is thriving in Iceland despite the bankruptcy of the country. The publishers of the massively multiplayer online (MMO) sci-fi game, “EVE Online,” has over 250,000 gamers paying a $15 monthly subscription fee to explore the science fiction universe of EVE. There are another 50,000 players trying out the free 14-day trial version of the game through Eveonline.com or Steam.com.

“We have really big plans for this game,” said Magnus Berggson, vice president of sales, CCP Games. “We have things coming out that will ensure that it will continue growing. It’s the type of game that gets better with more players playing. It’s not the same leveling-up grind you get in other games. That’s why people stick with it.”

CCP Games held its fifth annual FanFest in Reykjavek last fall, which was attended by over 700 gamers from around the globe and another 700 local players. The hot topic was the return of EVE Online to retail, courtesy of Atari.

On March 10, 2009, Atari will publish a DVD-ROM version of the game around the globe. The $35 game will include all nine expansions and 60 days of subscription service. It marks the return of EVE Online to retail stores after the initial 2003 launch through now-defunct Simon & Schuster Interactive.

Although EVE Online is the main focus and all developers in Iceland are continuing to work on that game, CCP Games is expanding its Atlanta branch, which serves as its North American headquarters. Two years ago, CCP Games purchased Atlanta-based White Wolf Entertainment, creators of pen-and-paper adventure games like World of Darkness. Since then, the company has been staffing up videogame development in Atlanta and is in pre-production for a World of Darkness MMO game.

“We started talking to White Wolf about a collaboration on a specific project a few years ago,” said Berggson. “We discovered that we were on the same wavelength. They’ve been doing fantastic storytelling for 20 years and we’ve been developing MMO game technology for EVE Online that can be used across multiple games. It was a marriage made in heaven. They were in Atlanta and they had the structure for us to build on top of.”

Atlanta works with the Iceland marketing department for EVE Online. They also have some members of the community team based there, as well as in Iceland. Burggson said there’s a lot of cross-over between the offices.

CCP Games also has an office in Shanghai, which has multiple roles. Game masters provide customer service for players in the U.K.. “They also work with our partner, Optic, which runs the Chinese EVE Online game,” Berggson said. “The Chinese server is completely compartmentalized so they’re always one expansion behind the rest of the world because of translation. They’re also working on a new project for CCP Games.”

Expansion Means Growth in Atlanta

“We’ll have three separate games down the road,” said Berggson. “That’s why we’re increasing the size of the Atlanta office. We’re not pulling people away from EVE. We can be developing that game for 10 to 20 years if we do everything we want to do with it. As long as users support our efforts, we’ll continue to expand.”

CCP Games currently has 400 employees spread across its three offices and will be gradually adding more as it ramps up production of its two new MMO games, while maintaining the growth of its bread-and-butter, EVE Online.

“Other games have grown quickly and then declined quickly, we have just grown steadily,” said Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, chief economist at CCP Games.

The retail EVE Online box will include all nine previously released expansion packs plus the forthcoming tenth expansion entitled EVE Online: Apocrypha which introduces numerous new features including unstable wormholes to explore and modular ships that pilots may tailor-build to suit their own specifications and needs. All subsequent expansions will be free of charge to all subscribers, continuing CCP’s commitment to offer free updates and expansions to its subscribers at regular intervals.

Players redeeming the free gameplay code for a new account will also receive additional bonuses aimed at getting more people involved in the game’s action. An Instant War Access certificate allows rapid access to organized combat. Newbies can learn all about tips and tricks through the dynamic Exclusive Career Guide website. Players will also get an exclusive new spaceship, the Interbus Shuttle. And rounding out the bonus content is a VIP Pass, which allows a friend to play the game for free for 21 days. If they subscribe, the player received an extra month of gameplay for free.

Changing Business Plan for EVE

“CCP Games was founded in 1997,” Gudmundsson said. “From the time they started developing the concept, it took three years until the actual game development started. It took another three years to publish the game. Simon & Schuster Interactive published the game. It became quite clear that it wasn’t going the way we wanted it to through retail. We changed the business model and offered the game online in 2004.”

After six months at retail, EVE Online was pulled from store shelves and went exclusively to online distribution.

“Because of the gradual growth of the game alongside the gradual growth of the company, we’ve been able to manage this,” added Burggson. “We’re the publishers ourselves, so we haven’t had to share the revenues with anyone. Because we have this great foundation, it makes sense for us now to add retail and share in the profits. Atari will add value to the IP itself and its position in the market. We’ve been in online distribution and everyone is moving to that and now we’re moving to retail. We’re doing the opposite of everyone else.”

Another thing CCP Games is doing differently is increasing the development team as the game rolls on. There are now 300 people working on EVE Online in Iceland. The company is releasing major expansions for next year, including the addition of space stations that players can dock on and explore.