24 Million EVE Online Pilots Means What?

As part of their announcement that EVE Online was now available on the Epic Games store CCP put out a press release that indicated that more than 24 million “pilots” had played the game and that more than 91 million ships had been destroyed.

Some numbers

Those are some impressive numbers.

When I write about older titles in the MMORPG genre I often refer to a game’s “installed base.”   Those are the total number of users who have played the game and who are still interested in or fond of the game. They are often a lucrative resource for a company to sell to.  There is a direct correlation between that “installed base” number and how successful an older game can be playing the nostalgia card with retro servers and the like.

EverQuest, for example, while peaking at 550K subscribers, was the biggest show in town when it came to the genre for the first five years of its run.  During that time several million people played the game and then moved on.  So, while many players didn’t stick with the game forever, they played long enough to have had good times.  When SOE, and later Daybreak, started offering old school servers based around early content, that became a significant part of the title’s business.

Likewise, we saw WoW Classic revive the fortunes of World of Warcraft when Battle for Azeroth was foundering a bit, and Old School RuneScape… playing the retro card there has gotten it concurrent player counts more than a lot of titles have total players.

So EVE Online looks to have a sizable installed base to work with.  Even if they can’t play the retro server card, they can still market to appeal to players who have played and lapsed over time.

The question is, how big the core installed base, the players that got invested enough in the game, really is.  And for that we have to first figure out what 24 million “pilots” really means.  That could mean characters, accounts, actual individual people, or some other metric they came up with after a night of too much aquavit.

Fortunately, even as I was thinking about what it could be, CSM member Brisc Rubal was using his position to find out from CCP what it really meant.  On The Meta Show on Saturday he said that he got clarification and that “pilots” really meant “accounts.”

That means 24 million accounts have been created for the game.

But he got even further clarification.  Of those 24 million accounts… and I know I keep rounding down, but I am going to get into some sloppy math in a bit and that will be my margin for error or some such… 18 million were created by unique individuals.

So the largest potential installed base for EVE Online is 18 million people.

Of course, it is not that big.  Not every one of those players spent enough time to form at attachment with the game.  After all, we’ve all seen this chart from EVE North 2019, haven’t we?

How many new players log back in as time passes

And that wasn’t even news in 2019.  We had seen a similar sort of chart back at EVE Fanfest 2014.

New Player Trajectory

People who leave without engaging, people who don’t log in after a day or two, nothing has hooked them.  They got a glimpse, didn’t find anything to their liking, and moved on.

This was the view of EVE at the time

The retention problem has changed over time.  That 2014 chart reflects the pre-F2P era, when you had to commit a bit more to even get going because the whole thing required a monthly subscription after the 14 day trial, a fact that chased a lot of people off before they took their first step towards the game.

Now, with free to play, the reality of the first chart, where nearly 90% of new players fall by the wayside in a week and the overall long term retention is something like 4%, that 10% “Group / Diverse” long term retention path probably feels like the good old days.

That means that the installed base isn’t 18 million.  But it also isn’t 720K, which would be 4% of that number.  It is somewhere in between, though much closer to the lower number I would guess.

So I am going to do a bit of hand waving with the data we have to come up with a guess that, while not solid, has some foundation in reality.  And that is where we get to that gap between 24 million accounts and 18 million individuals.

That is a gap of six million, and I am going to use that as the basis of my estimate, because to me those are the secondary and tertiary accounts that users who are committed to the game, people who would likely count in the installed base, players that CCP could reasonably be able to market to with some new initiative.

So if that is six million alts and, let’s take a 3 alts per main as an estimate… I know, somebody will say that person X has a hundred accounts, but a lot of people still just have one, and even Goons by the last participation metric count are a little past 4 to 1…. that means that there are maybe 2 million individuals out there that have committed to the game enough to manage multiple accounts.

That leaves 16 million in the total users, who can’t all have turned and run, so I am just going to somewhat arbitrarily declare a million of them…  6.25% of that total… are also in the installed base of the game.

That gives the game an installed base to draw on of maybe 3 million individuals, and I am going to use the slop in my rounding down to 24 million at the top to hide the current player base, where CCP has said they have an active monthly user count that runs between 200K and 300K.

That is pretty healthy.  But EVE Online has had some promising numbers of late, like that floor of 110K subscribers that the redeemed ISK token line in the July/August MERs seemed to indicate.

Of course, the question is what CCP does with this installed base.  As I noted above, they don’t really have the retro server option, the New Eden economy being a bit precarious as it is.  Splitting the player base with another server would likely doom both, leaving aside the giant elephant in the room of what an EVE Online retro server would even be.

So they have untapped potential.  Can they do something with it?  What would lend itself to getting the installed base engaged and back to the game?  Or is the installed base really a thing at all for New Eden?  When you “win” EVE and log off, do you want to come back?  It is a game that can absorb all the effort and dedication that you have, so would you miss it when it was gone or just feel relieved?

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