Starting from square one
There’s a reason you’ve seen so many EVE Online stories this past decade and change: the entire game is player-driven. If a war starts and someone loses items that amount to scores of time and money, that matters. If players are literally too afraid to enter certain areas for fear of PVP, that changes the entire scope of the game.
All of that is colored by EVE‘s 16-year history and is constantly evolving. But when EVE Echoes enters the scene on mobile devices, none of that direct mechanical history is being carried over. The economy will start completely fresh, the meta is brand new and no one really knows what to expect, not even the studios behind it (CCP and mobile partner NetEase).
I had the chance to speak to multiple members of the EVE Echoes team at EVE Vegas this past week, and although there are a lot of lingering questions that won’t be answered from now until the eventual 2020 release, things look very hopeful.
You may have heard the name NetEase pop up before. Far removed from their scrappy early mobile days, NetEase is now an industry titan, partnering with companies like Microsoft, Blizzard, Bungie (as a minority investor), Marvel and now Icelandic EVE Online creator CCP. I had the chance to speak with two of their members (Bing Xi, general manager, CCP Shanghai and Wei Su, producer, EVE Echoes, NetEase) as well as EVE Echoes brand manager at CCP Ragnar Örn Kormáksson, to see how things are going and where they’re headed to.
Before that conversation I did get a lengthy hands-on with the game, and I have to say: my first thought is that it looks and sounds like EVE. Given that EVE Online isn’t the most action-oriented game in the first place (combat is tactical, and much of it is exploration or resource-based) a touch-screen interface feels right at home, and the ability to pinch zoom in/out to admire your ship/the galaxy is a natural inclination. Menus (which EVE Online and Echoes are full of) are similarly easy to navigate. While there is work to do (some commands, like ship speed, aren’t as intuitive, but they are implemented), I’m shocked that Echoes looks this good in what is ostensibly an Alpha state.
Su explained that the goal is to basically be a different flavor of EVE on mobile devices, but still maintain the spirit of the original. “It takes place in a different universe,” he told me, “but will keep the same principles.” Su’s vision seems inline with CCP’s original take on EVE‘s place in the MMO universe, where “everything is open to player domination, while still preserving EVE‘s complexity.”
Domination is the right term, because Echoes, like its PC-daddy, is going to have a player-driven economy on a single shard (server). It’s a lofty goal for sure, but a decidedly EVE-based one, and is by far the most alluring aspect of Echoes. After all, as a casual EVE player I’ll be able to get into Echoes day one before all of the corporations are established: before the meta forms. Given that this has never happened in EVE Online since 2003, it’s a shockingly enticing prospect. Su agrees.
When asked about whether or not Echoes will cannibalize EVE proper with players flocking to the new hotness, Su replied, “Our goal is two-fold. What we want to do is bring in new players, but also bring back returning EVE players who may have fallen off. We want to expand the EVE community with the same setting, and the same EVE feel.” Speaking to Kormáksson later in the day, he believes that it will cause a “halo effect,” with players swapping back and forth between both games. But what about the crossover potential? While NetEase isn’t quite ready to talk about it, it’s on everyone’s mind. “It is a parallel universe, so there’s potential there,” Xi says. “Be sure that it’ll happen at some point, we just don’t know how yet.”
The question on everyone’s mind (especially those who have played NetEase games) is monetization, and based on the reaction of the team, they’re still figuring things out and don’t want to piss off the current EVE userbase. “It’s early stages yet, but we’re inspired by how EVE has done it. We’re listening to the community, and want to do this right. We don’t want a pay-to-win scheme.” It’s vague for sure, but hopefully they’ll stick to that plan: because right now EVE is still chugging with its current model, and if Echoes wants any chance at succeeding in the west long term, it will need to avoid fleecing its core base.
EVE Echoes is aiming for an open beta period by December (after which point the data will be wiped). From there they’ll listen to player feedback and fine-tune the game for an eventual “2020” (no window) release. For now things are looking good. I only hope they can stick the landing with the monetization of the game and manage to capture new EVE universe hopefuls while wrangling in lapsed players or current EVE masterminds. The more people contributing to this crazy experiment, the better it’ll fare down the line.
After all: complete player-dependency comes with a price. CCP has both soared and paid for it at some point in their two decade plus history.