It [EVE Online] has existed for 16 years and people think it’s in stagnation. But that’s the story with a lot of these long running franchises; it’s like a river that flows through, and there’s a bottom layer of people that stick, and over time there are layers of generations of EVE players that keep on being added every single year.
-Hilmar Petursson, Gamesindustry.biz interview
I think he is saying that New Eden is a wretched hive of river bottom scum and villainy .
Anyway, Hilmar has been out again selling the strange beast that is EVE Online. A lot of the interview focuses on challenge of updating the game to keep up with the push to support ever larger battles out in null sec, which ends up in the Aether Wars demo from GDC last month.
But as the article goes on it starts to delve into player numbers and the ongoing survival of the game. The numbers are a bit dubious to me.
The article states that the game has 300K monthly active users, but that isn’t in quotes so may not be represented as it came out of Hilmar’s mouth. We do have a quote from Hilmar in a Venture Beat interview back in September, when the Pearl Abyss merger was the focus, saying “The MAU fluctuates a bit, but it’s 200,000 to 300,000 people.” That helped narrow down the answer the the question of how many people play the game, but it is a range not just the highest number.
But then there is another number that came straight from him in a quote:
“Contrary to what some people think, a lot of new people join EVE Online every week,” he said. “Every week we have about 10,000 people that log into EVE Online for the first time.
This plays to the stagnation question that came up. The answer was that things are not stagnate if so many new people are showing up, leading to the river metaphor that I quoted at the top. A river isn’t stagnate with that much water flowing through it. But EVE Online isn’t a river, and players that “flow through it” are not adding the collective story of the game or to the bottom line of the company.
At first I questioned the idea that 10K players… okay, let’s be honest, 10K new accounts… are created every week. (The 10K number also came up during his AMA earlier this month.) On the Tranquility page over at EVE Offline the new born player graphs hardly support that notion. Of course, with the API apocalypse of last year, one cannot be sure of external numbers. However, over at EVE Board, the character tracking site (run by Chribba, who also does EVE Offline) the birth distribution chart down the statistics page seems to have numbers that support at 10K a week number, at least for character creation. In fact, it seems to indicate that 10K would be a low number, as it records 74K new character creations so far this month, with a week left to run. That would be something like 25K characters a week.
But a new character is not necessarily a new account and a new account is not necessarily a new player. In the age of alpha clones new account creation isn’t the measure it once was. That birth distribution chart shows a big spike with the introduction of alpha clones in November of 2016, but that settles down fairly quickly, dropping below the peak period for the game around 2011 to 2013. So I cannot discount that 10K number, though I did choke a bit on the next one.
Last year, I think about a million people came into our systems in one way or another for the first time.
I suppose there is some ambiguity in that phrase, but even if it is true I am not sure it is a number to be proud of give the peak monthly active users quoted. You start to wonder how many long term active players there really are.
The obvious point to all those fresh accounts flowing through the game while the MAU numbers stays the same and the peak concurrent number slowly declines is that player retention, especially new player retention, sucks. That isn’t a new problem. I’ve been over some of the issues I think the game has, but you can’t fix most of them. EVE Online is a strange and complex game that no other titles really prepare you for.
Of course, just last week Hilmar was being quoted about Asia being the future for EVE Online. But there has been a server in China, Serenity, for more than a decade and, while the company they partnered with ran it into the ground, even at its peak moment in 2012 it barely hit numbers that would mark the daily low point on Tranquility. More recently there has been an exodus of hardcore players from China to Tranquility, a trend that continues. While getting us all on the same server makes for a better game, these were already players, fellow members of the scum forming on the bottom of the metaphorical river.
It seems like less flow and more stagnation… player retention… might be a good thing.
And so we’re back to the same old issue. How do you get somebody engaged with a game that seems bent on driving people away with complexity?