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CCP's Yohei Ishii

The EVE developer's business boss on bringing MMOs to console, microtransaction and long-tail success

While originally Icelandic developer CCP may have only put out one game to date, that game is the cult phenomenon EVE Online. The sci-fi MMO has redefined what online gaming can be, and led to a raft of ancillary revenue as a result of what the firm's senior director of Business Development, Yohei Ishii, calls "games as service."

We spoke to Ishii following his talk at the GameHorizon conference in Gateshead last month. Here, he talks about how upcoming massively multiplayer console shooter Dust 514 is something completely new, CCP's philosophy of long-tail business rather than short-term success, the company's investment in its new Newcastle studio and why its new business models involves microtransactions and free expansions. How come you're the only guys demonstrating this sort of technical ambition, both in terms of what you've already done with Eve, and now the multi-platform crossover with Dust?
Yohei Ishii

I think part of it is we're a bit crazy. The company started back in 1997 with the board game, of all things. In Iceland, the founder of the company started a game I can't even pronounce. It was a family boardgame that became the best-selling board game in the whole country; I think it sold 10,000 units in a country that only has 80,000 homes, so a ton of the population was playing.

From that they started the whole concept of the emergent world, where it's not really the gameplay, but it's the higher game, and tying in the people, the people who are actually playing creating the immersive experience. Taking that and going from making a board game to the next step, the logical step and making probably the most complex MMO ever attempted - that's the kind of mentality that our founder has and has distilled in the company. But it's not just repeating the same thing and moving forward, we really saw that there were a lot of people who tried the Eve online game because they were really attracted to the sci-fi universe, but they didn't really like how difficult and hardcore it was. It just didn't fit their kind of play style. It works for some people, and the people it works for - great, because they stay forever. 20 per cent of our users now started when the game launched. That's pretty strong retention. But for those who are interested in the universe - and I think there are about 5 million, maybe even more now, trials - we thought bringing in the console would really kind of help reach those users. And then bring it to the FPS crowd, because it's one of those genres where it just has a very small iterative innovation. What you had five years ago looks different, but a lot of the stuff is very similar. They're trying to add more types of persistence around it, definitely Call of Duty and Battlefield, they've started to go down there and they've done a good job, but it's not a virtual world, right? And that's what we're bringing. There's some difficulty in the crowd, why a console game, but we really feel like there's this untapped opportunity there. Do you feel like you're in a race to do this, to build the first persistent shooter world on console? Bobby Kotick has been in headlines lately, talking about monetising Call of Duty online play. Surely everyone's going to try it?
Yohei Ishii

No, I don't think so. There are probably a lot of companies who are going to be monetising through microtransactions, there's no doubt about that. But in terms of having an MMO on console that's made for the console - we're not too worried. We've never done console games, though again we have some great middleware partners, but also some amazing industry veterans, from Ubisoft, from DICE, from all over. One of the founders of DICE actually joined our Shanghai studio, and he's pretty incredible. How big's the team now, across all the studios?
Yohei Ishii

It's about 100 people now in our Shanghai studio developing Dust, and then there's our core technology team which is working on the back-end MMO infrastructure in Iceland and in Shanghai. That's why we're not worried about a race. To make a real persistent world, you have to make an MMO. And there aren't that many companies out there that have done this. You could argue that Activision, but that's really Blizzard. They're kind of split. Blizzard is not making the next Call of Duty.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.