In some undefined sci-fi future, when you are flying a spaceship and you encounter space pirates attacking another lone ship, will you go after the marauders or join them?
Your decision will affect not only you, the pirates, and the pilot of the lone ship, but will have reverbations throughout the alternative universe of EVE Online, potentially affecting all 350,000 players of this massive multiplayer game designed by Iceland-based CCP Games.
#b#Hilmar Petursson#/b# joined CCP a decade ago. He was chief technical officer then, assigned to build the technological infrastructure and overcome the tactical hurdles that would allow hundreds of thousands to be part of the same alternative universe on the same server at the same time.
Petursson, now CCP’s CEO, will be one of the entrepreneurs participating in “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: A Panel of Entrepreneurial CEOs Answers Your Questions” on Friday, May 7, at 2 p.m. at Princeton University’s computer science building. The moderators will be #b#David Fialkow#/b# and #b#Larry Bohn#/b#, managing directors of General Catalyst Partners, and the other panelists will be #b#Paul English#/b#, chief technology officer and co-founder of Kayak.com; and #b#Avner Ronen#/b#, CEO and co-founder of Boxee. For more information, contact Michelle Daubar at 617-234-7028.
The goal of EVE Online is territorial conquest in a future in which people fly freely around in space and build space stations. These stations require organizing thousands of people, acquiring resources, manufacturing components, and enabling the logistics required to transport items from one place to another.
All the while, these complex operations will have to be defended from enemies. In the process, players will meet each other online and solve tasks together as if they are in each other’s presence — either by speaking in their own voices or sending instant messages.
Over several months, and with the help of thousands of people, one group will complete a space station and control the solar system. It will become its own emergent economy and society, which must defend itself when enemies attack.
Which of course they will.
For the privilege of being part of this universe, players are willing to dish out $15 a month. New players coming into the game begin by constructing their own identities — creating either a male or female avatar in one of the four races in this society. Beginning as a rookie spaceship pilot, a player begins in the first weeks to use that little spaceship to acquire the wealth to buy a bigger spaceship, and on it goes.
Petursson shares some of the approaches CCP has taken to establish itself firmly as a company and ensure continuing creativity among its employees:
#b#Raising money#/b#. There was much excitement around the idea of creating a massively multiplayer game — EVE Online had 30,000 players when it launched. The game was also growing out of the culture of space fighting so popular in “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” movies. The initial funding effort was a bit unconventional and played on this enthusiasm — CCP produced and sold a board game called Haettuspil (“Danger Game”) created specifically to raise funds for the company.
After CCP’s success in that initial effort, the company generated additional funding through a closed offering to private investors in 2000, at the end of the dotcom boom. They were able to raise more money in 2001, although it was difficult after the dotcom bust. CCP raised $3 million, which was enough to fund the development of a technical prototype of the application, particularly the graphics, along with a fully-developed script for EVE Online.
#b#Assembling the right team#/b#. “When you are an entrepreneur and want to go after your vision, the most important thing is to assemble the right team,” says Petursson. “The earlier that you can find people who buy into the concept and will be there for the long run, the better.” He adds that, if possible, it is better to gather these people before raising significant money, because people who join after the finances improve may be joining for different reasons.
Within Iceland, CCP was able to pull together companies that did three-dimensional graphics and related technologies to accomplish the original development. “We rounded all of them up and worked really hard for three years until we had completed what we needed to launch in 2003,” says Petursson.
The next thee years were spent scaling up and building the infrastructure as the volume of users grew tenfold. But as the company grew, it needed to spread its net more widely to find the specialized talent it needed — Iceland, after all, has a population of only 330,000. To reach the people it needed, CCP opened offices in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom, and from the 40 employees at its launch, it has grown to 520.
#b#Creating effective teams#/b#. CCP uses a method called “enterprise scrum” to support “agile” development. The method emphasizes strong interactions between cross-disciplinary teams that include artists and techies as an organic part of the organization’s development process. “The results have been amazing,” Petursson says. “There has been a remarkable reduction in production time and a notable increase in overall productivity.”
#b#Encouraging creativity and innovation#/b#. One important component in supporting originality is placing a high value on individual contributions. “We focus on finding the best people who are aligned with what we want to achieve, even if that means looking for them in unexpected places,” Petursson says. “For example, we recruited an economics professor, Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, from an Icelandic university to become a sort of Alan Greenspan for EVE Online.”
And it did not stop there. CCP brought in fashion designers to create realistic clothing designs and architects to create livable spaces in their virtual worlds. “These aren’t the sort of people you would expect to find working in the video game industry,” he says, “Then again we don’t see our work as creating games so much as we are creating alternate realities, so it makes perfect sense from that viewpoint.”
#b#Listening to customers#/b#. Like many companies, CCP uses web-based message boards and social media outlets to foster communication between players and developers. But CCP also believes it is important to meet with customers face to face and has developed two venues for doing so.
The first is the EVE Fanfest, held annually in Reykjavik since 2004. Petursson says, “Sitting down together, sharing war stories, and exchanging ideas over a few beers adds a depth of familiarity that can never be achieved solely online.”
CCP has also established the Council of Stellar Management to take that sense of ownership to an even deeper level. It is a democratically-elected group of player representatives who collect issues from their constituents and discuss them with the EVE development team, sometimes at meetings at the CCP headquarters in Iceland. This collaboration has resulted in the introduction of features most desired by the game’s players and has even affected the nature of interactions with the council itself and the overall EVE community.
Petursson was born in, Iceland. When he was 12 he joined his father’s construction company and worked over the long Icelandic summer vacation for 4 months each year building houses.
“I did that until I was 23, when I graduated from the University of Iceland with a bachelor’s in computer science, so you could say that I had a decade of experience building real things before I started building virtual things.
Petursson’s father is a carpenter and my mother works at the local swimming pool in Gardabaer.
Petursson earned a bachelor’s in computer science in 1997. His first job in the field, which he began while still in college, was as a software engineer with Oz Communications. Recently acquired by Nokia, Oz develops mobile messaging solutions for mobile operators, handset manufacturers, portals, and online communities. In 1999 Petursson left Oz and spent six months as chief technology officer of Smart VR. He served as chief technology officer for CCP from April 2000 to January 2004, when he became CEO.
As CCP contemplated its future, it looked for intellectual property and people of a similar mindset. Noting the growing popularity of White Wolf’s “The World of Darkness” game over two decades, CCP saw the potential for it to cross over into a virtual world similar to that of EVE online. In 2006 the two companies merged.
CCP is at work on other games, including Dust 514, a multiplayer game accessible through consoles like PlayStation and Xbox, and World of Darkness, about being powerful vampires in modern times.
Innovation, says Petursson, requires an abiding passion whose source is more than just a means to get rich — because the going will be difficult.
“If things are not going well or are a little too hard, it’s probably because you’re doing the right thing,” says Petursson. “If it’s easier, you’re probably doing something that’s been done before and you should do your research better. Stubbornness, persistence, and a healthy dose of insanity — as long as you have the right team — are among the critical success factors.”