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Hilmar Pétursson: Making CCP tech open source will enable Eve Online to live forever

CEO also shares the secrets behind how the long-running MMO has gathered such an active and loyal community

CCP Games, the Icelandic developer behind long-running MMO Eve Online, is gearing up to share the keys to its universe.

As announced earlier this year, the company is planning to make its proprietary Carbon Development Platform – which encompasses the studio's Carbon Engine and other technology – an open source property, giving other developers their chance to get to grips with the same tools behind CCP's flagship title.

As with any instance of a company sharing its technology, our first question when we catch up with CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson is why. For Pétursson, it comes down to legacy.

"Companies generally don't live very long," he explains. "CCP is already quite an old company by gaming standards. We're not Nintendo, we haven't been here for 200 years, but we're 27 – that’s already quite long because game companies are just not very likely to live for a long time."

Part of the way a games company can live on is through the titles and technology it creates, but for those to last, they need to be shared.

"If you look at the macro trends in software, generally code that is open and shared has a higher chance to be robust over a period of time," he says. "Linux is a great example; [that] has basically taken over the operating system business because when it's open, anyone can contribute, extend, fix, and enhance, and the longevity probabilities are much higher.

"You can also see [this with] Unreal Engine, which is a pretty big deal in the industry. The source for Unreal is readily available to everyone – it’s not an open source project, but the source code is there. It’s immensely helpful."

He adds that the availability of the code makes it easier for developers to seek support because they can be more specific when reporting their problems.

"We want Eve Online to go on forever. Open sourcing the platform that powers it in my view is greatly increasing the odds of that happening."

At the heart of the Carbon Development Platform is the Carbon Engine, which powers Eve Online. With this soon to be released to the world, what does Pétursson expect or hope to see? Could developers or even tech-savvy fans use it to build a new Eve, or is it more likely to be used to build something completely different?

"If there's anything I've learned from all this is that you shouldn't curb the emergent potential by having too specific an idea of what is going to happen," he answers. "I know from [experience] when you give tools to people in a community, they will make awesome things. This is the story of human life, and they will outdo your creativity way more than you think. Every time you try to put a lid on it, you curb the potential. Make it open, and the sky is the limit.

"Also, when the whole code is open source, it's way easier to work with the universities. We could do game jams over summer, having people contribute, it's open with no legal complications. So there's a myriad of opportunities that open up once you've set it free."

"We want Eve Online to go on forever. Open sourcing the platform that powers it in my view is greatly increasing the odds of that happening"

It's an interesting move at a time when some studios are shifting towards more widely used engines rather than using their own tools. Last year, CDP confirmed it was dropping its proprietary tech in favour of Unreal Engine 5 when working on the next Witcher game, while Crystal Dynamics has also chosen Epic's tech for the next Tomb Raider.

Pétursson notes that CCP is doing a mix of both. While Eve will continue to be developed in Carbon, the studio has opted for Unreal when making Eve Vanguard, a new first-person shooter set in the same universe.

"When you're making a shooter, you have to have an extremely good reason not to use Unreal, and our Carbon platform is not to make shooters. It's really made for making spaceships at serious scale."

He adds that many of the other engines aren't built specifically around the kind of scale Eve operates on, pointing to the size of its in-game universe and citing the 10,000-player battles the MMO has managed to accommodate. He also observes that sharing Carbon means its internally-developed tech no longer classes as proprietary.

"Once we open source it, it belongs to the world," he says. "So, in a way, we're getting out of the proprietary engine business by open sourcing the whole thing. But it's done with the principle [that] it's just more likely to prosper under that setting rather than hidden away in a basement somewhere."

The Carbon Development Platform will include elements of blockchain technology, the same used in new survival game Project Awakening, but Pétursson recognises the ongoing scepticism around this tech and emphasises that it is entirely optional.

"Linux is often used to run blockchain nodes, but you don't have to use it [for that], you can use it for whatever," he says, returning to his earlier example. "Our engine is the same, it's made of several components. You can just have a mix and match as you want.

"If you think of what blockchain really is, it's just a weird database and Eve Online is actually the first database game ever made. It's based on SQL server from Microsoft. I had to debate people 20 years ago on whether you should use a database to build a virtual world. People were saying databases are slow, they are not fit for purpose for games and so on. Here we are 20 years later, and databases were fine. Now we have a weird database, and you can use it for whatever. Unfortunately people do tend to use it for not very long-term oriented projects. We are here in the business of doing long-term oriented projects.

"I believe you can use this database to build something unique, but I'm not here to bless the technology, per se. Tech is just tech. You can use whatever tech to good and bad means."

While CCP's Carbon Engine may be well suited to Eve Online's 10,000-player battles, it's not built to develop shooters. Pétursson is intrigued to see what other developers do with it

We're catching up with Pétursson ahead of his Develop:Brighton talk next week, where he explored how Eve Online has created "resilient communities" around itself. It's a subject he has spoken passionately about before – although he admits that how the players have interacted with each other is "a happy accident" from one of the fundamental parts of Eve Online's design.

"There is a fundamental core to Eve Online – it's the first line written in the game design document – which is [that] death is a serious matter," he explains. "And this relates to the death penalty in the game, and the fact that players can really be quite violent to each other.

"When you give tools to people in a community, they will make awesome things... and they will outdo your creativity"

"Real friendships are about people investing in each other's destiny. In a way, if you have a problem in life, you will call your friends. Eve Online routinely creates this scenario [because] people fall in harm's way all the time. You know who your friends are because you've had to call them to rescue you and they did come. So, I think our role is that we've made a game of consequence."

At April's London Developers Conference, Pétursson gave a similar talk on community, regaling attendees with tales of players who have formed real-world friendships and even marriages after spending time in Eve. But how much credit can a developer claim for how its community connects?

"I would say, in many ways, not a lot," he laughs. "This is obviously people themselves doing it. But we often think: are we creating a playground, a theme park, or a sandbox?"

He suggests that theme parks are more directed experiences, whereas playgrounds are a more free-for-all affair and therefore potentially more open to negative experiences, such as bullying, and the need for friends as backup.

"That is maybe the role of the developer, it's to choose. Are you making a playground? Are you making a theme park? Every MMO is a mixture of both, but what are the ratios? How are you going to tune the experience? But then the rest is made by the people playing the game."

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James Batchelor avatar
James Batchelor: James is Editor-in-Chief at, and has been a B2B journalist since 2006. He is author of The Best Non-Violent Video Games
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