It's fundamentally linked to the popular PC massively multiplayer online (MMO) title EVE Online, offering a side door into its universe. We caught up with CCP's chief marketing officer David Reid at this year's EVE Fanfest to discuss the challenges of this ambitious undertaking.
As a studio that has solely worked in the MMO genre, how did you approach developing a fast-paced first-person shooter?
"There are a number of different things at play here. If you were to take a deep look at the people who are fully engaged on Dust, there are really three types of people involved here right now.
"Number one is people who have shooter experience. For example, we have a number of people that joined from DICE, and worked on the Battlefield franchise. You have to have a great moment-to-moment experience on a first-person shooter or else the game just fails, right?
"The second group of people are those who come from the Reykjavik and have been involved with the EVE Online economy and meta game and the things that have happened in the single shard universe, building the connection.
"You have the EVE Online space client, the single shard universe, and now we have Dust tunnelling into that. So the people making that link work technically and making sure the economy remains stable, making sure the alliances and politics stay balanced, that's a second group of folks.
"A third group of folks are more on the micro-transactions side, and have seen that business model and worked on it. Then you have a few unique people, like Brandon our exec producer or Atlee our creative director who have experience in all of those things.
"So, it's this chemistry of making sure you have all the right disciplines covered and have the right leaders who can make that gel into a successful game."
Do you feel that there is a risk of a backlash from EVE purists who might believe that shooter mechanics could dilute the game?
"There absolutely is, and we're watch those things very closely. This is not an unambitious project. There's a lot of peril if we do things wrong, and not just in terms of the attitudinal side of things.
"There's a risk of getting the economy wrong. The EVE Online economy has been built for years, and people have a pretty good sense of what it takes to earn an ISK, how much time you need to spend mining or trading in the game to make money.
"What could happen is somehow in Dust we do something wrong, and you can earn ISK at a faster pace and there's something unintended there and we accidentally have some hyperinflation in our economy.
"This is really what the beta is really all about. Watching the data, turning the dials, like you do with any MMO, but we are now going to be in a place where we are joining two MMOs together. We are treading very carefully here, listening to both communities deeply.
"As you see here at Fanfest, the community is not shy, and we love them for that. We're focusing on debuting the game here in a big public fashion to make sure that we are able to hear what the community is thinking as we're proceeding on this."
It must take a great deal of work to ensure that the final product will be balanced. Is that why the development cycle has been so lengthy?
"It's funny because you think about the orbital bombardment you see in the footage we showed, that is an economic transaction in the EVE Universe.
"Somebody had to secure their ISK to launch that missile in the EVE Universe, and somebody in the Dust universe has to go out and buy new weapons and vehicles because they just got nuked, that's the kind stuff you've got to watch very carefully.
"Building an Unreal engine shooter for the PlayStation 3 is a pretty known thing to do. A lot of people have done it, some more successful than others. But trying to make that a free-to-play micro-transaction-based game on a console, that hasn't been done before.
"Now let's connect it to a PC MMORPG, that hasn't been done before. These are the things that have really added complexity, but you have to love it.
"If you look at what has happened in the games industry over the past couple of years, you can see the success in the social, mobile and casual space. All of the major publishers, the EAs and the Activisions, are chasing a more shallow gaming experience and putting a lot of investment there. You can see what's happened with the sequelisation, there's a Call of Duty every year.
"As a core gaming you have to sit back and say, 'Who is pushing this industry forward?' I don't know that there is anybody being more innovative and taking more risks that CCP. That's why I joined the company, I just love it."
You mentioned EVE players launching an orbital bombardment against Dust players there. How does the fact that there are people behind this mechanic make it different from, say, ordering an airstrike in Call of Duty?
"It is a similar mechanic, but there are big, big differences. The number one is that this is a persistent universe. That bombardment happens with a fundamental sense of achievement and loss that only an economy like EVE bears.
"EVE, at its essence, is all about that sense of achievement. You spend six months fighting your way, grinding your way and trading your way to build a Titan, and then that sense of loss if that Titan is lost in battle. Jeez, that's a big loss.
"It's not like playing an FPS, or even a typical MMO where you die and then respawn or maybe have to spend a little money to get resurrected. Losing a ship in EVE is a big deal, and losing a tank in Dust will be a big deal. That's the fundamental difference, I think. These things matter here in a way that they just don't in other games.
"The second thing is that persistence and that growth. I can play Call of Duty and unlock another prestige level, and get a new gun or whatever, but it doesn't have the same meaning as being a Dust player and earning your currency in-game and unlocking the ability to drive new vehicles and use new weapons and new drop suits and things like that.
"At the end of a battle, there's winners and losers, but a lot more has happened in the status of the leaderboard changing. My gear is bashed up, I may have lost some of it. There are consequences to every game.
"The third big difference is that these are two different games that have been connected. It isn't just that we've put an airstrike into Dust 514, we've taken the EVE Online universe of 350,000 plus games on the Tranquility server in London and allowed them to drop bombs on millions of people on the PlayStation Network, and vice versa, PSN players can secure surface cannons to shoot back up at the EVE players in space. This is really different."
Can you explain the role of micro-transactions in Dust 514?
"Think about it this way, Dust is unique among shooters in that beyond the free-to-play and the connection to EVE, you can play the way you want to. It's not required that you're a heavy that carries a big cannon and weighty armour moves really slow. You may decide that you want to be a heavy that does things a little differently, moving a little faster wearing a different drop suit.
"You may decide that you want to be a sniper that wears heavier armour. You don't move very fast, but you're not a glass cannon that dies as soon as they attract attention. These are the kind of things that people will want to use the transactions for.
"As you progress through the game, you will unlock in your skill trees the ability to use a bunch of things. If you want to customise the way you play, and the way you and your friends play as a clan, you're going to want to use some of those micro-transactions to unlock different vehicles, different drop suits, different weapons and things like that.
"But it is not a pay-to-win game, and that's the most important thing here. There is no amount of items that you can buy to propel your way to the top of the leaderboard."
The game will be supported by a PS Vita companion app, but are there plans to incorporate more extensive Vita usage in the future, such as crossplay support?
"That's the way to start. What we are doing with Dust is not a trivial thing. The focus right now is making sure that Dust on the PlayStation 3 is an awesome triple A first-person shooter with everything you're expecting it to have, and that the connection with EVE and the persistence works brilliantly.
"Before we start thinking about porting that entire experience to Vita, or any other platform, we want to make sure we did this right. That's why the idea of doing cohort apps on Vita feels like a good first step. But there's a lot of stuff we can do with Vita in the future. It's an amazing piece of hardware."
Why did you choose to launch the game on PlayStation 3 rather than Xbox 360 or PC?
"If you think about the DNA of CCP as a company, accessibility hasn't been one of our strong suits historically. We've made a very ambitious game in EVE that has been hard to get into for a lot of people. People who get there just love it, but it is hard for a brand new person to come into the game.
"So you can imagine if we at CCP said 'We're going to build a first-person shooter, and we're going to do it on the PC, and we have all the limitless freedom to add anything and do anything' then you could end up with a shooter that's a little inaccessible, built on almost Excel-based mechanics rather than shooter mechanics.
"By going with a console shooter as the way to start it's really focused our thinking. It has ensured that we are absolutely manically working on the moment-to-moment gameplay experience and chiselling that into something flawless and awesome that works on a console.
"So why not 360 or some other platform? What we found over time is that what we were trying to do with Dust in terms of connecting with EVE and letting those players play together is not something everyone can do. It is a technically challenging thing and there are a lot of business policies that need to be wrung out.
"Think about the impact of virtual goods policies. People at CCP and Sony have sat in rooms to work this out. It's not been this 'Here's this virtual goods policy. You must adhere to it or else you can't be on our platform'.
"Sony has been a terrific partner in enabling us to have that discussion with them, and trying to be innovative and flexible and finding ways that it can work for CCP, it can work for Dust players, and it can work for the Sony ecosystem. Not easy to do, especially when you're talking about division in America, Europe and Japan. It takes a partner who is willing to go the extra mile, and Sony has been terrific on that front.
"It also comes back to some interesting technical things. Take for example, voice chat. This is an important part of EVE and an important part of first-person shooters. We think it's important for those people to be able to speak to one another, not just text each other.
"So we had the issue of enabling thousands of EVE players to chat with millions of PlayStation users. We worked with Sony to find a solution to this, and that solution is not something we could have discovered with Xbox."
So what was that solution? How does it work technically?
"Basically, it is a much more open system with Sony. There are third-parties who have been able to run applications and services on the PlayStation Network. At a technical level it still has its complexity, but the business rules of it are a lot more flexible.
"For example, we work with Vivex on EVE for our voice chat. We will be able to work with Sony on those kinds of things and work with third-parties as well."
Was this project undertaken to get more players interested in EVE, or was it more about enhancing the existing universe?
"Gamers are gamers, and some will play everything. We do expect that there some people who will play Dust and then say 'now I want to play EVE', and vice versa. You will probably have some really enthusiastic people who try to play both simultaneously.
"But we don't think that's the bulk of what happens here. Much like in EVE, you pick a role and you specialise in it. That's the fastest way to success. Think of Dust as being a new role in the EVE universe. You're a first-person shooter and a mercenary, and that's the way you make your mark on the EVE universe and leave your footprints in the sandbox.
"It is more about enhancing the EVE universe. It's about opening up these windows that you've always seen from your starship. Now people are actually going on the ground, and you're seeing those environments for the first time. It's about new types of gameplay between the two titles, like the orbital bombardments and the surface cannons.
"If you think about EVE Online, there are two things going on here. The first is this PC MMO about flying in space with a subscription fee and regular updates improving that core moment-to-moment gameplay. The second thing about EVE Online is that amazing persistent single-shard universe where everything is governed by the gameplay and the sandbox.
"You think about the stories that people have heard about the heists and the assassinations and this democratically elected council of stellar management, and all these crazy things that go on in the universe. EVE is one of those games that has certainly entertained more people than have ever played it.
"So now what we want to do is allow people to come into that universe in the gameplay that they choose, the business model that they choose, the platform that they choose. If we can choose that Dust and EVE can exist together and improve each other in that shared universe, there's no reason why we couldn't expand that to any number of applications, any number of business models and any number of platforms.
"This is a very ambitious project for us, but we believe that once that first-person shooter guy gets a taste of the EVE universe, we don't think that they're going to want to play other shooters."
So you could feasibly connect other games from other genres to the EVE universe?
"Absolutely, that's exactly how we're thinking about it. It's fun to daydream, imaging what an RTS or a racing game would be like, but before we allow ourselves to do that, we are focused on Dust. We want to make that work, and then take it from there."
> Read our preview of Dust 514
> 'EVE Online: Inferno' expansion to launch in May
Dust 514 enters beta in April. A release date for the game is yet to be announced.