BB77 – Everything Has a Season

We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us… we play EVE Online.

I wasn’t going to join in on the blog banter this month because the topic seemed to have the potential for hysteria about it.  And then people piled on with all sorts of variations on the theme, not all of them the obvious answers, some good, some bad, some a bit silly, and I felt that I had to get my two cents with a set of simple, coherent arguments.  Instead I ended up with the steaming pile of confused opinions below.  And that was after I trimmed out some of the more rambling bits.  But I don’t have anything else ready to post today, so proceed with caution/skepticism.

So this blog banter, the 77th in the series, posits the following:

Is there a malaise affecting Eve currently? Blogs and podcasts are going dark and space just feels that little bit emptier. One suggestion is that there may be a general problem with the vets, especially those pre-Incarna and older, leaving and being replaced by newer players who are not as invested in the game. The colonists versus immigrants? Is this a problem? Are there others? Or is everything just fine and it’s just another bout of summer “ZOMG EVE IZ DYING!”

Just to bring things in to perspective, Noizy noted that we are coming up on the 13th anniversary of the first known usage of the phrase “EVE is dying,” which happened on July 30th 2003.

So is EVE Online finally dying?

Certainly the PCU count is down.  You can go look at the data yourself, but even anecdotally I have seen the numbers go down of late.  Not too long ago there would be 19K to 22K players on TQ during my evenings, now that number seems to range from 16K to 19K.

This year the PCU hit its high point towards the end of April and has been trending down ever since.  Of course, that pattern happens to match the recent war as well.  Wars get people playing the game, but they also burn people out.  Even DBRB, a man of seemingly boundless energy who led fleets nightly for a couple of months, has wandered off the range to play ArcheAge.

Add in the fact that it is summer when people often go on vacation or simply go outside… I hear Pokemon GO is popular these days… and it seems like the cause of the recent decline is pretty easily explained with a bit of hand waving.

Of course, the PCU count has been going down for a while now.  But, then again, CCP has been making it easier to “play” EVE Online without logging on.

Back in my day there was no skill queue at all and you had to log in every time a skill finished training in order to get the next one started.  Short skills were a menace.  Starting a 12 hour skill before bed and knowing that it would finish while you were at work and the next skill would have to wait until you got home to start was a mild pain in the ass.  Level V skills were good, if only because you wouldn’t have to fiddle with that sort of thing for as much as a month, or even more with some skill.

Cormorant Docking - Trails On

Space, back before training queues…

Then we got the 24 hour queue, so you only had to log in once a day at most.  You could pack in a bunch of short skills and they would take care of themselves.  Life was better and we didn’t have to log in as much.

More recently we got a skill queue limited to 50 skills or 10 years in duration, which allowed people to pile on lots of skills and log in even less frequently.  You could play only on the weekends with that, and leave the training queue chugging along unattended for the rest of the week.

Finally, this year we got skill injectors so, with enough money, in-game if you are industrious, real world if you are well off, you can have all the skills you want right fucking now.  You can make a new character in the morning and be able to fly a titan by lunch.

Not that I really object to any of these additions.  As focused on level V skills as I am of late, I don’t want to go back to no skill queue at all.  And even skill goo has its place, as it tears down the barrier of time… for those who can afford it… so newer players can “catch up” to the veterans on the skill front.

All of which probably dented the PCU numbers, at least a little bit.  Beyond that though, they are indicative of my broader point, which I will get to any paragraph now.

MMORPGs… by which I mean the shared, persistent world sorts of game that were en vogue in the middle of the last decade, and from which I explicitly exclude lobby games, shooters, MOBAs, and what have you… are a niche, market no matter what Mark Jacobs may have said in the past.  People who play them, who put in the time, have a tolerance for the efforts required, who will pay a monthly subscription, are outliers in the video game market.

The core of the video game buys a video game, plays it, then moves on.  You mother, over there playing Candy Crush Saga on her iPhone, is closer to the core reality of the video game market than you are.

One of the many recurring dumb arguments I have seen over the years is whether or not video games can be considered a hobby or not.  When we get into MMORPGs, with their complexity and changing dynamics and time requirements, I would argue we are well into the domain of the hobby, and sometimes straying close to the boarder of obsession.

Among other oddities, MMORPGs stick around for a long time relative to other video games.  Yes, they get new content and technical updates, but you and your characters persist through them.

EverQuest has been around and getting regular updates since 1999.  How many other 1999 video games have gotten that much attention and effort put into them over the years.  Here is the list.  There are games there that were successes, faded, disappeared, and were revived with updated versions in the same time frame.  EVE Online has been going since 2003, and the list from that year is also very much stuff we don’t play any more.

MMORPGs, when they are successful, have long lives… for video games… that go through different stages.  I tried to map that out in a previous post.  There is the time of youth, the time of growth, when an MMORPG is fresh and new and a majority of its players are relatively new to the game.

And then there is middle age.  Growth has slowed down or stopped.  Some decline (Deklein?) has set in.  The majority of the player base are veterans of the game, and there tends to be a gap between the new players and the the vets.  In WoW or EQ or whatever, that tends to mean that the old timers are clustered at the level cap.  In EVE it manifests itself more in the form of skill points, knowledge, wealth, and stories about how things used to before there was “warp to 0,” but the effect is the same.  There is a gap.

And, at that point, the company has to decide who its customers really are.

Middle age isn’t a bad thing, not completely.

The heady vigor of youth is gone.  But there is now a base of resources and wisdom to build on, and things that seemed impossible in youth are viable.  As the SNL skit used to say, “I know how escrow works!”  I know this because I have bought and refinanced houses more than a few times, something 18 or 22 year old me would have found bizarre.

Likewise, CCP has built on what it created.  There was, and continues to be, an era of additional features to enhance the New Eden experience.

But for a middle aged MMORPG, its customers are the installed base.  They are the ones invested in the game, the ones who make the big in-game events possible, the ones who pay the bills month after month.

That doesn’t mean that a company should ignore new players.  New players should be encouraged, as replacements for departing vets are needed.  In fact, one of the greatest failures of CCP has been its consistently bad new player experience, which has been driving of potential players wholesale for the entire life of the game.

But new players aren’t showing up in sufficient numbers to pay the bills and there is no feature that CCP can add to the game now that will ever restore it to that era of growth it enjoyed for as long as it did.  I defy anybody to point out another MMORPG that managed to restore meaningful growth via any new feature besides simply giving the game away for free.

The installed base is the life blood of the game and CCP must cater to it, first and foremost.  Anything that isn’t focused on, or in support of, spaceships being out in space and fighting or controlling territory or harvesting resources or hauling or defeating the NPC scourge is extraneous.  Those are the customers CCP has now, and selling them out for some illusory potential new customers would be a tragic mistake, the sort of thing MMORPGs don’t bounce back from.

So where was I?  Oh, right, is EVE Online dying?

Yes.  Yes it is.

But I am also a bit of a fatalist when it comes to the big picture.  I too am making my way inexorably towards death.  Things have their time, and nothing lasts forever.  Some things have a recurring cycle.  I’ve been through almost half a dozen recessions, nearly as many droughts in my life, and a seemingly endless series of IT upgrade projects.  I expect I will see a few more.  Other things have a single arc; lives, video games, the earth.

So why EVE Online is dying, it is still in the midst of it arc, it is still in middle age.  There will still be opportunities, wars, PCU spikes, and general revivals based on space, friends, foes, and nostalgia.

In the end, we play EVE Online now because it entertains us and gives us fun memories.  The memories bit is why I write this blog, which reminds me that I didn’t even start off on the side track to the topic “EVE blogging is dying!!1!”  There is a whole different post in that, but I will live it alone for now.

So there I am.  Others have different, and likely more succinct and coherent, opinions on this month’s topic.  You can find them here and linked below:

And a couple of posts related to the picture being painted:

2 thoughts on “BB77 – Everything Has a Season

  1. SynCaine

    I would bet CCP makes more money from EVE today than at any other point in the games history, so from at least that angle, its not really dying. From the PCU perspective, it certainly is, but as you wrote, how much of that is because EVE-Offline is more of a thing today than it ever was (in addition to training queues, how many paid accounts exist today that are ONLY used for SP goo farming?).

    As far as total active accounts and people? I think that one’s harder to tell. Vets don’t need to play as much to still be active in EVE. If you are a capital pilot for instance, how often do you log in? But so long as you pay your sub, and maybe jump into voice comms or post on a forum, aren’t you an ‘active’ player? With the huge number of passive ways to make ISK now, how many people are ‘playing’ without logging in for more than 1hr a week? They aren’t as active as someone who plays daily, but by different metrics they count just as much.

    “I defy anybody to point out another MMORPG that managed to restore meaningful growth via any new feature besides simply giving the game away for free.”

    I don’t think any one feature can do this. I do believe providing good updates year after year is what keeps you growing. Otherwise, how do you explain the wildly different growth curves of different MMOs? Why did WoW decline in the time it did vs EQ2 vs EVE? I think in large part, the quality of the updates was a big factor.

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