and blatant developer/publisher RMT to keep sales figures at a mediocre level. But since abandoning blockchain hopium for EVE and switching back to the twice-a-year expansion model, I'm seeing more imagination involved in developing game systems. I'm hoping the execution matches the plans and EVE can see a resurgence in popularity in its third decade.

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