Eve Online Creator Reynir Harðarson

By Jim Rossignol on March 31st, 2008 at 10:03 am.


Reynir Harðarson, (pronounced “Hardarson” or “Hartharson”? the jury is out) who was one of the key imaginations behind Eve Online and the original art director, is now working on the World Of Darkness MMO in Atlanta. He talks quietly and rapidly, making transcribing and interview like this one (conducted in a noisy conference hall) incredible painful. Nevertheless it’s worth doing because he is articulate and incredibly astute, and I think this brief conversation captures a fragment of that. It staggers me each day that his work, and the work of CCP as a whole, gets ignored and over-looked by the industry.

Frankly I don’t give a crap whether you liked Eve, or found it boring, or unplayable or anything else: what you need to understand are the principles that are at its foundations, because they’re principles that can be applied to stop MMOs becoming stale and inflexible in the future. The number of people I’ve encountered working on MMOs who don’t really know anything about Eve Online is shocking, and I regard that lack of knowledge of the work of people like Harðarson as one of the key reasons why MMOs are progressing so slowly, and regurgitating the same tired, tiresome ideas over and over again.

Anyway, let’s get down to the interview.

RPS: So you’re moving from Iceland to Atlanta?

Yes, I’m helping with the design of the World Of Darkness game, which is now in production. I’ve moved my family out there, bought a house, and so on.

RPS: A pretty big move. And you’re setting up your second studio – what’s that like?

Well it’s actually our third studio, we have one in Shanghai as well. Well none of them are quite complete, but we’re building that studio in Shanghai and also one in Atlanta. [Where White Wolf are based] We’re now in the process of locating the right people, and we’re going to have about seventy people in Atlanta. What’s nice about that is that we already have quite a strong foundation already having merged with White Wolf, so it is about turning White Wolf into a game development company which has many challenges. But it’s different this time around, of course. When we started Eve we were virtually green, complete beginners, and now it’s… very different. We already have the technology, we already have a rolling start. There’s so much we’ve already achieved.

RPS: You and I have discussed, on many occasions, the difference between Eve and more, shall we say “classical” MMOs… Are you going to apply the principles of Eve in your new game design?

Yes, the key, we still believe, is human interaction. The World of Darkness game shares that vision. We wouldn’t really be in this business if it wasn’t for those principles…. I want to say so much, but I really can’t at this stage. But it’s about being real in the way that Eve feels real. People should really feel it: they’re not just playing a game… you know what I mean by that.

RPS: I do. Eve is real because it’s processes might be abstract but they’re still analogous to the gains and losses of real life. It’s a far more natural system than most games, which you see in the economy and the combat. And it makes me wonder why people haven’t copied Eve’s model. Why haven’t people tried to steal your ideas?

Well you say that but I think the zeitgeist is moving this way… human interaction. If you think about the websites like Facebook, YouTube, they have similar human input, and they’re much bigger than the MMOs. People are paying more attention now and realising that the point about MMOs is that they are about human interaction. The first couple of generations of MMOs have been single player games with lots of people in them, and there’s not much of a fundamental difference in the game design philosophy. There needs to be, and we can learn to do that.

RPS: And you think MMOs need to consider themselves to be more like Facebook?

They are more like Facebook, or should be. They share the same technology, and they have to be considered as a social technology if the genuinely massively multiplayer gameplay is going to emerge. People interacting is all that matters here. We are going to stick to this vision with our games. It was what we believe in some form back in 1997 when we formed the company, and I think we demonstrated it with Eve. It really works. People like Eve and play it. They kept playing it. Twenty five percent of people who bought the game on day one are still playing it now [That number includes me – Jim] and I think that is because of how the game is structured.

RPS: Is there more to do with Eve?

Absolutely. Yes, we will continue to build on top of Eve, just as we have always done. This is how we think about massively multiplayer games: we don’t think they have a lifespan. If you run them correctly, keep updating the technology, keep it fresh, there’s no limit to how old it is. There’s no “product” with “shelf life” it’s a system, an experience, that you log into and play with. I find it strange that with so many games that they create it, launch it, perhaps create a couple of expansions and then work on the sequel. These games do not grow. We don’t want to think of it that way, we want to keep evolving. With Eve there’s no indication of “shelf life”, I don’t see why it couldn’t run for fifty years. We put a lot of development into Eve and we’ve overhauled the 3D engine, included all new ship models, and that process will continue. In June we’re going to add more… factional warfare.

RPS: I thought that was a myth? [Meaning that factional warfare has been “coming soon” in Eve for about two years]

Haha, I know, it’s always in the next patch. But it is coming.

RPS: Are you still learning from the players?

Yes. They’re the reason the game keeps changing. We are absolutely learning from them. That will never stop.

RPS: When I spoke to you a few years ago you had some other MMO ideas that you said you’d like to work on. Is that something you can do now, or are you sticking with these two projects?

We don’t want to expand too fast. The reason for expansion can never be expansion itself. Right now we want to make sure that we can run two massively multiplayer projects and so that’s what’s on the table for the next three or four years. Planning beyond that is impossible. Of course I still have those ideas, and I will be developing games for many years, but I can’t say what I will be doing in five years time.

RPS: Going back to Eve again, what’s happening with your launch of the Chinese server? I heard it was rather less of a success than the Western server?

It’s not really that big. The players don’t seem to enjoying it and there aren’t that many of them.

RPS: Isn’t that because so many of them are playing on the Western server already?

It might be. I really don’t know, but importing games to China was difficult, there were many cultural barriers beyond even language. I think it’s true even of bringing Eve to the US, there were barriers. The game is so /European/, in many ways, that there was resistance. The US is now one of the biggest market, but bringing it to the US, explaining it, that was difficult. Eve is a special, complex game, and that creates problems. In China too. And China is a big market, hard to get noticed in. I don’t know how many gamers there are there now, but it is a huge number.

RPS: 58 million online gamers by the end of 2008 was the most recent estimate.

Really? Okay. Yes, well we are still interested in getting into China, and we’re doing a lot of work now with Chinese companies to get our technology across and strengthen us. The game is complex, and hard to deliver to new players.

RPS: How are you finding working with White Wolf? CCP have been so used to having their own way with everything they’ve done, is it difficult to adjust to someone else having lots of input in a project?

Absolutely not. I mean we sensed it before the companies joined, but we’ve found that we have a very common vision. We have many of the same ideas, the same feelings about game vision…

RPS: How did your two companies even cross paths?

It was at GenCon 2005, I think, or 2006… Anyway, we were going the Eve card game and we wanted to show people, to show to publishers. We went to talk to a lot of different publishers and role-playing developers and during this we met with White Wolf. It turned out that they were very interested in moving the World Of Darkness IP into the massively multiplayer space, and we were already fans of that world, we had even played the games. It made a lot of sense to keep talking.

RPS: Is World Of Darkness exclusively CCP’s IP now? Can there still be other games as there have been in the past with Masquerade and Bloodlines?

We’re exclusively massively multiplayer, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be single player developments. We’ll concentrate on MMOs though, because that’s what has been successful for us. I mean, it really has been successful. We’re independent, we’re not relying on a publishing company, we can make all our own decisions. That is so good for us.

RPS: How much have you had to rely on external investment, I seem to remember you talking about wealthy backers in the past?

Very little really. Eve has supported us financially most of the way.

RPS: Do you think developers could set out to “Do a CCP?” Could there be said to be a CCP development studio model that others could copy?

Well the difficulty in conventional game development is in finding that initial investment to support your product. Games are super high-risk, so venture capitals aren’t going to invest. That is a little different in the massively multiplayer game, because if you are a small MMO you could still make a niche for yourself and make a successful game. It changes the dynamics of how games work as products. In our case we’ve had a regular income, and a single game that evolves over time. You watch other companies go bankrupt and close down because they make a couple of failures. It’s just incredibly difficult financial model to support.

RPS: Also you neatly sidestep piracy. And no cloned servers for you – the human interaction basis for Eve sees to that.

Well yes, but also the server simulation itself is a tough nut to crack. The technology on the Eve server is so complex, I don’t think it could be replicated easily.

RPS: A super-computer for a virtual galaxy.

Yes. I don’t know the statistics, but it is very complex.

RPS: Do you think there should be more, smaller MMOs? “Boutique MMOs?”

Yes, of course. We’re already seeing these trends with browser-based MMOs. Things like Runescape are very important to the future of games. The success of these games shows that people can operate independently with simply technology. I mean originally even we didn’t want to go that way, we wanted the support and infrastructure of a publisher, but when our publisher shut down its operation and made us “free” we internalised all their functions and became a kind of micro-publisher, just putting out one game.

RPS: Customer service is a unique problem for you too, one that many developers simply haven’t had to deal with.

Oh yes, it gives us a very close proximity with the playerbase, and we wanted to do that, rather than hand it over a publisher.

RPS: And you’ve had to deal with some unprecedented situations, such as the scandal over a developer helping our player factions… do you think that kind of conflict was inevitable?

Yes, it was, especially in a game as competitive as Eve. With so much PvP, so much politics, it’s unavoidable. It’s very different to other MMOs – no one cares if a traditional MMO designer gives his character a level 60 sword, because he’s not really affecting anyone beyond a limited personal sphere. In a game like Eve, on the other hand, a developer abusing their power… well. There was a lot of suspicion and some accusations. In most cases there is nothing to it, but in one case there was something to it, and we had to respond to that.

RPS: You feel happy about how that was dealt with?

Yes, we needed to create the policies that would avoid this in the future. We can’t afford for suspicion to turn into truth. Say something often enough and… well, you know how people are.

RPS: When do I get to see the World Of Darkness MMO then?

Haha, well. We’ll show it when we show it. You know, of all the things we thought about following up Eve with, the idea of a vampire game was a powerful one. It’s so ambitious, and it’s what we’re doing now. That’s incredibly exciting… I can’t really say any more. Soon, soon.

RPS: Thanks for talking to me. And take a look at this guy. He’s pretty interesting.

I will do, thanks.

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47 Comments »

  1. Seniath says:

    Who was “this guy”?

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Link’d. But you could have guessed.

  3. Butler` says:

    It pains me, the disparity within conceptually sound (nay, brilliant) games like EVE, where their intricacy and high level ideas are both their biggest strength and biggest weakness.

    Comparisons to Facebook and YouTube aside, without a high degree of accessibility and the right marketing talk, you end up with an ingenious but soulless shell, marred by low, inbred populations.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yes, Eve is far from the perfect implementation of these ideas. But at least it does things differently, which is more than can be said for almost any MMO announced in the past two years. More on that later.

  5. Tim says:

    I’m eagerly watching his new project. I’ve always been a fan of Eve from afar. Never quite willing to sacrifice my life to it.

  6. Peter Panzer says:

    I always liked Vampire. But it’ll be hard to do right with an MMORPG. Still, Tim Bradstreet illustrations = epic victory

  7. Jon says:

    The one annoying thing I find with Eve is when Eve time isn’t the same as actual time and so I log on thinking the server has just come up when it’s just about to go down…

    Stupid clocks changing.

  8. Jim Rossignol says:

    @ Jon, yeah I did exactly that yesterday.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    Let nobody say our adverts are without a sense of humour.

  10. Jae Armstrong says:

    Actually, I believe it’s pronounced “Hartharson”- the ð is not a d but an eth.

    Good interview. Would have liked to see you push him more on the Factional Warfare issue, though >_>

  11. Espy says:

    Very nice interview. I new who “this guy” was before I even hovered over the link, and I love the idea that Reynir might get hooked on his work, hire him, fund him, something. He’s excruciatingly talented and definitely deserves more attention. “Pretty interesting” is wonderfully understated :D

  12. Gurrah says:

    I liked the advert for Finnish snow-plows even more than the BlahBlahBlah-thing. The situation was just so hilarious: I am reading a blog about PC-games and there’s an advert for snow-plows on the top and I am not talking about the ones you use to scrape a 40cm wide lane from your front door to the sidewalk, I am talking about HUGE ones you can hook up to a 20 ton truck.

    Nice interview, even though I never played EVE – I know myself and with all the reports of EVE being a RL-destroying behemoth I stayed out of it’s way. Nonetheless it’s still tempting.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Occasionally the Google Ads cough up a sinister random image of a chainsaw, which is unbranded and mildly terrifying.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    I miss the Russian Brides.

    KG

  15. Citizen Parker says:

    I’m excited these guys are doing a non-EVE product. I’ve tried three separate times now to get into EVE, but the learning curve always puts me off what I’m sure is a brilliant game.

    Hopefully my brain can compute World of Darkness though. Between this and Champions, I’m very excited about the future of MMOing.

  16. Buceph says:

    You should have pushed more on the World of Darkness aspect. You should have demanded a preview copy to be brought to you there and then. Then you should have played it with all the people who read RPS.

    Of all the MMOs to get excited about, I can’t help but have hope in CCP. What they did and are doing with Eve is phenomenal. I joined with Trinity and the level of complexity, complexity that has nothing to do with stats but with people is mindblowing. At the moment the corp I’m in is trying to negotiate space in 0.0 (lawless space) and the options we have and the political hoops we have to jump through to get there is mindblowing, for a game.

    Hopefully they can bring this to the World of Darkness games. And it’ll be great to see a good RPG come to the PC again. Especially one like WoD where it’s much more about politics and clans than bashing things.

  17. Jim Rossignol says:

    “You should have pushed more on the World of Darkness aspect.”

    I did place a loaded pistol on the table in front of me, but he didn’t take the hint.

  18. Dave says:

    no one cares if a traditional MMO designer gives his character a level 60 sword, because he’s not really affecting anyone beyond a limited personal sphere.

    As a developer from a company still running some traditional MMOs, I can tell you “no one cares” is absolutely not true, particularly in a small community. There’s a lot of paranoia and a lot of accusations about favoritism, whether they’re true or not. Every once in a while a staff member does get fired for giving a friend some custom stuff, or even for selling it. :P

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dave: Can you give us some phat l00t?

    KG

  20. Crispy says:

    As pointed out ‘eth‘ is a voiced dental fricative, meaning it is identical to the English ‘th’ but voiced, as in the word ‘other’.

  21. Buceph says:

    “‘You should have pushed more on the World of Darkness aspect.’

    I did place a loaded pistol on the table in front of me, but he didn’t take the hint.”

    Take the pin out of a hand grenade and tell them to start talking.

  22. grumpy says:

    “As a developer from a company still running some traditional MMOs, I can tell you “no one cares” is absolutely not true, particularly in a small community. There’s a lot of paranoia and a lot of accusations about favoritism, whether they’re true or not. Every once in a while a staff member does get fired for giving a friend some custom stuff, or even for selling it. :P”
    You have a point, especially in light of EQ2′s current “scandal”.
    But still, his point is valid enough. A dev cheating like this in Eve really upsets the balance of the entire game.
    A dev giving free stuff to his guild in EQ2 or other “traditional” MMO’s…. Well, he’s making the game easier for his friends, but it doesn’t affect the rest of the playerbase as such. They might feel they’re being treated unfairly (and rightly so), but it doesn’t change their actual playing experience. They’re not the ones getting chopped down by the +4 sword of dev abuse.

  23. Taximan says:

    Hooray for CCP. I do wonder if they’ll ever produce any singleplayer game.

    Re: the ð, the “eth” (also called the “thorn”).

    It is pronounced “th”, voiced, as in “this”, not in e.g. “think”. At least, in the Old English spoken during the pre Hastings Anglo-Saxon era in England it was.

    Taximan, your local English Philology Major not studying in England, but in that other country ending in -land.

  24. Noc says:

    I’m still worried about the WoD MMO. WoD’s overriding strength isn’t that it’s got vampires. (I’d even go as far to say that it’s a great system despite having vampires, but that’s an opinion more than anything else.)

    Anyways, the reason I enjoy the hell out of WoD games is because of the sheer open-endedness of the system. Even the lower tier Vampire powers offer an immense amount of versatility . . . there are literally dozens of ways to go about solving any given problem, even with the same limited toolbox of powers.

    Higher tier powers don’t just offer brute force . . . they give you more tools, that give you an even higher number of options.

    If you’re allowed to play as a Mage, your options increase exponentially. Since you can literally improvise new spell effects on the fly.

    Facilitating the social interactions between gothly vampires seems easy. But if CCP can nail a game that allows the same level of flexibility as PnP WoD, with the result of character effectiveness being directly related to the sheer cleverness applied to a situation . . .

    It’s a tall order. But if CCP can pull it off, the result may be one of the best games I’ve ever played.

  25. araczynski says:

    meh, PERSONALLY, the only thing i think MMORPG’s need is the elimination of forcing everyone to group/grind all the time in order to make progress in a game. grouping almost always implies scheduling your gaming time.

    as a 35 year old avid gamer (with money to burn), a wife, baby, full time job, the last thing i’ll EVER pay for is the ‘privilege’ to waste my gaming time looking for stupid groups in order to play a game and/or progress.

    the day the idiots figure out that there’s a gigantic market fo those of us who WANT to pay to play ON OUR OWN TIME/SCHEDULE is the day you see an MMO bitch slapping WoW.

    at least that’s what i think.

  26. Noc says:

    Well, there IS a huge market for that. It’s generally referred to as “single-player games.”

  27. Nuyan says:

    You can play WoW as a singleplayer, but it’d just be a boring singleplayer game if you’d play it completely alone.

    Anyway. Fun interview, was looking forward to this one. Interesting he says Factional Warfare is coming next patch, which would probably actually be before christmas. Also funny that I can somehow sense that this person was talking very quickly, resulting in me actually reading it faster than I usually do.

    Also got a lot of respect that they seem to invest all the money they’re making, into making more. Just all that new content, like Trinity, Ambulation and FW. It’s so friggin’ huge and it must be so incredibly painful to implement such big changes in something that is already the most complex game out there. I wonder out how many lines of code EVE exists. But you know, CCP actually has more employees than Valve for as far as I know.

    Which also shows how much profit subscription MMO’s make.

  28. Högni Þór says:

    Eve, after EQ is the MMO I most miss playing. Another MMO that seems to be trying to break the mold is The Agency, loath as I am to promote SOE products these days. I wish I could play MMO’s responsibly heh.

    Re: the ð, the “eth” (also called the “thorn”).

    ð = “eth”, voiced, in an “rð” connotation it kind of falls off a rolling r sound, closest I can voice is the “rth” of “earth”, sort of

    þ = “thorn”, as in my middle name above, pronounced Thoh’r (God of loud stuffs)

    Since I’m prolly one of few .is readers I thought I might inject that. Jury’s back.

  29. Jae Armstrong says:

    Oh God, what have I done?

    *weeps*

  30. Stromko says:

    I’m fairly certain The Agency will be turned into something ho-hum, grindy, and boring before it sees the light of day. SOE is a retarded monster with no concept of fun.

    Anywho, I too think vampires are one of the less interesting critters in the World of Darkness, but I suspect they’ll be the focal point and probably the /only/ playable supernatural in CCP’s game. They’re easy, they draw in the goth kids, and they’re still a lot more interesting than most videogame protagonists out there so they ain’t all bad.

    Just as well, I can’t even recognize Mages in the new WoD. It’s not the worst bastardization they’ve ever suffered, I’m a 2nd edition guy so Avatar Storms and such just fill me with confused nerd-rage, but the lack of any Sons of Ether or Technomancer choice in NWOD Mage really curbed my enthusiasm.

  31. Will Tomas says:

    Actually, MMOs aside, and given that he said that CCP are open to other developers doing single player games in the same universe, what I really want to see is someone going away to make another Vampire/Bloodlines game. But not broken. With just as good writing. That’d be nice.

    Ah, well.

  32. malkav11 says:

    The problem with most MMOs is that they fundamentally *aren’t* singleplayer experiences. I don’t mean that I want to play them all by myself from start to finish (and I’ve never particularly understood people who do), but rather I’d like it to be the sort of game that I would play even if it weren’t full of other people to play with. Because up until WoW, it was pretty much all hitting small collections of code with a virtual stick over and over and over, and there’s no way that would be remotely entertaining on its own. WoW at least injects some story and variety into it, has some actual pacing. Etc.

    Edit: And they only become entertaining with other players because doing something in a group means that however stupid and boring it may be, at least you have company to keep you entertained. So you have kind of the worst of two worlds – you have something that’s not intrinsically multiplayer in concept (the way EVE is), but wouldn’t be entertaining solo.

    Unfortunately, the problem is that making an intrinsically multiplayer design means you either need a passel of friends playing or you become subject to the random whims of the internet, and boy there are a lot of stupid people out there on it.

  33. Spiff says:

    Are they developing the MMO based on the nWoD of the oWoD? (acronyms ftw!)

    The old World of Darkness was great, the sheer variety of options in terms of character creation was amazing, the “new” World of Darkness was just a washed down version and I seriously hope they take a step back and develop it based on the older material.

  34. Winterborn says:

    I’d say nWoD, that’s what White Wolf make now and they stand to gain by promoting it.

    The nWoD is misunderstood. They put a great deal of work into making it more of a true roleplaying game the old WoD had become incredibly overcrowded and was starting to get a bit munchkin. You still have a huge variety of options, it’s just they’re not all defined by ‘pick which one of the 5432 clans best fits you’.

    That said, while I feel they did a good job on Vampire and Mage the new version of Werewolf did not work for me.

  35. malkav11 says:

    It’s funny, because the nWoD version of Werewolf is probably the one I feel is most improved. Or, more to the point, improved at all. I’m not sold on nWoD Vampire or Mage, and Changeling I haven’t investigated, as I’d pretty much phased out my interest in buying roleplaying supplements by the time it was released.

  36. Drew Shiel says:

    It’s not clear to me – is the WoD MMO going to be a single-universe game, like EVE, or one with shards/servers/realms?

  37. Jim Rossignol says:

    There aren’t any other details about the WoD MMO yet.

  38. Drew Shiel says:

    Ah well. We can live in hope of a single-universe game for a while longer, then.

  39. Dave says:

    The server is so difficult to emulate? There is already one out there. Google it ;)

  40. ry says:

    “The server is so difficult to emulate? There is already one out there. Google it ;)”

    yes – there’s one out, but describing it as a shoddy, barely functioning pile of shit would probably be generous.

  41. kmwmtd says:

    I played EVE for 18 months, and generally loved it. However, what killed it for me was the constant changing of the game rules that CCP made. I have no problem with them adding new stuff, or changing stuff because it is genuinely ‘broken’, but the number of, in my opinion, unnecessary changes had been increasing, culminating with the Trinity release just before Christmas, which more-or-less invalidated the 18 months of training time I had spent, and ruined the plans I had been working towards by radically changing a number of areas which had been stable for years. I cancelled my subscription shortly afterwards, and will not be returning. I have reverted to the other end of the game spectrum – single-player games with rules which do not change.

    I hope Reynir (et al) doesn’t make the same mistake with the new projects – adding new stuff makes people happy; changing/removing existing stuff makes them leave.

  42. Ulfsark says:

    I follow the pre-christian customs of Scandinavia, and it is a voiced -th- sound. But as for the article, I am certainly looking forward to seeing what CCP can pump out with World of Darkness. Been playing Eve for a month or so, and I must say, I am addicted. It is a steep learning curve, but hey, why cater to stupidity?

  43. Mike says:

    Sounds like somebody got nerfed!
    stupid carrier pilot wanna be

  44. jaron says:

    Gravatar: if something the game running in EU time and not US time bothers you maybe you need to grow up to enjoy a game like eve. we don’t want you.

    to clear thigns up the time is 100% contant, it just run it’s the time zone the game was made in, so down time is 3 in the morning, if 3 in the morning is your peak gaming time eve is not for you.

    lolz.

    Also balancing happening in every mmo, it’s not a rule change it’s just how mmorpgs work mate, sorry. was it the EOS? the carrier change? (which never happen) or was it the nos change?

  45. ace says:

    lol if its who i think it is i think it was the damp nerf lol

  46. Farsot says:

    Well over a year ago.. But I still cant see how they’ll capture the sense, the feel that the games (WoD p’n'p RPGs) have that your isolated from humanity, you hare few in a wast myriad of humanity and the secrecy, the laws.. Other then that I see no problems with makeing a nWoD game (starting from scratch as a “human” and choseing your path and becomeing one of the other as you go along or not..). It’ll be damn interesting to see how they manage to cover the inhumanity and isolation that many nWoD “races” suffer from. Damn I’m curious (been playing the white wolf world of darkness games since ’91). It has teh possibility to be the game (MMO) that I pick up and leave all other games (MMOs) for. Hopes and Dreams.

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