EVE Online may be the space-based MMORPG infamously referred to as “spreadsheets in space,” but the real human angle is what makes its player-fueled stories so compelling. True to form, the latest in-game event blurs the line between reality and fantasy, with the 10-year-old MMO’s biggest and most costly battle ever having been triggered by a simple mistake: an unpaid bill. A protected system used as a staging area by the game’s N3 and Pandemic Legion coalition – a pair of allied, player-run organizations – became fair game for attacks, in this case by rival CFC, when a protection payment wasn’t made.
“Supposedly, it was set up for auto-pay, just like any other bill in real life, but either that didn’t happen or the money wasn’t in the wallet, and then everything just escalated out of control from there,” N3/Pandemic coalition member James Carl told the San Jose Mercury News. “The dust is still settling on that issue. Everyone is just focused right now on fighting to try to regain control of the system.”
The massive battle has been raging throughout this week, with more than 4,000 players converging on the B-R5RB system. More than 100 massive Titan warships, which take months to build and cost a real world equivalent of multiple thousands of dollars, were destroyed. Remember Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Imagine a couple hundred of those waging battle – alongside thousands of other, smaller ships – and you get a sense of the scale we’re talking about here.
On the technical side, the crush of concurrent players arming weapons and destroying ships in a single system puts considerable strain on the EVE Online servers. “I’d be lying if I said our servers weren’t sweating a bit,” EVE Online spokesman Ned Coker told the California paper. “Allowing players free movement wherever they want in a game with over half a million players means for some pretty tricky technological requirements.” Lag issues are worked around thanks to time dilation; when a crush of players starts to strain the game’s servers, time is slowed down to allow for orders to be received and processed.
Unlike other popular MMOs, such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, every one of EVE Online‘s 500,000+ players explores a single version of the game’s universe. This “single shard” approach is unique in the MMO space, both in terms of its scale and it execution. The in-game economy is bound by the rules that developer CCP Games established for the game, but it’s run – for better and for worse – entirely by the players. The developer’s hands-off approach has resulted in a living, breathing community, one that is completely capable of, say, sending hundreds of thousands of real dollars worth of in-game resources to a single system, to commit to one battle.
We’ve embedded a look at the insane battle below; head to the video’s YouTube page and check the description for a link that gives you a better sense of how EVE Online battles work. If you want to keep up with how things are going in real-time, head over to the game’s Twitch page and browse through the individual player streams.