So many people showed up to a fight last week in Eve Online that the developer had to slow down time in-game so the platform could keep up. Of course, time dilation isn’t at all unusual for Eve. Everyone shares the same universe, and even casual players can stop by to gawk at massive battles. But some fans suggest that the 15-year-old game — and the infrastructure that supports it — simply isn’t up to snuff. Developer CCP Games disagrees.
Eve’s community manager, who goes by the handle CCP Falcon, told Polygon that a lot of attention has been paid over the last several years to increase the game’s capacity to host thousands of players in the same place at the same time.
“Supporting engagements on this scale is an ongoing technological fight that we’ve faced since Eve launched in 2003 as the number of players has grown,” they said. “When Tranquility [the name of the game’s live server environment] could handle 1,000 pilots in the same location, our community would bring 2,000, when it could handle 3,000, then 5,000 arrive. Until the fight [last week], the most recent record for concurrent number of players in the same location was 5,337 at the siege of M-OEE8. ... This time around, our players brought more than 6,100 ... for the battle.”
While the largest fight in the game’s history was being fought, CCP Falcon said that the development team was taking the opportunity to gather data and better prepare for the next big engagement.
“While there were obviously issues for some of our pilots during the most recent engagement,” Falcon said, “Tranquility remained online for the fight, and thankfully we didn’t experience any unscheduled downtime. This allowed us to watch performance, look at where the main bottlenecks are for an engagement of this scale, and provides us with a substantial amount of data that we can use to help plan the next steps toward strengthening our infrastructure to support these massive engagements.”
However, the team admitted that things did not go entirely as planned. Eve’s lead community developer, who goes by the handle CCP Guard, said that the unprecedented volume of players did cause “some issues” that created an imbalance in the engagement.
“We’ll never know for sure,” CCP Guard said, “since there are so many variables at play, but, as Falcon says, the attackers did report problems launching fresh waves of unmanned fighters from their carriers, which was their main tactic and which accounted for the lion’s share of their damage output. The keepstar was going down slowly but surely for two hours and only managed to heal itself once these problems started getting reported. ... This has given us all, both CCP and our players, a lot of data points to dig into for the future.”
The point is that CCP as a company wants more and more players to join in these kinds of record-breaking battles. To enable that, CCP Guard said that the company recently spent more than three million dollars on upgrades to its server cluster. But more structural improvements are on the table.
“The biggest potential for improvement now lies in software solutions,” CCP Guard said. “We are actively working on projects that aim to distribute non-essential calculations and services from the main cluster to cloud services — that is definitely part of the solution, but will take some time. Then there are all kinds of longer term ideas floating around and the great thing about this battle for me is all the passionate conversations it has ignited around the office about the potential of our universe.”
“We want to continue to allow our pilots to wage war on a scale that’s never been seen before in online gaming,” said CCP Falcon, “and that means continuous investment in the infrastructure to support that, which we’re 100 percent committed to.”
The keepstar-class citadel at 9-4R, a player-owned installation, is vulnerable to attack again this evening. The belligerents have told Polygon that they’re not planning to make a second attempt to bring it down any time soon.