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EVE Online: CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson Interview

Last month at EVE Fanfest 2018 in Reykjavik, Iceland - home of EVE Online developer CCP Games - CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson took to the stage during the event's keynote presentations to share some announcements. Among them was the fact that he himself is deep into playing their own flagship game again, seeing for himself where changes and future content are needed.

But even more exciting was the reveal of a new kind of expansion which releases later this month. Titled 'Into the Abyss', the next major EVE Online content add-on adds a new region of space where the aesthetic and rule sets of the main game are different. This Abyssal Deadspace, as it's called, not only offers a new solo experience and adds to the lore of the game's canon, but from a development perspective, it allows for the testing and tweaking of new features without breaking the meta of the core experience.

Related: EVE Online Mobile Game Gets New Title and 2018 Release Date

We had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Hilmar during the event to talk about the groundbreaking expansion and how future content is being planned to service new and veteran players alike. We also chat about the recent end to CCP's VR pioneering efforts and the upcoming PC shooter, Project Nova.

I thought your presentation on stage today was great, and the announcements were more groundbreaking than last year on the EVE Online front.

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: Yeah, they were really well received.

I came to EVE Fanfest last year mostly covering the VR stuff and I wrote an article about Sparc being the best PlayStation VR game. It’s a shame that the players just aren’t there to support the VR titles. I wish Sony would pick that up and give it to everyone as PS Plus game or something.

Hilmar: That would be a really good idea. I mean, it’s still being bought. People are still playing. It’s still going and it’s a great product.

EVE: Valkyrie going non-VR helps. I love that game – it was many years ago at E3 when it was EVE-VR that you brought it to E3.

Hilmar: Yeah!

And it was my first chance to try the Oculus Rift, maybe it was the early version of the dev kit 2.

Hilmar: Oh, yeah.

We played 3 vs. 3 and it blew my mind. It ruined E3 for me.

Hilmar: (laughs)

It was the big year with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 coming out and after trying EVE-VR and the Rift headset I was like “who cares? This is the future!"

Hilmar: Yeah, yeah, we actually won awards there. It was kind of shocking.

On stage you spoke about getting back into playing EVE Online yourself. Do you have time to play any other games outside of your own products?

Hilmar: Absolutely. I play a lot of games.

What are you playing right now?

Hilmar Right now I’m playing EVE Online and if you’re playing EVE Online you don’t really play anything else. Over Christmas I was playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and Black Desert. That’s a very sort of next-gen MMO, so we have to keep tabs on that.

I’ll get to this later more, but with War of Ascension you’ve got a mobile presence now, you’ve got EVE: Valkyrie covering space sim combat, Project Nova is going to be covering “boots on the ground” combat again – when you look at the competition and how these genres are changing do you see the EVE universe expanding to other genres as well? Is there opportunity for other products that are totally different?

Hilmar: I think, yeah. The answer is “Yes”. Right now we are pot committed on a few things, as you’ve seen, like Nova and War of Ascension– these are big pushes for us. But based on how that goes, obviously, I think we can bring it to other genres, but that’s too early to talk about right now.

I think the mobile push is smart. I spoke to Nick yesterday, Nick Bardsley, who told me it was a dream come true for him to be able to write new lore - a new faction and subtype, to play with the drifter stuff – is that something you want to make a push towards? Because the game has been around for 15 years but now with this new idea of this new “Abyssal Deadspace” you can actually add in things we’ve never seen before without breaking or changing the main game. Does that open up or change things going forward for expansions?

Hilmar: I think it will. I think this environment we’ve created, where we’re pushing the technology, is an environment where we can go in and create here. This is the first step but hopefully we can use that for more of these technology pushes without having to modify the whole game.

How far ahead do you plan, not just ideas, but how does the production pipeline work? How far ahead do you plan expansions? Are you already thinking about what is coming up next or two years from now?

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: We generally have a good idea for the next one after doing the current one. We have a lot of pieces on the backlog or roadmap, and then we evaluate once we’ve finished this one, what congeals into another one for winter. But planning beyond that, obviously we have a backlog of things we need to do, and we have an overall strategy but we don’t really plan much beyond the next one after this one. Because when you try to see too much beyond the curve a lot of things can change in-between. There’s so much stuff you have to react to.

With Into the Abyss, the new ships, the new lore, the environments – all that stuff is amazing – to me the most interesting thing is the idea that mutaplasmids, the risk taking and changing modules. When you’re doing a new expansion like that, especially when that adds new game-changing features, is it challenging balancing that for veteran players but also for the new players who come in with the free-to-play model?

Hilmar: Probably the biggest challenge is balancing for the whole meta-player aspect of the game. This will disrupt quite a bit how people [think about] what they can expect to be facing. I think that it does that in a good way, or at least, that’s the theory. So having the game, in a way, out of balance but not statically out of balance, is a good thing. A perfect balance is not what you want to strive for, because then everything just becomes stale and boring. So you want to disrupt the balance but you want to do it in a way where it’s done dynamically and changing over time. I think these mutaplasmids are a solid attempt at having more of a dynamism going on in the game. We will have to see what that does to the landscape and monitor the progress. But the theory is that now you won’t be as assured when you meet an enemy in a particular ship that you can kind of assume what you’re dealing with. Because you can have these mutaplasmid X-factor modules that drastically change the capabilities of any ship.

It's an unpredictable variable.

Hilmar: Yeah.

I was talking to Nick and Steven Clark yesterday and they were both excited about the idea that there are super-rich collectors out there. They’re going to try to get theses super-powerful modules but those unpredictable variables will make it interesting. Are there features like that or quality of life improvements that you spoke about on stage - even little interface improvements - are there things like that you really want to get into the game that you just haven’t had time or doesn’t fit the current state of the game yet?

Hilmar: Yeah, I would really like us to retake on the mission system in the game. Some aspects of how you run agent missions and all those things were almost sacked in 2004 and some of those fundamentals could use a bit of a refresh. I think that’s a system we could get a lot more leverage out of than we currently do. And we have some new technologies in other aspects of the game like the new NPCs which aren’t really properly used in the missions system. So, renovating how agent missions give you ways to interact with more PvE and the world at large, I think we could benefit quite a bit from taking a look at that.

When you say “NPCs”, do you mean new A.I.?

Hilmar: Yeah, new A.I.

I’m very interested and tried to get information on this last year, on Project Nova. I’m very excited for that. And you mentioned on stage that later on this year you guys will have more of a reveal, but you also said on stage that it would be “in months, not years.” Did you mean that game would be playable?

Hilmar: Yes.

Playable in months, not years?

Hilmar: Yes.

Cool, I wanted to verify that. I’m sure you guys are looking at the competition and seeing the changing landscape in the shooter market because there are a lot more tactical games, battle royal games and survival games. Has that affected development at all?

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: Not so much. We’re going for a particular niche and it’s more strategic than many of the games out there and obviously it will hopefully eventually have this connection with EVE, but we’re making sure the gameplay feels really good. Obviously, especially the battle royal games, specifically Fortnite, has just become such a phenomenon. It’s just really expanded the market, I think, more than anything else. Even my 14 year old girl is playing. She’s playing Fortnite on the PlayStation 4. She’s never played a shooter and now she’s playing Fortnite. So I think it’s vastly increasing the size of the market. It’s obviously creating a different competitive dynamic but I think what we are doing is very different from that. While I think Fortnite will continue to be super successful, I think it will be successful in the act of increasing the size of the market for more people being proficient at playing first-person shooters, than maybe taking market share away – of course, it’s certainly taking market share away from people right now because it’s such a phenomenon – but I think that aspect will probably blow over at some point, but what will remain is that Fortnite is this new gigantic, casual shooter that is too hard to ignore. A lot of kids will learn their first moves playing FPS’s through that game.

It’s a wonderful and interesting learning tool, like you say, for all demographics. I know people who don’t play games at all and they’re in their 30s and 40s and they’re jumping in because everyone is playing Fortnite – and it’s free! It’s super-accessible. It’s interesting, I feel that at E3 2018 we will know more but that major publishers will be trying to chase that, right? Activision, with the next Call of Duty, and we know Ubisoft is working on one. I’m sure Battlefield 5 will have some sort of battle royale feature…

Hilmar: Yeah, I think by now everyone will experiment with something. It’s not that complicated to do. Already battle royale was leapfrogging from DayZ to H1Z1...

... To Battlegrounds.

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: Yes, to PUBG and now to Fortnite, and I think from there, now that it’s so big it will go up to everything, and it will become a THING – like not it will become a genre. There are probably more games that will be successful with it but not everyone will be successful with it. But I don’t think, that with that type of game we are going for, I don’t think it’s right to be jumping on that bandwagon – at least not right now. I think it’s great. I just think it increases that size of the overall market and probably sucks the oxygen a little bit out of all games, at least right now because it’s such a phenomenon, but I think that will come back. People will still want to play different types of games.

Everyone is very excited that you said Project Nova is coming to PC. Everyone, especially DUST 514 players, including EVE players, want to play that. In the future is it still going to come to consoles, or just not that type of game?

Hilmar: Now, today, consoles are so similar to PC, we’ve already done a lot of development on consoles already through the VR efforts – I think maybe it comes to console later on, it’s just not the priority to think about right now. The priority is to make a really good experience.

Going back to EVE Online, has going free-to-play 2 years ago been largely successful?

Hilmar: Yes, it’s been very successful for us. It’s definitely increased the size of the audience. It’s found a whole new way to get the game to grow, so it’s been a very productive move for us.

Has having that model, Alpha and Omega, has that changed the development cycle and adding new content? Because now you have to cater to veteran players but also, has to be sort of accessible to new players.

Hilmar: That has always been needed. We always have to make content available to new players but I think it sharpens our focus on the that. So it’s helped a bit on that front. When you have more people come through the door, there is more impetus to invest in that area and improving that aspect of the game.

You mentioned that one of the things you’d like to focus on eventually is restructuring the missions and NPCs. Two years, and even last year talking about it, the new player experience and tutorials had been revamped a couple of times. Do you have ideas for that to cater to new players that could still come to the game?

Hilmar: Yeah, we’re now in a big NP push again but it’s too early to talk about. It’s probably more over the summer we’ll see some of that, but that’s a constant ongoing effort. It’s something that we need to be doing every day, frankly.

Five years from now I hope to be talking to you for the 20th anniversary. What are you excited for or what do you want to see from a long term future, 5 or 10 years from now?

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: I want to see the game as relevant as it is today, if not more. I think in many ways EVE has been ahead of its time when it came out. It kind of boggles the mind, really when you think about it. EVE does not at all feel like an old game today. It still feels ahead of its time. I hope it will be able to keep it like that, 5 years from now after 20 year birthday, it will still feel ahead of its time. Because we’ve been able to push it to greater and greater heights.

I think it will. I think everyone is still trying to chase what you guys do. You look at Star Citizen – every time we talk about anything it’s, “We want players to control the economy.” “One giant universe.” No one else can do it yet.

Hilmar: Exactly.

Do you guys watch that too? Elite Dangerous has already come out but are you guys following the development of Star Citizen and games like that?

Hilmar: Yes, of course.

Do you think that game will ever come out? (laughs)

Hilmar: I’m not going to make any comment on that. But certainly you can see that a lot of inspiration for that game comes from me.

They’re not shy about admitting that. They say that all the time. That’s cool.

Hilmar: I think that’s great. I wish them all the luck in the world. I think it will be good for us to have some good competition. It keeps us on our toes and allows people to try something different and it’s a different source of inspiration. Maybe we will be inspired by them, like they’ve been inspired by us?

More players in the genre, right?

Hilmar: Yeah, exactly.

That was my last question, I wanted to ask about your thoughts on Star Citizen because I’ve been following that since the beginning and I’m a big fan of Chris Roberts.

Hilmar: Yeah, I played Wing Commander a lot!

Oh, me too. Wing Commander Prophecy was my favorite one.

Hilmar: I think I played mostly Wing Commander 3.

The first three are classics, really good games. Thanks for your time, and I hope you get some rest before tomorrow.

Hilmar: I won’t (laughs)

You have to plan for tomorrow I guess.

Hilmar: Absolutely. I have a packed schedule until 2am Sunday morning.

I know what it’s like. We cover films and TV primarily and with summer movie season starting up, this month is out of control. I have to travel to Montreal and LA right after this for some junkets and such.

Hilmar: You’re living the life!

This month, yeah, but I’m trying to reduce travel! I just want to sleep and see my baby (laughs). Are you a big movie guy?

Hilmar: Not big, I obviously go to the movies.

Are you excited for Avengers: Infinity War?

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson: Ummm, I’m not like excited about it. Like, it’s hard to get excited because there are so many. So, I’ll probably go and see it.

Cool, thank you for your time!

More: Where Will EVE Online Be 5-10 Years From Now?

EVE Online: Into the Abyss releases May 29, 2018.

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