Last week at GDC I had the privilege of sitting down to speak with a representative from CCP, the folks who maintain EVE Online. The week before, we'd asked for questions to pass on. I had the chance to put them directly to Magnus Bergsson, CMO at CCP. He very directly tackles the recent scandal involving a CCP developer, the reason why EVE's hardcore gameplay is so appealing, the balance between casual and hardcore players, and some information on the future of the game. Read on for his answers to your questions in a transcript of the interview, as well as audio live from the GDC Expo floor.Note: This interview was recorded live on the show floor of GDC 2007, at around 2pm on March 7th. The transcript here has been edited to eliminate repeated words and 'umms', and to provide a clear reading experience. If you'd prefer, the full, unedited audio recording is available for your listening enjoyment. (reduced bitrate: 48 kbps, 32 kbps)
Slashdot: So, for the record could you say who you are?
Magnus: Magnus Bergsson, the CMO at CCP.
Slashdot: Excellent. Thank you sir. The way that we got these questions, basically, was we spoke to the Slashdot community, and the way that we do interviews is we ask people what they're interested in hearing. So, most of these questions are basically directly from the readers, what they want to know. So, if they're bad questions, or you get angry, don't get angry at me. (laughs)
Magnus: I don't get angry.
Slashdot: That's good. There was that scandal thing ... (laughs) Unfortunately, I'm going to start with that one. There was that scandal thing that happened recently. Could you sort of ... explain to folks I guess, what happened, so we can hear directly from you what your take on the situation is?
Magnus: Ahh ... people need to know when the issue with this one developer happened, which was last summer, all of the management team was actually on a summer vacation. And the people in charge then they basically decided to handle it the way they handled it. And they just made a really bad decision the way they managed that whole thing. But they did the best they could, because we had never done anything, nothing like this had ever come up. And this goes so much against the CCP mentality, and the corporate culture that, in our naiveness, we never really thought that anything like that could actually happen. Because CCP is our baby, and this basically is like hurting your own baby, which you just don't do. And the person that did it, which I know really well, he doesn't understand himself, it just doesn't make any sense. Anyway, they mishandled it, absolutely, and we've stated so in our blogs. From that came a number of rules that we have now for our own employees. We have an internal affairs department that does nothing but monitor our employees, to ensure that nothing like that will ever happen again. But some still think that CCP as a whole is trying to help one alliance in-game. And, it's so ridiculous for anyone to think that. Why would anyone at CCP want to do something like that? So, we just mishandled it and we tried to correct it, and we I think we handled it as best we could, and that's what it basically was. We made a mistake, we'd never dealt with something like this before. It's part of growing up, getting a bigger company, we have people in shanghai, we have people in Atlanta, we now have all these rules and regulations in place that we've set for our employees, they're good. People have to realize that we're working on EVE because we have a passion for the game, we will be playing the game. It would be horrible for the community and the game if CCP employees were not playing. Because the game gets created in the hands of the players. It's critical for us to have people playing the game just to know what's going on. We actually did a survey, and we found it's an even distribution of CCP employees in the top ten alliances. And those people would never allow somebody to be working against their alliance, so ... it's a mess, in the end we came and did the right thing. People know at the company, people know that if you were to do something like that you'd basically get fired. We couldn't double judge in that case, you know, double jeopardy if you want to compare it to that. You know, and that's basically the short of it.
Slashdot: Well, thank you. Thank you for going into that. I know it's probably not something that you guys want to touch on a lot right now. Do you think with the internal affairs department set up right now, and the action you've taken against the people involved, do you folks consider this matter closed right now? I just know that some of the comments were in the area of there is still some mixed -- and since it's still so fresh in people's minds -- there's still some mixed feelings there. Do you consider this matter closed at the moment?
Magnus: That case, from our end, is closed. I mean, we've done all the investigation, we know it was only one person and not the whole company like some like to believe, and ahh there's nothing more that we feel can be done, um it was just an unfortunate case, and in the overall scheme of things it didn't affect the game in that like some people like to thing. And, in the end, we're just damn sorry and it hurts our feelings to see some of the players say some of the things about us; we love this game and we'd never do anything to hurt it, and to have people think that this is a widespread thing within CCP: that's as far from the truth as it possibly can.
Slashdot: Right, okay, so I think one of the things that people were really frustrated by with that, is I guess, the hardcore ... EVE has this reputation as a very 'tough' game, and obviously there are a lot of people who really enjoy that. Why do you think the hardcore nature of the game appeals to so many people?
Magnus: Uhhh wow, that's a big question. EVE can be very hardcore, and it can be also a very casual game. It really depends on how you play it. But most of these people who are commenting on the forums and so forth are the hardcore players, they've been with the game for many years. If you live in 0.0, it's very hardcore. It's a very you know, dog eat dog world, and I for one, I live there, I am one of those hardcore players. You know, it's just the threat the, big death penalty and the amount of strategy you have to employ and the amount of thinking you have to do, and I think it's a big big challenge, and I think these people really enjoy the challenge.
Slashdot: Yeah, um, so you in your estimation the fact that it's not more like a World of Warcraft, where death is not really a big deal, you guys see that as a definite strength for the game?
Magnus: Absolutely. The reason that people team up in corporations and then corporations team up in alliances is because there is this inherent big threat of dying and losing a lot of money. You can lose months of work in 30 seconds, and this forces people because of human nature, to band together and form relationships. I'm saving somebody's life, saving their three, four, five, six months of work, so you create very strong relationships, where you don't have an opportunity in real life to rescue your friends from death.
Slashdot: Right, hopefully.
Magnus: Yeah, hopefully, but you get to do that on a daily basis. And that's what creates these really strong feelings, the really strong relationships, that are such a big part of this game. And because it's so totally open ended, so totally different from a game like World of Warcraft, which is a really structured game experience. A great game, but it's just different. So when people have done that type of game, it's kind of a natural progression for them to step into something that's heavier and deeper, and more rewarding in the end.
Slashdot: Totally. So, another thing that came up a lot in comments were the um, the sort of backseat designers ... you mentioned the folks on the forums who have been playing this for a number of years now, and they obviously have very strong opinions on where the game should go. How do you balance making those folks happy with attracting new players, people who might be looking at the more casual aspects of the game?
Magnus: Well, we have to satisfy most people, so it's always a balancing act, sometimes we take an upgrade, and we say now we're going to focus on this part of the game because we haven't done it before. And often when you dive into one part of the game, there are a lot of associated things that come with it. So sometimes we might actually be focusing a lot on the newer players, sometimes we might be focusing a lot on the hardcore players, but we try to do our best to have our expansions so that they touch on something for everybody. But sometimes we do more for the other, we always try to do something for everybody, it's a balancing act, and there's a big group at CCP that discusses this on a daily basis. Of course, we get input from the CCP employees that are playing the game at every single level. We have empire dwellers and people living in 0.0, let's call them Carebears, I like to call them that. Everybody has their input, in the end some features get selected as the best ones, it's a long process and a difficult one.
Slashdot: Could you point out a feature that was added recently, or with the last group of features, that you thought was really good for the more casual players?
Magnus: Yeah, the new player experience, which we spent a lot of time and effort on. That was just for the new players, just to make it easier for them. We are still working on adding a lot more to that, we have a team that is just dedicated to that aspect of the game.
Magnus: Yeah, so we're always trying to improve that part. Because, when you get thrown into a game like EVE, which is so open-ended, and there's no hand holding you really need to ahh, help those people. Those people are going to see a lot of new things this year. There' s a lot of new things were working on helping them getting into the game and understanding it. Of course, you don't really see it - you get thrown into this world, and if you don't already have a friend that's already playing it can be a little tricky.
Slashdot: Yeah, that's interesting, because a friend of mine was recently trying out some games and she tried out your game, and she was a little offput because EVE has this reputation for being such an intimidating game, but she found the new player experience very intuitive. In fact she said it was more intuitive to her than like an EverQuest 2, which is ... well, it's directed, but in EVE it's like a step-by-step thing. So this is going to be a focus in the future, is there's going to be a team that stays on the new player experience?
Magnus: And it's been on there for a long time, this team. So we are always extremely aware of, and we're always trying to make it easier. It's not easy trying to make those first steps real easy without making them real boring. But I think the new player experience is really good, it takes people in the right direction. It shows them a lot about the game, but as with EVE in it's nature you have to bring something to the table. You have to take some action, you have to take responsibility with what you're doing, just as in real life. There's no manual for this side of the screen, so we'll do our best, there's a lot of things we're going to be doing from now on to get people in ...
Slashdot: Can you give an example?
Magnus: Ahh, for instance, just helping people in the tutorial, just pointing things out to them in the email. Ahh, staying in touch with them, that's a huge thing because right now you might skip something in the tutorial but there's nothing that really pulls you back, nothing that points 'you why don't you check this out?' So we're going to be tracking what people are doing and sending them appropriate notifications about, hey you should be trying this out.
Slashdot: Okay. I guess just to pull back and deal with, obviously Slashdot's a very technology-oriented site, and some of the questions were very much on the technology. There's been PvP wars in the past few months that in the opinion of the posters highlighted some server limitations, some hardware limitations. Are there any plans in the future to change the scale of the world at all? Perhaps move to multiple servers?
Magnus: No, we will not move to multiple servers. What we are doing right now, there is actually and has been for the last four or five months, all of the developers are focusing on one thing right now - the need for speed. In EVE you have larger battles than in any other MMO. We had the other day, not too long ago, a battle of 1000 in the same system, and we want to continue supporting that, allowing them to have these large battles, but we also want to create incentives to create smaller engagements, which in the end are more fun for the player.
Slashdot: Right. They're certainly more understandable.
Magnus: Yes, but having 1000 people combat in the same system, is a massive requirement on the servers. Today they weigh two tons, the whole cluster weighs two tons. There's still a lot of work being done, we're still implementing new optimizations for the client and the server, and the hardware it's running on, we can't get any better hardware, so we have to focus on the code, so there's a lot of effort to allow people to have these big battles.
Slashdot: Excellent. I know you're probably disinclined to give out exact details, but for the technology nerds, for the server nerds, can you give any details about what you're running the game on. You mentioned the weight, I mean what are some of your specs?
Magnus: For instance, the we don't have hard disks on our database server. Those are solid-state harddisks, which are only previously only been used for military applications, those are extremely high output, they're called RAMSANS, and that's one applications. We're now moving everything to 64 bit architecture. Everything is running on IBM hardware. IBM has been a really great partner for us to work with, so we get the latest hardware from them as soon as they can possibly deliver it. We're always updating the hardware so we invest and have invested many many millions of dollars just on the hardware side.
Slashdot: And uhh... i'm not sure this is a question you'd be all that interested in answering, but there was one gentleman who was very interested in Stackless Python, and how that's worked out for you? Do you find that it still meets the demands of the many thousands of players that are playing the game?
Magnus: Absolutely, Stackless Python because it's a stateless environment is one of the keys of why EVE is actually capable of supporting all these users. And we have been working very closely with the Python community, we had a Python convention in Iceland that CCP actually orchestrated, and we've supported the PyCon conventions. We want to see more development on that end, and there's some interesting things happening there, so we will continue using that.
Slashdot: Okay, so looking back you definitely wouldn't have done it differently?
Magnus: It's one of the best things that has happened to EVE in the beginning, was to actually select that.
Slashdot: Okay. Do you feel that way about MSSQL?
Magnus: (pause) It has actually worked really well for us. We have worked really closely with Microsoft and ahh, it has performed really well. So that was the right decision, and still is. There are no issues with the database, and no other database would be able to perform better, in our opinion. So there are no issues there. And Microsoft has been really good to work with.
Slashdot: Excellent. Um, so as I was talking about a little earlier ... White Wolf. I know a lot of people are very very interested in what you're planning. I know you can't talk a lot about plans right now because you're very much in the initial phases. First of all, can you shed some light on why you folks got together? What was the rationale there?
Magnus: White Wolf has some assets we didn't have. They are extremely good storytellers, they have a lot of expertise in physical distribution, they can create board games, they are now writing the EVE manual, the EVE strategy guide. They're going to help us getting EVE into physical distribution, into stores, Then they have this fantastic IP, which we are converting into an MMO. But, ahh, I don't have any more information on that because it's early stages. We're still designing the gameplay and everything else, but we're very committed to making that into an MMO, so that relationship has been fantastic. The team at White wolf is actually working on some aspects of EVE online. To add more storytelling missions, and so forth.
Slashdot: That's very interesting, do you know when we might see that stuff in the game?
Magnus: I don't know the release schedule for the missions and so forth, but the strategy guide and the player guide which is badly missing right now, that is an ongoing project and should be ready as soon as possible.
Slashdot: I know you really can't .. you're already in the planning stages, but I have to ask. Are there plans to use the whole World of Darkness license or, is right now thinking moving more towards one of the specific parts of the World of Darkness, moving there?
Magnus: We just don't know yet, this is exactly what we're doing right now, is thinking about how the game will play, so anything I would tell you about that right now would probably be a lie. I don't want to make a liar out of myself.
Slashdot: I appreciate you not lying (laughs).
Magnus: That's something we are working on right now, we just don't know yet.
Slashdot: Okay, ahh, I know you folks, you spoke with Brent from VirginWorlds the other day, and I know he was very impressed with some of the Avatar elements you folks are putting in the game. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Magnus: Sure. The project is called Ambulation, and what it does it will allow the pilots to step out of their spaceships and walk in the stations and in the stations you will have corporate meeting rooms, you will have services like recruitment centers in certain stations, people will be able to make and sell items like clothing. We are not going to turn that like into a first person shooter, people will not be able to shoot each other in the stations, that's a whole different game. But the gameplay in the stations, works well with what happens outside of the stations. We put a lot of work in Iceland into behavioral analysis, they have a specialized team that has been studying that for years. And our AI is going to be quite interesting, you won't see avatars going through a routine of animations when they're standing still. They're actually going to be emulated out of human nature, human behavior, so we are doing everything we can to make the avatars as human like as possible. We're going to put a lot of work into making them realistic. Hopefully we'll be something of a breakthrough in avatar development. At least, we have some ambitious goals for it.
Slashdot: Okay, alright, when you talk about gameplay on the station, does that mean there will be more than just meetings and recruitment, there will actually be gameplay elements as well?
Magnus: Yes ... we're still deciding exactly ... some of them have been determined. Until it's finalized it's better to let the designers and developers have some leeway to work with, but yeah there are definite ideas of what will be allowed in station. There will not just be you stepping out into the station and that's it, there will be something else in the stations.
Slashdot: Good deal, usually, when I do an interview in person I like to ask, is there something that you want to say to the people you're working with, the customers, is there something about EVE that you find particularly interesting that you want them to know about?
Magnus: Well, I think anybody looking for a game experience that is, let's call it smart gaming without sounding arrogant, if people are looking for something like that, I think they'll find eve quite interesting, it's a very strategic game, some people hate it but I hope more people actually love it and try it. It's the type of a game that you grow with, it's probably more of a commitment than most other MMOs right now, and it's the type of a game that leaves a lot behind. It's quite rewarding because all of the things you accomplish in the game are the results of your actions. It's more than a game in that sense. We at CCP then don't really consider ourselves so much as a game developer, we are more like a service provider. We are providing a sandbox, or a universe for these people to live in and we are very much a hands-off company on what happens in game. We don't want to be caught up in what users do , we just want to influence a little bit here and there and respond to the users.
Slashdot: Alright, great. Well, I think that pretty much covers it, so thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Magnus: Thanks! Good questions!