CCP Games readies tests for blockchain game Project Awakening | Hilmar Veigar Pétursson interview

During 2024, CCP Games will have multiple playtests for Project Awakening, a next-generation blockchain game set with the Eve Online universe.

The next tests, dubbed Phase III, get underway on May 21 where about 5,000 people will test a level of the game for six weeks. CCP Games, a 26-year-old studio, will continue to operate Eve Online (launched in 2003) separately as it launches Project Awakening, which will be a single-shard survival experience.

CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson spoke with me about this recently as the latest effort to create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life.

Designed with player empowerment at its heart, Project Awakening is built upon the principles of freedom, consequence, and mastery within a living universe. A universe that will evolve from the actions and efforts of its players.

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As a single-shard survival experience, Project Awakening is set in the dark expanse of space where civilization has decayed in the ruin of its own ambition. Players will explore a hostile and dangerous cosmos as they fight to survive against what remains and attempt to rebuild a broken world. The space exist in an area of physical anomaly, where three black holes are arrayed in a kind of three-body problem, Pétursson said.

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CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson at GDC in San Francisco.

The space game will be graphically rich. For now, the company is using a lot of Eve assets just to get started with placeholder art. But the game will get more and more of its own assets and its own unique idenitty, Pétursson said.

The game takes place in a in a very different part of the world where Eve Online takes place,” he said. “It is a very unique culture. It’s uses a different type of technology. We’ve been really releasing some of the science fiction behind the game, which takes place around three black holes that are spinning around each other in a sort of a “three-body problem” with black holes. And, by the way, the three-body problems involving black holes are a rather complicated math phenomenon. The math literally doesn’t exist to do it. We’ve been working with astrophysicists around the world.”

Powered by the Carbon Development Platform and MUD by Lattice, CCP Games’ Project Awakening is a single-shard survival experience set within the Eve Universe. CCP is creating a persistent world bound by digital physics, where composability and programmability will enable players to build and collaborate on top, outside of and within the emergent game environment – unlocking boundless creativity for third-party development via blockchain technology and cryptography.

As part of the playtest in May, an online hackathon will enable builders to showcase their ideas to CCP, with the winning teams given the opportunity to visit the studio headquarters in Iceland. CCP Games said it is committed to making the Carbon Development Platform open source, allowing programmers and game developers to access the Carbon game engine framework and additional components for free.

Pétursson said that there are other games in testing this year. Eve Galaxy Conquest is a mobile game that has been in soft launch since November. Galaxy Conquest is a 4X strategy game — the first mobile game from CCP Games — that is soft launching in Australia and the Philippines. The goal is to release it in all markets by the end of the year.

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CCP Games has teams working on Eve Online, a new mobile game and Project Awakening.

Eve Vanguard is a sci-fi sandbox extraction FPS set in the EVE Universe currently in early development at CCP’s London studio. The Eve Vanguard game bears some resemblance to an extraction shooter now but Pétursson sees it as a sandbox shooter leveraging the existing sandbox of Eve Online, with economic and social connections. He said much of the inspiration from games comes from players, who are passionate about Eve Online and offer feedback all the time.

In the Project Awakening hackathon, players will be able to build on top of the blockchain game and modify the game as the play test is running.

“We believe we have figured out a way to make this all work in terms of security and access, but also in a sane economic way, people with our programming can’t just change the game so that they can win it,” he said. “But, of course, we have to test that. It’s a lot to get right.”

More and more, he said, game companies are allowing players to modify and extend games a lot more than we’ve seen before. He noted that that Epic Games paid out $320 million last year to UEFN (Unreal Editor Fortnite) creators and more will happen this year. A bigger part of the business will belong directly to the players.

“And we are very much believers in that,” Pétursson said. “We have been building with the community for 20 years, and we’ve seen a lot of building by players over those 20 years, where they’ve been making third-party apps which have been very much a big part of the online experience. But we’ve never really found a good way to include people in the business model.”

Now, with blockchain technology, CCP is building a creator-oriented game platform on top of the blockchain framework.

“We’re seeing an acceleration to a new world, where players of games can also make a career in making content in games, not only streaming them or exporting them, but also increasingly doing a lot more,” he said.

The coexistence of the game with Eve Online will be interesting. CCP’s first attempt to do a joint game was Dust 514, which was a first-person shooter set in the Eve Online universe. Getting the infrastructure for that game to work was difficult.

How big can it be?

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Concept art for Project Awakening.

I asked if this will be the kind of game like Eve Online, which thrives on hundreds of thousands of players, or if it will be much larger than that.

“We’re not so much obsessing about how many. We’re just really want to find an audience for the game,” he said. “Whether people love playing the game, just like they have done with Eve Online. There definitely is a critical mass factor in these kind of sandbox experiences. You need a larger number of players and then a percentage of them will be creators.”

So far, players have been creating tools to organize large groups. That’s something that also happens in Eve Online.

“People are building tools for massive alliances. Of the non typical in alliances, tens of thousands of people, and alliances of that size — you need HR software, onboarding, logistic, management and more,” he said. “People have also been quite creative on creating features on top of areas in the game.”

In a kind of survival game feature, spaceships need energy so managing fuel is necessary. So managing fuel is necessary, and players have started making fuel stations. They’re also creating tokens for alliances inside the experience, which is similar to the underdeveloped system for corporations.

“But here we can see people just implement their own systems. It’s Web3 tokens in the game for their alliance on the chain we’ve created. Then they can use those tokens to reward their people to do things for the alliance,” he said.

Pétursson notes there are 385,000 people, with maybe 200,000 people working in all of Iceland itself. There are 280 people working at CCP. So one in every 1,000 people working in Iceland works at CCP, he said.

Partnership with Lattice

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Project Awakening is being built with MUD from Lattice.

CCP created its own blockchain on Ethereum, which is a set of smart contracts for world building. CCP has been working with the MUD framework from Lattice that it has worked with for two years.

“That allows us to put a lot of the state of the world onto the chain, which then allows people to program their state through the ability to upload new smart contracts into the network, which I think is fairly unprecedented,” Pétursson said.

Eventually, Pétursson said CCP hopes to put all the data from the game on the blockchain.

“There are limits to what is sensible to vote on chain right now, both for scalability but also interestingly for Cold War secrecy. The downside of blockchain is that everything is visible. And in a world game like ours, it’s important to be able to hide your tracks for your fleet and secrecy around other things,” he said.

He added, “There are solutions for that involving zero-knowledge proofs, which is an emerging concept in cryptography. It has been adopted for a lot for blockchains but zero-knowledge proofs are useful for everything in life. It’s not that blockchain exclusive. All cryptographic constructs are extremely useful to make the computing work. We would have no internet without cryptography. We also work with quite a bit of people who are on the cutting edge of cryptography.”

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CCP Games is making the blockchain game Project Awakening.

Pétursson noted that Ethereum enables Layer 2 and Layer 3 solutions and CCP has devised a construct where it uses a combination of such layers that then roll up to Layer 1. That allows the company to manage the scalability as it does in Eve Online.

“We came up with a lot of trickery to help the database cope with the amount of data and the number of transactions. So a lot of the tricks we did 20 years ago for databases are useful today for blockchains. We’re quite used to using slow databases, he said.”

The tests coming May, September and December will inform CCP’s team about going from theory to practice, as far as making things come together and how it works for all players. Will the theories pan out? That will enable the company to think about when its launch date will be. (It won’t be this year).

“We’re still in the middle of development. We are adding mining now. And so we’re making the session you play through having more and more shape to it. It’s like a phase where you’re gathering resources. There’s a phase when you’re harvesting. So we’re going for longer sessions. In a similar sense, where people can do more chapters. That’s the first game mode and the first level we are working on,” he said.

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