New Eden and the Year of Disappointment

whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap

-Galatians 6:7, King James Edition Bible

It is summer and the PCU is down in EVE Online.  It happens.  The jury is still out on the summer slump being a regular thing.  Past slumps seem to coincide more with specific situations in my view when looking at a chart from Jester’s collection.

Average players online May through September

2019 slumps hard due to the blackout that came at the far end of summer, though there was a visible slump before that.  2020 is the COVID boom tapering off after peaking in April.  2021 is largely people getting to leave the house and go places finally (so an actual summer slump). And 2022 is…  something else?

The last two years have not seen a positive trend, even outside of the summer, be there a slump or not. (Chart from EVE Offline)

EVE Offline chart two year chart

And 2022 feels different all the more so.  To start with, the game was in a slump before summer it seems.  Those are some 2005 level PCU numbers.

EVE Online feels like it is going through a trial now, greater than any it has faced.  Players have been angry at the company before.  We have had summers of rage, player protests, and varying degrees of players being mad at the company for something they have done.

Occasionally CCP listens.  They did seem to get the idea that putting blockchain into New Eden wasn’t going to be popular.  More often they dissemble or ignore the players.  They look the other way or metaphorically pat us on the head and tell us that they know best, that they have all the data, and we shouldn’t get so worked up because they know what they’re doing.

But the relationship has always been one of passion.  Players are angry because they feel that CCP isn’t handling the game correctly, that they’re going in the wrong direction, ignoring real problems, going back on promises, or diminishing the game in some way.

That isn’t always happy or fun for CCP, but it comes from a position of player engagement.  We the players are invested in this game.  We want it to get better.  We have had so many memorable moments, made so many friends, and done so many things in this game that you simply cannot do in any other video game anywhere that we don’t want it to stop.

This summer, however, has been fairly grim.  As noted above, the PCU is down more than ever.  The Pearl Abyss financials show the EVE IP shrinking again in Q2 2022, and I fully expect the Q3 numbers will be even worse.  Attempts to get wars rolling in New Eden have been met by indifference as fewer players see the point.

And I think this is in large part due to the last twelve months having been a year of almost constant disappointment, and it is starting to show results at the bottom line.

I am going to peg the start of this cycle as July 23, 2021, the day when CCP announced that scarcity would be ending in Q4.

Scarcity has been a hugely controversial topic. It was based on some barely freshman level economic philosophy and a huge helping of wishful thinking.  CCP said it was necessary to secure the game for future generations, but it struck many as an attempt to put the toothpaste back in the tube, to undo past mistakes by making players work much harder for things.

CCP said scarcity wouldn’t last forever, and we were give hope with that July announcement that the end was coming.  We had to deal with NFTs being part of the Alliance Tournament, but at least there was hope.

We had to wait until November before we got information on the New Dawn update, which had the tagline “The Age of Prosperity.”  However, it was clear from the moment CCP started to reveal its changes that we were not getting prosperity, but permanent scarcityThere were protests, which CCP dismissed, going to their usual “just Goons” response.  If Goons don’t like it, it must be good, right?

The mining changes brought some good with them, like compression… once they could get it to work right… and some simplification of mining crystals.  But overall every benefit came with strings attached with things like mining waste undoing any improvement.  CCP proudly declared that they had doubled the amount of harvestables, but had reduced them by 90% previously, and removed asteroids completely from null sec, so it was the sort of empty boast that looks like a lie, the sort of thing that just makes people angry and distrustful.

I was very sour about the state of New Eden at the end of 2021.  It felt like CCP had purposely deceived us, then scolded us for stupidly believing they really meant to end scarcity.

In the middle of this there was the Doctor Who event, which made some even angrier, as it looked like an attempt to distract from the problems of the game.  Ironically, that event ended up being pretty popular and would see the peak of user logins for 2022 so far.  But it was going to be down hill from there.

The “Age of Prosperity” was a bust.  Resources were barely increased.  Capital ships were still too expensive to build.  Battleships were priced out of the reach of new players.  And CCP was still holding onto the absurd notion that null sec players were going to go offensively mine enemy space, creating a set of high waste mining crystals for that purpose.

And while we were still angry about the economy CCP got people even more upset by selling the Prospector Pack, which featured a fully fit mining barge for cash in the web shop.

Not player produced

There were many reasons to be angry about that, not the least of which was the ship was poorly fit.  But it was CCP making ships out of thin air for cash in competition with the player economy that really pissed people off.  It seemed like such a dumb idea, so likely to inflame the player base, that I wondered if they were deliberately trying to wreck the economy in order to boost the cash shop.

That got some EVE streamers to declare a blackout of the game.

CCP eventually said they would remove the Prospector Pack from the web store, but they only did so after the mining event was over.  And the Prospector Pack remains in game to this day, being an in-game pop-up offer for those who ran the mining career agent missions.  Once again, CCP earned our distrust.

They did promise to figure out how to use player provided materials for future packs of that type, indicating that they were going to sell more fitted ships and getting people wondering if this was going to end up being a play to earn scheme.  After all, the EVE Online official Twitter account was retweeting things about Hilmar meeting with cryto companies at GDC.

Yes, they backed down on that, as I linked above, but it looked like it was really in the works.

And then there was the price increase.  CCP said it had to raise the monthly subscription price to $20 a month.  They had reasons… Russians not playing due to the war in Ukraine mostly… but players were unimpressed.  After the last couple years of in-game economic fuckery, raising the price was a bridge too far for many.  Players wanted something if they were going to pay more money.

So CCP made promises.  Fanfest would have all the answers.  They put CCP Paragon out in front of an angry mob (I feel for him too, as it should have been Hilmar or Rattati if they had any balls, but they sacrificed an underling instead) where he said:

We are announcing big content updates for fanfest. it’s the largest one we’ve ever done probably.

-CCP Paragon, Discord Q&A about the announced subscription price increase

Talk about setting the bar high.  Talk about raising expectations.

Speculation ran wild.

What we got was a bunch of promises for the future.

CCP squandered the keynote by focusing primarily on patting themselves on the back for things players were complaining about.  There were some interesting things brought up at panels during Fanfest, including ideas for Faction Warfare, something strange about alliance logos on ships, and a promise of a discount for players who subscribe multiple accounts.

But they had absolutely NOTHING ready to launch.  Even the multi-account price break took a month to show up.

It was all a huge “Trust us!” moment.  Give us more money today and we’ll make things better at some unspecified future date.

And so the PCU really began to fall off.

Some declared that it was just the summer downswing, nothing to worry about, everybody would be back come the fall.

But it feels different to me.

The EVE Online news ecosystem has shriveled up.  Imperium News barely posts anything these days.  New Eden Post declared they were not going to bother anymore.  Over at EVE News 24 even SevenUp XX Barbershop has given up on his 97 part series about why Circle-of-Two was the real victim in whatever Casino War fantasy he is still holding onto.

There are, in theory, two wars going on in null sec, but Reddit is barely buzzing at all about either.

Asher Elias, on taking the reigns of the Imperium, put out a call for people to resubscribe their capital alts, that we were going to take our big toys out and use them in the field.  But if that is going to be anything more than titans shooting structures, the enemy has to show up as well.

CSM17 member Kazanir spoke to the Imperium about what was wrong with the game and former CSM member at Brave leader Dunk Dinkle had his own post about the state of the game.  Both agreed that progression for new players has been broken, that CCP’s scarcity plan has locked in an economic order where old vets stay rich and new players stay poor.

So here we sit, more than a year after CCP announced that the end of scarcity was coming and things are palpably worse.

I have repeatedly pointed out on this blog that video game companies are not our friends.  Their statements and promises should not be trusted.  They act, as all companies should, in their own best interest.

And yet, even with that in mind, I feel like CCP has betrayed the trust of its player base, has abused our desire to continue playing and enjoying our time together in New Eden by holding out hope before us, then coming up empty when it is time to deliver.

The other day somebody showed up in the comments here and said that new players should not invest their time in EVE Online, that the deck is stacked against them, that CCP has shown its colors, that the game is dead.

I have heard that many times.  Due to the way progression works there has always been somebody fretting that if they start today that they will never be able to “catch up” to somebody who started five or ten or fifteen years ago.

I have always argued against that point of view.  It is the wrong way to look at a sandbox game.  There are so many different paths to take, so many different roles to fill, that even on day one there is something you can do.

But I feel less confident in that argument today.  I still believe it, but CCP’s actions give me pause.  Or maybe it is their inaction that really gives me pause.

The problem is that EVE Online can take a lot of investment to find a sustainable role that delivers fun.  If you’ve done the work and found your niche in New Eden, formed up with some people you enjoy playing with doing things you find fun and CCP steps in and wrecks that… well, you know what is easier than finding a new niche?  Finding another game where the company doesn’t seem bent on disruption and chaos.

Meanwhile, CCP is in a corner.  EVE Online is all they have, and all they have ever had really.

They can fantasize about how their next try at an FPS will change that, but EVE Online is the only reason they are still around.  And so they’re trying to preserve it by attempting to roll back the economy to its glory days while they nibble around the edges of issues, fixing this and adjusting that, hoping to find a balance that will keep the whole enterprise moving forward.

Those who hope for a radical change… a server wipe or a second server or a reduction of the size of New Eden as is planned on the server in China run by NetEase… will be disappointed.  Things will have to be a lot more desperate before CCP is willing to take any real risk… and they might not even then.  If they get in a real bind we will be reminded that they are owned by Pearl Abyss, and their radical solution might be cash shop, cash shop, cash shop, the way it works with Black Desert Online.

So where does this end up?  How does this get better?

I don’t know.

The loud voices in the player base have all fallen into their predictable default positions.  There is no problem.  The players are the problem.  Null sec is the problem.  Blue loot is the problem.  Abyssals are the problem.  Bitter vets are the problem.  You name it, somebody is blaming it.  And if they’re not blaming something their pushing some superficial mechanic change that will likely just make things worse.

But I think a key in fixing anything has to be CCP.  CCP is not blameless.  If your view is that the players just need to step up then you haven’t been paying attention.

I feel strongly that the last year has undermined their position with some of the core player base.  If CCP cannot demonstrate that the players should trust them, that they’re not going to remain keen to sacrifice the current player base in the name of some unknowable future, then things will not get better.

CCP makes the rules. CCP sets the tone.  CCP has things they need to make right.

And they have done this before.  After the disaster that was Incarna, they realized they needed to prove themselves to the players and actually spent time working on things that improved the game.  They have proven in the past that they can make things better.

What should they focus on?  I think the in-game economy is key, but I could see arguments for other things.

The question is whether they will do anything that addresses the state of things in New Eden or if they will continue to insist everything is great and ignore voices that say otherwise.

7 thoughts on “New Eden and the Year of Disappointment

  1. Angry Onions

    We’re talking a company who dismissed several years of working up towards player owned stargates to new unknown space because the CEO read a novel and became obsessed with it, thus we got the Trisolarian thing instead of whatever had been in the works since Seagull took the reigns.

    Now the game doesn’t even have an executive producer with a vision but works by some kind of black box committee stressed to convince their Korean masters that they didn’t buy another failing game in top of their own Black Desert issues.

    And things are going to get worse before going fatal.

    Like

  2. Nogamara

    This time I’m not gonna say anything except: I agree 100% with your post.

    Guess I’m just an optimist at heart because I still believe :) But then again I actually started using up my PLEX reserves to pay for accounts, which isn’t really a “oh, better keep this stash for a few more years”… :(

    Like

  3. Archey

    I try not to be cynical about things, generally speaking, but CCP has shown itself to be boneheaded about so many things in the past that this article rings only too true.

    To me, the worst part is that unlike Incarna, where there was a relatively small set of specific things they were doing that players wanted stopped/changed, in this case things are more nebulous. Do “something” (or several somethings) to make the game better/more engaging, hopefully corresponding to some discernible roadmap.

    I do not expect Eve to die. Instead I would expect something worse: as PCU continues to slowly contract, the pressure increases to band aid the issue with cash shop items until it’s a shell of its former self, buoyed by a player base that doesn’t resemble today’s or yesteryear’s who are ok with pay to win and other cheap forms of gameplay. I hope I’m wrong and the problems can be crystallized enough to be solved.

    Like

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Archey – It won’t die any time soon. It can’t die, frankly, because without it CCP is just a bunch of chumps in Iceland living with no visible means of support. But CCP is going to have to either do something to revive it or do something to make the game viable when the average PCU is half of what it is now. If you can’t just buy stuff in Jita, if every new player has to worry about actually making things, it is a very different game.

    Like

  5. evehermit

    The thing that CCP has done in recent years which has turned me off EVE, is their focus on getting people to play the game in the way their analytics tell them is most profitable for them. That makes the game much less interesting.

    Like

  6. Bashar_ua

    Well written, and all true. One other thing you didn’t mention, is the ganking in HiSec problem. Like when people get ganked when they are carrying expensive stuff, or flying an expensive fit, well, ok, that might me justified from an economical point of view. But when people are constantly griefed, prevented from just playing normally or say doing an event – that will piss off lots of players. And some people do understand it, for example new Chinese server is actually free of HiSec ganking. I wonder why, hmm…

    Like

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