New Eden and the Death of the Subscription Model

You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

-Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

On Wednesday this week I was arguably somewhat critical of CCP’s monetization policy in EVE Online. (I see myself as most in a state of exhausted indifference at this point, but sometimes tone doesn’t come through.) Today I am going to argue the other way around because life and software and business are all complicated.  There are no simple answers to anything.

There was a new round of outrage at CCP this week over all sorts of things, from bugs to the CSM election, but monetization always gets the biggest response and this week had a couple of hits on that front.

First there was the $230 black ops pack that I mentioned on Tuesday which, due to the inclusion of skill points even got somebody posting on r/eve that we all needed to undock in Jita and shoot the monument.

This has been the go-to move since Incarna by people who didn’t understand what happened during Incarna.  As much as I’d like you to go back and read my Wednesday post, I’ll sum it up: shooting the monument did nothing, people unsubscribing led to change.

Also, with the Jita 4-4 revamp, the monument is hidden around back of the new station and no longer visible from the undock.  CCP has successfully sidelined the protest zone.

Can you see the protest going on? Me neither.

Anyway, the frog was on the boil once again with the black ops pack when people discovered that, since Tuesday’s patch, if you lose a ship it appears that there is a chance you’ll get a advertisement pop up with your loss suggesting you buy some PLEX to turn into ISK in order to purchase a new one. (I lost a ship this week and didn’t see one, so it might just be for Euros or for accounts less antiquated than my own.)

Use your credit card to finance your revenge!

I had to look at that image a couple of times because at first glance it seemed to imply that you could buy your ship back with cash, a first step on the path to something I expect to happen eventually.  And, of course, I might have been influenced by the fact that EVE Echoes has real money ship insurance.

But no, we aren’t there yet in PC based New Eden.  This was just a hint that you could finance your return with your real life wallet… handy since so many ISK earning avenues have been devastated by the economic reforms of the last year.

So another week, another fire in New Eden.  Film at eleven.

This time around these outrages seemed to spark a mass desire to return to the “subscription only” era, back when EVE Online was at its peak and everything was good.  (Except, of course, it wasn’t because the only thing more persistent than “EVE is dying” is players complaining about CCP and their handling of the game.)

Unfortunately, few supporters of the “subscription only” idea seem to be aware of the brutal nature of the situation.

EVE Online subscribers peaked in 2013 when they claimed to have hit the half million mark.

20% of those were probably on the Serenity server in China and, while that doesn’t mean they weren’t earning the company any money, CCP wasn’t getting anything close to $15 a month out of them.

Still, that leaves 400K subscribers in the west paying in US Dollars or Euros or whatever local convertible currency they had to hand.  That number, and the fact that the game is still around to argue about today, probably marks EVE Online out as the most successful open world PvP everywhere MMORPG in the west… though that isn’t a hugely high bar, given that most other contenders had to either make PvE servers to survive (e.g. Ultima Online) or imploded (how many versions of Darkfall were there?).

Anyway, CCP was able to make a go of a business with that many subscribers and even had pretensions about creating other games… all of which failed, but EVE Online remains.

I would estimate that EVE Online has fewer than half as many subscribers here now in 2021.  Things peaked in 2013, but it was a downhill ride after that.  Hilmar has thrown around numbers like the game having a monthly active user count somewhere between 200K and 300K, but he omits how many of them are Alpha clones… non-subscribers… and how many of them are new players, 96% of whom bail out in the first 30 days.

In the time between 2013 and now the price of many things has gone up but the subscription price remains the same… I had a whole post about this a bit ago… and the subscriber base has been cut in half.

So, taken literally, the suggestion to go back to a subscription only business model would mean CCP bringing in half the revenue they were in 2013.  That seems like a non-starter, even if they were not owned by Pearl Abyss.

But wait, even that is optimistic.  I do not know how many people earn ISK in game to buy PLEX in order to pay their subscription, but it is a number larger than zero and big enough to attract CSM candidates interested in buying votes.  Most of those accounts probably go dormant in a subscription only situation, so we’re at less than half of peak revenue.  We’re back in 2006 maybe, if we’re lucky, which was a crazy time in EVE but not an era that would pay today’s bills.

There are, of course, solutions being offered.  At the top of the list is raising the price of the subscription.  As I have written before, that seems like a sure fire way to drive away more players, especially since CCP would have to at least double the monthly price to make the model work.

Then there is the “stop sucking” group who believes if the new player experience or some neglected feature was fixed subscriptions would surge.  This is wishful thinking at best.

Still, that is better than the magical thinking brigade which includes a new and persistent faction that believes if CCP would only allow player made ship SKINs in the online store their financial problems would be solved.  Leaving aside Sturgeon’s law and the tragic history of player made content in MMORPGs, the operating theory of this group seems to be that SKINs are just mods and if Skyrim or Valheim or Minecraft can have mods then so can EVE Online.  It is like a festival of ignorance.

So it is not going to happen, not here in 2021.  The “subscription required” model is a thing of the past except for a few select titles.

Which isn’t to say anybody has to like the situation the game is in.  The first decade of the twenty-first century was a charmed time, with many fresh seeming MMORPGs and a universal subscription model that seemed to keep the genre, if not pure, and least not irredeemably tainted.

But the past is the past.  Besides which, half of the appeal of EVE Online has been facing adversity and sharing the effort with others.  We’ve always been angry at CCP and this horrible game and play it in part because the bonds shared suffering creates.

So go shoot the monument in Jita I guess.  Join in and talk with some fellow protestors.  It is hardly less pointless than a lot of the game and maybe you’ll make some friends you can complain about CCP with.

4 thoughts on “New Eden and the Death of the Subscription Model

  1. bhagpuss

    The “if this game would just go subscription-only all our problems would be solved” mentality persists in just about every mmorpg I’ve played in the last decade. It drives me nuts listennig to people backslap each other over thier amazing insight in general chat. I’ve taught myself not to get involved now but it still irritates the hell out of me.

    Subs in modern mmos are fine if you understand they’re just a recurring cash shop purchase that gives you access to certain services on a monthly rental basis. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, some of them might even be services you can’t buy piece-meal in the cash shop. If anyone thinks any major game is going to fund itself with just a subscription and have no cash shop at all, which seems to be these peoples’ dream, they’d better be ready to pay $30-50 a month for the privelige.

    The worst thing is, some of them would. So they say. And I bet they would, at that. for a month or two. Just about as long as it would take for them to start complaining they weren’t getting their money’s worth for some reason. Because there’s always some reason.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @bhagpuss – I am starting to feel like my crusade for the year is to keep reminding people that subscription prices haven’t gone up in about 20 years and player counts have gone down for most games, so some other form of monetization is inevitable.

    The /r/eve sub-reddit is up in arms still about the pop up mentioned above. I wrote this on Wednesday and was wondering if it would have blown over before the post went up today. I guess not.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mailvaltar

    Everything you said is true, but still…the next time I lose a ship, I‘m not sure what I‘ll do if I get to see that pop up.
    I mean, I don‘t usually react all that well to losing my stuff, even aftEr playing the game for so many years, and I can well imagine being really, really passed off by the suggestion to just replace it by spending some more money.
    Especially considering their nerfing our sources of income again and again, as you said.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Tremayne

    Maybe EVE should go with buying replacement ships as their main monetisation model. “Game over – insert coins to continue” worked pretty well for Space Invaders when I was a kid :)

    Liked by 1 person

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