The New Era of Serenity
by CCP Heimdall and CCP Horacex
Dear curious EVE players:
This will be very different Dev blog because it is the first time we will be formally talking about the history of EVE China, aka, the Serenity server. We will tell the story of how it started, how it evolved and what the latest status is. We understand that many Chinese players have been playing on TQ for many years, and some of them also play on Serenity. For a long time the information about Serenity has been incomplete and sometimes misleading. We hope this article will help us all understand the full big picture. To make sure there is no misinterpretation, we are publishing this Dev blog in English and Chinese simultaneously for Tranquility and Serenity players. We hope you will enjoy reading it.
Back in early 2005, one of this blog’s authors, Horace, was working at another game company in China. He spent 6 months playing EVE Online, trying hard to understand the game mechanics with very limited reference material or tutorial. If you think that EVE is difficult now, you may change your mind once you see how EVE looked 7 years ago. Horace was really impressed by its openness and depth. As a sci-fi fan, he felt that EVE was a revolutionary game, and should have big potential in China, where the MMO market was exploding at that time. He wrote a long email to CCP trying to get attention. Soon the company CEO Hilmar replied and started to chat with this guy on msn messenger. Five months later, CCP offered him a job to help finding a publishing partner. After eight months of searching, negotiation and countless meetings, CCP signed a licensing deal with a company called Optic Communication (Optic) by the end of that year.
Several months passed, and after a huge amount of translation and QA work and complicated hardware deployment processes, we opened the Serenity server on June 12th, 2006 with the Red Moon Rising expansion. This is the only separate universe we have built for EVE besides Tranquility. It was a really successful start; the marketing campaign was huge and effective. On the day of June 20th, 2006, we witnessed a PCU (simultaneous players logged in) record of 38,588. Over 1,000,000 accounts registered in the free open beta month. On July 17th we started the commercial launch, and soon after that we saw a frightening drop in player numbers, mainly due to the immature ingame social structure: the social/corporation structure in the Serenity universe was way too weak to welcome a massive number of new players. By then the new player experience was also quite challenging for most of Chinese players. Sci-Fi was not yet a part of the mainstream culture of the society. That decline stopped after we launched the Revelation expansion in early 2007, as then the universe start to stabilize and grow again, but only in a very slow manner. During the period of 2007-2009, the PCU never went above 6,000 again. It was indeed the darkest time for Serenity. In the middle of 2010, the most successful expansion on Serenity: Apocrypha was deployed. It was really a big success, lots of old players came back and we saw 100% growth of our small community. Tyrannis was introduced in early 2011; it pushed Serenity to its highest point in terms of total paying users. The PCU was once again above 10,000.
In 2011, our licensing agreement with CDC, which had at that time acquired Optic Communications, was going to expire in July. After careful evaluation, the overall business performance of our partnership and EVE Online in China, we decided that shifting to a new partner would be the right move for EVE. Even though in the end we made the hard decision to not extend the license with CDC, we were really thankful for their hard work to launch EVE Online in China, and their contribution to its growth during its inception years. The operation team worked to the last moment on the day of April 1st, 2012, when we temporarily closed the server cluster for the transition. The whole CCP team would like to express our gratitude to those who contributed to our game up to this point. It’s really our honor to have worked with all of you.
After months of discussions with potential partners, we found TianCity to be the right publisher to bring EVE to the next level of success, and we believe firmly that this is the company has the capability and experience to make a difference. As one of the top 10 publishers in China, TianCity has successfully published a number of other super-hot online games such as Mabinogi, KartRider and Counter Strike Online. They understand and respect EVE’s uniqueness, and value its premium positioning in their portfolio. Their project team members have been playing EVE on the Chinese server since 2006. They know and respect EVE’s core philosophy as much as many loyal players do. They are as resistant as many of you on making any bold changes to the game. The product team also knows EVE’s strengths and weaknesses in a professional and comprehensive way, and constantly share detailed suggestions on how to improve. Actually, in the last few expansions CCP have already included features and changes based on their great advice. Most of these suggestions are not specific to Chinese client. We believe that what will benefit the Serenity universe can also benefit Tranquility, so we would rather apply all new features to TQ version before deploying to Serenity. Making TQ and Serenity run as much the same content as possible is our way to collaborate.
The situation with Serenity is quite different than with Tranquility in that Tranquility is completely operated internally by CCP, while Serenity is operated by TianCity. The servers are in their infrastructure and they perform all maintenance and updates to the Serenity cluster. Initially, CCP helped TianCity set up the servers and get EVE running on them, as well as their websites, integrating their billing system with EVE and fine-tuning for their environment. Over the last several months of the beta test, TianCity have gradually taken on more and more of the daily operations and now run the Serenity cluster with little assistance from CCP. CCP develop new feature expansions for EVE and they are translated and adapted in minor ways for China, at which point TianCity deploys them to the Serenity server, according to a schedule best suited for the Chinese market.
Additionally, TianCity is responsible for all marketing activities in China including web presence, advertisements, partnerships, promotions, player events, etc. Of course CCP work closely with TianCity in this area, providing materials and suggestions, but TianCity know the Chinese gaming market as well as anyone in the world – and it makes sense that they use their years of experience in marketing many MMOs in China to make EVE as successful as possible there. They have done some really innovative things to make EVE more visible in China, including booths and a player gathering at the ChinaJoy games convention, a series of online action comics set in the EVE universe, making lots of shorter videos to introduce game features to new players, and having EVE featured in a CCTV (Chinese national television) program about militaries of the future, which included some high-ranking Chinese military officers talking about EVE spaceships. TianCity is also partnering with more and more companies like ASUS and Lenovo to boost its general public awareness.
The new Serenity server is located in Shanghai, China, and is a powerhouse. While its structure is very similar with Tranquility’s, it is designed to allow many more players to fly in that version of New Eden simultaneously, and is much more powerful than the old Serenity server. It has more nodes and improved storage over the older Chinese server, brand new graphic rendering servers, dedicated super nodes for popular systems like Jita, and is architected, like TQ, to be quite flexible, allowing TianCity to add more power to specific regions as needed.
The closed Beta test on Serenity is an opportunity for new and returning players to EVE in China to have a chance to try out EVE in its new incarnation, playing for free until our commercial launch on Dec 6th. The closed beta opened in June of this year, and since then huge numbers of TianCity customers have flown on Serenity, with an average PCU over 4 times of CDC years. This has given TianCity and CCP an excellent opportunity to fine-tune the cluster and our messaging as well as experience a major expansion deployment (Inferno) during the beta.
To commercially launch a game in the Chinese market, a publisher needs approval from both MoC (Ministry of Culture) and GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publication), two major regulating entities in China for the gaming market. That process can take from three to six months, which requires very detailed legal and product documentation, game content inspection and fast reiteration on all feedback. The good news is we already finished all of these processes this week, and it was relatively smooth and efficient thanks to timely response from the TianCity and CCP teams. We have already announced the formal commercial launch date as Dec 6th.
Based on the uptake of EVE in China, thanks in large part to the excellent marketing strategy of TianCity, we expect EVE to remain quite popular after our commercial launch, and there will be another large push to the market at that time. Currently, we expect to have a strong community shortly after commercial launch, and we expect steady growth of both the registered players and the PCU on Serenity. It is not out of the realm of possibility that someday soon, the population of Serenity might exceed the current population of Tranquility…
Our experience in the beta test and development leading up to our commercial launch of EVE in China has led us to refine our process for the EVE China team and TianCity to get needed custom development onto Serenity. This development work will often involve Internationalization work, or adaptations to our translation engine to work properly with the Chinese language, requirements from the Chinese government (such as anti-addiction systems and terminology changes), and requests from TianCity for in-game and partner promotions. Up until now, the awesome CCP Ronin has diligently been doing most of the customization work for China. In the future we will continue to be focused on the Internationalization aspect, and as well, some EVE gameplay teams will allocate some of their development time to Serenity-specific development, particularly in regard to promotions. Additionally, TianCity, the EVE China team, and the Chinese EVE player base have some great ideas (as do our players in the West), and they now have a more direct path to sharing those ideas with our gameplay teams so that we can implement the best of these ideas for all EVE players in the world, regardless of what server they play on.