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CCP's Hilmar Veigar Pétursson

Incarna, micro transactions and the EVE Online backlash

Two weeks ago EVE Online launched Incarna, an expansion that added human avatars to a game previously focused on spaceships. What should have been the celebrated release of another evolution in the continuing space saga, quickly turned to drama and uproar amongst the passionate EVE community alarmed by the high price vanity items on sale through micro transactions, and then the leak of internal memos. The memos appeared to present a blunt attitude of the CCP development team: EVE players were seen as the "golden goose", and they were going to be rinsed of money to help fund new projects at CCP.

In retaliation, the EVE community revolted with in-game protests and abuse directed at the CCP developers - last week at the Game Horizon event, CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson revealed that bullets and baseball bats had been sent to the company's HQ in Iceland - amongst other verbal and in-game economic mischief.

CCP called a crisis meeting with the Council of Stellar Management - player representatives who speak for the community and deal directly with upper management - to address the issues and anger, and a resolution of sorts was reached.

Last week, a day before the meeting of the CSM and under embargo until after the event, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Pétursson to discuss the extraordinary backlash, the effect it had on the talent at CCP, the shift to micro-transactions and the constant evolution of one of the most successful and fascinating online virtual worlds.

GamesIndustry.biz EVE has been subscription based for years, why add micro-transactions on top of that now?
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson

I would say the main macro reasoning is that we as a company were setting out to make subscription games, we were making virtual worlds. And the most robust model at that time was subscriptions. But since then people have been doing really interesting things with free-to-play, micro-transactions, additional payments, premium services - there's a lot of stuff out there. What we have always believed is that to make it relevant for decades to come we have to innovate on all aspects of the game, and that includes business models just as much as game features. If you don't change then at some point EVE will just go into oblivion, it becomes deprived over time. That's not occurring now, so we're taking a step quite early in the process and we're a company that innovates, that's a core strength of ours, to take these leaps once in a while.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you see the business model changing entirely over time? From all subscriptions to all micro-transactions with a free-to-play model?
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson

It could. I would guess that's not going to happen. A lot of it is just going to be a result of how it all plays out. What people tend to look at is what's being adopted and what's being used by companies. Often that's something entirely different from what you imagine at the beginning of the life of the product but we can't predict behaviour to come. We'll take a look at purchase transactions and what people are interested in buying. We've certainly had a lot of interesting feedback from the EVE players, obviously we listen to the feedback. This is really about taking these leaps and then iterating and refining. We're just starting that process now. It started with a bang.

If you don't change then at some point EVE will just go into oblivion, it becomes deprived over time

GamesIndustry.biz What's the mood like amongst the developers - you've been working on Incarna for a long time and you release it to savage feedback from the most loyal of players?
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson

What has affected the mood of people the most has been the leaks that have occurred. Misinterpretation of internal material taken as something that it is not. For example the Fearless newsletter that's out there is an internal tool for discussion and debate, where people take very polarised views and write in a debating fashion, conflicting their own views, just to debate points. That's been taken as literal memos on behalf of the company when it's something entirely different.

We have always celebrated debate and open discussion at CCP and when it goes out in its pure form it's a lot of misunderstanding, and that's affected people a lot. All the theories about impending doom, because people are taking this out of context, that's definitely affected the staff.

GamesIndustry.biz How do you manage that internally so the same thing doesn't happen again, when you value that freedom of speech and open-minded discussion at CCP?
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson

We are not going to stop it, this is part of the company DNA. But it was the first time in 13 years. We're not going to have that slay us too much. Obviously we have to have that discussion internally about how we are going to manage these things, and that they will be taken out of context. If you take internal debates out into the limelight you can’t really have a debate with a group of 400,000 people. You have to have some sense of structure to the discussion and that's why we created the Council of Stellar Management. That's an important platform to resolve some of the issues we're having now. Because as I said, we can't have a debate with all those people.

We've built that platform out of the experience of trying to debate with 100s of 1000s of people because that's not very productive and nor are written words in blogs and forum posts.

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Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.