The three of us chatted for about 30 minutes, covering a wide range of topics including EVE Online and its new Inferno expansion, DUST 514, and game money for real goods.
In a nutshell, Inferno has been more of what the doctor ordered for the MMO genre's elder sandbox statesman. "We are on the cusp of breaking our all-time subscriber record right now," Olafsson told me, and that's no small feat for a polarizing title in a genre over which burnout and next-new-thing syndrome reign supreme.
Olafsson told me that Incarna is still on the table because despite the vocal hardcore opposition to the features at the expense of spaceship-centric stuff, those same hardcore players reacted enthusiastically to DUST at the firm's most recent Fanfest. The key, Olafsson explained, is not losing sight of your base.
"You have to eat and sleep. If you're not eating and sleeping, you don't care what's on TV tonight," he said. "We were focusing on things at the top of that pyramid instead of the basics, and now we're doing both."
It's working, too. CCP is expecting New Eden to set a new population record any moment now. Due to the game's single-shard setup, this is a big deal, both in terms of financials and because more people means more gameplay opportunities and ultimately, more sandbox. "EVE's content is its people. When there's more people, there's more content going on, and if it becomes too saturated [in terms of hardware], we'll throw in another server. But it's still the same universe," Olafsson explained.
And the goal is to make that universe the biggest one out there.
That's where DUST comes in, along with various post-DUST initiatives. New Eden ultimately comes down to EVE, though, and CCP won't be dumbing down the mothership in its quest to broaden the IP's audience. "We want you to play a hardcore game without having to bleed to get to it. It is a hardcore game, but we need to stop people from having to cut off their own arms in order to figure it out," Lander said.
When I asked whether that means more tutorials or more accessible mechanics, the answer was not necessarily and yes. And by more accessible, CCP means more useful and apparent, much like the faction warfare revamp in Inferno.
Factional warfare is basically a stepping stone for nullsec gameplay (EVE's endgame, for all intents and purposes). Players can use factional warfare to work in their groups and learn the techniques and the tactics that will lead to success (or at least, survival) when the inevitable itch to explore 0.0 surfaces.
The key thing about the factional warfare revamp is making it mean something in terms of gaining ground on your opponents. Previously you could get loyalty points and a cosmetic title, but there was no real effect on the universe. Now, if you complete enough objectives, you turn the balance of power in terms of who owns a particular system.
Once it ticks over, Lander says, you can invest in the territory via loyalty points, enjoy reduced market taxes and clone costs, and so on. And it's open to neutrals. Crucially, you don't have to invest a huge amount of ISK or build a station to get into the new faction gameplay. The factions are doing that layer of it for you; they just need you to get involved.
And CCP is all about getting more folks involved in New Eden over the long term. The firm is planning a major winter expansion release, DUST and EVE will link up when the former goes live later this year, and 2013 will bring a round of festivities relating to EVE's 10th anniversary. While many MMOs are going into maintenance mode or laying off developers, CCP is digging in and iterating for the long-haul.
"We have three or four times as many people working on EVE today compared to launch," Olafsson says. "The development team has grown along with the revenue. We've never scaled down or switched over to a live team or a skeleton team."
Lander concurred. "We believe in making virtual worlds, and they don't have a shelf life. We want this game to be around in 10, 20, 30 years. We want a DUST 10-year anniversary, and this universe is contantly growing."
It's also growing outside of the games, as evident in the recent PLEX for graphics cards initiative. Lander and Olafsson said that CCP is very committed to expanding similar drives going forward, although there are still plenty of variables in terms of distribution, taxation, and various virtual-money-to-physical-good transactions.
"People used in-game money to buy an out-of-game graphics card. It intrigued us, and we have a really good relationship with Nvidia, so we're looking at other options," Lander said. What sorts of options, and what sorts of products? "Hey, we could do groceries," he quipped.
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!