Getting to Know the Team Behind EVE Online

2021-06-14

Header art by Cryo Huren

At the beginning of this year, CCP reorganized the EVE Online team. Newly elevated EVE Director of Product CCP Rattati spent several minutes in a Meta Show interview on April 17 describing his new role and where it fits in the revised org chart. Following that interview, INN reached out to CCP with some additional questions about the team behind EVE Online.

What follows is a combination of both the Meta Show interview and the subsequent written interviews with CCP. In doing so, INN hopes to provide players with a more complete picture of the senior development leadership at CCP.

The Eve Online Team

The EVE Online team is composed of three groups under the overall leadership of EVE’s Executive Producer CCP Mannbjorn. The three groups each have their own director. These directors report to CCP Mannbjorn

The three groups operate in descending order:

  • Creative: This group sets the creative vision for EVE in non-technical terms
  • Product: This group translates the creative vision into designs for EVE’s game systems
  • Production: This group implements the product design by writing and maintaining the actual code

Executive Producer, CCP Mannbjorn

CCP Mannbjorn provided some insight into the rationale behind the recent reorg as well as an overview of his personal role in the team’s day-to-day activities.

INN: It’s been mentioned on a few streams that there was a minor shuffle in the dev group’s leadership early this year. What prompted that, or what was the goal of the shuffle?

CCP Mannbjorn: “Our goal as a Gamers, Developers, and makers of EVE Online is to evolve with the times and keep EVE Online a strong competitor in today’s market. With that in mind and the current strategy, we felt we needed to make changes to our EVE Leadership to better reflect the strategy and structure we have within CCP’s Reykjavík studio, where EVE Online is our sole development focus.”

INN: Each of the three directors has their own area of focus and their own processes and requirements. How do you support and coordinate their work on a typical project?

CCP Mannbjorn: “We collaborate and align daily, both through check-ins and reviews. My role in that can be anything from motivating, teaching, providing feedback, or simply staying out of the way. My purpose is to provide a clear business strategy on which the Leadership team is able to execute within their respective areas of responsibility. My goal is to create a safe space for communication where we can all take feedback and learn what we can do better as individuals and team members. We know where we are, where we want to be, and what it is we want to achieve. Together, we continue to navigate the path forward.”

Creative Director, CCP Burger

The Creative Director shapes EVE’s vision in non-technical terms. On the Meta Show, CCP Rattati described his role as “kind of the futurist, the creative guy, the cinematic art film director type of guy. He has the vision, and he exposes things that I need to solve, like if there’s an idea, how do we solve it?” (7:16).

CCP Burger provided additional detail afterwards.

INN: Could you give us a brief description of your role, and the teams that report to you?

CCP Burger: “As Creative Director, I own the direction where we’re going. To put it simply, I pick the mountain we are going to climb. CCP Rattati maps out potential paths, and CCP Shreddy gets everyone in line to climb the mountain. Our work crosses over a lot and there are more people that join in the conversation at various points. My days are usually split into two – looking further down the line and working with discipline leads on what is coming up. My direct team mostly consists of the creative leads; Art Director, Audio Director, Game Design Director, Lead UX Designer and Creative Producer.”

INN: You’ve been the on-stage incarnation of ‘Angry CONCORD Guy’ whenever he’s needed to address the players, and you’re clearly engaged with the story of EVE Online. What is the relationship between your team and the lore team?

CCP Burger: “I have a very close relationship with the narrative department. We’ve been on a truly great journey over the last few years where we’ve been pulling narrative earlier into development on new features, not only for new content. This has been a really interesting evolution, unlocking both art and game design to push things way further than in the past.

Having a strong relationship with angry CONCORD guy, as well as with certain divisions of CONCORD, has also proven to be a valuable asset to me on a personal level . . . you know, when I want to get my way or cover up my various mishaps. ;-)”

Product Director, CCP Rattati

As Product Director, CCP Rattati translates the Creative Director’s non-technical vision into a technical vision that can be executed in terms of game systems and game design. “Burger and I, we talk a lot,” he said on April 17. “I basically translate.” (8:27)

Turning CCP Burger’s vision into a game design that will work well and not disrupt the existing game requires deep knowledge of how EVE works. “A lot of my work is analytics, talking to the CSM, looking at data and talking to the teams,” said CCP Rattati. “There’s a lot of opportunities. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit, but there’s also just a lot of product discovery that I have to go through.” (8:34)

The “product discovery” process is central to how CCP Burger’s vision gets turned into actual game systems (9:20).

“EVE is like ninety apps together,” said CCP Rattati. “It’s like an ecosystem of all kinds of features.” (10:45) (While he didn’t specify specific examples of these apps/features, numerous examples come easily to mind, such as the Fitting Tool, the Market Interface, the Wallet, Scanning, the Hacking Minigame, Planetary Industry, etc.) “Our product is the sum of all the features in the game and in the community.” (9:48)

Product Discovery is the process of comparing each of those features with the grand vision and “brand pillars” that CCP promises players as it markets EVE to see where changes or new features are needed to ensure EVE meets player expectations. CCP Rattati listed four brand pillars that form the core identity of EVE Online. (10:07)

  • Sandbox
  • Single-Shard
  • Crazy Dangerous
  • Super Hard

In addition, those four pillars are delivered in the context of a sci-fi game which sets a second set of expectations, such as spaceships, laser weapons, space exploration, etc. (10:15)

Based on all those expectations that have been set with players, CCP Rattati and the product team are constantly evaluating and prioritizing features for improvement. “Which one is really good? Which one has bad UX? [Which one] is amazing, but not enough people play it? . . . I’m trying to make sure that we meet our players’ expectations and . . . go above and beyond.” (10:36)

Production Director, CCP Shreddy

Once the game design has been specified, the Production Director takes those requirements and implements them with the actual technology. “He takes the wheel once we’ve set the course,” said CCP Rattati on April 17. (8:22)

Technical Director, CCP Tuxford (a member of CCP Shreddy’s Production team)

Technical Director CCP Tuxford, who is a member of CCP Shreddy’s Production group, shared a glimpse of life behind the scenes for the folks wrangling the code and servers.

INN: We almost never hear about the back-end of EVE Online, unless TQ is getting an upgrade or having a problem, and the number of problems we hear about is extremely small. What are the most interesting and most challenging parts of the EVE technology stack?

CCP Tuxford: “I would have to say the sheer size of the code base and the fact that it has been developed for 20 years. EVE codebase has grown organically, and you have to tend it like a garden. One minor sin in some part of the code isn’t a massive issue but if you multiply those over 20 years then things tend to pile up. So, over time, features that shouldn’t become dependent on each other end up becoming so.

This is most noticeable for players when a bug creeps up in a system which wasn’t touched at all but it also has general slowdown effect on all developers where they need keep very large context in their head while changing code.

I suppose one of the bigger challenge we have is to clean up that code while also actively adding, removing and modifying features.”

INN: What’s one of your favorite technology stories about working on EVE?

CCP Tuxford: “I don’t know if it is my favorite, but it is definitely one of the weirdest bugs I’ve encountered. Once after a release we got a bug report about a dungeon disappearing shortly after you warped to it. It didn’t happen on our local servers or any of the test servers, just on Tranquility. This dungeon had also not been changed at all so we were all understandably confused. Nothing seemed broken and there were no noticeable errors that seemed relevant.

If there was nothing broken, you’d have to deduce that there is some code intentionally cleaning up the dungeon so that is where we looked. As it turns out there is a tasklet running that checks if there are any players inside the dungeon. If there are none then the dungeon eventually gets removed. This seemed like a good lead with only one drawback, which was that we could reproduce this behavior on Tranquility and watch the dungeon being “cleaned” up before our very eyes so clearly something was wrong.

We started looking into what it really means to be inside the dungeon. Turns out it is anything inside the same bubble, you can think of a bubble as a pocket of space, a cube with 7K km a side. Could it be that it is assigning the dungeon to the wrong “bubble”? A quick reproduction on Tranquility confirmed this was indeed the case. Okay, we were getting somewhere, the next step was to see how it decided on which bubble the dungeon was. It did this by simply adding the first object into space and see which bubble it was in. This should work since dungeons are a lot smaller than a bubble. However, when we checked the actual objects in that dungeon then there was one “rock” that was a lot further out than all the other. Think lightyears rather than kilometers.

This was the smoking gun, if this was the first object put in the dungeon it would put the dungeon in the wrong bubble and not count any players that entered it. But a few questions came up such as what changed and why has this not happened before? We would get the objects to put in the dungeon from the database and it would not be in any particular order. However, databases tend to return lists in the same order it did last time so if it wasn’t the first object in the set it was likely to not be the first object in the set in following runs. Until it was then it was likely to be always the first one in the set. Mystery solved!”

EVE’s Future

CCP Burger:

INN: In many of the presentations you’ve made over the years, at Fanfest, Vegas, and so on, you’ve laid out grand, sweeping visions of what’s possible. We’ve missed that, in this last year without the big EVE meetups. Can you give us an update on your vision for EVE Online, like where you’d like to see it go, and think it can go?

CCP Burger: “I’ve missed that as well and I can’t wait to get back on the road once we get over the global pandemic!

We’ve been on a very important mission over the last 24 months where we’ve been strengthening the foundations of New Eden. These changes have ranged from technical modernization, including 64-bit client delivery and native Mac client development, along with big ecosystem changes, to visual and audio changes. We’re also getting close to releasing important changes to our early game experience where and how people gain core competencies to set them up for a successful EVE career. The stronger the foundation is, the more freedom we get in pushing the boundaries of EVE Online.

Part of this foundation work is the journey we’ve been on over the last few years bringing the lore and backstory closer to the core game, where your actions matter. There is lot we learned from the Invasion expansion and that work serves as a great foundation to our road up ahead.

EVE is ever moving and evolving so you can never say (nor should you) that the foundation is perfect or done. But getting the fundamentals in place does allow for bigger and wilder ideas.”

CCP Rattati:

INN: There’ve been a lot of changes in the last eighteen months, and while for some people, change can’t come fast enough, for others, it’s been a break-neck pace that’s touched almost every system in the game. Do any of the current game systems serve as the gold standard for your team as you’ve looked at other systems, and going forward?

CCP Rattati: “The ESS comes to mind, it’s a combination of strategic initiatives coming together, it is the first step towards our grand vision, the universe state machine, listening and adapting to player actions in real-time. This is only technically possible through the massive investment into the EVE engineering stack over the last years. It is also a graceful way to control risk and reward, distribute players across space and finally, because it’s an external service, it has levers and dials that we can play with in near real-time, which we have put into good use with multiple updates since the initial launch. The impending release of ESS reserve bank keys and vast ISK reserves will drive even more conflict as well as vastly improved visuals and interactions.”

In the Meta Show interview on April 17, CCP Rattati discussed specific game-design directions that CCP is either pursuing or that CCP Rattati would like to see pursued. (No specific timelines or indications of progress were provided for any of these).

  • Making the game more approachable for new players and enhancing the new player experience (55:50)
  • Reduce overutilization of some content and increase the attractiveness of underutilized content (39:35)
  • Distributing players all around the universe (38:47)
  • Requiring some kind of tradeoff if players do decide to clump together into one area (such as being forced to rely on trade, or on establish a supporting presence elsewhere; or being able to build only certain kinds of products due to lack of resources from other parts of space) (43:20)
  • Allowing customization of space in nullsec through IHUB upgrades (such as providing the ability to add certain missing minerals or increase the quantity of existing minerals) (44:07)
  • Dynamic, automatic rebalancing of resources in space (without manual input by CCP) to motivate player distribution (46:06)
  • Improving Faction Warfare and making it a suitable transition point for new players from highsec to null (57:17)
  • Building AI-driven Empire NPC activity (such as fleets fights and resource gathering) into the lowsec/faction warfare landscape (57:25)
  • Adding more play-counterplay aspects to cloaky intel gathering (reminiscent of submarine hunting) (59:20) [Since implemented in Patch 19.05 in the form of Mobile Observatories.]
  • Adding more play-counterplay aspects to logistics and supply movement (deployables like mobile cynos are a part of this vision) (1:00:18)
  • Introducing more ways for players to build travel networks beyond just the Ansiblex (1:01:35)

CCP Tuxford

INN: What can CCP do in the long term improve performance in the biggest fights and what numbers are possible in the future?

“There are some improvements that we can make to our current code to get a little bit more out of it during fleet fights, but I believe we won’t make any great leaps until we unlock the ability to use more cores. CPU clock speed hasn’t been increasing for many years now so in order to take advantage for modern CPUs we need to find ways of parallelizing the work that happens in fleet fight. This however isn’t a simple task as we have 20 years of code where the assumption is that it does not run in parallel.”

INN: As we go forward, there’s been a lot of talk about procedural allocation of resources, and flexible, responsive systems that can fine-tune themselves. What role does machine learning have in the future of EVE?

“Machine learning plays a pretty obvious role in the data analysis world but it would be interesting to see its application in shaping the game universe to create a more vibrant universe. This is, of course, all pure speculation though!”

Peeking Behind the Curtain

INN would like to thank CCP for their time. Their answers help give the players more of a feel for the people who guide EVE’s development. While this has been the first time some devs have taken questions, we hope it won’t be the last. Do you have any thoughts on these questions? Do you have further questions that could stand to be answered in the future? Share them in the comments below.

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Comments

  • kwnyupstate .

    I’d be interested in knowing them if CCP wouldn’t make bad decisions all the time. Seeing how CCP has made horrendous choices which have harmed players I have no interest in knowing them.

    June 14, 2021 at 10:47 PM
  • Aaron Kitchell

    Should’ve asked who thought making Gilas cost 350 mil to build was a good idea.

    June 18, 2021 at 2:08 AM