But that's not enough for CCP. EVE has always been singled out for its precipitous difficulty curve -- because the game faithfully models everything from power management and targeting systems to realtime stocks and industrial economics, it's a tough climb for new players not necessarily interested in the ins and outs of advanced capacitor control schemes.
Enter Dust 514, then, a brand new game being developed by CCP that's designed to scoop up all of those players who've been scared away by the learning curve in EVE Online. What's the opposite of a hardcore, complicated, PC MMO? Apparently it's a massively multiplayer first-person shooter, available only on Sony's PlayStation 3. (Extensions of the game are set to be released as well, including one on the new PS Vita.)
It might be hard to believe that the pocket protectors behind EVE are working on a console FPS, but that's exactly what they're planning. The company didn't have any actual gameplay to show off at E3 this year, but it did share an ambitious vision: two games, set in the same universe, that allow players to interact in some incredible (if eventually true) ways.
Dust 514 will be a match-based FPS, designed to portray a series of battles that take place on the many, many planets throughout the universe of EVE. Matches will be large, but it's not a full MMO world like PlanetSide -- CCP suggested that there would be at least 32 players or more on a single battlefield at a time. The idea is that battles in Dust 514 will define ownership in the world of EVE. Players may play both, but characters won't cross over: "Pilots" looking to own and take over planets in the world of EVE will require the help of "mercenaries" from Dust 514.
For example, an EVE player might want to build a space elevator on a planet, in order to take control of that planet's resources and facilities. He could set up a contract with a Dust 514 player (or even multiple players) to attack a certain point at a certain time, and if a Dust 514 player can win that battle, the EVE player's corporation could earn control of that area, and all of the spoils therein.
The most tangible tie between the two worlds is ISK -- an Icelandic acronym that EVE uses as InterStellar Kurrency. Players of both games can trade money across to each other, and supposedly official contracts can be placed as well, allowing Dust 514 players to make a virtual living from EVE players if they're good.
Dust 514 players will need that ISK just to play; replacing equipment after a respawn will cost ISK every time, and if bigger firepower like vehicles or extra armor is needed, that can be purchased with ISK as well. Fighting a gigantic battle in Dust 514 can be expensive, but EVE's best players have billions of ISK to put into the fighting, and there's no larger prize than your own planet.
If your head is spinning with all of the possibilities, you're not alone -- EVE's spaceship simulation is also fertile ground for corporate intrigue, political manipulation, and economic scams aplenty, and the addition of a whole other game to this universe will create plenty of wrinkles for interaction. Just taking over a planet will make for some fun interactions between players of both games, and when you calculate in multiple corporations in EVE hiring mercenaries out to try and capture the same planet in Dust 514, the potential seems really incredible.
But don't get too excited just yet. If you've ever played EVE, you know that all of that intrigue and social gameplay is generally buried under spreadsheet after spreadsheet of maximum ship velocity numbers and stock market data. EVE's user interface is made for its nerdy, brilliant players, meaning it's about as simple and usable as a scientific calculator. And while CCP has plenty of experience developing for and running MMO servers, it doesn't have all that much experience in what makes a fun, addictive shooter. We haven't seen the game in action yet, but the one mechanic we know (having to spend even more ISK on equipment right after the humiliation of dying) doesn't exactly scream "addictive" or "accessible."
Dust 514 is also set to be "free to play" -- kind of. CCP says there will be a "cover charge" for the game itself, so you will have to pay real money for the client. But all of that money is given back to you in ISK, which you can also use to buy real game time in EVE. The only other thing we know about the game so far is that it will mirror EVE's skill training progression system, where players accrue skill points in real-time, whether or not they're logged in to the game itself.
CCP's senior producer Torfi Frans Olafsson definitely agrees that "this is going to be harder for us. But we kind of enjoy that challenge." He says the company is "really trying to bring in a new player base to the game," and that's one reason why it's gone with Sony's consoles as the exclusive platforms -- Dust 514 won't even be playable on the PC. He does say that Sony is "very understanding" of CCP's quick and agile release schedule (EVE has seen 14 expansions over its few years of life), but also says that the company has some hard work ahead.
Honestly, I hope they can pull it off. The idea of Dust 514 is an amazing one -- who wouldn't want to play a great shooter in a world where, as CCP's marketing puts it, "your next shot will topple empires"? But CCP is trying something here that's not only ambitious even for experienced action developers, but also sits outside of their (admittedly long) experience in the MMO market so far.
We'll find out how it all works soon -- CCP says they've got Dust 514 running already ("it's quite fun"), and are aiming for a "private trial" later on this year. If they can pull off what they promised to do in our short session at E3, Dust 514 might make for one of the most exciting experiments in MMO gaming in a long time. Just cross your fingers and hope CCP is content to leave those spreadsheets in the spaceships.