At this very moment, you might be living next to a space pirate.
But don’t fear. It’s just as likely that, rather than a pirate, your neighbor is an ore-mining magnate controlling a burgeoning enterprise worth thousands of real world dollars. Maybe they just own a single ship, and are content to bounce around the universe for leisure. The choice is really up to them after all. And all of this is thanks to one of the Internet’s longest running games: Eve Online.
Launched in 2003, Eve is one of a handful of long-running MMO (massive multiplayer online) games that offer a space for thousands of human players to interact, cooperate, or compete. It holds its position alongside considerably better known, more popular games like World of Warcraft and, for the most part, is considered to be one of the more niche gaming experiences available to players.
As a content marketer, however, Eve caught my eye for two reasons. The first was the company’s continued success as they approach the fifteen-year mark, with Eve‘s creators CCP continuing to drive eight-figure revenues from what should be an impossible-to-sustain niche game. But perhaps more importantly, while other games struggle to get hold of a content edge (for instance, World of Warcraft‘s creators Blizzard Entertainment lost $430 million on a failed movie), Eve has nurtured a community that creates some of the best examples of user-generated content a marketer could ask for.
The Great Experiment
As with all content marketing, understanding what sets your brand experience apart is an essential part of creating content that people find engaging and worthwhile. In the case of Eve, there are three primary characteristics that set the game apart.
The game is extremely player-driven. Where many games create spaces for players to interact in a confined way but prevent users from actually changing those spaces, Eve encourages users to impact everything. The game has user-run “corps” that rise and fall, trade and fight. The world is defined by a huge, living economy and stock market. Anything goes, as far as players are concerned.
The game is really complex. We’re not talking re-read the rules on family board game complex. We’re talking corporate intrigue, market rigging, supply chain management, socio-political negotiation, and wars that span real-life years. The learning curve is high but rewarding for players looking for a challenge, earning the game a “niche” descriptor.
In-game assets can equate to real-life US dollars. Eve is a subscription-based game, like many MMOs, but unlike similar games, players can purchase an in-game commodity (using the game currency, not dollars) called “plex” that is redeemable for one month of subscription. This effectively creates a US dollar market in-game, where teams can produce, stockpile, trade, and loot plex with other players.
All of this is important to understand, because right from the start, Eve‘s construction is built around a core tenet of good user-generated content in the form of player-generated stories in the game. Asking for user content alone isn’t enough to generate flow; your brand needs to invest in building spaces for your users that reward them for being creative.
Image attribution: NASA
The Greatest User-Generated Content in the Solar System
Eve is operating from a good position, with a concentrated and clearly defined audience, an exciting space for users to interact, and enough real dollar investment to create a sense of urgency and interest. The result has been a vibrant user content ecology.
Much of this content is community-facing and helps create value that keeps users engaged (and paying month-to-month subscriptions). For instance, an in-game corp developed a journalistic arm that now supports a news channel on Eve‘s website, providing a source of timely blog content that keeps users engaged with the brand even when they aren’t playing the game.
But it wasn’t long before this content began to bleed out into the rest of the web. For instance, back in 2014, when a huge number of players announced in-game that they were planning to attack a “safe” area en masse, Eve‘s developers made a controversial decision—they reorganized the game’s servers for forty-eight hours to support the massive, unprecedented raid rather than preventing the players from breaking the “rules” of how the game was expected to be played. The result was the first of many large-scale battles with real dollar damages amounting to over $300,000, which quickly caught the attention of numerous curious news outlets.
These examples of user-generated news breaking out into the mainstream are the result of a second core tenet: Listen to what your audience is interested in, and try to accommodate it where possible. Eve has earned its community’s trust by working with them to create environments that are conducive to storytelling, rather than trying to railroad users into telling stories they want them to.
These good practices eventually culminated in an excellent user-generated video campaign, somewhat uncreatively titled “This Is Eve.”
To counter their reputation for being complex to the point of being unapproachable, CCP decided to create a video campaign that conveyed the spirit of what makes Eve attractive to its player base. These types of video campaigns are common in the gaming industry and often involve expensive shorts with pre-rendered visuals, sensationalized scripts, and stories that are great when they hit and costly when they don’t.
CCP decided they would rather let the players explain directly what they enjoy about the game. Working with a number of popular in-game corps, Eve cut together interviews, user-generated videos, and other in-game recordings to tell the story of Eve‘s universe. It was a tactic that engaged their community, was authentic for viewers to watch, and didn’t break the bank for the brand. But most importantly, it was a story that resonated with viewers, generating millions of views, additional article coverage, and a new wave of interest in the game.
You can see the video below, but note that language hasn’t been edited.
Into the Future
Eve‘s content engine continues to chug along, with growing video channels, blogging hubs, and even a full length novelization of one of the game’s more famous wars. This success, however, has less to do with CCP’s marketing strategy and more the brand’s attitude towards their audience in general. When your brand actively works to partner with users to improve their experiences—which entails both listening to and addressing users’ needs—only then will your audience feel interested in and able to produce stories of their own. Content teams sit at the middle of this relationship, advocating for brand responses, instituting systems to listen to audience needs, and ultimately partnering with users to amplify their stories. By constantly seeking out ways to improve these three pillars of audience relationship, most brands should see a growth in audience trust and opportunities for user-generated content.
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Featured image attribution: Joshua Earle