Nearly 19 years after its launch, EVE Online still has one of gaming’s most robust virtual economies, as the game’s detailed monthly economic reports attest. So when developer CCP says it has “no plans to add blockchain technology into EVE Online… for the foreseeable future,” it should probably cause proponents of crypto gaming to wonder why.
In a Monday blog post, CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson wrote that the company is always “exploring new technologies and new possibilities” to help fulfill its mission to have “the EVE Universe outlive us all: EVE Forever.” But while he said that blockchain tech has “a lot of untapped potential,” he noted that there is “a lot of work needed before [blockchain is] ready for EVE-scale games.”
Pétursson leaves CCP a bit of wiggle room, though, by clarifying that non-fungible tokens will be absent from Tranquility, the main server cluster that serves as the home for the game’s global player base. So CCP may still experiment with blockchain technologies on production-testing servers like Singularity and Serenity, which have their own completely separate economies and player bases.
Pétursson explicitly nodded in this direction in his post. “While we remain intrigued by the technology, for us, NFT stands for ‘Not for Tranquility,'” he wrote. “Overall, the EVE IP will continue to push the boundaries of digital economies and virtual worlds—and we will continue to explore that outside of [Tranquility].”
Deriving value from fun
Proponents of NFT gaming often imply that the technology is necessary to impart true “value” and player “ownership” of in-game assets, which the game’s creator will otherwise lock up and render valueless for the players. But the longterm success of EVE Online‘s economy serves as a key counterexample, proving that NFTs are unnecessary for the creation of a stable in-game value exchange between players.
Players in EVE Online can use real money to buy PLEX, which can be traded for the “Omega Clone” game-time subscriptions that offer access to most game features and cosmetic and character-enhancing items.
But PLEX can also be traded for ISK, the main in-game currency used to purchase ships, modules, and much more. ISK can also be converted back into PLEX on the open market, thus encouraging players to earn more ISK through in-game mining, industry, or plain-old piracy (via PvP battles, for instance).
(While PLEX and ISK can’t officially be converted back into real money, black-market exchanges allow players to “cash out” their in-game assets.)
There are a few prerequisites to making an in-game economy like this work. First, there has to be a core group of players interested in playing the game for its own sake rather than playing primarily as a way to make money. EVE Online‘s appealing gameplay helps give some inherent value to PLEX, which can be traded for more game time. With a steady average of 34,000 players online at any given time over the last five years, EVE Online has definitely satisfied that requirement.
Many NFT games thus far have put the economic cart before the appealing-gameplay horse, though. Last May, a Twitter poll from Axie Infinity co-founder Jeff Zirlin found that only 15 percent of players said the gameplay was their favorite thing about the simplistic beast-battling game. Nearly half of all respondents said the economy was their favorite part, suggesting there is too much focus on asset speculation among the player base.