I play EVE Online - it's one of my favorite pastimes. But my charming bride (for more than 30 years) never fully appreciates my hobby. She watches me stare into my screen, and just shakes her head.
"What is so interesting about this game?", she asks me, in an irritated tone.
I eagerly describe the sandbox, the single shard, the complexity, the graphics - and her eyes begin to glaze over.
Resigned to an obviously losing proposition, I give it one last effort, explaining: "There's also incredible depth. The backstory, for example..."
Her eyes snap open and focus. She's suddenly interested.
"Oh, there's a story? I just thought it was ships flying around. What's the story?"
So, I explain the EVE Gate, the Gallente and Minmatar, the Amarr, the Caldari, the pirate factions. I show her the chronicles database, and how the backstory plays out in live events. I tell her about the Battle of Caldari Prime.
"OK, I get it now - that's pretty cool", she pronounces, and then wanders off, contented that her husband is not so strange, after all. And I feel satisfied with my wife's tacit permission to continue play.
The Value of Story
Whenever I try to explain my technical fascination with EVE Online to the uninitiated, I typically receive a look of confusion or derision. But if I explain that I am playing a part in a complex space opera story, then people seem to better understand my interest.
People relate to stories. It's something I often teach in my Real Life job - if you want to sell something, you have to explain how a buyer is on a journey, and the destination is this wonderful place where they are happier and more complete. You have to make them part of a story. It's something that has been hard-wired into human beings ever since our earliest ancestors gathered around the communal fire and told tales about the gods in the stars. It's primordial and instinctual, and woven deeply into our brains. Stories help human beings understand the world, and their places in it.
For this reason alone, the extensive lore and backstory of EVE Online is important. It makes something complex and convoluted more accessible - more easy for people to understand.
We who have played the game usually forget this. We get excited about the thrill of PvP, the satisfaction we feel when we've finally mastered one of EVE's complexities, the heartbreak of losing that ship you worked so hard to earn. We try to explain the joy and pain of playing EVE Online to others in emotional terms. But this approach almost always fails. It's more effective to show how they could play a role in the world of New Eden - how they can have a place in an interesting new universe - and one where they can make a difference.
This is why CCP's best video of all time is "The Butterfly Effect" - it explains this phenomenon that you are part of a story in EVE Online very viscerally and clearly. If you've never seen this video, watch it below, and you'll see what I mean.
The importance of story is also evident in what I think is CCP's second-best video trailer of all time, "Origins". Released at Fanfest, this video explains the initial backstory of New Eden, how capsuleers came to be, and why they are important to the emerging story.
CCP's Re-emphasis on EVE Lore
For a while, CCP forgot about the importance of story in the evolving universe of EVE Online. In fact, they seemed to have abandoned it almost completely. Although there were some ambitious efforts to continue the development of lore in EVE - such as the Arek'Jalaan Project and the Sansha Incursion events - they were unsustained threads and eventually petered out.
But CCP has clearly seen the light, and now recognizes that the stories in EVE Online have real value. At Fanfest, their Creative Director, Torfi Frans Olafsson, described how these stories are being used in new ways to bring EVE Online to a larger audience: an EVE-inspired comic book, an EVE-inspired clothing line, and an EVE-inspired television series. The True Stories contest collected tales from EVE players to serve as examples - and seeds of new intellectual property for CCP.
In short, CCP now appears to understand that the stories in EVE Online can be converted into money - into real income for the company.
It is for this reason that we have seen renewed efforts in continuing the backstory and developing the lore in EVE Online. A dedicated group, Team Illuminati, are focused on extending the story of the New Eden cluster in meaningful ways, including live events. The most visible of these efforts has been the Battle for Caldari Prime, but there have been other forms of storyline progression, including more news reports about in-game characters.
I recently moderated a panel discussion of several well-known experts in EVE lore. They were all thrilled about what Team Illuminati has been doing lately to progress the storyline, though they were also concerned about CCP manifesting EVE lore in potentially incongruous ways. Regardless, they all agree that this is an exciting time to be a role-player in EVE Online, or to just have an interest in some aspect of the the developing story.
For example, Rhavas published a thought-provoking post on his blog recently that highlights the value of understanding the emerging storyline in EVE Online. Though highly speculative, he describes how the recent events in EVE lore could impact future gameplay options.
The Value of Lore to EVE Players
Many EVE Online players continue to ignore or dismiss the storyline in the game. In fact, there has been at least one CSM member who commented, "Literally no one cares. Seriously, the EVE storyline is the least important feature of this game."
I asked Morwen Lagann, editor of the Backstage EVE role-playing forum,
what he thought of those players who dismiss the importance of lore and
backstory in EVE Online. "That is an extremely narrow minded and short-sighted view," he replied, "We would not have this game, if it were not for the lore. I mean, the lore is what defines the game as a premise... it is why we have the game as it is."
Regardless of how any individual player may feel about the storyline and lore of EVE Online, it is clear that CCP intends to invest in them to enhance their intellectual property and economic value. Those players who choose to ignore the storyline are certainly welcome to do so - just as many players ignore whole features in the game today - but they do so at the risk of missing emerging elements that would enhance their enjoyment and satisfaction from EVE Online.
For those who are not familiar with the rich storyline and lore in EVE Online, here are some recommended resources to review:
- A concise storyline primer, by Svetlana Scarlet: http://themittani.com/features/eve-storyline-primer-may-2013
- Mark726's superb EVE Lore Survival Guide: http://evetravel.wordpress.com/lore-survival-guide/
- EVE Chronicles backstory database: http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Portal:EVE_Chronicles
- In-game World News - the latest developments in EVE lore: http://community.eveonline.com/news/news-channels/world-news/
- Intergalactic Summit - EVE in-character role-playing forum: https://forums.eveonline.com/default.aspx?g=topics&f=260
- Backstage EVE role-playing forum: http://backstage.eve-inspiracy.com/
- "The Humans are the Real Monsters" - post on Rhavas' Interstellar Privateer blog, covering the current state and possible future direction of EVE lore: http://interstellarprivateer.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-humans-are-the-real-monsters/
- EVE Lore Panel Discussion, an EVE University Guest Lecture recording: http://wiki.eveuniversity.org/EVE_University_Class_Library#Special