This article is presented by CCP.
Video games change lives.
20 years ago, people would have scoffed at, perhaps even ridiculed, the idea that a game could have a profound effect on its players. But nowadays, it would be very difficult to find a gamer who disagrees. Since its inception, gaming has been an engrossing hobby that helps build relationships, offers stress relief, and can even serve to impart lasting life skills. As games themselves have evolved and pursued more ambitious endeavors, this has only become more true.
One game that exemplifies this is EVE Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that is nominally about spaceships and exploring the stars. Although it might seem at first like a straightforward game about blasting away your enemies, hoarding valuable resources, and exploring the star cluster of New Eden, once you peer beneath its surface, it’s also about building relationships between players and learning skills you can take with you to the real world. It could even be argued that without delving into the metagame around EVE, it is difficult to get a real picture of why the game has survived – and thrived – for as long as it has.
EVE’s infamous depth as a role-playing sandbox has allowed its players to become warlords who rally thousands of players and form massive fleets, aggressive capitalists with the wealth to buy and sell empires, and industrial tycoons whose virtual shipyards provide arms for the largest player vs player battles in gaming history. These players often become so immersed in the game that their lives can begin to shift and change around it — often for the better.
EVE Online has been changing players’ lives outside of the game since very early on in its history. The game’s unique demands often encourage players to confront and improve on parts of themselves that they wouldn’t expect to. But it’s only recently that EVE’s developer CCP has coined a term for this unique aspect of the game: “The EVE Effect.” The term came about after the studio completed a study on what seems to be an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation spreading around the world in certain age groups, and how that affects players of their game. Through surveys and discussions with players at various real-world events, the CCP team found that over 60% of the players they interacted with said that they had made substantial, impactful friendships with people that they met through EVE Online. Other research by the company showed that many players also believed that EVE had helped them to develop skills that improved their real lives. This combination of friendship and skill development seems to confirm what the MMO’s thousands of players have known all along: EVE is more than just a game. EVE Online is real.
The EVE Effect is something that resonates with people that have played the game and spent any real amount of time in EVE because they can see it in their own lives. EVE Online can be a harsh, unforgiving game, where trust in another player is often viewed as the ultimate commodity. When you are forced to trust another player to help you achieve a goal and have to risk often irreplaceable in-game assets to do it, the bonds between players can grow very deep very quickly. Once a player starts receiving help from others, it’s natural for the player to then want to do the same for other newcomers — for example, by sharing their knowledge and resources or helping them with a difficult objective in the game. It’s no surprise, then, that players often end up forming vast player-driven corporations, or guilds, in the game that connects them to a web of other like-minded players, and these relationships continue to grow and often turn into real friendships.
CCP’s research showed that on top of making friends, 56% of players said that skills they learned through playing EVE had proven to be valuable in their lives outside of the game and in their careers. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the game’s unofficial moniker as “Spreadsheets in Space,” the most common career skill referenced is the ability to successfully create and navigate complex spreadsheets, which may not sound like much on the surface until you realize how valuable this skill is to running a successful business.
One player who took his spreadsheet knowledge, among other things, into the real world and capitalized on all the life lessons learned through leading players into battle in EVE Online is Matthew Ricci. Ricci’s claim to fame within EVE Online is self-admittedly, in the grand scheme of things, relatively small. According to Ricci, he was the CEO of a mid-sized industrial-focused corporation in the game, with around 400-500 player characters under his banner.
“I ran an ore buyback,” Ricci explains. “I had to determine what a fair price was to buy from my group, and then according to my in-game skills, what could I do to make a profit.” Ricci’s in-game ventures allowed him to learn several things about real-world business concepts. “I had to understand market fluctuation, cost break down, supply chains. And on top of that, I had to convince players to sell to me at a lower cost because I could reduce their risk,” Ricci says.
Eventually, Ricci began asking himself, “If I can do all of this in-game, why can’t I do the same thing in real life?” That’s when he realized that nothing was stopping him from leveraging the skills forged in EVE to improve his real life. Ricci now runs a successful business in Canada. “We have two divisions in the company, a sales representation business to sell electronics to major retailers, and a drop shipping business where we purchase and resell products we find that we like.”
Ricci credits EVE with giving him not only the knowledge to run this style of business, but also the confidence in himself to build a real company out of nothing, just like in the game.
On the other side of the coin, there are players who use their real-life skills to further their EVE career, and through that broaden their skill set, all while networking with other players who work in the same industries. This feedback loop has led to some EVE players landing great jobs in the real world.
That’s exactly what happened to veteran EVE pilot Innominate, who asked us to use his in-game name rather than his real name for this article. In the EVE universe, Innominate is a high-level director in the Goonswarm Federation, one of the game’s most populous player-driven factions, and a member of EVE’s Council of Stellar Management (CSM). The CSM is a player-elected focus group that works with CCP on upcoming game features and provides feedback to the developer. The combination of having played EVE for so long, and being in two relatively unique positions in the game, has given Innominate a broad view of the MMO and the effects it has on players.
“You hear a lot of stories about people who ruin their lives playing [other MMORPGs], but with EVE you tend to hear more of the other way around,” Innominate says. “I started playing EVE, I started going to player meets, I’ve gotten jobs, or I’ve made friends where I’ve never had any before.”
Innominate also believes that EVE Online can be a powerful learning tool.
“Most of the things that make you good at playing EVE are real-life skills,” Innominate explains. “They’re not things you can grind. You have to learn leadership and diplomacy, and eventually you come out of the game realizing, ‘Wait a minute, this shit’s useful.’”
This “shit” that Innominate refers to are intangible skills that a person has to learn through experience rather than from studying, and the game is rife with opportunities to practice them. This is because of the high-stakes scenarios in the game, where words and communication can affect your station in the game as much as your actions.
In-game, Innominate helps run Goonswarm’s IT server infrastructure, which is how he eventually embarked on his current career in the IT industry. “After a few years, I thought ‘screw it,’ I’m going to find a job, but the only real experience on my resume was my experience running Goonswarm servers,” he says. “Fortunately, one of our other directors happened to be at a company that was looking for ‘Linux nerds.’ We spoke, and the next day I had an interview, and the day after that I had a job.”
Eventually, the company that hired him grew and needed to find more people, and Innominate turned back to EVE to fill those positions, pursuing players he thought could handle themselves. “The company had always been a remote work company and not everyone is suited for that kind of thing. But something about having a high impact role in EVE prepares people for that sort of thing.” He suggested that the company look into another of the Goonswarm server admins, and from that point, the trend continued. “We’ve hired 10 people from Goonswarm at this point I think. My boss is the Goonswarm Head Diplomat!”
The idea that a game requires a diplomat to play – much less a head diplomat assuming charge of a vast organization of diplomats – may seem crazy, but in EVE, it’s not uncommon. In many ways, EVE is best viewed as a 17-year-old collaborative science fiction storytelling experiment. Since the beginning, the narrative has been largely driven by the players, who’ve role-played themselves into massive, galaxy-altering battles, economy-shattering hostile corporate takeovers, and infamous betrayals that turned the tides of interstellar wars. So much has happened in EVE Online that the MMO even has its own unofficial historian who documents the biggest events in the game’s long history so that future generations remember the players and factions that came before.
Veteran journalist Andrew Groen has written two non-fiction historical novels covering the early days of EVE Online and still has many stories left to tell. After years of watching EVE history unfold as a reporter, Groen agrees that there really is something to the EVE Effect.
“The game is complicated, and the game is complicated in a lot of ways to teach you about real life. The most glaring way that that occurs is in people’s social skills, and their abilities to understand large groups of people,” he explains. “To be able to understand and picture other people’s lives and their needs is an incredibly useful skill set that carries into other areas of people’s lives.”
Groen’s way of interacting with the community and the game is by telling the story of the game as a neutral observer. Yet, the game has still had a large impact on his life.
“My life is completely different as a result of the fact that I started writing about EVE,” he says, adding that before EVE he was a person of mild renown in the relatively narrow field of video game journalists. After beginning his journey with EVE, “the idea that I would get a chance to have a dedicated audience that would give me years of time to focus on my work, and give me their money in advance so that I could work on something I’ve always wanted to do, non-fiction journalism — I have no idea what I would be doing without this opportunity.”
Wanting to tell the story of EVE is a calling that many people find themselves heeding at some point during their EVE career. So much so, that it has given rise to a host of blogs, podcasts, and even several virtual talk shows dedicated to the goings-on inside the game world. EVE veteran January Valentine has worked as a producer on two of the largest of these programs, “Talking in Stations” and “The Meta Show,” each reaching hundreds of viewers every week.
“They are, for lack of a better word, talk shows, sort of like you would see on ESPN, except we focus on the goings-on of EVE Online,” Valentine explains. “I try to make the news very understandable so that anyone from any point of view in EVE can understand what’s going on in any other part of EVE.” Producing these shows, and gathering all the news, information, and stories from around the game eventually translated into January creating her blog Something You Should Know, where she writes about important events in one of EVE’s biggest wars.
“In my opinion, EVE is the medium that effort translates best into results. If you’re feeling stuck in real life, you can go online, and put in some real, sincere effort in, and you can grow as a person. You can put effort towards challenges conducive to the growth in real life,” Valentine says of why she feels that EVE has changed her life.
The biggest lesson she’s learned though is “Humility. When you start trying to be active in the meta [in EVE Online], it’s very clear that you are the little fish. Wanting to talk to people like TheMittani, Headliner, or Progod, you have to develop a diplomatic persona, to move around the EVE universe to get to those kinds of people.”
Another player who spends a good deal of her time talking about EVE, either while streaming on Twitch or co-hosting a podcast with her boyfriend, whom she met while playing EVE Online, is Miranda Fair, who is better known as Mirandalorian. Between EVE engagements, she moonlights as a Captain in the United States Army who focuses on logistics.
As you might expect, running into active duty or veteran military players is very common in EVE. I asked Fair if she thought the game seemed to disproportionately draw that type of player to it.
“[EVE] has been really beneficial to me as a social outlet, especially while I’ve had to move all over the place with my career,” Fair says. “I’ve actually met people in many different military-centric communities in EVE, and even outside of that, a lot of people are in armies of different countries all over the world. I think what draws military-minded personnel into EVE is that the game is very tactical. When you get into these giant battles, you need to have people who are willing to step up and be leaders, and I think that attracts that military mindset.”
One theme that has come up time and again when talking to people about EVE Online is the personalities and the leaders that the game shapes.
“It helps people develop leadership and social skills,” Fair says. “Whether you’re leadership for a thousand-person alliance, or the CEO of a corporation of twenty people, or just a member of one of those corporations, it allows you to choose what you want to focus on and get good at, and follow that.”
Some players find the EVE experience so unique and engaging that sharing it with other people becomes a primary part of their gameplay loop. This is something that I personally experienced in my early days, trying to find my own place in the game. Everything I did in EVE felt so unique and different from what I’d seen in other games that I found myself constantly talking to my real-life friends about it, whether they wanted to hear it or not. I loved telling stories about my experiences in EVE so much that I decided to apply for a writing position at an EVE Online-focused news site.
Before this point, I had never really written anything that was intended for a wide audience. I had written papers for school and posted on online role-playing forums, but had never written anything that I thought tens of thousands of people would ever read. This part-time “job” I picked up to tell my stories paid out in in-game credits, which was helpful to my burgeoning career as a spaceship pilot, so it killed two birds with one stone. I was satisfied with my decision and didn’t think it would go any further than that.
Then the unexpected happened. My dedication to the game soon blossomed into a freelance writing career. I began contributing to several major video game news outlets, chronicling the grand EVE narrative from my perspective. My stories about EVE have now been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. I’ve even traveled to Reykjavik, Las Vegas, and Toronto, and other places in search of more stories to tell about the game. I’ve been able to hone my skills as a writer and I’ve gained more confidence, all thanks to my years playing EVE Online. As you might have guessed, I am a massive believer in the EVE Effect.
One of the most common sentiments shared among the player base, beyond the usual “spreadsheets in space” joke, is that EVE is a game that fascinates people outside that don’t even play it. If there was a list of people’s favorite games that they have never played, EVE would surely be near the top. The reason that people are drawn to EVE is, for the most part, the same reason that the EVE Effect exists. The stakes when playing EVE are very high, and because of that, the bonds that people share in the game, and the lengths that people will go to learn skills that give them an edge, are greater than in other games.
EVE Online can be a harsh and unforgiving game, where loss is real and can be very demoralizing – it is not necessarily a game for everyone. However, this unique universe drives players forward, to better themselves and to meet new people. Once a battle is won, a corporate empire is built, and goals are achieved, it’s not uncommon for players to shift their dedication to achieving something tangible in the real world with those same skills, and with the help of those same friends that made everything possible in the first place.