Friday, 22 April 2011
Fanfest Flashback: An Interview With Mr. Fanfest
A month has passed, the dust has settled and Iceland's national beer stocks have finally been replenished. I would imagine the city of Rekyjavik has probably just about recovered from the multinational invasion that is EVE Online's Fanfest. Part technology expo, part festival, all spaceships - Fanfest 2011 was an experience like no other. Three days (and nights) of entertainment from the informative to the outright bonkers; with presentations, discussions, tournaments and chessboxing (!), it was a veritable feast for those interested in sci-fi, game-design or Icelandic eccentricity.
However, none of this year's event would have come to pass were in not for the organisational talents of one man; CCP's Events and Conventions Director, Mike Read (a.k.a. CCP Daishi). Undoubtedly a busy man, Mike was kind enough to step away from his usual duties of chomping cigars, sampling single malt scotches and barking at his minions to answer a few questions.
Seismic Stan: As the Events and Conventions Director for CCP, you're the 'man-with-the-plan' when it comes to Fanfest. How did it go this year? What were the high points for you and were there any comical bloopers you could share?
Mike Read: I have been working Fanfest in one capacity or another since 2006. This was my first time overseeing everything from the top down and it was just an amazing experience. The staff I had to work with and the fans were top notch. Just wish I had some more time to engage the fans themselves. Something I never get to do enough of in working Fanfest.
I could be a little biased here, but I have say that this was definitely my favorite one to date. That’s not to say it didn’t have its share of challenges we had to deal with!
The high points were pretty much EVERYTHING! No lie. It all went pretty smoothly (and for those if you reading this and have reservations about the party – We have listened to what you had to say and will rectify that for next year). As for comical blooper – Not really any off the top of my head other than the guy throwing up his dinner the night before in a garbage can on the second floor. He cleared the floor in 2.5 seconds flat!
SS: As a first-time attendee, I have to say I thought Fanfest was a unique and brilliant experience. I would have said it was 'awesome', but I think CCP employees have worn that word out. I got quoted on GameReactor.eu describing it as a cross between a Star Trek Convention and Woodstock. Was this what you were going for and what can we look forward to next year?
MR: That’s an interesting take, but I am not sure I would explain it that way personally. Having never been to a Star Trek Convention and only knowing that Woodstock was a gathering of hippies. I’ve been involved in a lot of gaming groups over the years from many genres and I have to say that the EVE player base is really one of the most eclectic and highly engaging groups I’ve been a part of. The core of the EVE Fanfest really hasn’t changed all that much over the years other that I feel it’s getting more player-centric. That is something Hilmar has always talked about in regards to Fanfest and it’s partially my responsibility to help see that through.
If I had to give a crossover mix of what Fanfest is I would say it’s like a cross between Pitbull and a Golden Labrador Retriever! (Don’t ask me to clarify this!)
For next year the theme is going to be Minmatar as dictated by the winning race in the live agent missions. We are also looking to move to a new venue for 2012 to the new Harpa music hall which is located closer to downtown. None of this has been confirmed yet, but it will definitely pose some new challenges for us logistically. As for what we can look forwards to ….. You’ll just have to come next year and find out!
SS: Beyond the yearly Fanfest convention, are there any other EVE-themed events on the calender that fans can get involved in?
MR: This is being worked on right now. You may have heard my podcast with Crazykinux last month about Fanfest and player events where I have started reaching out to some of these folks in the community who are working on putting together some of the local events. I don’t feel that CCP has done enough outreach and support on this front in the past and I am out to change that.
We’re starting the year off with a Russian fan event that will be held in Moscow on May 14th. The idea started between Russian Community Manager - Alexey Rybak and I at Fanfest. This grew from a small 200 person pub meet has now turned into a 400 person player gathering! It’s to the point that we had so many people that wanted to come to the we had to put a cap on it for logistics and timing reasons.
There is also a few other larger ones this year that we are looking to support as well. My email address is out there [firstname.lastname@example.org] and I encourage people to contact me about their event idea. I’d be more than happy to give some guidance to those who are looking to start something up in their area.
SS: One thing that struck me at this year's Fanfest was the sheer diversity of players. It is possible for players, whilst sharing a passion for EVE Online, to have little in common in terms of play-style. Given the diversity that grows from the 'sandbox', how do you ensure that there's something for all players at events?
MR: You hit the nail on the head here. Diversity is really one of the intriguing factors in this game and this has a large part to do with the single shard that we run. You really aren’t going to please everyone here, but I truly believe the core interests in the game are the same to the majority and that comes with the advanced social infrastructures that this game naturally allows. We focus on the core ideas at Fanfest. The players do a great job of filling in the blanks with the interactions that occur between themselves.
What I would like to see more of is more player-centric activities and discussions. This year we tried something different with a little idea that I had called “Open Mic Night” which started off slow and ended with a whole load of people that wanted to get up on stage and tell their stories.
Bottom line is that Fanfest is about the fans (I know! Quite the concept!). I have an enormous amount of respect for those that take the time out of their lives to come to Iceland for a week to meet others who share the same interests and to meet with the people that make the game (and in some cases get really drunk). I believe it helps the developers put it all into perspective as to why they love what they do as well. I know it does for me.
SS: EVE Online's combat is an engaging, elegant and popular activity as reflected by the inclusion of PvP tournaments at Fanfest and by the yearly Alliance Tournament, both of which I am sure are an incredible experience for the participants. However, as a spectator I found it difficult to make sense what was displayed on the screen beyond some coloured boxes, some whizzy crosses and the odd flash of light. Are there any plans to make tournaments visually more spectator-friendly?
MR: I was involved in the very first EVETV broadcast that happened back in the summer of 2006. I’ll spare you the details of how I got involved, but that one was a challenge and a half. Try commentating and controlling the broadcast camera at the same time!
Anyway – There are really no plans on the development side to improve things as far as I know. The system that is in there now was adapted from an old combat HUD that was buried in the code. There were some alterations done on the backend organizational tools, but nothing groundbreaking on the frontend that I am aware of.
We do, however, have some flashy new broadcast tools that we utilized for the Fanfest EVETV broadcast. This should help to give us a lot more flexibility on that end. I do agree with you thought that less time needs to be spent in those overview red/blue boxes. I’ll definitely poke the man about that one to see what we can do to bump that up.
SS: If 'EVE is Real', the events and conventions that you organise are EVE Online's reality beach-heads. How do you see your role in evangelising EVE? Do you think there are any limits to how 'real' EVE can be for players?
MR: I feel that EVE players are some of the most laid back people I have ever met in the gaming space. You can give them a bar, some devs, and a roomful of people that play EVE and they’ll make their own fun. I don’t really feel the need to “evangelize” anything when the players just do it so well themselves. What I do push is the need for people to get in the same room and experience firsthand what it’s like on the other side of the fence. For many that come out, it’s their first time in a space where they are meeting random people from a game for the very first time. I’ve always found that EVE players are some of the easiest to mix with whether you are alone or in a group.
As for how “real” EVE can be for players? I get the impression that most know the line between reality and the game and where to draw that line. Of course you have some that live and breathe it 24/7. At the end of the day the connection is with the game itself. We’ve always found that players who may have been at war for years with each other and involved in the nastiest most virulent mudslinging you could imagine can always leave that behind. So, EVE will never BECOME reality, but it is nonetheless real.
SS: EVE Online's player-driven politics and non-consensual combat mechanics are an emotive subject. I have heard of aggrieved players threatening to carry out acts of revenge in the real world. Have grudges or conflicts from the game-world ever spilt over at a real-world event? What is CCP's policy on dealing with such incidents?
MR: Tensions run high in this game for sure in the combat arena. Losing that billion+ ISK fitted ship or getting ripped off is always a disheartening (if not a ragequit) experience at times.
I am not aware of any real acts that have occurred, but like anything in this space, things can quickly evolve into a heated moment of exchanges between two people. What I can say as a former GM is that there are occurrences of this happening and at times we’ve had to contact law enforcement agencies to report incidents against us and others. Past that, there isn’t a whole lot we can do directly except put people in a cool down. Nonetheless, we do take it seriously when it gets out of hand.
SS: Given that the sandbox gameworld of EVE allows for amoral behaviour and the practice of meta-gaming is an accepted part of EVE's 'emergent gameplay', it could be argued that there are potential pitfalls ahead as those two concepts converge. How would you convince the Jack Thompsons and the Daily Mails of the world that there is nothing to worry about?
MR: It definitely scares the hell out of some people! The fact that you can lose everything you spent days, weeks, months, and even years building up. There are plenty of games out there that offer this level of protection to their players and will suit their style quite well.
I really don’t feel that we should be convincing anyone that there is anything to worry about and present EVE for what it is. Some people are just fascinated watching what happens in the EVE world like a type of voyeur looking to get his/her fix. EVE tends to walk the line on a lot of things and the two you pointed out here are big ones, but are really what set us apart from the rest.
SS: I suggested in a previous blogpost that for some players EVE is practically their religion and is an all-consuming lifestyle choice. Do you think MMO publishers have any responsibility to their customers with regard to video game addiction and how can this problem be addressed?
MR: Yes and no. There are so many types of personalities out there. It’s really the addictive ones that will have trouble discerning whether they have a problem or not.
EVE is a form of entertainment. Like anything in this field, we want people to engage and have fun with it. There will always be those who can’t see how far they are taking things. I think you will find this in any game genre these days with a multiplayer capacity.
Fact of the matter is that almost anything can become an addiction these days. Video games are no exception to that rule and we as a company have no real way to discern how someone would be taking it too far without us simply closing down our business.
Like I always say … “Everything in moderation … including moderation”. I go overboard myself sometimes, but am able to look at it and bounce back. Not everyone has that luxury and I feel fortunate.
SS: In the UK, there have been a number of famous Mike Reads (well two, and one of them is spelt Reid), and they were distinctive spectacle wearers. Have you considered following in their footsteps and what kind of spectacles would you go for?
MR: Having come from the record industry, I know of the radio DJ Mike Read. None really past that, other than the guy who decided to add as many Mike Read’s as possible to his Facebook. It looks like I have already attempted to follow that route and gave it up for the truly awesome video game industry. If was to go for a specific type of spectacle, it would probably be…..wait for it……AVIATORS!!!
I would like the thank Mike for taking the time to give some great answers and I look forward to what he's got in store for the next Fanfest and any other events that may appear on the calendar. Here's to Fanfest 2012.