Reflections on Fanfest 2015

I'm writing this on the return flight from Fanfest 2015. This was my fourth journey to the annual EVE Online community celebration. I had a good time, as always, but each Fanfest trip is always a little different than the others. 

The Harpa convention center, meeting place for Fanfest 2015.

The Harpa convention center, meeting place for Fanfest 2015.

This event brought us a lot of interesting news about the future of Internet spaceships, and I'm more optimistic about the prospects for our beloved game than ever before. I have several blog posts in mind which will each focus on specific aspects, but in this post I just want to share a few general thoughts about my Fanfest experience over the past week.

Iceland weather is weird.

Some Icelandair flights into KEF airport were cancelled or postponed the day before I was to leave for Iceland, so I was worried that I'd have similarly bad luck. My flight out from JFK was delayed an hour, but our pilot rode the jet stream all the way and we actually arrived 30 minutes earlier than scheduled - amazing.

It was indeed snowing and sleeting and very windy when we landed, but by the time the Flybus delivered me to the Klopp hotel, it was sunny and calm. And so it went all week - periods of intense wind and sleet punctuated by stretches of blue skies and relatively calm, albeit very cool weather.

The heavens are awesome.

Speaking of weird weather, I was very dubious that we'd see the sun at all during the eclipse event on Friday morning, but Iceland's fickle weather cooperated with the CCP Games planners, and we had bright, clear skies. I stood outside the Harpa convention center with Rixx Javix and his charming wife, a few fellow EVE University alumni and staffers, and hundreds of other locals, watching the moon blot out 98 percent of the sun. CCP gave all Fanfest attendees special dark glasses for the eclipse viewing. It was a fantastic sight.

The night before, a heavy solar storm provided an especially vivid aurora borealis light show. Nice of Mother Nature to give us spaceship geeks a couple of free shows during our stay!

EVE University is awesome.

I always enjoy seeing my E-UNI friends at Fanfest, and though I'm not officially a member currently, I always think of it as my "home" in New Eden. This year, there were many new Unistas in attendance, as well as some of the habitual Fanfest repeaters, and it was a lot of fun to hang out with them all.

I had three moments during Fanfest that made me especially proud of my alma mater.

First, Spanky Ikkala, of the E-UNI teaching team, gave a lecture on "The Art of War in EVE" and it was well attended. I sat in the back to watch the crowd reactions, and worried a bit when I saw The Mittani and an entourage of Goons take some seats at the front of the room. "Oh, this does not bode well," I thought, expecting a constant barrage of trolling forthcoming. But when Spanky started his talk, describing his quarter-century of military experience, then touching on key lessons from Clausewitz, Sun Tsu, Liddell Hart and other military theorists, and applying them against corporate and fleet leadership styles in EVE, everyone was impressed. Spanky even got a compliment Tweeted to him from one of the Goonswarm attendees afterwards.

Later, there was a special presentation called "From Science Fiction to Science Fact" and two of the panelists were E-UNI members, as well as scientists working for NASA. Yep, that's right - EVE University has genuine rocket scientists teaching players EVE mechanics. That session also went very well.

But my favorite moment is one I've had every single time I go to Fanfest. I was on the way to the Harpa cloakroom to retrieve my jacket, and someone saw my E-UNI shirt, came up to me, and said, "I just wanted to say thanks for all EVE University does. I wouldn't be playing the game anymore if it wasn't for you guys."

So, while I'm not in E-UNI currently, I still support them every way I can. In fact, I'm delivering a guest lecture on "Gallente Ships 101/102" on Friday, March 27 at 21:00 EVE time. It's a open class, available to anyone who wants to attend. Instructions for joining are here - feel free to participate!

Roc Wieler is awesome.

If you don't know who Roc Wieler is, check out his website. He's a very talented EVE role-player, artist and musician. He also has a personal Real Life story that is truly inspiring - he transformed his body and life outlook, using his in-game character as a model.

I've met Roc before, and interviewed him in an E-UNI Q&A session, but the extent of his personal transformation never really sank in for me, until I saw him give a short talk at Fanfest this year. His session, "A Brutor Guide to Empyrean Health", was more motivational speech than EVE lore, but I've been thinking about my own physical health lately, so the timing could not have been better. He made quite an impression on me. He'll be the first to tell you that he's awesome - but he is always quick to remind you that you are awesome too.

In fact, space-famous people are generally awesome.

Fanfest tends to draw the hardest core of the hard-core EVE Online devotees, including many people that are well-known in game. It's fun to rub shoulders with them during the event.

NoizyGamer and I hung out quite a bit, talking about the joys and agony of EVE blogging. He also gave a fantastic segment in the middle of the Team Security presentation on the decline of illegal ISK trading out of game - be sure to check out the recorded video.

Sugar Kyle is a truly delightful person, and I finally had a chance to tap her considerable brain a bit during Fanfest. She is also incredibly dedicated to the game's development and to the community. I joined her to attend the roundtable discussion on the new player experience. "Surely you've heard all the news on NPE from CCP before, in your CSM sessions?", I asked her. "Yes," she replied, "but I want to hear what the players are asking about." And she proceeded to take careful note of every single question and comment. You can see some of her summaries in her blog. I was very pleased that she was one of the top two vote-getters for the CSM election.

I talked with Morwen Lagann about CCP's latest additions to EVE lore, and how the role-playing community, of which he is a principal driver, are reacting. We agreed how CCP is now working hard to involve the players in lore developments. It's cool to hear his voice (from excerpts of the Hydrostatic Podcast) used in the latest CCP "emerging threats" video.

I finally got to meet Xander Phoena and Niden of the Crossing Zebras team, for whom I am now writing articles. Both nice guys and excited about the future of EVE Online.

There were many other "EVE celebrities" attending - far too many to list here. It's always interesting to associate a real person's face with their in-game personality, especially when they have a broadly known reputation - for good or for ill.

Valkyrie is going to be awesome.

Just watch this. Need I say more?

Head colds are not awesome at all.

I'd planned to skip some of the extra activities at Fanfest this year - the charity dinner, pub crawl, etc. - and focus mostly on hanging out with fellow capsuleers. Unfortunately, I caught a cold on the second day and felt congested for the rest of the event. I attended most of this year's Fanfest in an antihistamine-induced haze. Not a lot of fun at all, let me assure you.

I drank a lot of hot tea and tried not to infect anyone, but no matter what you do, trying to do it with a stuffy nose is not a lot of fun. It definitely had a negative impact on my experience this year.

CCP is awesome.

From Hilmar's opening address, which emphasized "less talk, more action", through the closing session, every CCP Games presentation contained a different tone than I've noticed in past years. Basically, everything that CCP presented remained focused on things that will be delivered within the next year. And yet, no one missed the longer-term speculations on what could be, because there was so much good material generated from what is actually coming.

More importantly, I felt a lot more confidence coming from the CCP staff, in general. NoizyGamer calls this "swagger", and that is close, but I think it's more of a feeling of excited optimism. It's clear that the entire team sees what is now possible with the more frequent release cycle - a greater degree of control and productivity. Thanks to CCP Seagull, the team knows where they are going, and increasingly, how they will get there.

It's hard to interact with the CCP team and not get caught up in their excitement. This year's Fanfest was certainly the most positive that I've experienced so far - even with the introduction of major new changes in game mechanics, such as the sovereignty system.

Next year, Fanfest will be April 21-23, 2016, in Reykjavik, Iceland. Tickets are already on sale. I have every intention of returning.

Fly safe! o7