Video Game Maker CCP Links PC and Console Gamers

An Icelandic developer is trying to bridge the gap between computer and console video games. If it succeeds, massively multiplayer role-playing games could become much, much more massive.

Illustration by gavin potenza

The video-game industry isn't particularly inclusive. The multiverse of gaming platforms is actually a series of partitioned galaxies: I have a Wii, you have a PlayStation 3, she has an Xbox 360, he has a PC. Even if a game is released for multiple systems, proprietary server arrangements prevent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 players on Xbox Live from matching up against users of the same game on the PlayStation Network. We're all gaming online, but we're not all doing it together.

CCP—the Reykjavik, Iceland-based makers of popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Eve Online, which is played on computers—wants to move past the days of gamer segregation. This summer, CCP will release Dust 514, an expansion of Eve created for PlayStation 3 users. When that happens, it will mark the first time users of two different platforms can play cooperatively.

The reason the development has taken so long is in large part due to controls. MMORPGs are played using a PC keyboard and mouse, with commands assigned to most of the available keys. Such functionality isn't possible with a console controller's limited number of buttons. To bridge that divide, CCP created Dust, a console-specific game that is able to communicate with Eve.

The result is two different styles of games that exist within the same world. Eve plays out deliberately in space, with intergalactic ships as its characters and an elaborate system of planets ripe for players to colonize. Dust, meanwhile, is a quick-twitch first-person shooter. Players battle in teams on the surface of those planets.

But despite different mechanics, what happens in one game affects the other: A shoot-out between clans in Dust can determine which Eve alliance gets ownership of a valuable outpost. A shared economy even allows Eve players to hire Dust users to do their bidding in exchange for in-game currency, which can be spent on supplies.

That financial arrangement also represents Dust's revenue engine. Since the game will be distributed for free through the PlayStation Network, the way it's going to bring in money is through a microtransaction system that enables players to use a real credit card to buy in-game resources.

Such a business model, along with Dust's nonexistent offline capabilities, makes the game something of a risk for CCP—especially since the company mothballed another project and laid off 20% of its staff to focus on it and Eve.

But Hilmar Petursson, CCP's CEO, reports that the only sleep he's losing over Dust comes from playing too much. Eve is highly profitable, and if everything works out, CCP will have a direct link to the 62 million PS3s in circulation—offering a nice potential bump to its current user base of 350,000 computer players. Sony, meanwhile, can add an exclusive, high-profile title to its PS3 roster and come away looking like an agreeable partner—particularly to developers in the MMO space.

"Dust has tremendous potential," says Colin Sebastian, a senior analyst with Baird Equity Research. He says Sony has been smart to push for it, because console owners are among the most avid gamers—thus the most lucrative—and Sony doesn't have as many developers on speed dial as does Microsoft. Chris Clark, a Sony PR director, believes his company can use the quality and long gameplay of MMOs to reach a whole new audience. "This is a call to MMO fans everywhere that PS3 is the platform for them," he says. Tangentially, at least.

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  • Isak Ström

    "it will mark the first time users of two different platforms can play cooperatively." Wrong. However, it will make the first time players in two different games on two different platforms can play cooperatively.

    "The reason the development has taken so long is in large part due to controls..." This whole paragraph seems pulled from thin air. CCP has brought in dozens of veteran console FPS developers for this. Nailing the controls down would be a minor issue compared to organizing the server structure allowing the two games to co-exist.

    "with intergalactic ships" EVE doesn't even span a complete galaxy, so I'm not sure where you're getting intergalactic from. It's a nice decorative word, but it's not accurate.

    "A shoot-out between clans in Dust can determine which Eve alliance gets ownership of a valuable outpost." While technically correct, as DUST players can be members of the same alliances and corporations that already exist in EVE, the distinction is nonexistent. An EVE alliance can be a DUST clan.

    "That financial arrangement also represents Dust's revenue engine." Sharing the market with EVE really has very little bearing on CCP's revenue plan for DUST. 

    "to buy in-game resources." We really don't know enough about the microtransactions to make such broad statements about what will be available. At the moment it seems more like it will allow faster skill progression while actively playing and the *access* to specialized weapons and wargear, which other players can still acquire through grinding.

    "especially since the company mothballed another project and laid off 20% of its staff to focus on it and Eve." World of Darkness was never mothballed. Yes, the Atlanta office was downsized, but there are still about 60 people actively working on producing that game, with a much better focus and management than they had before.

    "user base of 350,000 computer players." Subscriptions, not players. As many, if not most, players in EVE have multiple accounts, you can at least halve that number.

    C-, check your facts.