On February 12, 2014 an 18 year old Game Boy game took the internet by storm and ignited a miniature cultural phenomenon. Over the course of the next 16 days, an estimated 1.16 million people tuned in to the newly rebranded Twitch.tv and watch people from all across the world attempt to collaborate and successfully beat Pokemon. Twitch Plays Pokemon was a runaway success and is still going to this day, as well as spawning numerous imitators over the years. Last night, an EVE Online player named Johnny Splunk decided to mix the most complicated game in the world with the most complicated way to play a game, and presented Twitch Plays EVE Online to the world.
According to Johnny, during a presentation he delivered at EVE Vegas, Twitch Plays EVE started as an idea he had casually mentioned during one of his regular EVE streams about three years ago. He began to toy with how someone would even begin mapping such a complex game to obey simple commands from the chat. The idea of creating something that could interpret text typed into chat into commands to run EVE Online proved too difficult at first, and the project ended up being put on the back burner for a while.
The project stayed on ice until Johnny, a veteran software developer by day, began experimenting with Twitch Extensions. Twitch Extensions enable users to create apps or overlays that allow viewers to interact with the stream, either by directly clicking on the screen or with chat commands. Johnny created a Twitch Plays EVE extension that was able to take input from viewers clicks on the stream and process them into command and control of the spaceship in EVE Online.
Johnny’s EVE Vegas presentation, which happened before Twitch Plays EVE went live, was well received by the crowd in attendance. He even offered a small interactive demo afterwards for people at the EVE Vegas meetup.
At 4am UK time on October 31st, Twitch Plays EVE came online for the first time. Johnny Splunk hosted the stream on his own Twitch channel and fielded any questions players might have about the experience, but he did not interfere in the activities of the stream, allowing viewers full control of a character. For the first hour of the stream, an audience of around 100 viewers watched the spaceship under their direct control move back and forth along one of EVE’s most popular trade routes, attempting to get from one end to the other so that they could collectively complete one of the challenges laid out to them by the stream’s moderator team.
According to Johnny during the inaugural stream, the addition of the challenges was to add an RPG-like element to the stream and give viewers goals to work towards together, rather than leaving the experience a complete sandbox. The challenges come with two sets of rewards: one for the in-game character, and one for the viewers themselves. When a challenge is complete and the evidence is posted on the Twitch Plays EVE Discord, viewers are rewarded by the mod team with with ships, in-game currency, skill training, or other various in-game bonuses to progress the character. In addition to the character reward, viewers active when a mod acknowledges a completed challenge are able to enter into a drawing to receive a prize to their EVE Online character.
After 40 minutes of the inaugural stream being active, 71 unique viewers had already begun to interact with the system, giving commands to the character and helping to shepherd it through space. The viewers weren’t all just entering random commands either; after about an hour they managed to navigate their vessel through the 10 stargate route between Jita and Amarr, the game’s two largest public trade hubs.
The reward for completing this challenge was Twitch Plays EVE’s first fully capable combat vessel, and four identical copies of it in case of the vessel’s “rapid unexpected deconstruction.” This first ship did not last long: after one hour and eleven minutes of streaming, the character died in combat for the first time. A player by the name of Kraid Dorf attacked and killed it, destroying the stream’s brand new spaceship and sending the viewers scurrying back to the station to pick up a spare.
After such a harrowing encounter, the viewers decided that some combat training was probably in order and went in search of NPC pirates to destroy to get a feel for what combat would be like. The stream was able to successfully defeat the NPC pirate menace and went back to attempting to complete the challenges laid out before them.
Johnny Spelunk stated that the goal is for the stream to run as close to 24/7 as possible. He has a team of several mods, made up of other EVE players, EVE streamers, and some experienced Twitch mods, to make sure the game is running round the clock and is restarted after EVE’s nightly downtime. So far, the plan is working. After a brief stint of playing Minesweeper while allowing for the EVE Online servers to go through their once a day reset process, the ship once again undocked and began to travel through the void. The viewers even got a chance to put all of their combat experience to good work, when, at 12:51pm UK time, they attacked and killed their very first player. Drunky Munkey’s ship could not withstand the withering firepower of Twitch Plays EVE’s destroyer-class ship and became the stream’s first victim.
Twitch Plays EVE may not be the purest way to play EVE Online, but EVE is a game that is best when played as part of a community, which is what Johnny and the other players hope to create. This is a chance for everyone in the world to share in the ongoing story of the world’s largest collective work of science fiction.