Seismic Stan, EVE-blogger and one of the many Brits that had travelled to Iceland last week, probably summed up EVE Online's Fanfest the best when he called it "a mix between a Star Trek convention and Woodstock." Because just like being a Trekkie, EVE Online can be more than a game - for some, it's a lifestyle. And at no point in time is that more obvious than when hundreds of players fly all the way to remote Iceland to celebrate it.
Exactly how much people attended Fanfest this year is a bit hard to nail down. During the opening ceremony, the number 3000 was thrown around - but that seems to include everyone in the building, and guests from Reykjavik that had bought tickets for the concluding party, which had been opened to the public. 900 actual guests were mentioned towards the end of the fest, which seems more reasonable while still being an impressive amount. Either way, it was the biggest EVE Online Fanfest yet and the Laugardalshöll Convention Center (yeah, we can't pronounce it properly either) was packed from start to finish.
It was also a perfect time for CCP to present taglines such as "EVE Forever" and "EVE is real." The latter, they said, came from an internal discussion about how to explain the game to outsiders. While the company's cinematic department has always been great at making impressive trailers, explaining what EVE is actually about has been a lot harder. There's a rather big disconnect between what a new player sees in trailers or PvP-videos posted on YouTube and what they actually experience once they log in for the first time. If you expect epic drama and massive fleet battles during your first time in EVE Online, you're in for a surprise.
Instead, "EVE is real" puts the focus on the virtual world aspects of EVE Online and tries to explain it to a greater audience - that it's not as much a MMO as an actual, virtual galaxy where everything you do can have repercussions, with its complex player driven economy and politics. Previous attempts have seen trailers such as "The Butterfly Effect" and "Causality", and "EVE is real" takes another logical step towards this goal. By putting it up in big letters on the screen behind CEO Hilmar Petursson during his speech at the CCP Presents-panel, the company hoped for the attendees to bring it - and the new EVE vision trailer that was revealed during the conference - with them home.
There's also no doubt that the upcoming Incarna-expansion aims to bring new players in to the game and make it more approachable. Previously known under names like "Ambulation" or simply "Walking in stations", Incarna will allow you to leave your spaceship for the first time and actually walk around in the game's many space stations. The first part of the expansion will roll out during the summer, limiting you to walk around in your captain's quarters using the updated avatars that were introduced in the last expansion (called Incursion). We got a sneak peak at what the captain's quarters will look like in action during a talk by CCP developer Teemu Vilen, showing off features such as a view screen that will allow you to follow the market in real time and get news updates about things happening in the 5000+ solar systems large galaxy.
The captain's quarters is a good way for CCP to add a new dimension to the game, while not altering fundamental gameplay areas. Exactly how the full Incarna expansion is supposed to come together with the current game is still a bit of a question mark, even if it was hinted at during the initial press-only sessions that we would get a better understanding at the end of Fanfest (granted, the hint came from one of the devs that admitted to "talking too much"). Some old-time players are still sceptical about the whole thing, as it takes resources away from improving gameplay that they are used to. But CCP needs to keep growing the player base, and Incarna is an attempt from the developer to make it easier to gamers used to other MMOs to quicker connect with their avatar in the EVE universe.
Of course, walking around in stations only gets you so far - to get anything done, you need to head out into space. Up until now, EVE Online has struggled with its new player experience (NPE) and has iterated on it many times over the years. Without dumbing it down ("it's not in our DNA"), the developers hope to make it a bit more approachable by adding certain features out of the box. The overview, which helps you keep track of objects around you, is one of the things that will get more options straight away; saving the new player from having to mess around with confusing settings and menus. Or as CCP Soundwave (developers at the company choose a dev-name for themselves that always starts with "CCP") put it during one of his appearances - "you can still tailor [the Overview settings], but it's better for the new player, rather than just saying, ‘Welcome to EVE, here's a Rubik's Cube. Now go fuck yourself.'"
Another aspect coming to EVE Online at some point in the future is the first person shooter Dust 514, which will be CCP's first foray into console territory - and making them a multi-game company. Dust 514 is supposed to be linked to EVE, where the former focuses on the domination of planets while the latter stays in space. Information about it was scarce during Fanfest, and while the gathered press tried to pry some form of details from the gathered developers during a Q&A after the conference was over there wasn't much said. Hilmar Peturson and Nathan Richardson (also known as CCP Oveur) did say that they approach Dust in the same way as they do EVE - if it doesn't work out initially they will keep working on it until it does. Exactly how that will work on consoles remains to be seen, but they were very adamant about it all being a part of the same world.
Hints that we might see more during E3 were dropped thought. Also, people attending the Vampire-convention The Great Masquerade - which is held in New Orleans later this year - will get to see more from the World of Darkness-MMO currently in development at CCP's Atlanta offices.
So, what about Woodstock? That part is easy - Fanfest is hardly a PG-13 conference. The amount of beer downed during the three day conference is staggering, and the Pub Crawl with a Dev-event - where various developers team up with attendees and hit Reykjavik's bars - is very popular. Several of the games journalist at Fanfest decided to team up with the pub crawl dubbed "Alcoholic Birthday Party" (so named because the dev in charge, CCP Infinity, was celebrating her birthday). You get the idea.
Reykjavik in general fills up with EVE-players when Fanfest is held, and you couldn't walk far before bumping into someone wearing an EVE-hoodie or a t-shirt sporting an alliance logo. During the first evening there, I headed over to the pub Celtic Cross in central Reykjavik for what I assumed would be a calm evening held by the Tweetfleet - instead, the first thing I ran into was six already quite drunk members of the Goonswarm alliance, who greeted me by shouting "EVE ONLINE!" at the top of their lungs. As the night went by, more and more players showed up and soon the place was filled with players. Employees at CCP were no strangers in taking part of the festivities themselves, and a whole bunch of developers showed up at the Celtic Cross that night.
Say what you want about EVE Online, but CCP does come across as a rather special games studio. From the Beer Quiz (where a team from development challenged a team from publishing on Fanfest's main stage) to the magnificent chess-boxing event (four minutes of chess followed by three minutes of boxing - you win through either checkmate or knocking out your opponent), it was hard to leave Fanfest without the feeling that this is a company that is willing to give a lot of fun back to their community. While you can have a lot of opinions about how EVE Online is run (and the game's forum can be very vocal on this topic from time to time), how many developers do you know of that would build a real boxing ring and allow two employees to slug it out until one of them bleed profusely in front of a cheering audience?
EVE Online Fanfest is all about that cheering audience. It's the time when people that are bitter enemies in game travel to Iceland to meet, chat, have a beer (or two, or ten), and discuss a game they feel passionately for. When I got back home I logged into EVE again for the first time in ages. Not because of anything that CCP had said or revealed during my time in Iceland - but because I want to fly my spaceship around in a galaxy inhabited by those fans, being shot at by the same people I had met in the Celtic Cross. For the time being, all is back to normal in the galaxy of New Eden - with all its politics, scams, violence and camaraderie.