“Any excuse for explosions.”
“GreyGal” says this with a good-natured shrug as she finishes telling me her story. A few years back, an Eve Online player got a touch too merry in Planet Hollywood and hit on somebody’s wife. It led to a "fairly moderate war". The offence took place here in Las Vegas, but the fighting only broke out later, once the belligerents had showered off the last traces of Sin City’s excess and rejoined their comrades in New Eden.
The incident is a fairly well-known piece of Eve Vegas lore among regulars of this yearly meet-up. I’m green though. Greener than the new pilots this ten-year veteran likes to take under her wing and introduce to the finer points of space murder.
“I take 'day one' players out in a fleet,” she says. “I get them into a fight, their hands are shaking, their heart is racing... it’s like, a disappointment when they don’t get killed.”
Now a regular volunteer at the Eve Fanfest in Iceland, “GreyGal” got her start as an instrumental part of the Vegas event six years ago.
“There was a little issue with the check-in... I went up and I was like ‘I’m a fleet commander’... Next thing you know, I’m behind the desk checking people in [to the event]. Two hours later, here comes CCP, handed me a key... 'you’re in charge!’”
Her story is a fitting microcosm of Eve Online on a grand scale. The game's developers, CCP, provide the raw materials, but it’s the fans who spin them into the betrayal-laden, decade-spanning space opera that Eve has become. Or, as “GreyGal” puts it: “The players are the content”.
Of course, if you know anything about Eve Online, you already know all this.
You’re likely reading with a wry, exhausted grin as yet another clueless but enthusiastic journalist tries to extract gripping drama from a game that (even its most dedicated players will admit) mostly consists of sitting around, chatting to friends, and occasionally clicking on things.
Eve Vegas was a lot of firsts for me. My first time in the United States. My first time hearing the phrase "booty snorkelling". My first time playing golf in the vicinity of a bonafide Space Pope. Perhaps most importantly, it was my first time engaging with Eve Online - a game I’ve long read about and been fascinated by - on any serious level.
So before I sat down to write, I had a couple of options.
I could gather all the disparate facts I’d absorbed about the game and its history, assemble them together with spit and those things you get on the back of stickers that don’t stick properly but are still a bit sticky because of the sticker, and pretend I knew exactly what I was talking about for a few thousand words.
Or, I could write those last two paragraphs.
I flew into the Nevada desert assuming that by the time I flew out again, I’d have traded jetlag for a mind scarred by tales of dastardly deeds. I expected to leave with unshakeable guilt at all the space lives I could save if only I hadn’t been sworn to secrecy by shadow broker-esque warlords who buy and sell star systems like you and I buy affordable yet life-altering subscriptions to the RPS supporter program.
I left with a sense of wonder at how proximity and shared love for an extremely complex, ponderous and time-intensive MMO can turn eleven hundred people, many of them strangers, into family for three days.
“This is my first PC game.”
I meet “Red Beard” smoking outside the Linq Casino. Lighting up inside is allowed but despite Vegas’ relaxed approach to indoor air quality, I can’t quite shake the programming acquired over years of facing hailstones and frog plagues to indulge my dependency.
We chat about his experiences getting into the game.
“Here’s the problem... flying around New Eden in my little piece of shit ship... blown up! Repeatedly! Blown up! Blown up! Blown up! And it’s like... a common denominator of blowing up!”
He evidently enjoys Eve, but laments feeling that he’s had to buy skill injectors to stand any real chance - a common concern amplified by CCP’s recent acquisition at the hands of Pearl Abyss, owners of microtransaction-stuffed Black Desert Online.
“CCP made skill injectors a good tool, but that shouldn’t be the way. The old players are your foundations, but the blood is new players... to keep the stories going on. Who wants to play a game where... for the first few months all you do is lose, who wants to do that?”
Rough start or not though, he’s still made time to come down. A “big PlayStation player” who got into Eve because he’s “tired of toxic communities”. I ask him how the Eve player base compares to said tiresome shitlords.
“Here at Eve Vegas people are cool. The problem is online... everybody’s a damn spy! You ask for advice, and they think you’re a spy. I’m like, dude, I’m a new player! I really want to learn how to play this! You have to go through the 10-15 questionnaire to prove you’re not a spy.”
It’s uncommon to meet someone almost as green as myself here, but “Red Beard” has an excuse. He’s a local.
The next day, I catch him outside with a new group of buds.
“He’s been showing us around,” says a five-year veteran who flies with the colorfully named ‘Sorry About Your Face’ corporation. “And we’ve been showing him around, since he’s new at Eve.”
It’s the whole group’s first time here in Vegas. A few of them met “Red Beard” the previous night. Before they knew it, he’d disappeared, only to return with his truck to rescue them from the neon beartrap of the strip and ferry them off to a metal show in nearby Fremont.
“They’ve been on the strip, getting ripped off. I got to take them to Fremont, drinking cheap, eating pizza.”
I smile at the way he says “got to”, like showing new friends around his city isn’t just generous hospitality on his part, but a privilege.
“Fremont’s got naked chicks running around chasing pigeons.”
He gestures at our surroundings in comparison.
“This is, uh...”
Disneyland? I suggest.
“Right! And fuck Disneyland!”
My initial impressions of The Linq aren’t even that grandiose. Less a hyper-real monument to conspicuous consumption, more Southend Pier on steroids. Images of spittle flying from Joe Pesci's gob as he pistol whips an attendant with a knackered Time Crisis peripheral aside, there’s a certain allure in the way the place compresses time. You can duck out of the party at 3am, come back down for breakfast coffee at 10, and the sun seems to be the only thing that’s noticed it's not last night anymore.
For all the plastic wrapped grandeur, though, it doesn’t immediately scream “Sci-Fi MMO”. From the fans to the CCP designers and developers I spoke to over the weekend, there’s one question I found myself asking everyone: Why Vegas?
The event that currently hosts over a thousand players began (as so much in Eve does) as a fan project. It eventually grew so much that developers CCP ended up lending their support.
“It’s super organic,” creative director CCP Burger tells me.
“It’s very CCP,” executive producer CCP Mannbjorn agrees.
“I don’t think there was a master plan... some good people started supporting it, and championing it, and here we are.”
When I talk to him at the bar later, though, designer CCP Rise (they've all adopted names like this) feels it’s more than just circumstance that has turned Vegas into Eve’s home-away-from-Reykjavik.
“It’s the Wild West. Vegas is cowboys. Eve is cowboys”
Snorri Árnason, head of Eve’s upcoming FPS spin-off, Project Nova, feels similarly, citing Vegas’ space station lawlessness and calling it a “Sodom and Gomorrah thing.”
This might be overstating a bit, considering the raciest thing to emerge from the event thus far is the extremely cursed 'Mittani sex tape', but I can get behind these Mos Eisley analogies. The more time I spend here, though, the more Vegas’ wild reputation plays second space oboe to the player dedication that fuels the event.
“There’s one guy I met downstairs who can actually read Triglavian. It’s just insane,” CCP Burger tells me, referring to the language of a new faction introduced just a few months back as part of the Into the Abyss expansion. Friday’s opening ceremony saw players wave huge homemade flags with their corporation’s insignia on them. Aside from the odd local, capsuleers have flown in, bought tickets, and paid for accommodation. Volunteers like “GreyGal” are given event access, but otherwise they pay out of their own pockets to travel to Vegas and make sure everything runs smoothly.
Since I was lucky enough to attend with a bit of plastic around my neck that caused people to treat me differently than they may have otherwise, I should probably point out that videogames and the people who play them are, like, really good sometimes.
One reason for this level of commitment might be the two-way communication CCP have fostered with its players over the years. Burger tells me how a lot of great ideas have emerged from reading forum speculations and “cherry picking from the tinfoiling”. His part of the weekend's keynote presentation ended with a series of rhetorical questions.
“What if... what if... what if...” he repeats to me later. “I’m not promising anything, I’m just seeding ideas in people’s minds.
“The real benefit is actually in the conversation. A lot of the partners... came up to me after the keynote like ‘how do you handle all the heckling’... this is how we want things to be.”
Burger mentions a lot of "evil ideas" in the works. Naturally, I fish for an exclusive.
“A fun bar debate is like... what happens in Eve when you have no time dilation? How does that change the meta of the game? How do you command a fleet?”
Time dilation is basically when the field of battle becomes too crowded and time slows down to a fraction of its normal speed to cope with the numbers. It's a frustrating part of Eve, but it's been a feature of its biggest battles since day one. Fixing that problem would change battlefield tactics dramatically. At least, that’s what Brendy told me to say.
It’s these sort of questions, though, whether in forums or pub crawl brainstorming sessions at fan events, that Burger, as creative director, is most enthused about.
“The really cool things that came out [of] the moon mission... the microwave, medicine, new technologies to... pick flowers or whatever. It wasn’t necessarily the moon, but this other stuff that came from the path of figuring out how we’re going to get to the moon. So I’m excited... once we really start digging into these questions... what are going to be the fruits of this labour?”
This may not have been the last time I saw Burger over the weekend. We may have ended up in hotel suite overlooking much of the city, drinking with notable space warlord ”The Mittani” and a group of Goonswarm pilots. “The Mittani” may have firmly but politely refused to go on record about his plans for New Eden, and although I may have been disappointed at missing my chance at scooping an exclusive tale of subterfuge and betrayal, I’m glad he didn’t. It means I can end this piece talking about a community rather than an individual. Besides, I’m sure he’d be the first to admit he’s had enough column inches dedicated to him already.
Let’s flashback to a few hours before this. Before I found myself in a white limo with CCP Burger and “The Mittani”, sipping a warm can of Miller and being told by a spitting image of Abe Lincoln behind the wheel that print media needed to explore the unique properties of typography if it had any hope of surviving. None of that has happened yet. I’m still at the Linq bar talking to “GreyGal”.
She tells me a story about leading a group of fifty-two pilots, each of them with less than a month under their belts, and collectively taking down a ship worth 7 million ISK (the game's pretend currency).
She tells me another about one Eve Vegas a few years back where “three guys passed out in an elevator”. Herself and a group of friends eventually got them all back to their hotel rooms, only to find another man blacked out on the floor as soon as the lift doors slid open.
Another volunteer, “RoAnnon”, has been coming here four years, and lending a hand for the last three.
“Eve is essentially a social game,” he says. “The people that play it are social people. Even some of the solo players, they get in the middle of this...”
He gestures around us.
“They love to talk about the game.”
I speak to a gentleman who's been playing since the beta. He hosts a podcast on Eve. In his fifteen years of playing, he estimates that he’s put in over $150,000 across multiple accounts.
“In my mind, I’ve won the game. I’ve got Titans. I’ve got ISK. I go to Vegas. I go to Fanfest... the reason why I play with [Pandemic] Horde today... I get to teach new players.”
He used to fly with a group called "Clusterfuck Alliance", he says, “back in the day.”
“Back in those days I had like, three trillion ISK in BPO’s.”
BPOs are original blueprints for building things in-game, essentially very expensive pieces of paper. His old corporation ended up stealing the lot, he says. To save face, they claimed that he’d planned to betray them instead.
“My reputation was smeared. My character was smeared, and I had to deal with that.”
He joined their enemy, Test Alliance, and later met the pilots who’d betrayed him at Vegas.
“The CEO screwed me, the other guys followed his lead... you can’t take it personal.”
Eventually, he rejoined the group that betrayed him. Built stations. Moved up the ranks.
“Now I’m back with a group that basically destroyed me, that I wanted to tear apart... but I know that’s not the way Eve is.”
We chat about the event. He’s been coming here a few years, so of course, I want to know if he’s got any Vegas stories.
“People will overdo it, get sick. [One player] was over at the bar last night, had a little bit too much. The thing is... what I like is... everybody helped...”
The players helped each other take the drunk space pilot back to their hotel room to sleep it off, he says. Other players, speaking in Discord, had also asked if the sozzled spacer was okay. But those chat room concerns weren’t just coming from the pilot’s friends and fellow corporation members.
“It’s both groups,” he says. “Enemies. Both sides. We’re here. We’re family. We may play against each other... but we’re brothers!”
What happens in New Eden, and all that.