As Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP Games, took the stage one night in Reykjavik, Iceland for the opening of EVE FanFest 2017, he did so knowing that this FanFest would be one to remember. CCP’s 20th anniversary was center stage, with the company’s head recounting some of the early moments leading up to that night, as well as some of his finer (and funnier) moments with the company. Since starting in 1997, the Icelandic studio has seen the launch of one of the world’s most hotly talked about MMOs, EVE Online, as well as a focus on VR gaming in recent years, especially over the last year with the launch of EVE: Valkyrie, Gunjack and Gunjack II.
Yet, with everything CCP Games has achieved to this point, there doesn’t seem to be a sign things will be slowing down soon.
A History of Excellence
“I am actually more excited for the next twenty years than the first twenty years, even though that is an epic achievement to go on for twenty years in the gaming industry today,” Pétursson said. “That is a rare occurrence.”
Support for virtual reality isn’t dying soon for CCP, either. Hilmar expressed the fact that CCP Games has had VR in its DNA since the beginning, even though they weren’t a “VR Company” from the get go. And that can be seen manifested in the investment they make in the technology today. The company recently announced that they have recouped most if not all of the initial $30 million investment they’ve made into VR, and weren’t looking to slow down anytime soon. Updates to EVE: Valkyrie such as the Groundrush release show they are still moving forward with established brands, but Senior Brand Manager Ryan Geddes told UploadVR in Reykjavik Saturday during EVE FanFest that their vision doesn’t halt there.
“Our trend is to try and take advantage of all of the innovation in VR and creating meaningful experiences for people,” Geddes explained. “So in terms of what our road map is and what we plan to do next, we plan to continue to watch and on-board all the innovation on the hardware side and work very closely with partners to sort of stay ahead of the innovation curve so that we can continue to do that.”
When the company initially launched EVE: Valkyrie on the Oculus Rift, the plan was never to have it stall there. There was no exclusivity in mind, rather they wanted to be at the forefront of all mainstream VR devices – which include the HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR (PSVR). In fact, its launch on Sony’s headset was like a jolt of new life in the game. It’s also why Gunjack has been so scaleable on either Gear VR or PC. Having this mindset from the start made it easier to accomplish, giving all VR players the best experience they can have on their particular platform.
“From the get go we had some really big goals: we wanted to be cross platform, for VR to grow we wanted all of our playerbase in the same area,” Andrew Willans, Lead Game Designer for EVE Valkyrie, said during an interview at FanFest. “We wanted it to be about Valkyrie, not about what platform you chose to game on. So that was a really smart call we made early on.”
This top-down approach is how CCP tackles all of their VR efforts, and how they will continue to do so. It isn’t about creating a great game and then porting it to VR – this is a major reason Geddes tells me an EVE: Online VR game hasn’t been announced – but rather, like everything CCP Games does, they are trying to create the best VR experience for the VR player.
CCP Games has a history of putting players, and the experience they get from their titles, first. It’s the level of player agency and freedom users have in EVE: Online that gives birth to the massive battles or the year-long missions of betrayal the internet can’t seem to get enough of. Simply because CCP is building a VR game doesn’t mean player experience in the game isn’t at the core – it certainly is a main, driving factor still.
Groundrush’s new map, Solitude, is a perfect example of this. There was always a want to create a ground-based map in EVE: Valkyrie. However, VR players can sometimes feel sick if there is a defined horizon line in the map. So the team spent months coming up with the best way to implement a map with a horizon and make it comfortable for players – obscuring the line with weather effects, making sure there was always something on the map in front of you, cluttering the line, and more. The result, as Geddes mentions, is a lack of a clearly defined horizon to draw the player’s gaze. This idea of player experience permeates how they create VR games now and in how they plan on making them in the future as well.
Building for the Future
“What we really want to do when we think of the games we’re making,” Geddes said, referring to their approach to games today and moving forward, “we want to make VR games that are great for VR gamers first. If we’re not doing that, then we’re never going to be successful doing anything else. So our focus is on making, maintaining and growing great VR communities.” Sparc seems like a great testament to that mission.
“And the games we’re making now are sort of stones in the river to get to that undiscovered country out there where we might be talking about metaverse, ways to exist on different planes of virtual reality – we all have those dreams,” Geddes teased. “You’ve been around FanFest and you see what kind of sci-fi nerds we are. So those are the kind of things we dream of about. But on a practical level, we just want to continue making and supporting great VR games.”
So how does CCP see themselves moving through VR in the future? As pioneers in the space, according to Willans. CCP Games is so thoroughly invested in VR experiences and tech – and it’s not necessarily from a business investment standpoint, but from a creative one, they plan to keep pushing the industry forward. Yes, CCP Games is operating for a profit of $21 million they reported at FanFest – but their approach to these problems aren’t always from that angle. And to Willans, someone who works on a VR-only title, seeing that investment is freeing and inspiring.
“There is an investment there which is a lot more on the creative aspect,” Willans said. “You know, ‘How do we break new ground? How do we become pioneers? How do we redefine and rewrite the best practices of VR for tomorrow and the year after?’ And to be involved and part of that journey, we need to be here right now and we need to be doing what we’re doing, which is tackling on all different fronts. As we kind of evolve the games, the hardware evolves with us.”
As the VR space continues to evolve heading into the future, CCP Games is making sure they are poised to be at the fore of innovation and change in the games industry. And as it happens, those working on the platform and their titles, are excited about the future.
“Shit gets more and more awesome,” Willans told me, with a wide grin.