Big in China
As you might remember from accounts of the last FanFest, we have been working on a Chinese version of EVE Online for some time now. We have been doing so in partnership with Optic Communications, which is one of China's online game operator (see announcement). This partnership is close to fruition, so we thought it was time we gave you some more information about this project. This way, the community gets a better idea on exactly what is involved and how it might affect or benefit you.
First of all we decided to go with a separate shard in China (which will be called Serenity). There were multiple reasons for this, which I will describe here. The first and most obvious one is that the legal environment in China dictates an online game offered to Chinese customers should be operated from within China and by a Chinese operator, so our choices were to either ignore the Chinese market completely, or to approach it through a partnership with a local operator. Ignoring 1.2 billion potential subscribers simply didn't sound like a wise business decision, so the choice was straightforward.
But from the point of view of the game, we also thought that the sudden doubling or tripling of the subscriber base on TQ would bring it into turmoil, thus ruining the experience for everyone. We have always grown TQ organically at a steady rate, and we think that is the best way to ensure relatively stable social structures. Many western online games that have tried to launch in the Chinese market have failed because of cultural incompatibilities. It is our hope that EVE can circumvent this because a lot of EVE's content is based on the social structures created by players, and our assumption is that a community will build the social structures that reflect their cultural background. Giving the Chinese players the opportunity to build this up from scratch will facilitate this and thus hopefully give a very distinct Chinese flair to Serenity.
I must admit though, that the idea of bringing the Chinese players to TQ sounded like a really interesting and intriguing large scale cultural encounter. But when I think about it now, I think that it would really only be interesting if the two cultures meet as equals. Who knows, maybe later, if the legal landscape changes, we could conceive some kind of new shared territory where the Tranquility and Serenity players would be able to meet and interact. But only time will tell.
Serenity is taking its first baby steps, and has been in closed alpha testing on a small cluster for a month now, with about 3,000 players chosen from an initial pool of 50,000. The Chinese EVE web site is up and already some events have been, and are being, held. At the end of March, several CCP Devs went to China to participate in PR activities in preparation for Launch of EVE China by the end of summer. Here are links to Chinese news media covering the activities:
There are also some pictures on the EVE China web site from when we visited Optic's offices:
Following the alpha, Serenity will go into closed beta running on the brand new hardware that Optic has invested in to run the game. If that goes smoothly, it will go into open beta just before the launch itself, scheduled for some time this summer.
All of this has obviously tied up some resources within CCP, but we have also nearly doubled our staff over this last year. This parallel development will actually be beneficial for all EVE players. The code base between Serenity and Tranquility will be strictly in synch, so that any new development will be distributed to everyone. The main new addition that we had to do for the China cluster is converting the whole of EVE to Unicode, as well as putting in place a whole new back-end system to enable localization of each and every aspect of the game's content and UI. This means that TQ players can expect to be able to choose their native language like German, French or Russian for the UI in the near future. This will only help TQ grow more and more, and make it culturally more diverse.
I will personally move to Shanghai for a while, to monitor the launch and the first critical months of Serenity, passing the torch of Lead Game Designer for EVE to TomB, who I am sure will wield it masterfully. Shanghai is a trend-setting city that leaves no one unmoved, and it's futuristic Blade Runner-like atmosphere can only be inspirational for things to come in EVE. I certainly intend to soak in as much of its culture and atmosphere. In my opinion, this whole Chinese endeavor will influence CCP and EVE in multiple positive ways for everyone during the coming years.