Daily Archives: May 23, 2014

Is the Learning Cliff EVE’s Biggest Problem These Days?

This picture is pretty much a staple of MMORPG lore now.

Learning Curves

Learning Curves

The objective is to show how insanely hard/deep EVE Online is compared to the standard MMORPGs.  There are many things you can do in EVE, many career paths which you can follow, but the game is quite miserly in doling out information about them.  The learning cliff was the biggest obstacle I faced back when I started playing, which was almost 8 years ago at this point.

At EVE Fanfest this year, CCP had a panel on the new player experience (video here) in which they trotted out some depressing figures, represented by this chart (which is discussed in the video at the 16 minute mark for about two and a half minutes).

New Player Trajectory

New Player Trajectory

Basically, of new players who subscribe… which means that they got past the trial account period and actually paid money… half of them leave by the time their first subscription period runs out.  After putting down money, they decide the game isn’t for them and they are gone.

Another large chunk goes on into mission running or mining and never goes any further.  That is certainly where the current new player experience pushes you.  That is the route I took way back when I started playing EVE, two or three new player experiences ago. (The tutorial was a lot less smooth back then.)  It is basically the closest EVE has to a standard MMORPG progression path.

But as with leveling in games like WoW, there is a limit to it.  You end up the master of level 4 missions or you earn and skill yourself up to mining in a Hulk… or I guess a Mackinaw these days… and there isn’t much more to do other than grind rep with specific factions, make ISK, and do the same thing over and over again.  So those people tend to end up leaving as well.

And then there is the small group, described as 5-10% of players who pay/subscribe, who end up beyond missions and mining.  They engage in more of the wide range of activities that make up EVE Online, get involved in PvP, appear on kill mails, and stay with the game for a long time.

Clearly, if you have a game whose revenue benefits most from retaining subscribers for the long term, this chart represents a problem.

CCP’s response in the video is to try to get the new player experience to push people into areas of the game that have high retention rates.  I might ask if people stay longer because they do those things, or do they do those things because they stay longer, but I’ll allow for the moment that CCP has data that drives their assumption.

There is a not insubstantial number of players out there who look at that chart and say, “Well, duh!  Provide a richer (and safer) PvE experience!”  To make money, give people what they want.

That can lead to a more philosophical discussion.  CCP clearly has a goal and a vision for EVE Online.  Does altering that vision, which appeals to a good number of their long term subscribers, to chase another demographic make sense?  That sort of thing has blown up in developer faces in the past with things like the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies or Trammel in Ultima Online.

And that still leaves the biggest group, the 50% of players who just walk away without even getting into missions or mining, a group that I would guess is actually vastly under represented in that chart.

A reader dropped me a note that, among other things, pointed out that the chart above doesn’t address people who download and play the trial, made it through the tutorial, and then never subscribed.  We don’t have any data on that, but I would guess that if you included those people in the chart, people who invested enough time to get through the tutorial, that 50% number would grow substantially.

Now, why they dropped the game is unknown.  There are a few possible reasons, including the incomprehensible UI.  But the same reader also included what he went through with the new player experience:

I started working my way through the industrial tutorials…and about halfway through you need to gather resources from within the system, but it isn’t your own private patch of asteroids.  This is a basic function, and I’m fine with it.  The problem is, while tooling around the system in which the tutorials are offered, I get harrassed and threatened by no less than 3 different players over the course of two hours, stating I need a permit to mine there…threatening to blow me out of space…demanding an insane amount of ISK from someone who’s spent a total of 3 or 4 hours in game…and finally threatening to report me as a bot if I don’t pay up and get out.

A few people got angry at me the other day because I mentioned that a player (actually two) on his first day in the game was out in a fleet with us and tackling hostiles.  I was accused of putting forth an anecdotal fallacy, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t arguing that their experiences were typical for new players in the game, misunderstanding… perhaps deliberately… the difference between capability and opportunity.  That it is possible speaks well for EVE.  That such opportunities can be difficult to find does not.

The quote above is also an anecdote, yet I will guess that the very same people who cried “fallacy” a few days back won’t do so again.  It fits their narrative about bad people in EVE.  And there are certainly bad people in EVE.  I don’t think CCP changing their ad campaign from “Be the Villain” to “Be the Hero/Villain” will alter that. (Nor do I think the “Be the Villain” campaign changed the game in any noticeable way in any case.)  To use the tale above as evidence of widespread bad behavior would be a fallacy.

But I will go back to capability and opportunity.

You can assert that some new players may not have the opportunity to get their legs and discover good aspects of the game before the harsh realities come and find them.  More concerning is that “bad” people, for lack of a better term, have to capability of going after new players while they are still getting their first impression of the game.  When you get a PvP game where the established players start thinking that going after the new players in the starting zone is good sport, and the devs do nothing about it, the writing is on the wall.

So I want to know more about that 50% on the chart above.  Because if new players can’t make it out of the tutorial without facing that sort of thing, if they think the player base sucks before they have had a chance to discover the game, then the writing is on the wall for EVE and all the “HTFU” in the world won’t bring it back.

You can argue about what CCP should do about it.  I am sure suggestions will range from putting the tutorials in their own instanced space… though you still have to enter the real game at some point… to making high sec space PvP free… a complete departure from CCP’s philosophy and something in the NGE range of options.  But if new players are important to the game… and they are… then CCP needs to look at that 50% who just leave and why they go.