Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson is CCP's lead economist. Ten Ton
Hammer caught up with him at the 2010 Game Developers Conference, where
he was on-hand to deliver a great talk about CCP's initiative to rid EVE Online
of illicit currency, item, and account sellers. We spoke with Dr. EyjoG
about these topics, and though he wasn't able to speak directly about
the design and implementation of the Tyrannis expectation, we were able
to hear his comments on his vision for EVE's
economy during and after the May expansion.
Ton Hammer: First, I think this is the first time we've interviewed a
PhD at Ten Ton Hammer. How did you first become involved with EVE?
The university that I used to work at had a small seminar on
experimental economics in 2004, which was lucky enough to have Dr. Vernon Smith
who had received the Nobel Prize for basically creating experimental
economics. We discussed how we could use experimental economics to
enhance our research in Iceland.
We also had this guy come from a computer company called CCP. He
introduced us to this game that they had just published that had a lot
to do with economics, and thought it would be exciting for us to
experiment with. When I saw his presentation, I realized EVE Online
would be the first online economy that functions on the same basic
principles that real life economies do. We can learn a lot about real
economics though EVE
because we have a lot of data.
Economists never have high quality data, but in this case, we actually
do. So that's how I was introduced to the game. When CCP started to
look for an economist two and a half years later, I said I'd try it.
It's such a unique thing that if I didn't try it, I knew I would always
Have you been approached by universities that want to use your data?
Absolutely. We have agreements with a Finnish university that we've
done research with. We have some cooperation with Icelandic
universities, including a philosophy department studying online
democracies like the Council of Stellar Management. Here at GDC I've
been talking with an American research group, the same group that has
been looking at Everquest
data. Hopefully, we'll be able to do something with them in the future.
There's a lot of academic interest in getting into our world and
To be absolutely clear, though, we do not allow direct research on the
Tranquility server, or anything like that. This is all old data that we
share, though it's anonymized, encrypted, and so forth. It's all about
trying to understand behavior, rather than trying to figure out what
individuals are doing.
Tell us what you do during a typical week at CCP.
I don't think I've had a typical week since I started. We have ongoing
projects. I am the lead economist, but I am also the director of
research and statistics. We have a unit of eleven people that is split
into four groups. One group deals solely with the in-game economics,
they help with the quarterly economic report, and help the development
team to gather, interpret and give feedback on information during the
They keep their findings relatively secret.
Yes, that's all internal
communication for the company. But then, we also have external
communication like this. We want to have as much of that as possible.
The information in our quarterly economic newspaper, you won't find
that kind of information about any other MMO. Another group deals with
subscribers and market research. They look at trends in subscriptions,
where players are coming into and leaving the game, and try to match
them with in-game behavior. That's interesting and fun research.
Then we have the Council of Stellar Management, they visit twice a
year. Their recent visit in February was really productive. It was a
good meeting. We changed the format to talk about larger issues. To
talk about where EVE
should be heading in the future, rather than what we should fix now.
Everybody liked the new format. We also talked about little issues, but
more was spent on the bigger issues. We are also thinking of changing
the format of the quarterly economic newsletter. Our development cycles
are getting longer. We plan a year and half into the future. So we're
thinking of making the CSM cycles longer, as well.
The last group is the internal affairs unit. They do nothing but
monitor CCP and their in-game behavior to make sure that everybody is
playing according to the rules. We put a very high standard on our
employees. They can play, of course, but they not in the same ways as
the regular players. We monitor that quite extensively. As the company
is growing and we now have more than 470 people, it becomes more
important that everybody is clear on why it is a crucial factor for our
community to understand that we take it very seriously that nobody at
CCP should have an advantage over anyone else.
Were you heavily involved with setting up internal affairs?
Basically, I was focused on
the processes used rather than the unit itself. It works very
independently. I am there only as support.
Let's talk a bit about the game, starting with the PLEX initiative. EVE
is one of the first games to allow a form of legalized currency
Well, I wouldn't say
legalized currency conversion. Once you decide that you want to spend
fifteen dollars on a PLEX, you cannot redeem that and get it back. All
you can do is put more time codes into the game.
So it's not legalizing the sale of currency. What we are doing is
facilitating the exchange between time and currency, allowing players
that otherwise couldn't have played because of their real life
situations. Like, a player that doesn't have a credit card but has
plenty of time to play, will have lots of in-game currency. If he
have money to pay for the subscription, perhaps because he
doesn't have a credit, he would be out of the game. Another guy, who
has a lot of money but little time in real life, might not have much
ISK. So these guys are actually trading. All we do is facilitate the
exchange though the in-game market. That's what I think is so brilliant
about all this. It's just like any other item in the game. The players
are buying and selling it, and there's a market price for it completely
controlled by supply and demand.
In addition to the obvious benefits to the players from the PLEX
system, are there also economic reasons to do it for the game?
Not really. This goes a little more deeply into the philosophy of money
being used in the system. If people have a lot of money but no stuff to
buy, the money just accumulates in the system. You're not earning
interest, and the money just sits there. Money doesn't give you
anything. It's the stuff you get with money that gives you fun,
utility, and happiness. PLEXs help money to flow faster. In economies,
it's called the philosophy of money. It increases trade and production
because you are buying something that somebody else is producing. In
short, it helps the economy.