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Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Incarna is critical to keeping EVE "forever" (and why you MUST embrace it.)

Captain's Quarters are on Duality and we have taken our first tentative steps (literally) into the future of EVE. First steps are the most critical and if EVE is to survive Incarna must be a success and you must not only support it but embrace it. Here is why.

EVE is failing. Now, before you start yelling and screaming at me, read me out. I do not say this lightly. I am very worried about EVE as a business. An awesome fan base does not an EBIT make and those of you in the business world know what I am talking about.

In order for a business to survive, it must continuously grow its customer base. Apple understands this. They are the most valuable technology company on the planet and when they saw their customer numbers stagnate in Europe and North America they went to China. They just released their latest figures and blew all the business estimates to smithereens - again.

The same cannot be said for CCP. EVE is a great game. I would even go so far as to say revolutionary. However, it has stagnated. CCP's customer base is not growing and no company survives through stagnation. Don't believe me? Take a look at CCP's own numbers given on three quarterly financial reports.

The Good

The Bad

The Ugly

This is not an Apple like growth curve. It isn't even a Microsoft growth curve. It is far worse. Frankly it is more reminiscent of Nokia or RIM. Those two companies are staggering under the Apple onslaught and the Android juggernaut. CCP will soon stagger too if it doesn't do something drastic - and to their credit I think they realized this years ago.

Simon Hill had a very interesting article at Bright Hub on March 22, 2011. The article is titled MMO Subscriber Populations and I wish you'd read it at the link provided. EVE came in 8th. You might think this isn't so bad but I'd say think again. EVE's subscriber base is listed at 325,000. It hasn't really changed in over a year and nearly two. World of Warcraft has always dominated but other games have leap-frogged EVE. I hadn't even heard of half these games (Aion, Lineage, Lineage II, Dofus) and yet they have more subscriptions than our awesome EVE.

But you are quick to point out that even the article calls the subscriber counts potentially inaccurate and even grossly inaccurate. But how inaccurate are they really? Are they inflated by 20%? How about 30%? Even at a 50% inflation the top 5 games in the list still have more subscribers than EVE. Why?

I think it is because most people like to show off with no work involved. They don't want to spend years training to fly a super cap. They don't want to spend a year infiltrating an enemy alliance to bring it down in one fell betrayal. Most people want instant gratification. They want to walk out into the virtual world in their big, bad, sick and shiny armor they just purchased as a micro transaction and be done with it. If actually logging into the game is free so much the better, they will spend their subscription money on customizations - and probably more than the subscription would have cost. If the subscription would have cost $15 and two cool customizations cost $20 they will probably spend the extra $5. That's a 25% increase in revenue for a company running a "free" game. Now THAT'S Apple like. Apple sells last year's technology at premium prices and convinces everyone it is more reliable and therefore great. Folks, it's last year's technology. Of course it's reliable. It matures and stabilizes for a year and Apple will never have a Sandy Bridge fiasco to deal with. And yet Apple sees nearly a 50% gross profit margin on every Mac Book Pro sold. CCP has to do it too and ships in space, where everyone looks the same, isn't going to get them there.

So what will get them there? Fellow capsuleers, gird your loins because you aren't going to like this. They have to allow an easy entry into the game and they have to dumb some things down. Seriously. That is the only way they will grow at more than a "modest rate." Modest rates don't win the game. They need to let the lazy buy their shiny things and show them off. Yeah, we'll all know them for the posers they are but their money is just as valuable as yours. You will just have to adapt. And yes, I very well know that many call this the Star Wars Galaxies model and it failed miserably. However, in SWG they dumbed down the entire game. They sold out wholesale to the lazy and the posers. I know, I was there, and I was a triple master which took a very long time to accomplish and they neutered my "accomplishment" without so much as a thank you, please. CCP has already shown they are not that stupid. Our beloved spaceships will not suffer.

So what makes me think this is even necessary? Well, besides their subscription base being higher then EVE's take a look at what some of them offer for account services.
  • Aion
    • Plastic Surgery for $9.99
    • Name Change for $9.99
    • Gender Change for $14.99
  • World of WarCraft (prices listed here.)
    • Name Change for $10.00
    • Race Change for $25.00
    • Faction Change for $30.00
    • Character (re-)Customization for $15.00
  • Lineage II
    • Name Change for $29.99
    • Gender Change for $9.99
    • Subclass Change for $49.99
    • Subclass Separation for $49.99
I have read that many of you will not pay such prices. I have even read that some of you would rage-quit EVE if CCP tried such a thing. I say to you that two posers will step in and take your place if these things come to EVE and they are easy. CCP will double their income (or more) and you, dear friend, will be the only loser.

You see, people already pay these prices. These services would not exist if people didn't pay for them. That's how supply and demand works. It's a proven profit generating business model. I have no special insider knowledge, but I would wager the margins made on these services are large and well worth it. Perhaps someone can prove me wrong. I am certain some will try. Regardless, the only way CCP can realistically break the stagnation in their subscriber base is to appeal to a broader range of player. It means bringing in the WoW players and the posers. It means making EVE a little less like the game we love and a little bit more like what really sells well.

Mac Book Pros are coveted and they are made of last year's technology. iPad IIs sell like hot cakes and they don't even have a keyboard. And Apple posts record profits quarter after quarter because people value their products. We value EVE Online. Most gamers don't. I can say this with certainty. The subscription numbers speak for themselves and I haven't even touched on how many people play Halo, Call to Duty or Crysis. For CCP to grow and for EVE to truly be "forever," we have to accept that growth means making EVE Online into more than Internet spaceships. It means we must embrace the changes that are coming for our own future's sake.

Fly careful.

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