At EVE North CCP dropped some tidbits of information on us. They’re going to rework the Vexor Navy Issue. Pirate faction implant changes are coming. And the new UI pointer feature has reached meme status with the undock button.
[Addendum: Nosy Gamer has a better summary of things CCP brought up at EVE North]
I think it is great that how to use the new UI pointer feature was the second most created UI pointer, but this is also a good tool for helping people new to the game.
There was also a slide about new player retention that looked pretty grim.
Hilmar previously assured us that EVE Online was still getting plenty of new players… or new accounts created in any case… seeing about 10K such every week in the game. They just don’t stick around.
This is not a particularly new bit of information. We saw a similar chart back at EVE Fanfest in 2014, a little over five years back, which laid out what happens with new players.
That chart actually looks better, but ignores a big chunk of new players as it only counts those who opted to pay the then mandatory subscription fee. Of those who stepped up to that level, half left after their first subscription period ran out, 40% ran down the solo mission path and left once they had essentially leveled up their Ravens to do level 4 missions, and 10% found a home and stuck with the game. When those who didn’t bother to subscribe were included, these three groups were a much smaller percentage of the pie.
Of course, when this sort of information comes up people immediately assail CCP for having a bad new player experience, an unintuitive UI, and a horrible and unhelpful player base that abuses newbies. Somebody will eventually claim that Goons are ganking new players on the undock of the tutorial or some similar fantasy.
And CCP has tried to address this retention issue pretty much constantly throughout my tenure in New Eden. The horrible tutorial that I went through in 2006, which was a motivator to start this blog, has been revamped half a dozen times since then, but things haven’t really changed.
The EVE North chart starts off with half the people who register not even logging into the game. I guess you cannot blame the NPE or the UI or Goons for that. Probably bots doing that I guess.
Of the 10K that make it into the game, by the 30 day mark less than 500 are still logging in. That is just about 4.4% given the numbers on the chart. That seems like a horrible retention rate. How can that seem to be anything else? At least to you and I and any other outsider.
But knocking around in the back of my head for some time has been the question of context. I dislike numbers and statistics without context. 4.4% seems bad, but without being able to compare it to other MMORPGs it is difficult to say whether it really is bad.
Unfortunately, most game developers are not as forthcoming as CCP. Almost nobody gets out in front of the players and gives us as much information as CCP does. Can you imagine Blizzard or EA or NCsoft doing this? So CCP tells us something and we assume the information for the rest of the industry, guessing that it must be better than this.
So I decided to poke around to see if I could find any information about this, prodded by a comment on Twitter than linked to something akin to what I was looking for. However, that wasn’t the meat I wanted.
Fortunately, somebody has done some work on this front. As it turns out SuperData Research did a study titled Understanding Free-to-Play MMO Retention. This seemed quite relevant, since there is no subscription barrier to playing EVE Online any more.
The study looks into player retention and compares players who jump on the game at launch versus those who come in after the game has been established. People who join as soon as it goes live have higher retention rate. Those who come in later don’t stay, though after some time goes by that gets a bit better because new players after the two year mark tend to come more by word-of-mouth, and thus likely have friends that play, a significant factor in retention.
Of those who show up late to the party… and given its recent Sweet 16 birthday party, anybody showing up to EVE Online now has missed quite a few parties… only 2% of those who register and log into the game will still be around 30 days later.
While EVE Online‘s retention after the first day is much lower than what SuperData reported… 40% of the word of mouth crowed logs in after the first day while only 28% of CCP’s sample did… but with 4.4% retention at the 30 day mark EVE Online is doing pretty well compared to the study where post-launch players peaked at 3% and settled down to 2% even with word of mouth.
Which is not to say that EVE Online doesn’t have problems and couldn’t do better. The game has some pretty big factors working against it. But the angry player insults about CCP being exceptionally bad/stupid/ignorant/greedy seem to be, at best, off base. And anybody who shouts “marketing” needs to just shut up. The company seems to be in the same boat as other MMOs, and revamping the new player experience yet again probably isn’t going to change that in a drastic way.
Short of teaching people how to form social bonds in their game, a key factor in retention (I don’t think a How to Find Friends video quite cuts it, but nice try I guess), I am not sure there is any easy answer to getting people to stick with the game, mostly because people don’t seem to stick around with most MMOs they try.
Raph Koster wrote a piece earlier this year about various methods that can be applied to user retention. There are probably a few suggestions in that worth pursing, though CCP is already on to some of them.