avatar_493876Iceland-based CCP Games is best known for EVE Online, a ruthless, Byzantine MMO set in the cold, vast reaches of a universe called New Eden, where player-led factions and alliances vie for political clout, territory, and the resources necessary to power their massive war machines.

EVE is a relatively niche MMO -- it breached 500,000 subscribers only recently, after ten years of operation -- but its players are devoted and loyal, and the game’s revenue has allowed CCP to expand consistently. They just released Dust 514, a free-to-play PlayStation 3 shooter that ties into EVE’s universe and in-game economy, and they’re working on World of Darkness, an MMO based on White Wolf’s legendary Vampire: the Masquerade pen-and-paper game.

CCP’s newest frontier, however, will be mobile development.

“We’ve been dabbling in mobile for a long time,” erstwhile EVE Online executive producer Jon Lander told me last month during CCP Fanfest 2013 in Reykjavik, Iceland. “But we’ve never really focused on it. We’ve never taken the time to put a clear strategy together about how these things fit in with our universe.”

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The wheels to rectify that started turning earlier this year, when CCP quietly announced that Lander would be transitioning out of his role on EVE to “lead [the company’s] emerging mobile strategy.”

Mobile development -- or, euphemistically, “out-of-client engagement” -- was a recurring, if downplayed, theme across all of CCP’s projects at Fanfest. During her portion of the EVE Online keynote, senior producer Andie Nordgren discussed the necessity of giving players access to their accounts, even when they’re not actively logged in. Smartphone and tablet apps are one way of doing this, she explained, but plans for web- and browser-based systems are being hashed out as well.

World of Darkness senior producer Chris McDonough mentioned similar possibilities during a panel devoted to his game as well. “There will be access to in-game stuff, and all the levels of interactivity are being determined” McDonough explained to me in a follow-up interview. “When CCP is building EVE, they consider it a universe. The goal is that Dust 514 interacts with the same database that EVE exists in.”

“That interactivity allows the main database to be a platform,” he continued,  “World of Darkness is being built in a similar way.”

Eve-2In the short term, CCP fans can look toward Dust 514: Neocom for the PlayStation Vita for a rough idea of what an iOS app might look like. Neocom, which is coming “soon,” will interact with most of Dust’s non-gameplay systems, including weapon and armor customization, starmap updates, and buying and selling consumable items. Jon Lander calls Neocom a “tracer bullet,” a lightweight project built by a small team to gauge interest in possible future companion apps.

“Ultimately, our strategy is to create bespoke experiences that are tailored to what our fans are using,” says Thor Gunnarsson, vice-president of business development at CCP. “Of course, they’re using tablets and smartphones, day-in and day-out. We want to bring another access point to them, wherever they are.”

Still, Neocom isn’t out yet and a Vita isn’t a smartphone or a tablet. “We’re not a mobile development house yet,” Lander admits. “We don’t know this stuff. But we can learn.”

Despite not having released a commercial app yet, CCP aren’t going in completely blind. Before joining CCP, Andie Nordgren spent time working on RJDJ, an audio app on iOS; Gunnarsson was at Ideaworks3D prior to shifting gears to help make a spaceship MMO.

Gunnarsson’s time at Ideaworks3D was spent developing mobile versions of big-name IPs like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, The Sims, and Tomb Raider for early mobile devices. “That was before iOS, obviously. We were actually doing our first 3D title on a Compaq iPaq in 2001,” he told me.

Eve-3“Then we did a lot of titles on the Nokia N-Gage,” he says with a laugh. “We did four of the launch titles for that. It was weird to go from the most extreme, constrained corner of the games industry, which was mobile gaming at that time, to working on EVE Online with the team here.”

During his presentation during a keynote address on the last day of Fanfest, Lander detailed a bit of CCP’s checkered history with developing EVE-related mobile apps. In 2006, a team had created a working build of EVE Mobile, but it proved difficult to run on Tranquility, the London-based, single-shard server that houses the majority of worldwide EVE Online players.

By 2011, CCP had designed and developed apps for Nvidia-related mobile devices, but the project stalled out after the catastrophic launch of the EVE Online: Incarna expansion in June of that year. Amid player protests and a drop in subscribers, CCP was eventually forced to lay off 20% of its staff worldwide. Mobile development was put on the backburner again.

“My remit for EVE when I was made executive producer was to get it fixed, get it strong, get it in position where we can be ambitious again,” Lander tells me over drinks at a reception after the final keynote. He’s set to transition into mobile development full time later this summer, with a string of well-received expansions under his belt. “We’ve got a really good set of people in place so that we can take this on."

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In addition to company-wide stability and growth, the development and release of Dust 514 has paved CCP’s foray into mobile development. According to Gunnarsson, Dust is built on a two-way programming interface, called CREST. In layman’s terms, Dust not only reads information from the EVE server, but is able to send information back. This is what allows in-game events in Dust 514 to also take effect in EVE Online.

“You can imagine that with that platform in place, we can start to create experiences that are truly attractive, that could become new games, or different genres,” enthuses Gunnarsson. “They would have some touchpoint to the EVE universe. They could be light footprints, or they could be something very deep.”

CCP are keeping the specifics about what types of apps their designing and for which platforms close to the chest for the time being, assuming they’re far enough in development that there are any specifics -- Lander envisions small teams and quick turnaround times prototyping lots of different ideas.

Still, he seemed excited at the prospect. “We have an amazing opportunity to work with a persistent, sandbox world. Oh my God, just imagine some of the best mobile games out there ...” he tells me at the reception before trailing off.

Whatever form CCP’s mobile projects take, Lander finished his keynote presentation with a confident pronouncement: “This time next year, you will have EVE Mobile in your hand.”

All the images in this article are from the PC version of EVE Online.

  • Aventador

    If you want to enjoy EVE Online your whole life needs to be dedicated to that game.I have enough buirocracy and looking at documents in RL and last thing I want is watching and revolving around that in a game.

    • Greyskull

      Anyone who fully comprehends EVE deserves an honorary Master's Degree.

      • Datael

        I'll have been playing for 8 years this July and I still don't understand 90% of the game (probably an overstatement). I have developed supreme skills in making spreadsheets, however!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Micah-Neveu/1160696016 Micah Neveu

      I don't think that is accurate at all.
      I play EVE casually and enjoy it when I play.

      • Aventador

        Miners and high sec trading don't count

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Micah-Neveu/1160696016 Micah Neveu

        lol. I'm definitely neither. FW, in low-sec with a negative security status.
        I log in, fight a little, chat with my alliance-mates, get blown up, explode others, log off.

      • http://twitter.com/NillaKig Darnel Johnston

        You're doing it right!

    • basil

      It isn't as complicated as it appears, it's gotten much more accessible over the years.

      • Aventador

        UI has become more friendly to new players, game mechanic hasn't unfortunately.
        You still need at least half year to master all basics with reading/listening to people explaining it like crazy and learn some spreadsheets to understand stuff, and please don't tell me that's not the truth.Other choice is to ignore game mechanics and just hang out in high sec until someone ganks you and shows you how bad you are at playing game.

      • Thaurin

        Ah, it seems *somebody* is angry for getting owned in Eve. ;)

      • Aventador

        You are funny
        I was in TEST and had pretty good kill/death ratio under 6 months of playing game with maybe half of that time dedicated to learn PvP ; I also remember owning other people with Thanatos and Archon.Wasn't extra super skilled as others who play 24/7 at that, but had decent skills and never rage quoted even if I was podded or lost expensive ship.
        So much about your theory...

      • Madlof Chev

        You were in TEST, that's why you didn't learn anything.

      • Thaurin

        Good on ya! Showed me! I bow my head in shame!

    • cronos1013

      I have to disagree, I am a super casual when i comes to eve (like 2-5 hours a week) and I've been playing since 2009 and still have fun. It seems like the people who aren't having fun any more are those who treat the game like a second job, but have put in too much time to quit.

    • Akirei

      Quite the opposite.

      The only reason I play EVE is because it is truly the ONLY MMO on the market where I can play for about 1hr a week and remain competitive. I can make hundreds of millions of ISK on 15 minutes effort a week and only have to log in to change skills every few days / weeks. I play when I want to. It is a game on my terms.

      For the record, I live in nullsec.

  • Corvo Attano 77

    I'm pretty sure I saw a video of someone playing EVE on their jailbroken iPad using some sort of Remote Desktop utility. Anyway...

    I've wondered before why CCP have been so slow to even think about developing a proper iPad client for EVE. Maybe battery life? EVE players tend to be pretty seriously dedicated, and the iPad battery takes a long time to charge, and not a long time to die if you play games on it.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      In a past life when I had a boring office job and played EVE Online, I'd set timers and queue up new skill training via VNC.

      H.A.M.

      • Corvo Attano 77

        H.A.M.?

      • joaquin_ondamoon

        B.A.C.O.N.

      • ChilLama

        S.Y.R.U.P. F.O.R. M.Y. P.A.N.C.A.K.E.S.

  • Game.PN

    Dust 514 released on May 14,5 is may and 14 is the date

    • dariusjr98

      Heh, never noticed that. I'm trying to get into 514, but the UI is confusing, and nothin is really clearly explained in the game. In other words, it's not user friendly.

      • AceWizard

        Just like Eve! Ccp is sticking to the team. :P

  • airwa1k

    Isn't EVE a "pay to win" game?

    • http://twitter.com/NibblerSA Thorn Galen

      You left the 'L' out of 'pay'.
      EVE is nowhere near any P2W, there is no magic "I Win" button you buy.

    • http://twitter.com/RinnosukeETQW Jeff Simons

      Nope, only thing you can buy with actual money is clothes for your character.

  • joaquin_ondamoon

    I don't have the time to invest in any MMO, but I've always thought the World of Darkness universe was tailor made for one. I enjoyed the various novels and I'm interested to see how this plays out.
    Also, it's the 21st century: how are MMO's only now hooking into mobile platforms? Seems like a no-brainer.

  • Erhab Al Fudaeeya

    Theres a wild misconception about needing to invest alot of time into the game to enjoy it. One of the best apects of the game IMO is setting your own pace. Need skills to do something? No leveling here, just set you character to train and let it go in real-time. I can only afford to play about 30 minutes a day and a couple hours on the weekend and still I have a worthwhile gaming experience.

    https://secure.eveonline.com/trial/?invc=21e8c27b-1ae5-46ef-9348-7d54ab6a8b9d&action=buddy

    21-Day free trial, no excuses.

  • flashbackflip

    I have already read this article somewhere....