CCP and the Elephant in the Room

I’m feeling a bit wrung out on the video game front this week, and it is only Thursday.  We had Daybreak slip in a great subscription deal I had to seriously consider.  There has been the World of Warcraft Legion expansion launch and all the attendant excitement and new things.  And then there has been CCP, which has seemed determined this week to occupy every last free neuron in my brain with its announcements.

First CCP hit us with the dev blog about how fleet boost would be changing with the coming November release.  The boring, old “park your boosting alt in a safe” method is being replaced with an area effect method that will put boosters on grid and in harms way.  This made a lot of people very angry, and you could certainly tell who was invested in the status quo.

Then, yesterday, CCP announced that EVE Online was going free to play.  Sort of.  Certainly, free to play made the headlines, though the plan itself is a lot closer to WoW’s unlimited trial than, say, Rift’s up-until-now, you’re not in Azeroth, everything is free method.  (Trion decided they needed to charge for expansions, which sounds fine for me.)

The free accounts announcement, the Alpha and Omega clone system, seemed to get a favorable response.  The implications of this proposal on the game are huge, and most people seemed to accept that CCP’s first problem was going to be containing the current player base to keep it from abusing the system for their own ends without locking Alpha clones down so much that nobody would want to play them.  It is going to be a balancing act, and only the naive think it will be easy.

This Alpha clone plan will have two big bonuses right away.  First, it will attract lapsed players back to the game, and lapsed players with friends and such in game are likely to resubscribe from time to time if they are allowed constant access.  Second, unless PCU remains stagnent or drops even further, it will have been effectively removed as the favored “EVE is dying” metric… for a while at least.  I expect that the PCU will go up significantly for months after Alpha clones become a thing.

But the real goal of the plan has to be to bring new players, fresh blood and/or meat, to New Eden.  And, on the surface, this seems very likely.  Free is the best price point at which to get people to try your product, and we have seen spikes in the PCU when CCP has free weekends on Steam. (See the weekends of May 6 and August 19 on the EVE Offline new character creation chart.)

Unfortunately, here is what you do not see after those free weekends: Any significant change in the PCU.

This is the elephant in the room,  the long time problem for the game, the failure to convert trial players into paying customers.   Some of you likely remember this chart from the New Player Experience panel at Fanfest 2014. (video here, chart comes up at about the 16 minute mark.)

New Player Trajectory

New Player Trajectory

That chart is actually more grim than it seems.  Half of the players who get through the new player experience and subscribe, cancel and leave the game before their first subscription cycle is up.  40% solo mission for a bit, then leave.  And maybe 10%… that seemed to be the optimum number… found some experience they really liked in the game and stuck around to become a bitter vet.

The thing is, that chart, as noted in the presentation, only talks about people who made it through the trial and the new player experience and decided to subscribe.  I would have to imagine that, were the chart to run from the start of a trial account, the percentages at the end would dwindle to insignificance.

During the previous Steam free weekend, approximately 20,000 new characters were created in the game.  Did the PCU shift by much?  The next weekend was a little better.  It broke the 30K mark, which is back to being the benchmark for a “good” day, literally the same situation the game was in back when I started in 2006.  But there wasn’t anything dramatic after the free weekend, neither in August nor in May.

So it would be tough to call that free weekend a rousing success, at least when looking at the longer term.  CCP threw 20,000 new characters onto the ramparts of the current new player experience in August (and 26,000 back in May), and the NPE held them off.  Solid is the bulwark of the NPE, and it will deflect all but the most determined capsuleer.

Basically, on top of the learning cliff that is EVE Online… or maybe it is at the base of the cliff… damn metaphors… there is a new player experience which is indifferent at best.  As I wrote in the past, it is a toss up as to which kills the game harder for new players.  I lean towards the NPE being more critical.  If you could get people engaged and enthusiastic, they might ask in the help channel or go out of game to figure out the more obscure bits.

I am sympathetic to CCP on the NPE front.  It is easy to sit and yell at them that they need a better one.  But actually creating one, a fun and engaging experience that will draw players into the game, but which isn’t too rigid, and which moves at just the right pace… the right pace for everybody… is a very tall order indeed.

And it isn’t as though CCP hasn’t tried.  The NPE has changed drastically a couple of times since I started the game.  My first experience was guided but flawed back in 2006.  That was replaced by a much more closely guided and mission orientated experience.  And lately, we have the much more free form opportunities, which I watched my daughter struggle through, and during which she asked me the magic question, “How do I warp to something?”  NPE fail.

CCP has even tried to hold classes to educate users directly.

As I said, they have been trying.  We’re just not there yet.

However, at Fanfest earlier this year, as part of the keynote, there was a passionate talk by a new member of the team, CCP Ghost, who gave us a vision of a better NPE. (Video here, CCP Seagull introduces him at about the 52 minute mark.)

My hope is that we are not done with announcements about the it-so-needs-a-good-name November release.  My hope is that CCP has at least one more thing to share with us, something about a vision for an engaging NPE that will retain new players better than the attempts that have gone before.

Because without that, I don’t think the Alpha clone idea will make a big enough of a difference.

I know I will be logging in any unsubscribed accounts I have laying around to start training up alts to their five million skill point cap come the November release.  What would be the downside of that?  I fully expect the Imperium to have an Alpha clone doctrine.  I expect that a lot of current players will take advantage of the Alpha clone idea and that, far from any sort of “filthy casual” response to 5 million SP pilots, they will quickly be accepted as part of the ecosystem and the game will adapt to them.

But unless Alpha clones attract new players, players who become invested in the game and end up subscribing, there won’t be a whole lot of upside for CCP as a business.  And to get there, I think we need the NPE vision that CCP Ghost was trying to describe to us.

Addendum: CCP says that the NPE has not been forgotten as part of their summary of concerns.

12 thoughts on “CCP and the Elephant in the Room

  1. Krumm

    I am both stuned and at awe for this turn of events. The first major hurtile for the game as you said is the new player experience. Take for example my son whom watched me mine for a week or two and then saw the free steam weekend it got him on but with life he actually didn’t get to accomplish much by the time the trail ends. Having a never ending trial…which is what these will be a forced trail status…will allow you to continue to get a taste for it and will lead to improved mumbers. However the numbers will come mostly from old returning eve players subbing back until they fix both the new player experience and the mission system as we know it.

    As you said all of their challenges going forward are mighty ones. But I like how they used the game lore to explain their strategy. I think that this will give them a boost towards there goals of revamping the systems as needed. Its going to bring new life to the game…and I don’t see suicide gankes as necessaryliy bad as long as they can be somewhat limited to give the noobs a chance… herds have to have preditors to keep that risk…its still got to be eve after all.

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  2. Neville Smit

    Agree 100% – the F2P Alpha clone idea won’t make a whit of difference to the population of New Eden if novices can’t get beyond the new player experience. NPE has been incrementally improved over the years, to be sure, but it still has a long, long way to go to help EVE Online neophytes see the potential of the game and find their niche in an entertaining fashion. Like you, I hope CCP Ghost can crack this problem. In fact, I wish that CCP had addressed NPE before introducing the Alpha clone option.

    The other issue with retaining new players is that PvE in EVE Online is badly in need of a revamp. New players engage in PvE more heavily because they are still learning the ropes and need to generate in-game currency. Let’s face facts: EVE’s current PvE is repetitive and can lose any appeal rather quickly.

    The new F2P option will increase the potential for higher daily average PCU counts, but until NPE and PvE are addressed, retention is still going to be a massive problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Neville Smit – Indeed, PvE is an issue. I’ve been down that path recently, and even CCP’s chart up there pointed to PvE as a dead end for subscribers. When people play only that, they reach a plateau and walk away.

    One problem with PvE though is that, as with the NPE, I am not sure what “better” really looks like.

    The other problem, which you alluded to, is that people in New Eden often use PvE as just a tool to accumulate resources for other ventures. In that situation, “better” is faster and more efficient, as opposed to challenging or more engaging; more lucrative Guristas Forsaken Hubs, not better Worlds Collide. So I cannot even throw a consistent set of vague adjectives at CCP.

    And that doesn’t even glance at what would make a new player stick with the game long enough to put down roots.

    This is probably why I am in enterprise software. Corporate clients also want the impossible done right away, but they can sometimes articulate what they want clearly.

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  4. SynCaine

    As I just wrote over at my blog, the uncapped time will help some people crack into EVE, but yea, without a smoother curve into the game, many will still be driven away before they see what the game is really all about (its about being in comms with lunatics that shitpost other lunatics and/or finding out who in fact is gay (spoiler: everyone is gay))

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  5. Pleugim

    If it’s only that 10% that sticks around, what kind of NGE could they ever create to encourage that kind of play (Group/Diverse)?

    EVE is complex, not just mechanically, but socially; and that complexity comes at a large time and energy cost. If the MMO audience is a niche among the gaming population, then the type interested and able to invest in that complexity is an even smaller niche. Is there a way to grow the game’s population without fundamentally changing what the current niche is after?

    Could the game just have plateaued at the player count actually interested in what it offers?

    Like

  6. anypo8

    Nice piece!

    If you say the phrase “the learning cliff that is EVE Online” you are required under Texas Law to link the [cartoon](http://i.imgur.com/jj16ThL.jpg).

    I started to write a comment about the relationship of NPE and UX in EvE, but it turned into an essay. I’ll post it on my EvE blog eventually. Short version: I don’t think fixing the NPE will help much without fixing the general player experience a lot.

    Like

  7. Noizy

    There are a lot of little nuances to CCP’s plan that I don’t think people appreciate. For example, now that people can log into accounts at any time, CCP doesn’t need to provide a special mechanic to allow players to log into their account so they can use a PLEX to reactivate their account. Currently there is an option that allows you to renew your account for 5 hours in order to do so. That can go away now.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Noizy – Oh yes, there is practically an academic field of study to be addressed when it comes to how Alpha clones will affect current and past subscribers. And I do not doubt that making the barrier between subscribed and unsubscribe such a fine mesh will cause more old hands to resubscribe regularly.

    But if the whole effort doesn’t bring in some fresh players… and that has been the major upside of any free/freemium/free-ish MMO conversion plan in the past… then will there be enough upside to the whole plan? Because making the barrier between subscribed and unsubscribed so light works both ways. It will also be a lot easier to sit things out as an Alpha clone while waiting for something new to happen.

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  9. Krumm

    I think we can all agree that the planed changes will first impact the current EVE players first, as they attempt to manipulate it for benefit and profit…human nature. Second it will impact those that have played EVE and will say oh wow a way to visit my old stomping grounds and so forth. This will lead to resubs and unsubs and a sporadic cycle that will ultimately add up to more subs then before the new system was put into place. Third it will impact those that tried EVE but did not have enough time to really get a feel for it. Remember the free trial is short by EVE standards and most people don’t create a new account just to get another 14 day taste. This will alow those curious individuals a chance to get back in and dabble. This group will hit that new player experience but will know little bit more then the true noobies but will still do the 50% Fail bit. Then there is the final group; fourth on the list that have never tried EVE but hey its free. Most will hit the new player experience and fail within the first month.

    Of the last two groups its not the new player experience persay that kills them; shoot most people know they such at a game until they learn it…what the issue is …is that after that some what lac luster new player experance of im not really going to hold your hand and teach you anything…they get to do as above and solely focus on PVE until they are well established. That means a few months of grinding corp missions.

    I have to agree that its hard to say what will work here for a revisement for missions but I think if they focus on making lots and lots more of them, make em specific to each corp and maybe make some of the other mission types more viable…add a view different types and that would be a start.

    I know I saw a large discussion about how much time that CCP puts towards one group or another. Cash paying customers in null sec, the carebares of hi sec..those lonewolves that love to live in worm holes… I got all that. The question the company has to ask itself and each of you must think on is this. If the game focuses on just those that are playing then that group will continue to shrink as vets are lost to the winds of time and bordom. If they focus heavy on the future and on the new player experience and on the PVE aspect then they ar cultivating new players at the expense of old? But how many of those Older players are truly going to leave because eve hasn’t put out a pvp update in a year? Some like stability anyway? I say they need to spend that time on the revamp of PVE.

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  10. Pingback: EVE is Dying! Ain’t it great? | Learning to EVE

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