As Eve Online surpasses 500K subscribers, CCP prepares the MMO for its second decade

Eve Online, CCP Games's spacefaring massively multiplayer online role-playing game, surpassed 500,000 worldwide subscribers recently, a few months shy of the game's 10-year anniversary on May 6.

CCP Games' CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson and CMO David Reid revealed the milestone during a conference call yesterday and spoke about what ingredients they believe Eve Online contains to explain its continued success.

The subscriber achievement is a result of the MMO's 10 years of consecutive growth, they say, but also of a handful of recent events. CCP passed the threshold in the wake of Eve Online: Retribution, the MMO's eighteenth expansion, which launched last December. The developer also recently launched a beta for Dust 514, a free-to-play first-person shooter on the PlayStation 3 that takes place on a world contained within the MMO's persistent universe. The influx of new content created a renewed excitement about the possibilities, as exemplified in a late-January space battle in Eve Online that saw more than 2,800 participants.

"The Battle of Asakai ... was something that typifies what is exciting and unique about Eve Online," Reid said. "[It was something] that no designer at CCP scripted, and nobody in the company had any idea was going to happen. But something did start happening in the far reaches of space as a player accidentally took a trip away from his group, found himself in a hostile section of space and nearly 3,000 people joined into the battle."

"EVE, with a half a million people playing it, is a much better experience than when we have 300,000 people playing it."

Pétursson referred to this kind of ad hoc order as an edge that keeps the MMO growing in a genre known for its difficulty in both retaining and attracting new players.

"We've often called it the 'infinitely scalable storytelling engine,'" Pétursson said. "Ultimately, through its sandbox design, the narrative of the game is in the hands of the players. As the game grows — for every 100,000 people who join Eve Online, the inherent value of the game becomes a stronger one. Eve, with a half a million people playing it, is a much better experience than when we have 300,000 people playing it."

That final number is particularly significant to Pétursson, who hails from Iceland, a country with only 300,000 total inhabitants.

The MMO now has more than 500,000 worldwide subscribers, a growth spurt that Reid attributes to its recent relaunch in China, under the care of a new publishing partner, TianCity. Eve Online's Chinese counterpart, known as Serenity Server, originally launched in 2006. The combination of Retribution, the Dust 514 beta and TianCity's Chinese publishing pushed the game past 450,000 subscribers in December and past its recent new record.

"Way simpler and more accessible without sacrificing any of their flexibility that our longterm players have enjoyed."

To celebrate the game's tenth anniversary — or as they call it, the beginning of its second decade — CCP Games is planning at least three broad initiatives. The first is an official canonization of the events that have taken place in the MMO's persistent universe, a chronicling for which CCP will enlist players' help. The second is a series of updates to the game that will ease the learning curve for newcomers. They'll take the form of continued refinements to the user interface and balancing tweaks to various systems to make them easier to understand. The idea, Pétursson said, is to make them "way simpler and more accessible without sacrificing any of their flexibility that our longterm players have enjoyed."

Finally, at PAX East next month, CCP will roll out a "a large, in-game event" that will affect both Dust 514 and Eve Online.

"We're not going to disclose what the specific details of that are right now," Reid said. "But rest assured it's an interesting moment that will be remembered by Eve players as a historical moment, and people who come and play Dust at the booth will have their chance to get their name in the roster, if you will, of the warriors who were part of that event."

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