It's been a very busy year for the folks at CPP Games, the team behind the epic sci-fi MMORPG EVE Online and its forthcoming mobile spin-off, EVE Echoes.
Since March, the dev team has been jet setting around the globe hosting fan fests for the EVE Online faithful across North America, Europe, and Australia. Beyond the community events and celebrations, the tour stops also provided an opportunity for players and media to spend some hands-on time with an early build of EVE Echoes running on iOS.
I was invited down to EVE Vegas to get the latest updates on the development EVE Echoes and get a firsthand look at the Alpha build of the game. In short, the game looks absolutely stunning and has the potential to be a truly special mobile MMORPG, but a lot of that is riding on the success of the open beta which is scheduled to start in December. Here are four reasons why I think EVE Echoes is worthy of your attention.
Unique opportunity to be part of a brand new EVE universe
For the uninitiated, EVE Online is a sandbox MMORPG that's set in space and gives you the tools to play the game however you want. CPP Games has developed a very dedicated player base that keeps the EVE galaxy busy through a complex network of player-owned Corporations that have staked out a claim to most of the game world and control exploration, combat and trade across a vast galaxy of star systems.
I've personally admired EVE Online (from afar) since it launched 16 years ago. While I never dedicated myself to learning the game, I do like to check in with the community every now and again just to see what crazy achievements or record-breaking space battles that EVE players have been up to. The sheer amount of player dedication and team planning that takes place within Corporations to support one another, organize epic raids or assemble massive warships is simply staggering.
With EVE Echoes, I was immediately impressed by the quality of the graphics. Mobile gaming has come a very long way in the 16 years since EVE Online first launched, and yet I still found moments playing where I was awestruck by the attention to detail on the spaceships and planets.
The fact that EVE Echoes is going to be a full-featured MMORPG for mobile devices is great because the beta will be the perfect vessel for new players like myself to get a taste of the full EVE experience without being bound to a PC.
The developers are focused on creating an authentic experience
Part of what makes EVE so unique is how player-driven the game is when it comes to narrative. Instead of selling out the franchise and producing a mobile game that puts profits over players, CCP Games has clearly taken its time to make sure that they go about doing a mobile version of EVE the right way.
That has meant consulting with the active EVE Online community and valuing player feedback as they continue to develop the game. At the EVE Vegas conference, I sat in on a roundtable session where players were able to deliver direct feedback and pitch questions and suggestions to both NetEase and CCP team members.
It also helps that Wei Su, one of the senior producers at NetEase leading the work on Eve Echoes, is an EVE Online veteran himself with over a decade of playing experience in the game. Creating and facilitating open lines of communications between the players and developers has always been part of CCP's strategy for developing EVE Online, so it makes sense for the same back-and-forth dialogue to exist heading into the open beta for EVE Echoes.
Touchscreen controls and simplified UI will make life in space easier
A cold truth about EVE Online is that it requires a copious amount of clicking around the screen and tedious menu navigation to do pretty much anything in the game. For some diehard EVE players, the massive effort required is all part of the fun and is justified by the freedom that those intricate game tools ultimately provide.
But in the world of mobile gaming, an overly complex menu system is poison. One of the biggest challenges tasked to the NetEase team was developing a version of EVE Online's UI that works for phones and tablets. Talking through a translator with Wei Su, he emphasized how crucial it was to take advantage of the flexibility touchscreens provide for space navigation and controlling the camera while otherwise simplifying the more repetitive processes in EVE — and to do so without sacrificing the depth that gives EVE players the independence to customize everything just right.
Based on the player feedback that CCP reported at the conference and from the experiences of the EVE faithful in attendance, it sure seems like EVE Echoes is striking the right balance between maintaining the authenticity that EVE players demand without making the game too complex for new players to grasp.
A full in-game tutorial was not available in the build I test played. But I did stumble across some tutorial slides while perusing through different menus, and I instantly appreciated that this wasn't going to be a game where your first few hours are spent going through a heavily scripted tutorial. The beta will be a great opportunity to see if this compromised scheme is authentic enough to entice the core players to play on mobile, and whether it's accessible enough for more casual mobile gamers to give it a chance.
It's free-to-play with in-game monetization yet to be determined
EVE Online currently operates on a free-to-play model that lets anyone log in and explore the EVE universe as an Alpha clone. This lets you explore the full EVE universe but restricts the available skills and spaceships available. For the full EVE experience, you need to enroll in a monthly subscription that upgrades your character to an Omega clone and grants you more freedom to develop your skills tree and pilot a wider variety of ships based on your character race and affiliations.
There's also in-game currency and items that can be bought with real-life money, too, but the beauty of EVE is that everything is made available in-game — you can collect raw materials and manufacture ships and upgrades exclusively using the tools and resources provided.
When I asked about how in-game monetization is going to work in EVE Echoes, reps from both NetEase and CCP indicated that no firm decisions have been made in that regard.
However, given that the EVE Echoes beta is going to be shuttered at the end of the testing period before the game is prepped for a soft launch globally, that also means that there probably won't be the Alpha/Omega tier structure in place and that beta testers will be able to do and see everything available in the game.
And that, in turn, is probably the biggest reason to register for the open beta. Beta testers are often encouraged to push the game to its limits so that developers can gather valuable data and feedback to ultimately improve the game before its release. Not only am I curious to see all that EVE Echoes can offer to me, as a player, but I'm also interested to know what I can offer back to the EVE community and whether this mobile version is the right fit for me before I lay down my credit card.