Eve Online’s Inspiring Journey: 20 Years of Passion, Purpose, and Play

Eve Online

Every day new games come and go. With the amount of options, it’s rare to be talking about a game three to five years after its release. To talk about it for two decades? Well, that just seems like the most grandiose of wishful thinking. Yet, here we are with Eve Online. 

The free-to-play (F2P) space MMO has been going strong since 2003 and has seen its community continuously grow over the years. A seemingly boundless universe that is based on human interaction more so than any NPCs, Eve Online’s growth is not only due to the passion of the team at CCP games who’ve spent years building and expanding but also the passion for what the game involves from its players.

Now as Eve Online celebrates 20 years with its annual Eve Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland, there’s a lot of reminiscing about where the game started and what it’s become.

For CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, that time spans countless periods of self-doubt, a search for validity, and a realization that the team has put out something positive into the world.

“I think anyone that makes a game, or at least made the game 20 years ago, or almost 30 years ago, is that there’s this identity crisis of like, ‘is this a valuable thing to do’?” he said. “Like everyone around, especially my mom is like, ‘When are you getting a real job?’

“So, you live in this imposter reality of like, ‘I’m making a game, I feel like it’s important but I can’t put words to it.’ And on the sideline, my mom is asking when I’m gonna get a real job. So, you feel in that mode of like, I feel like it’s important, but I can’t verbalize it.”

After a few years of the game’s existence not only did Pétursson’s mom accept that her son had a “real job”, but the realization of having something special finally set in.

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“So we had wild aspirations, and it was for the game to go on for five years,” he said. “Yeah, so we have like a plan for five years.”

During those five years and beyond, Pétursson and the team at CCP Games saw players doing things they didn’t expect to happen. They saw a game creating true relationships among people.

“We did not set out to make a friendship factory,” he said. “We set out to do a murderous, capitalistic hellscape and we did create that. But it seems to be when things create darkness, people bring the light.

“The first line in the script is, ‘Death is a serious matter’.”

The Feeling Of A True Community

To get a good idea of just how tight-knit and caring the Eve Online community you need to look no further than what happened in 2012. 

Sean Smith was an American diplomat with the United States Foreign Service. On September 11, 2012, Smith was killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya alongside three other Americans. 

The news of Smith’s death rattled the Eve Online community to its core where he was a well-known player, in-game diplomat, and member of the Council of Stellar Management known as Vile Rat. When he passed, warring factions stopped; a memorial was held; a monument erected; and a touching tribute penned

The Sean “Vile Rat” Smith memorial after his killing

Where Eve Online Goes From Here

Since 2003 when Eve Online first launched, there have been plenty of games that have come out to capture the MMO audience. While some like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic have come and stood the test of time as well, others like APB: All Points Bulletin and The Matrix Online have found it harder to keep players engaged over a long period of time.

Pétursson says that Eve Online has benefited from the game being as old as it is and being as entrenched in the fabric of online gaming as it’s become.

“We have been making Eve Online for 20 years about like, and, I think, about 2000 people have worked on Eve online over these 20 years,” he said. “It is probably the biggest game ever made…it is one massive gamified social network.”

He continued: “It is very hard to go and recreate that from scratch. It’s very daunting. And the expectation of what a new MMO has to face today is that it does have to contend with the existence of EVE Online and with the Warcraft and Black Desert and whatnot. And it’s just it’s a lot.”

As far as the future of gaming and, quite likely, Eve Online, Pétursson says that, in addition to competitions, more consequential decisions are going to be important. Studios will need to find new and interesting ways to keep players engaged and away from leaving for the next hot new release.

“[I think it’s] more about collaboration and coordination of multiple people is the winning strategy,” he said.

“So, competitiveness, consequence, and cooperation. These are what we should be emphasizing. Optimizing for engagement, which has been the current plan, and it’s obviously very good for monetization and very good to increase screen time, but it doesn’t enrich meaning and doesn’t enrich people’s ability to communicate and coordinate and we should be optimizing for that.”

Pétursson then stood there for a minute with a smile followed by a slight sigh. He quickly shifted focus from the future to take one more moment to look back, and really soak in everything CCP Games has gone through over the last 20-plus years.

All the mistakes, lessons learned, growth, and times, both good and bad, Pétursson says that, if nothing else, Eve Online provided validation to a dream all those years ago.

“It feels validating that we weren’t wrong all along,” he said while looking around the office. “It wasn’t a waste of time and a net negative, and I think now I can say, with confidence, that Eve Online is a net positive in the world It is worthwhile doing because 22 million people have participated and, for the most part, come away with an experience where they felt like they got friends or grew as a person.”