CCP Games' PS3 exclusive DUST 514 has the super-attractive sales bulletpoint of a persistent connection to EVE Online. The Icelandic developer's 10-years-and-running MMO is an industry mainstay with an unfathomably dedicated playerbase, so launching an FPS tie-in on console was an initiative approached with some conservatism. With ambitious plans for a shared economy, any hasty addition to the universe risks upsetting a game whose balance is entirely dependent on that economy's stability.
And so, we have the DUST 514 of today. The game's most important system, its economy, still exists separately from EVE Online's, and players of both games comment on an overall lack of meaningful connection between the two.
In a presentation on the future of DUST 514 at last weekend's EVE Vegas 2013, creative director Atli Mar Sviensson revealed the Loyalty Points and Loyalty Store systems. Much like traditional faction-reputation systems in MMORPGs, fighting for a particular side in DUST 514's Factional Warfare will earn Loyalty Points that can be spent in that particular faction's Loyalty Store. Meanwhile, CCP envisions a gameplay future where DUST 514 mercenaries are deployed by EVE Online pilots in warbarges that EVE players must protect on the way to a planet's surface. In return, DUST 514 mercs might gather a new kind of resource during a Factional Warfare match, or secure resources through victories for the EVE pilots that deployed them.
"If it's worth something in the game, they will use it," said Atli in a post-presentation interview. "Our job is to make it meaningful so that they have a deal that they can't refuse."
But despite CCP's plans for DUST 514's future, which are fitting well with the team's philosophy of putting the 'MMO' back in 'MMOFPS,' I wonder whether the timeline for some of these updates will be problematic. DUST 514 came out within a year of PS4's impending launch, after all, and some of the ideas presented at EVE Vegas are months--even years--from fruition. When I ask Atli about the extended timeline for these updates, he says he's not concerned. "And even if it takes longer than we expected for something, if it makes the feature better, it's worth it," he said. "And the thing is, we're going to be supporting the product for a long time, regardless of platform. Right now, we're laser-focused on PS3, and you'll see where we go."
It's hard to disagree that DUST 514's work-in-progress future caters well to CCP's MMO sensibilities, where a fan community is established with gamers who "see significant changes based on their feedback online, not every half a year, like in a traditional DLC or something, or when the next installment of a game comes out." Atli continued: "Many of them expect it, because we are an MMO . . . but we hope that we are training everyone, ourselves included."
And this openness of communication, this no-wrong-answer approach to development, is something CCP hopes to see other studios take up. "I'm pretty confident that other games will follow suit," Atli said, "which I think is good."
At the same time, the new player experience is crucially important to DUST 514's long-term development. Atli's DUST 514 presentation during EVE Vegas mostly glossed over upcoming tutorial additions, but the team notices every success and misstep. "We had an intro video, 'The Way of the Mercenary', but we removed it because it was getting out of date and we didn't have time to update it. But we got a lot of complaints about removing it, so it's definitely important to have it." He continued: "Our thoughts on the subject are pretty substantial . . . We are definitely focusing on the on-boarding of the new player . . . It should not be the same as on-boarding in most other games. This needs to be on-boarding someone into the concept of a persistent universe, the concept of the consumption-based economy, the concept of you being a persistent character that can actually make a dent."
Doing these things in a convincing, meaningful manner will be the challenge to Atli's team, but he believes they're on the right track. "I do think that the lightweight tutorials that we have now--they are important," he said. "We used to have the tutorial heavily text-based, but it was boring. So we simplified things, made things a little more accessible." More specific details are coming, but the push toward better on-boarding in DUST 514 will coincide with a similar initiative in EVE Online, where rookie training sessions and new player outreach will begin in the coming months.
Did your first experience with DUST 514 capture your lasting attention, or was your first clone deployment like hitting a brick wall. Do you have faith in the future of the IP and EVE universe? Sound off in the comments below and stay tuned for more DUST 514 coverage here on PSU.