EVE Echoes, the upcoming spinoff to the ever-popular EVE Online, is heading toward an open beta later this year. Last week at CCP's annual EVE Vegas event, I sat down with Wei Su, Senior Producer at NetEase, and Bing Xi, General Manager at CCP Shanghai, to discuss the challenges of bringing the EVE experience to mobile, what sets Echoes apart from EVE Online, and their plans for the game going forward.
At first glance, it certainly resembles EVE Online, with little besides the mobile-friendly UI setting it apart. The look of this expansive universe, its many planets, effects, and interstellar sights, is clearly of much importance to NetEase and CCP. We're shown comparisons between an earlier version and the current alpha build. The difference is stark, with the latest version boasting, to my eyes, vastly improved lighting and effects work. The result is a believable sci-fi setting that has suffered no obvious downgrades in the move to mobile.
This focus on authenticity extends to the spacefaring and combat experience. The slow, methodical nature of its big brother's space battles lends itself well to touch controls, and, for the most part, it's an all-round intuitive experience, with a surprisingly uncluttered UI to boot. These successes clearly didn't come easy, with Wei listing rendering and UI design as the biggest challenges of the bunch.
With it all working well and looking great, my next concern was what exactly sets it apart from other, similar MMOs on the market. When asked, Wei said "Echoes is different from other MMOs in terms of the sci-fi setting and hardcore experience, as well as the level of player choice. We are a player-driven sandbox experience."
While the team's attempts to remain faithful to the PC original are admirable, it's clear to see that a great deal of effort has gone to remoulding EVE into something that can work well on mobile. With Echoes, Wei says "We want to make the experience more player-driven so that they can enjoy EVE Echoes anytime and anywhere. We want to break longer play sessions into shorter play sessions so you can keep going back throughout the day."
Interestingly, Echoes takes place in a universe parallel to Eve Online's. It also sidesteps crossplay to instead serve up a fresh start for new and returning players. Sure, many would have relished the chance to carry over their progress from the PC version, but, as Bing notes, "Due to how complex the EVE gameplay design is, it's impossible to have the two games connected to each other while keeping the optimal balance for both of them." He continues, "The plan is to not connect the two universes directly. That said, we do plan to have crossover events in future."
One big concern looming over all of this is how Echoes is going to be monetised. At the moment, though, the team has no clear answers, with Wei noting that they're still in the early stages of discussing monetisation. He says, "Our thoughts are that we'd like to make it more mobile-friendly. As for the decision regarding monetisation, we would discuss and communicate with the players in the community. Our basic concept is to stay close to EVE Online's monetisation. We will respect what our players think and ask them how to incorporate it."
Strong communication with the game's community is obviously a big goal for them, with Wei saying "We'd like to establish more communication with the players, have more bonding, and we would also like to know what they expect and like, and we will make the game to match what they enjoy."
In terms of post-launch content, Wei confirms that "Event features are on our to-do list. We will provide the content roadmap after discussing it with CCP, and we will hopefully have it ready for soft launch."
For now, it's clear that Echoes holds a great deal of potential. The build I played was still missing plenty of key features – a basic tutorial among them – but there was already a surprising level of polish to its universe and many intricate systems. Quite how the touch controls impact key areas like long-range combat remains to be seen, but I left feeling optimistic that CCP and NetEase could well deliver a solid EVE experience for fans and newcomers alike. An open beta period is currently planned for December, and any progress you make during the beta won’t carry over to the full release in 2020.