Reflections on EVE FanFest

With EVE Online celebrating 10 years, and Dust 514 launching imminently, Gareth Harmer looks back on an incredible FanFest.

As I came in to land at Keflavik International Airport, I stared intently out of the small cabin window. Partly out of fear – I’ve never been a great flyer, and I was consciously trying to avoid clawing holes in the arm-rests. But also partly out of fascination – as our plane followed the shoreline, no fields or forests came into view. Instead, I was confronted with rough and craggy black rock formed from solidified lava flow, tightly blanketed in a thick green moss. It seemed primal, barely post-creation, and utterly alien to anything I’d seen before.

It’s in this remote location that CCP held its annual EVE FanFest, inviting players from across the world to meet developers, renew friendships and, above all, celebrate the game. For five days the city of Reykjavik became the nexus of culture surrounding spaceships and the pilots that fly them. Stories were traded. Alliances were discussed. Pacts were forged. And many, many beers were drunk.

That culture snapped into sharp focus as I walked through cold streets toward the Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert and conference center. Nestled on the harbor’s edge, the building’s geometric glass façade glimmered in response to the rippling water below. It’s a futuristic design that contrasted strongly with the surrounding landscape, making it an ideal location for the sci-fi heavy FanFest.

To prelude to the presentations and panels over the next few days, fans were treated to a special performance by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. As the ensemble recreated pieces from EVE Online with strings instead of synthesizer, it was difficult not to be moved. For those in the auditorium, this was their The Planets, their 2001. As I looked around, I could see the universe of New Eden flicker across their faces as the orchestral movements brought back memories from their time in-game.

For the capsuleers present in the Harpa, this wasn’t just a symphony. It was the fanfare that heralded their arrival.

This year’s FanFest was particularly special, with EVE Online celebrating ten years of live service. The achievement is even more significant considering EVE’s history, as the spacefaring sandbox MMO has enjoyed uninterrupted growth since launching back in May 2003. Several of those original subscribers are still playing today, plotting and planning in the darkness between stars.

But EVE is more than just a game. It’s a phenomenon that attracts everyone from general news agencies to documentary makers, all trying to understand some facet or nuance of the universe that CCP has created. And there are certainly plenty of players eager to help them, with over 1400 attending.

As I chatted with some of the players, usually over a pint at one of Reykjavik’s many bars, it became apparent that EVE’s following is incredibly diverse. Although predominantly male (I’m told that 96% of EVE’s 500 thousand-odd players are men), both players and attendees herald from all walks of life and, interestingly, all demographics. It might be a graphic designer from Boston, a bartender from Nottingham or an accountant from Dusseldorf, but none of it mattered. All of them were brought together by a shared knowledge – and shared stories – of what went on in their game.

Those stories are something that CCP is keen to preserve, encouraging players to first share, and now debate and vote on. They’re not just being preserved on a website for posterity either; during FanFest, CCP announced that selected stories would be turned into a comic, by Dark Horse, and a TV series in conjunction with Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur. In this way, it’s hoped that the Universe of New Eden will transcend its MMO origins.

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