I like working with them a lot, and vice versa. We’re doing a lot of knowledge sharing. We’ve learned a few tricks from EVE over the years, and so have they, being a Korean gaming company. As I often say, Korean gaming companies live in the future, in a way. It’s not just nine hours ahead, or whatever it is from here to there. Korean society and games–they’ve come much further than western societies. Gaming is so integrated into Korean life. I always find it fascinating to learn about what’s going on there.
Over my career, which is now spanning almost 20 years, you’ve been able to look at what’s going on in Korea, and in five years it’s going to happen for us. You take esports, you take free-to-play–you can even look at MMOs in general. Ultima Online and Kingdom of the Winds were kind of at the same time. The role of Lineage in Korean culture is way larger than even what World of Warcraft became in western culture.
GamesBeat: Do you have more resources to start anything new?
Pétursson: Maybe not more resources? It’s more about the long-term thinking. Koreans in general think very much in the long term. That’s why we picked them over many other potentials. There were a lot of people interested in the process we were running last year. We picked them for their depth of MMO long-term thinking. We want to do some deep, meaningful things with EVE, like we’re doing with the simulation engine. This streaming thing is super interesting.
EVE Online is 16 years old. I often say, “EVE Online forever.” I’m only partially kidding. It’s been going for 16 years, and there’s a clear path for another five. There’s a not so unclear path to another 10. That’s pretty cool. I’d say it’s more about attitude than it’s about resources.
GamesBeat: As far as trying to get more players to give EVE a chance, what do you think can be done there?
Pétursson: We need to improve our new player experience. Anyone who’s tried EVE Online knows it could be a little less complicated. [laughs] That’s going to be a big push for us in the coming years. It’s going to take years to improve it. The reason why we want to continue to push there is that we see a lot of people come into the top of our funnel. Hundreds of thousands of people come to our websites who are interested in EVE Online. We’re just not good at onboarding that audience.
There’s something about space and science fiction, especially today–it seems to be growing a lot in popularity. I think it has to do with the fact that space is almost becoming a practical concern. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are running for-profit companies to go to space. It’s gone from science fiction to science fact. A space game like EVE Online is much closer to our current reality.
There’s huge research, especially in China. There was a Chinese movie recently, The Wandering Earth, that I saw two weeks ago. It’s a bit like Armageddon, the pace and style of it. It’s a summer blockbuster of a Chinese sci-fi movie, and now it’s the second-biggest non-English movie ever. When you have a country like China setting their eyes on space, I think that’ll wake up America to get back into the space race.
We have the most legendary space MMO ever made. I think there’s a huge opportunity for EVE Online to have a second wind in terms of growth. When you couple in the tech innovation with the simulation engine, fixing the new player experience, streaming–there are just so many opportunities for EVE.
GamesBeat: How do you look at where VR is now?
Pétursson: VR is trotting along. We’re keeping our games going, of course, and we see VR sales spikes very clearly in our data, based on people coming in. There was a pretty big spike in VR device sales over Christmas. That sales spike was bigger than the one for Christmas 2017. The audience is building up slowly. Oculus Quest is a big step. PlayStation VR continues to drive the larger adoption rates. Sony is getting more and more committed to doing more on that front.
It’s still a few years, I think, until we can get back into it, doing the kind of games we’d like to make. We need the market to get maybe two or three times bigger for it to make sense. I believe it will eventually get there. We’re currently in a wait-and-see mode.
GamesBeat: How is your case for some crazy new things? Blockchain is another thing people are talking about.
Pétursson: I’ve been involved in blockchain for over a decade. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of new technologies. That might not shock you. [laughs] I’ve dabbled in it, run nodes, done stuff on several different blockchain projects, worked with various cryptocurrencies for many years.
GamesBeat: Are you a crypto billionaire?
Pétursson: No, I’m not a billionaire. [laughs] But when you start early it’s easier to make a profit on it. I haven’t really been doing it for those purposes, though. It’s mainly just keeping up with what’s going on. It’s deeply relevant for something like EVE, which is built around economics. A lot of the elements we manage in EVE Online are what you need to manage in a blockchain economy. Obviously we run EVE as a closed economy. A blockchain is a way for turning something like EVE into more of an open economy.
At some point in time that might be the right thing for us to focus on. It’s years away. What we need to do with EVE right now are way more practical things, like scaling up the fleet fights, fixing the new player experience, getting more mobile access into EVE Online. We’re investing quite a bit into our EVE companion app, which is becoming more and more of a true portal into the EVE universe. These are the things we should be focusing on. But I at least keep an eye on blockchain. That will continue to mature and get more adoption.
The biggest challenge with blockchain stuff is that interfacing with it is not for the mainstream. It’s deeply technical. Getting basic stuff done is quite complicated. Managing your own private key and all these things are cool from a governance and technology perspective, but you have to be deeply technical to trust it and manage it. Of course we have an audience of deeply technical people playing EVE Online, but right now the overlap of EVE players and blockchain enthusiasts–there’s probably some overlap, but it’s too much of a niche of a niche right now. It needs to mature a bit more before something like EVE Online would be a concern.
I looked into it once. I think EVE Online itself is larger than the Ethereum network. Even though blockchain occupies a lot of attention in the media, it isn’t that big. A nerdy little space game from Iceland is bigger than the largest blockchain project.
GamesBeat: The reason I thought it might be interesting is that all the whales go there, the two percent of people who spend all the money in a free-to-play game.
Pétursson: A lot of speculation, market manipulation, understanding all these things–this is what EVE players do all day. Playing the market is a profession in EVE Online. When you marry that with something like a blockchain, then you can elevate the use case of doing that. At some point, the time is right to do that. But it’s still years away. If there’s anything we’ve learned from our VR escapades, it’s that you need to give a bit of time to onboard these innovations before you jump into them.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else to talk about?
Pétursson: There’s also what we’re doing with NetEase. We’re making a mobile version of EVE. I can show you an element from it. This is EVE Online running on a phone, straight gameplay from an iPhone. It’s extremely well done. We’ve been working with NetEase for two years now. You’ll be able to play full-on EVE Online on your phone.
GamesBeat: How is this accomplished?
Pétursson: It’s a complete re-creation of EVE from the first line of code. It’s made in their own engine. I think it’s called the NeoX engine, which we’ve upgraded quite a bit. We’ve helped them with some of the tricks EVE Online uses, to make it work on a phone. People should be able to play it this year. We’re opening up a new world, so this will be a fresh EVE world. There’s an excitement about a new world, a new way to play. We’re focusing on the portal application to interface with the current EVE world.
GamesBeat: Are there difficulties with letting PC players play with mobile players?
Pétursson: No, it’s more like a UI and UX thing. We’ve re-created the interface for mobile devices, and obviously simplified it a lot, because the PC game is very complex. We’re excited to see where this goes. It’s been an absolute joy working with NetEase. They have some phenomenally strong dev teams.