What it takes to run the biggest space MMO

Eve Online

Like some grand old dame, her youthful charms supplanted by the calculated sophistication of age, Eve Online is wading gently into her second decade. Created by Icelandic developers CCP Games, the massively multiplayer online game is set within the distant universe of New Eden, a place of immortal space pirates and larger-than-life politics, of players who think nothing of setting 6 a.m. alarms to patrol the lawless galaxies.

Eve Online isn't an easy game to get into. It comes packaged with heavy expectations of commitment. Skill and ISK (the in-game currency) need to be accumulated gradually through weeks of mining, trading and player-on-everything combat. And there's a lot of everything given that the online world is a thriving galactic jungle swarming with more than 500,000 citizens.

From a year-long war to elaborate Ponzi schemes, none of Eve's intricate happenings would be possible without the appropriate hardware. Eve Online's massive world is built in the bones of Tranquility, a centralized server cluster based in London.

Eve Online

Just one piece of the Tranquility server

The technical specifications are unsurprisingly hefty. In a 2013 interview, CCP Chief Technical Officer Halldor Fannar revealed Tranquility featured 3,936GB of RAM and 2,574GHz worth of processing power. To put that in perspective, that's like having the computing power of 858 high-end processors or roughly 1,838 iPhone 6's combined into one block.

But even that isn't enough to fully accommodate the strenuous loads that Eve Online's growing number of players puts on Tranquility.

In the heat of battle

To keep this massive online realm running,, there is constant co-operation between CCP Games' operation and development teams as they monitor the nodes for activity levels and migrating solar systems when necessary. One example of this was the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, which saw more than 5,000 total combatants and losses amounting to $300,000 (about £201,213, AU$385,822) in real-world value.

Eve Online

The Bloodbath of B-R5RB

During the event, developers relocated unrelated systems away from the affected node, freeing space for the carnage and temporarily disconnecting anyone not otherwise related to the fight.

"It's a choice we need to make," shrugs Senior Virtual World System Administrator

Guðmundur Jón Viggósson when I spoke with him at the 2015 Eve Fanfest. "We have a battle of 5,000 players. Let's disconnect 100 players so the battle can continue."

Compromise is a familiar theme in the day-to-day operations of Eve Online. The game was never designed for 500,000 players: it began life on a handful of computers.As such, CCP is still figuring out how best to adjust to the needs of its user base, and problems still arise whenever unexpected giant fleet fights break out.

Given sufficient notice, the operation team will transfer the conflagration to a node dedicated to such purposes. But that doesn't always happen, resulting in disconnected players, population caps and lag.