How Reykjavik’s cross-dressing mayor helped bring EVE Online to life
Jón Gnarr has become something of an Internet celebrity since becoming the mayor of Rejkjavik Iceland in June of 2010. He’s known for dressing in drag during the city’s LGBT pride events, casting his ballot wearing Jedi robes, and in general being one of the more interesting politicians in the world.
He belongs to the “Best Party,” a political party he started as something of a joke, and that has since become a member of the International Pirate Party. I had a chance to meet the honorable mayor during my time in Iceland, and it turns out Gnarr has played an important role in CCP’s early history.
Funding video games with board games
CCP’s first product wasn’t a video game, but an Icelandic board game called Hættuspil, or Danger Game. Many CCP developers have told me that the board game contained the DNA for EVE Online, as it was possible to play around the rules as well as within them. The cover image of the game showed an elderly lady and a rough-looking man in leather.
The lady on the cover was Jón Gnarr.
“I had a very popular radio show, a morning show from 7 to 11 every morning, with my friend. They just contacted us, I don’t remember if I knew them. There may have been some friendships involved,” he told the Report. He also said he was simply enthusiastic about the idea, and doesn’t believe he was paid much money for the image.
During our time together I had the feeling that Gnarr decided to do things just because they were fun, only to be surprised by how big things become. He seems comfortable with the fact he's a politician almost by accident.
The game took off, selling over 10,000 copies in Iceland. Gnarr said that he still sometimes sees the game in people’s homes. That amount of sales was a dramatic success for a board game in such a small market, and the money the company made from the game allowed them to begin work on EVE Online.
It’s an interesting story of Icelandic success. CCP went on to create one of the more interesting online games in our industry in EVE Online, and the company continues to operate successfully out of Iceland. Gnarr himself went on to become the mayor of the city. Sadly, many fans of CCP have yet to play the game, as it has never been released in English.
On April 10th, Gnarr released an image of himself dressed up as the same character. Dedicated fans wondered what was up. Punk rock diehards noticed that Gnarr had a Crass tattoo on his arm. Everyone else began to wonder if the game was getting a re-release.
CCP gave fans the great news during Fanfest: The board game was finally getting an English release, and it would be part of the upcoming collector’s edition of EVE Online. Gnarr would in fact be starring on the cover once more, dressed as a woman, looking as if he’s once again being harassed by a street youth.
I asked Gnarr if his political power made it harder for CCP to get in touch with him regarding the request. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “I was delighted when I heard about reproducing the board game. I did it with great enthusiasm. But of course those requests have to grow through some filters before I see them. Many people see them before I see them.” The second the request did reach his ears, however, he said yes immediately.
I've heard nothing but good things about Hættuspil by the few people I've known who have played it, and I'm tempted to buy a collector's edition just to play what is now a nearly historic board game. When you see the cover, just remember that “old woman” is actually the mayor of a beautiful city, and he played an interesting role in the early days of CCP.