Colors of Battle: How CCP design ship skins

Rhom Achensa 2018-02-04

It’s not uncommon for warriors to adorn themselves before conflict. Ash and ink dragged across the face, fetishes woven into garments, a scrawled phrase or two meant to scare the enemy or lighten the mood. So it is for Eve’s ships of battle.

Nearly every hull in the game can be modified with a Super Kerr-Induced Nanocoating (SKIN) to change its appearance at will. There is a robust player market for skins within the game, and CCP regularly offers new designs from the New Eden Store. What may be a mystery for Eve citizens, however, is how a skin travels from a creator’s mind to the market.

It starts with the art team assigned to create SKINs for monetization in the New Eden Store, or dropped as loot or rewards during events, said Senior 3D Artist CCP Salvo. “They will usually give us a rough guideline of what it is they want to see, and then it’s up to the art department to take that request and turn it into an actual skin design,” Salvo said.

Several factors help the design team pick which hulls will be used for a particular SKIN. It could be data that show how often a ship is used or how popular other SKINs were. It could also come down to the literal shape of the spacecraft. Salvo commented that it “is kind of why Minmatar skins are definitely much harder to produce than Amarrian ship skins, for instance. It’s because we certainly don’t have the hull area to make the design look good.”

Ships from the Amarr Empire tend to have a broad canvas to overlay detailed designs. The Minmatar Republic however, chose to focus on ships that occassionally appear haphazardly slung together, with more effort spent on combat effectiveness than visual appeal. “Often when we get these threads on Reddit and the forums where people say, ‘Oh, you can put this skin on that hull, but something that’s normally reserved for Amarr, and then you stick it on Minmatar, it just doesn’t work for these reasons,” he said.

SKINs that appear to have more complexity, like the Octopus Red Flight designs now being marketed by CCP, take longer to produce and are geared toward helping CCP’s revenue stream. Other SKINs won through gameplay usually take less time to produce, he said, and are less dynamic. Those skins may only feature a different color, rather than a bold new pattern.

But unlike warriors, Eve pilots cannot customize the look of their ships beyond CCP’s own designs. Salvo said that as the company launched a new method of streamlining the SKIN design process, an early idea was to give players the option to create their own look and provide community-based SKINs. Because Eve is now free to play, however, CCP abandoned the thought and decided to retain control of ship appearance. “It’s a form of monetization. It didn’t really make business sense for us to give it away for free when we could sell it,” Salvo said.

With that said, one special case is to help a friend. The “Blaze” Squadron SKIN was a memorial to the late ‘CCP Blaze’, a developer who tragically died last year. All profits from sales in the New Eden Store were donated to Blaze’s surviving family, a gift from the Eve gaming community that ultimately totaled more than $120,000. In fact, CCP Salvo said the “Blaze” Squadron skin stands among his favorites, along with the sleek Concord Firewatch designs, and the ‘Angel’s Hex’ SKIN for the Machariel, a look that features animated lighting.

The most popular SKIN by sales, though, is the Headhunter series, which was available in the New Eden Store during the Hallowe’en ‘Crimson Harvest’ event. It features a menacing white skull draped on a deep red background. Salvo also cited the police skin, which has flashing blue and red lights, as one of the more popular designs in the game despite its restriction to just three hulls.

“We can’t always exactly determine what is going to be a very popular skin or not,” he said. “It depends on how actively the hull is used; that’s a big factor. People just won’t buy skins for hulls they don’t fly.” As a result, complexity also plays a factor in a skin’s popularity. As such, “determining beforehand what is going to be a popular skin is difficult. We can make an educated guess based on the numbers we’ve collected.” said Salvo. “It usually comes down to the popularity of the hull in combination with how flashy the skin is. The more flashy, of course, the better.”

INN would like to thank CCP Salvo for talking us through the process of designing SKINs for ship hulls, and very much look forward to the future of Eve Online ship and SKIN design.

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  • Alua Oresson

    What would be of interest to myself and, I suspect, many older players, would be a recreation of the original skins. For instance the Thorax used to have a skin where it was a polished chrome type of look. I would probably pay real money for one of those skins and it should be fairly cheap to produce.

    February 4, 2018 at 9:38 am
  • Cloon McCloon

    Would have been great to get some actual insight on the process beyond “They give us a rough guideline, and we make the skin.” This really didn’t tell us anything on how CCP designs ship skins.

    The main takeaway from this is that CCP put in time and effort to make a great system where we could design our own skins, which would have been amazing, but decided “fuck you, pay me for what we give you” instead.

    February 5, 2018 at 3:58 am
    • …and then expect us to pay for skins that are mostly simple color-shifts, many of which are ultimately less-appealing than the default skins.

      February 6, 2018 at 6:28 am
  • Poleman

    I came to see pictures.

    February 5, 2018 at 6:57 pm