EVE Online is an interesting game. It’s been called everything from the greatest sci-fi game to ever exist to the world’s most graphic intensive spreadsheet. Developers CCP brag 500,000 active members (average 30-50k concurrent players) which is impressive for a universe of this size. There is only one, extremely vast server (the galaxy) where players exist, and it can take days to travel from one side of the galaxy to the other, and often through some very scary and very dangerous terrain.
But while 500k is impressive it just may be an above average number in comparison to other MMOs. At its peak, for instance, World of Warcraft boasted 12 million active subscriptions, and gaming behemoth League of Legends is currently sitting around 67 million accounts and climbing, last I heard. That’s the population of more than 8 times New York City, or equal to 123% of the population of the Northeast Megalopolis, for comparison. Eve is not an easy game and has a huge barrier to entry. Most people even vaguely involved in gaming has heard of it, almost everybody who games has tried it, and ultimately most are weeded out by the sheer intensity of the mechanics, contributing to it’s humble player base.
And yet what makes Eve so interesting is the fact that it is perhaps one of , if not the most notoriously known game, making real-world media news for in-game related events that have nothing to do with game sales or competitive play.
Eve is continually in the news for insane reasons, like large-scale corporate scandals which are both allowed and encouraged, the fact that all in-game resources can be directly translated to real-world money value, and every now and then huge-ass battles.
Last summer, a months long war, known a the Fountain War, between CFC and Test Alliance came to an explosive conclusion with Test ultimately being unable to defend their territory. Named after the space-station that was under siege, the war’s conclusion got some serious media attention, including a very matter-of-fact report from BBC news and live-updates from a “war correspondent” on the Verge’s website.
And last week another large battle (Nicknamed “Titan’s Fall”), allegedly the costliest in Eve’s 10 year history, broke out and seemingly put the Fountain War to shame in terms of damages. If nothing else, the previous record for Titans lost (Titans are the game’s biggest, most expensive, and most tedious ships to build – taking 8 weeks of real time to create) was 12, no more than 3 lost at last summer’s Fountain War, and already it’s reported that 70 have bit the stardust in the recent conflict.
That leaves the question…
What is EvE’s out of game appeal?
For outsiders of the gaming community, it’s actually pretty easy – the idea that a game world could hold real world value is staggering, if not totally blasphemous and unbelievable. When news of damages in the thousands begin to creep out, the media jumps on an opportunity to investigate what it could all mean. How is this possible? What can we learn from this? It’s not new that science has used games before to help strategies in disease spread and terrorism.
I believe a lot of it has to do with both its enigma and its eerily accurate reflection of real life – notably of the nastier points of human nature. Guilds in Eve are, appropriately, called corporations. Corps can ally with each other into vast alliances, a system which is directly supported by the game’s UI. Beyond that, Alliances further organize themselves into coalitions, supported mostly by honor code and a certain level of flagging in-game.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world. When you die, you lose everything that’s on you at the moment – your ship, whatever items it was holding, and if you haven’t upgraded your clone, hours or days worth of skills. Furthermore, because of Eve’s direct in-game to real world currency set-up, when you lose items, you know just how much value is gone.
While recently CCP has made steps to make the game more newbie-friendly, the barrier to entry, in terms of learning curve and sheer mettle, keeps lots of people away. It’s a grind, it’s a numbers game, and unless you’re adopted by a large corporation as a peon or cannon fodder, getting by alone is either impossible or un-fun.
So the very things that make EvE amazing are the very things that make it inaccessible to the average joe, and even the average gamer. Many of us dream to take part in a crazy battle with players in the thousands. Some of us still dream of taking down large corporations from the inside out. And when it happens, oh how it happens. But the time in between can consist of a whole lot of watching digital pebbles be zapped into your cargo hold or getting ganked outside of stargates.
The inner nerd in all of us wants it to be real, and it could be
In a theoretical sense, if humanity were ever to make it out to space on this scale, it’s not hard to believe that this is the way things might be. Thanks to it’s stark realism in grind, risk, and scheming, and being set up to take days, if not weeks, to reach goals, it’s easy to think this is pretty close. And I think that’s also a huge part of why Eve always seems to create buzz with gamers and beyond, people who may have never stepped foot inside the game but still love to hear and read about it when these large battles take place.
Can’t help but get caught up in that appeal.