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Eve Online developers reflect on past year, look to the future upon launch of Retribution expansion

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Eve Online's 18th free content update, Retribution, launched on Dec. 4, completing what lead game designer Kristoffer Touborg called a year-long cycle of "changing a lot of the old things in Eve Online." Speaking on a conference call with members of the press, Touborg summed up the past year or so of CCP Games' development on the space MMO as intending to take control of world events away from game systems and transfer it into the hands of players.

"It's been a year of addressing a lot of the core stuff in our sandbox," said Touborg, before listing the major overhauls to Eve Online's systems that Retribution brings to the table. CCP Games revamped the bounty system to make it easier to understand and use, and also reworked the aggression flagging system known as Crimewatch. Both of those changes are geared toward player agency — a vital element in a game like Eve Online, where CCP wants to act as a hands-off overseer.

In Eve Online, said Touborg, "it's not really about interacting with the system so much as it is about interacting with each other." Player-on-player interactions should comprise the core of the game, because it's in that sense that the experience becomes a social sandbox in addition to a gameplay sandbox.

Retribution also includes tweaks to the game's user interface, which is renowned for its complexity — in a similar presentation to media back in September, executive producer Jon Lander said CCP is trying to move away from a "spreadsheets in space" design. In the future, the studio wants to continue to make Eve Online more accessible without dumbing it down, or minimizing elements that make the game what it is.

"it's not really about interacting with the system so much as it is about interacting with each other"

"Eve Online should be a game where you can easily get information to make hard decisions," Touborg said, since such decisions serve as crucibles for interesting player interactions.

He gave the example of the tweaked kill rights setup, the mechanic by which a player who gets killed by someone else has the right to revenge. Because kill rights aren't particularly useful to certain players — like non-combative ones who spend their time mining — they can now be put up for sale. Upon purchase, the target will be flagged for everyone in the vicinity for 15 minutes. It's another example of the player-generated social interactions supported by Eve Online's systems.

Going forward, CCP plans to reduce the number of non-player characters in the game world and "make them more player-like," according to Touborg. That's yet another element that will give human players more control of the world and what happens in it; the end goal is to make it difficult or impossible to tell NPCs apart from players.

With its renewed focus on player agency, and a new accessibility initiative, CCP hopes to continue growing Eve Online's user base as it approaches the game's 10th anniversary next year. The milestone will already be marked by a major honor: a place among the initial crop of titles that will comprise the new video game section at the Museum of Modern Art.