A Scientist's Life in Eve

Blog Banter 52: The other side

by on Jan.06, 2014, under Eve online

Go to the always useful EVE-Offline.net (http://eve-offline.net/?server=tranquility) and take a look at the All Time (weekly average) graph for concurrent accounts logged in.

Eve all time user count

For the past four and a half years, the graph has hovered around that 30,000 mark; it is, for all intents and purposes, a plateau. But everything must come to  an end sooner or later and that is what this blog banter is about.

What’s on the other side of that plateau?

Wow – for me that graph just doesn’t look very good right now.  Yes, at least it’s not really falling, but within those figures will be older players leaving and being replaced by new players, as well as a churn of new players starting and not being captured into the Eve universe.

Where is this going to go?  When I talked about this graph with a friend, he said that if you’re not growing then you’re dying. I didn’t really have the heart to show him the graphs for Dust 514, but that’s another story.

Do I think that numbers will steadily start to drop? So much depends on what happens next with Eve. The game itself is unique in so many ways: the way the sandbox works; the player driven economy; the PvP rich environment; the metagame. All of these together make Eve what it is now – incredibly difficult to learn unless you get into the social aspect of Eve and join a player run corporation.

The direction CCP take Eve over the next year or two will be absolutely critical to the survival of the game.  Sounding a bit dramatic there?  Well maybe yes but probably no.  When looking through the minutes of the late August 2013 summit between the CSM and CCP (which were only published on 2 January 2014… after the Winter Expansion that the majority of the minutes were dedicated to!), it’s both clear that manufacturing is a critical (and the single largest) part of the Eve economy, yet discussion about Industry matters are virtually non-existent within the minutes.  I will instantly concede that the Winter Expansion was not an industry expansion, and so the lack of column inches dedicated to it can be explained.

Within the minutes, something complex is mentioned, but it didn’t make it into the Winter Expansion – details of that will hopefully be revealed soon.  Also, a “Project 2″ and “Project 3″ were mentioned but that’s as far as they got, all other details were completely expunged by the NDA filter. Things like this, when revealed, need to build upon the firm base that is the industry side of the game. Rather than scraps falling from the PvP and PvE tables, industry needs something solid to grab on to, and I don’t mean a few new PvP and PvE modules to get blueprints for and build – that does not count.

The problem with Eve is, however, quickly apparent when you go to the forums and see the various threads, comments and “feedback”.  If CCP do ever release an industry expansion, they cannot afford to sell it as such, as the vocal minority who are the PvP element will wave their arms around and cry out in despair, loudly proclaiming the death of Eve as becoming Farmville in space and accusing CCP of ignoring their main customers.  To release an industry expansion, CCP will, therefore, need to actually break it up into 3 or 4 parts and release it as a subset of new “awesome” PvP and PvE features.

Who will build and maintain the new player owned stargates when they are released? You’ll look to the n00b hi-sec carebears to provide you with the stuff in Jita so that bloke who has all the spreadsheets in the Alliance can make it for you.

But I digress – or do I? What I’m trying to get across here is that Eve tends to have players who are much more specialised in a trade, as unlike many other games you can actually just play the game as a specialist. With games like Rift for example, yes you can build things and sell them, but essentially you have to engage in large amounts of PvE (and never have to engage in PvP if you don’t want to) in order to achieve your goal.  In Eve, I can just roll a character, buy skill books and never have to leave a station if I don’t want to. I won’t have to undertake a single mission, blow up even one red + on my overview, and definitely not have to risk having my ship suicide ganked when I undock from even the safest of stations.

This is where CCP have their greatest advantage, and their biggest problem.  They’re trying to market a game like Rift, a PvE game where you can PvP or craft. They’re not marketing a game like World of Tanks where you only engage in PvP in very (literally) quick fire situations. They’re not even trying to market a game like Minecraft where you can build things. They’re trying to market a game where the player makes their own experience from the things available to them, and CCP need to work on all of those things at the same time to keep growing.

If you’ve played Eve for a while, you’ll remember the “Barbies in Space” edition with the Jita riots and the resultant destruction of the Jita monument.  In that expansion CCP tried to expand their game into yet another area, but not only did they release something that was largely incomplete, it was also something that literally melted some computer graphics cards.  CCP quickly backtracked and refocused on flying spaceships in space and managed to largely save the situation.

Were CCP wrong to try and do what they did? In my opinion… no!  Actually, if they’d released and expansion where not only did you have Captains Quarters (proper racial ones), but quarters you could actually rent with ISK and personalise and furnish with a mixture of ISK and AUR goods, places you could go to meet (Corp offices, which most Corps already rent) as well as bars and meeting areas to hold meetings, broker deals, play games, trade illicit goods like boosters etc.  If they’d just waited and released that in one go, not only would the player base have welcomed it with open arms, I am sure it would have brought in new players and also made the experience of some players (professional traders, scammers, manufacturers etc.) significantly better – assuming it didn’t melt your computer and assuming it was something that could be avoided as it currently can.

If CCP had simply have called Walking in Stations “Project 27″ or something similar, and kept it under NDA until it was ready to be released as a complete feature set, well Eve would be a very different place right now.  Will CCP dare to walk down this path again (pun intended)? Who knows, but I’d imagine that with Dust 514 not growing its playerbase quickly, and with Valkyrie on the horizon, the answer is sadly probably a “no”.

So what could help push Eve beyond the plateau and onwards and upwards with active players? Lots of things could be changed and altered to help with the new player experience, particularly with helping players to understand how important the social aspect is in continuing to learn, but also to understand more fully the different journeys that can be undertaken within the Eve experience.  Finding ways to connect Dust and even Valkyrie into the Eve universe as a whole will help to bring players into Eve itself.  Yes, some players will only want the quick PvE or PvP experience in a 30 minute gaming slot before they get bored and move onto another game, but if the link from that game to Eve is good enough, it may start to draw the player into investing time, and more importantly hard cash, into exploring Eve.

The most important single factor in turning the flat line into an upward trend is the playerbase itself. We as players can help by actively encouraging both our friends in other games, and obvious new players in Eve that we meet. Just killed the n00b in their Velator? Why not convo them, explain a bit about what they did right/wrong, shoot them a couple of million ISK and suggest a ship and fit that might help them do better next time.

CCP are gradually providing new and better tools to allow players to produce websites, videos and other things (such as live streaming) which can be used to promote Eve.  This needs to happen more with Dust 514 too.

When I look at that graph, I am worried for the future of Eve, but it also makes me hope that “Project 2″, “Project 3″ and the “complex” thing that didn’t make it into the Winter 2013 expansion will be something great which will not just be purely PvP or PvE focused.

Given my current health condition, I’m considering putting a bet down as to which will pass away first, me or Eve. Given that I have a less than 2% chance of lasting another 10 years, what chances would you give Eve? I’m hoping that Eve outlasts me – and I’d like to somehow help make that possible (and I don’t mean jumping off a bridge next week so that I lose my bet!).

Ask yourself the question – what could you do to help build the Eve playerbase?  I’m sitting here asking myself that question right now.