Interviews

Trip Report: EVE Online Fan Gathering At PAX East

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Earlier this month, PAX East 2011 summoned sixty-thousand gamers to converge on poor, drizzly Boston. But where were the EVE Online players? Not at a CCP booth on the convention floor. No, we had something better: a rented out bar with free drinks, CCP staff, and a first-come, first-serve guest list of perhaps fifty EVE players. The result? Something magical.

Of Bouncers And CSM Stumping

It begins even before I get into the bar. I shake hands with the others waiting in line as the bouncer checks our tickets. Each time I am asked "who are you with?" I quickly realize that this is EVE Online code for "are you in an enemy corporation?" This question is asked again and again.

Two Step, an unfortunately reticent candidate for CSM, is standing in line ahead of me. He asks me to vote for him. I ask him about his platform, but the answers are so evasive that I suspect he does not actually have a campaign platform. Still, there is something to be said for stumping. Finally, we gain the bar.

The Bar: Null-Sec For Drinkers

EVE Online

A carebear, a suicide ganker, and a CSM candidate walk into a bar...

We are at the Vintage Lounge, a cozy upscale bar located conveniently near several hotels in post-winter Boston. The interior is smoke free: a surprise to some travelers, but de rigueur for Massachusetts. There are perhaps twenty people scattered about the room, with more arriving constantly.

I start to mix and mingle, saying hellos and asking questions. Someone hands me a marker and name-tag sticker, to write down my EVE name. Surprisingly, some people recognize me and compliment my guides (and my hat is off to you, beloved reader). There are at least three CCP staff working the crowd: CCP Daishi, CCP Big Dumb Object, and GM Syndemic. They are all visibly excited to be here.

Some of the players (like me) are visibly exhausted from a long day of tromping around PAX East. But the triple thrill of CCP developers, EVE Online players, and free drinks all combine to make something that PAX could not hope to achieve: an intimate get together where everybody has the chance to talk to everybody else, CCP staff included.

People, Politics, Pabst Blue Ribbon

It turns out that most in attendance are not affiliated with any of the big alliances. This is quite the opposite of Fanfest, as I understand it. I ask everybody what corporation they fly in. Notably, some people think it is safer not to answer. Almost nobody is willing to talk about what their corporation is doing with any more detail than "we are living in wormholes" unless it has the caveat of "please don't print that." It's too bad: some of these corporations have more than a bit of spark, and I think publishing some of their plans would help them more than hurt them.

I find a sprinkling of EVE University and Agony Unleashed members, a smattering of Test Alliance, and some guy that has been in R.A.G.E. for less than ten days. I am a little disappointed, but at least this means that people aren't splitting off into factions or being rude to each other about something that happens in a video game, albeit an incredible one.

CCP Big Dumb Object Actually Not Dumb (At All)

The most important conversation from an EVE point of view happens with the developer who has the code name CCP Big Dumb Object. He is tall, friendly, and has a healthy beard. He gives us some interesting tidbits about EVE's PvE:

DED Sites: A popular kind of exploration site, these were the topic of Big Dumb's recent blog. The gist of that blog being that most factions do not have a full complement of DED sites of each level, and Big Dumb et al. have filled out the list of sites for levels six and up. Big Dumb says that the lower levels will see their gaps filled, as well, though the next big patch will likely only see a portion of these.

Incursions: Much attention is being paid to how these sites are run, with an eye toward fine tuning them as an ongoing process. Big Dumb's great hope for low-sec incursions is that they will provide a point of interaction between null-sec and low-sec alliances. It's a bit early to see whether this is actually happening, though I do know that null-sec alliances have begun running incursions in low-sec, which makes for more targets if nothing else.

Never Beat An Incursion: Big Dumb himself has never successfully completed an Incursion site on the Tranquility server, despite multiple attempts. He did spend hours futzing with them on the developer server but for my money that doesn't count. According to Big Dumb, "I am actually shit. I do not know how to play our game. You can quote me on that." At least a developer does play EVE, notwithstanding Scrapheap Challenge talking points to the contrary.

Localization: CCP is making a big push to produce more localized clients. The only for-sure place on the list is Japan. Other places are seemingly docketed as well, though I didn't get any addresses. Konnichiwa!

EVE Online

CCP Big Dumb Object is one of the major developers of PvE content in EVE Online.

Level Five Missions: Big Dumb reiterated that level five missions were never supposed to occur in high-security space, and only a programming mistake made that possible in the first place. According to him, level five missions will not make it back to high-sec any time soon. Additionally, any hypothetical future work on them would be more likely to be a total redesign, rather than any tinkering around with details about location or rewards. Right on, Big Dumb, those missions are bogus.

Nuts And Bolts Exploration Stuff: Because there is a practical limit to the number of exploration systems that exist at any one time, throwing more low-level DED complexes into the mix will actually mean less high-level DED complexes spawn. I'm positive that this simple information will result in market ramifications, but I don't know enough about the high-end gear market to use it myself. If I did, this paragraph would never have appeared here.

The Clever Griefer

The selection of EVE players at Vintage is cosmopolitan: a mix of PvE and PvP specialized players, as is appropriate. One guy brags about killing me, even though I don't actually have an in-game character named Space Junkie. That's fine. Another woman claims that she infiltrated and stole from peoples' corporations, to literally every person she met. There isn't even a Ten Ton Hammer corporation, so how could she steal from it? I suppose that's just EVE players being EVE players.

Everybody is warm, friendly, and well-behaved in a way that is completely incongruent with our in-game behavior. One guy deserves a special mention, though.

In true griefer fashion, this guy goes around with his digital camera, snapping pictures of everybody's name tags. His goal, I later hear, is to bother each of us personally, in-game. The elegance of this bears note: rather than be any kind of annoyance in person, he pursues a venue to grief us in an acceptable venue. It's deliciously wicked, and totally appropriate for EVE Online. Bravo, and good luck!

Voter Ambivalence

I ask everybody that I speak to what they think about the CSM. Do you know what the CSM is? Who are you going to vote for? The answers are remarkably similar: The only person that I speak to all night that knows whom they are voting for and is willing to say so, is Two Step. He's voting for himself.

The others do not know what the CSM is, have not decided, or are not going to vote. It would seem that the CSM (and any future candidates) still have a long way to go if they want the lumpenproletariat of EVE Online to be interested in what they are doing.

Un-Named Parties Give Delve The Eye

Delve has lain fallow these past few months: IT Alliance is not defending their systems in force, but few systems have slipped from their grasp. This is partly because the Dominion-era sovereignty mechanics are kind of stupid, and partly because Pandemic Legion perches over Delve like a hungry vulture. As soon as another force attempts to carve off a piece of Delve, Pandemic swoops in for some ganks. For them, Delve is an elaborate lure.

Still, this unclaimed stretch of space is full of lucre. It is the first piece of valuable real estate to be up for grabs without an invading alliance already having the place on lockdown, for years. It's incredibly rare for this to happen in EVE Online, and I wish it would happen more often.

So as I talk to people about their corporations, I ask whether they are considering taking over a piece of Delve. Most of the people attending are living in high-sec or wormhole space, so it seems natural to me that the more ambitious specimens would jump at a chance to move on Delve. I am not wrong.

About a third of the people I speak with seem at least interested in the idea of moving to Delve, or had discussed it with their corporations. Several people (I shan't say whom) have plans of a more concrete nature, but asked that I not reveal more. It's nice to see people plotting to better themselves!

Since the fan gathering, I do see that Delve is slowly becoming more of a balkanized region, with systems here and there falling to newcomers. None that I interviewed, though. Still, the year is young.

The Man With Three Billion ISK And A Baby Monkey

EVE Online

Yes, a baby monkey.

Toward the end of this pleasant EVE binge, I meet a man named Snoodley that is something of an EVE Online success story. With a wicked Boston accent, he tells me about how he turned 10,000 ISK into 3 billion ISK in just three months. Not bad, right? As I understand it, Snoodley's technique is to focus on about ten items that he trades really aggressively, while also spreading around a lot of buy and sell orders for things that he does not pay as much attention to, but that will see enough action to make some profit even without him updating the orders every five minutes.

Snoodley also shares an interesting problem. It started earlier in the day: a text message asking "Do you still have the monkey?" He assumes that it is the wrong number and carries on with his day. But soon, the trickle of monkey-related text messages grows into a torrent of emails and even phone calls. "No, I don't have a damn monkey," he repeatedly says. This goes on all day, with a steadily more frustrated Snoodley getting increasingly rude responses to his lack of monkey ownership.

Eventually, Snoodley tells an especially insistent caller that "I don't have a baby monkey. There never was a baby monkey. No, I don't know anything about a Craigslist ad."

The woman replies, "Good, because I'm from the MSCPA and it's illegal to own a monkey in Massachusetts. Now I don't have to turn you in."

Finally, Snoodley calls up his roommates to ask if they put up a Craigslist ad on his behalf. Instead of an answer, there is the sound of heavy laughter. Mystery solved! Perhaps his roommates should consider joining up with the Goons?

Other Interesting Things

  • CCP Daishi gives away a megathron model and (I believe) an iPhone. I speak with him for a little bit about how amazing the fan gathering is.
  • A man from Salt Lake City buys me a drink after the bar stops being free, and explains that his friends got him into EVE Online by saying "If you like Excel, you'll like EVE Online." Not the most exciting introduction, but it seems to have worked.
  • Most people that I speak to are a bit disappointed at the lack of a CCP booth at PAX East, but say that the fan gathering more than makes up for it.

Finale: A Little Taste of Fanfest

The smaller nature of the fan gathering results in an atmosphere and sense of community that is more intimate and meaningful than anything that could happen at a convention booth.

Away from the press of the PAX East crowd and the roar of video game demos, we EVE players got a little taste of Fanfest. We met other EVE players, made friends, networked in-game, and repeatedly asked CCP staff about why blasters still aren't fixed.

Getting that much face to face time with CCP staff would probably not be possible, even at Fanfest. Everybody that went enjoyed themselves, and I am sure that all of us will be looking forward to the next event along these lines, whatever form it takes. So thanks, CCP, and I hope you do more of these.

As for the rest of you, I will be posting updates from the EVE Online Fanfest in Iceland. I look forward to meeting some of you, there.

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