What's on the other side of that plateau?
Is there any path for CCP to follow to raise those numbers upwards for a sustained period, or is EVE going to enter a decline to lower logged in numbers from this point? How soon will we see an end to this plateau? Months? Years? Or will you argue that 'never' is a possibility? Or you can look at the root causes of the plateau and tackle the question if it could have been avoided or shortened if CCP had taken different actions in the past.
Also, what would EVE be like with an order of magnitude fewer or more players?
This graph is a wonderful discussion piece. In my nearly 6 years of playing... wow, I just had to stop and think about that. Six years is by far the longest I've ever stuck with one MMORPG. That in and of itself should blunt some of the anxiety many (most?) feel when they look at the above graph. Regardless, once again it's time to discuss this issue, and as I was going to say, in my 6 years of playing I cannot remember a time when this was not a topic of conversation in the metasphere of the EVE Universe. It's the invisible elephant in the room whenever we discuss the future of EVE Online. Does it mean EVE Online is dying? Has EVE Online stopped growing? Is the golden age of the empire over?
Those are the questions most want answered before the questions actually asked in the banter are answered. Because of that, this could get a little long. The tl;dr is yes, EVE Online is in decline, but it's not the game's fault. EVE Online will likely not die - at least not straight away. It'll continue for quite some time (and by that I mean years) in this state. But CCP and we it's loyal subscribers need to prepare for a future where EVE Online may have to be very different in order to survive. Ultimately it will be up to us subscribers to decide its fate.
So, that out of the way, why would I say EVE Online is in decline but not dying, or at least dying a very slow death? It's because this plateau we all see has a couple of causes, and none of them are a flagging interest in Internet spaceships. To make my point about this I am going to lean heavily on two well known bloggers who have way more authority on this subject than I. The first is Nosey Gamer. The second is Ibe Van Geel of the recently shuttered MMOData.net. Interestingly enough, Nosey's latest piece is about MMOData.net closing. Synergy, you have to love it.
So first, let's talk about what Nosey does. Nosey is our BOT and RMT expert. If you don't know what those things are and why they are bad you should read his blog. It'll educate you better on the subject than about anything I can think of. In his 2013 recap of CCP's efforts in their war on bots and RMT, he posted this chart.
This has not hurt the game though. It has actually strengthened EVE Online by getting rid of those who use the game but do not play the game. However, those losses are reflected in the plateau so many are concerned about. Keep that in mind as you evaluate the plateau. There is a keen difference between a subscription and a good subscription - that being someone who plays the game for the game's sake. For the most part, we have just about as many of those good subscriptions as we've always had.
That does not mean there is not a general decline in overall good subscriptions. I am certain there is. I can be certain of that because of MMOData's charts for one thing. MMOData used to get hard subscription numbers from many MMOs. These came straight from the companies, and it was a great way to track the growing prosperity that was subscription based MMOs in the first decade of the 21st century. And even though the site is now closed, all that data is still publicly available. Have a look at the historical chart from MMOData that includes EVE Online.
Still, it's not good news. It just means CCP has some time to do something about the decline. But the issue isn't EVE Online itself. It's the subscription model that EVE Online functions under. That is why the log in numbers have plateaued. People just don't want to pay a monthly fee any more. In the fast paced, get it now world we live in, having to setup a payment for every month is just more hassle than most want to deal with. I know I pay for my account a year at a time because I just don't need another utility bill. It's the state of the world, not just EVE Online.
Now we can get to those questions asked in the banter. What is on the other side of this plateau? Well, if current industry trends continue, and EVE Online does not change from what it is today - a subscription based service - the other side of this plateau will be more plateau in the best of circumstance. In the second best circumstance there will be a steady but shallow decline that goes on for years. In the worst situation, a non-subscription competitor emerges that does everything EVE Online does but is free to play (F2P.) Which of these is more likely in my opinion? Well, to be honest with myself the last one is the one I see as most likely but with a twist. That emergent new game everyone flocks to has every chance of being EVE Online.
Unfortunately the biggest obstacle to that happening is the current player base of EVE Online. We proved that with the Summer of Rage. We flat out rejected Incarna and with it the model CCP intended to use (IMO) to transition from a subscription based game to a F2P model. With that rejection, CCP had to scramble in a new direction, one that it wasn't wanting to take and for which it was frankly unprepared. That has caused an issue for CCP ever since.
That direction was Dust 514. They had to rush it to get their foot into the door of the new F2P business model. That created a game that debuted to lackluster reviews and poor player participation. And what's worse, it has tarnished the reputation of CCP as a company that does the extraordinary. I can't help but wonder how many potential investors walked away from CCP because of this. What business opportunities never presented themselves? At a time when CCP could have used those opportunities the most, did they not appear because of what we the players forced CCP to do? I honestly don't know. You can't prove an absence of fact. That does not stop me from wondering how it could have all been different though.
These past three years have been difficult for all of us. As a player I wonder if there will be a future. I wonder because CCP is loath to discuss plans because they were burned so badly before. It's a terrible loop to be stuck in. Their reluctance to talk feeds our anxiety. Our anxiety expresses itself as dissatisfaction. We express that dissatisfaction by acting out. That feeds CCP's fear of another player revolt. It makes them more inclined to keep quiet about everything. Rinse, lather and repeat. Yes, that's a nice vicious circle and we players can take most of the responsibility for it. We started the cycle, even though we tried to warn CCP. I don't like it any more than you do, but there you have it.
So what do I see as the way forward? Well, many of you aren't going to like this but too bad: you've had your say starting three years ago and we all know how it's turned out. What CCP needs to do is join the rest of the gaming industry by turning their company finances into one based on the F2P business model rather than the subscription model. Notice I did NOT say they had to turn EVE Online into a F2P game. More on that in a minute.
I think CCP understands this. They are savvy game industrialists. But knowing it and making it so are two very different problems. One is easy to see, and one is very, very hard to do. CCP has had a hard time of it developing Dust 514. It's been a growing experience for them to be certain. After years, it's finally showing some glimmer of being a solid game people will want to play. From that CCP can build a micro-transaction income model for the game. Once that income model is in place and generating revenues, they can turn their attention to the other things.
But before I say that other thing is EVE Online, I have to stop and write one more word: Valkyrie. You know, sometimes the card you need most does show up on the river. There was a tweet two weeks ago from CCP Karuck which I've placed to the right here. Yesterday there was this twitter thread,
Valkyrie is getting some excellent press. It is generally felt in the gaming world Oculus Rift will release this year. They are very close to their specification goals now, as indicated in this article out yesterday: http://www.joystiq.com/2014/01/07/testing-the-huge-breakthrough-in-new-oculus-rift-vr-prototype. With all the positive buzz and barely constrained enthusiasm from hardcore gaming industry experts to the average player-Joe, Valkyrie has taken CCP from being practically ridiculed for Dust 514 to being lauded for their Valkyrie vision - pun intended. In this new technology, and the game they so quickly "threw" together, CCP may just have given themselves the breathing room they need to make the transition they must make.
And that leads us back to EVE Online. EVE Online cannot live forever in it's current subscription model. It will eventually die. To believe otherwise is to live in denial about what is happening within the gaming industry at large. The cards are quickly stacking up against the EVE Online method of doing business.
The inescapably problem for CCP is EVE Online keeps the lights on today. They tried making the change to a more F2P model and got slapped hard. I frankly don't think they are willing to put the entire business at risk by trying it again. If nothing else ego will prevent it, but their message has been very firm on that topic for years.
If I were in CCP's shoes, I would reduce the business risk by supplanting their dependance on EVE Online subscription revenues. Dust 514 is one column in this new financial spreadsheet. Valkyrie will be another. I will be very surprised if they ever come close to considering a subscription based model for it. There may be other projects in the wings of which we are not aware. I hope there are, but CCP won't say - loop again. With any luck, in total they will match EVE Online's revenue stream before subscriptions drop into financial red ink. When the do match the revenue, then (and I believe only then) will CCP attempt to "fix" this problem that is EVE Online. Perhaps we'll see Incarna, or the future Incarna Plus. Whatever we see, know it will be pushed onto the player base from a position of strength that allows CCP to say, "Take it or leave it." At that point, they will not need EVE Online to survive as a company.
What would EVE Online look like on that day? My divination spell does see walking in stations, but that would only be the vehicle to the revenue generators. There would be stores for in-game micro-transaction purchases. Space stations would be a virtual mall. The stores would have not only clothes, tattoos and other character adornments, but also ship skins and special implants to change the color of your pod, or your contrails, or your blaster bolts. Custom graphics would proliferate everywhere as players gobbled them up. Riot Games proves how lucrative that can be. There would also be tie-ins to real world businesses. There could be casinos for instance, and I don't mean Somer Blink. I mean real, online casinos where players could gamble real money for real money. The house (CCP) takes a cut of course. Oh sure, players could agree to play for ISK, but the house should still get a cut. Could this lead to legal problems? Sure, but there is great reward in great risk. That applies to the real world as well as the virtual. So long as the future of CCP the company is not in jeopardy, why not? Amazon dot Amarr anyone?
I'm sure Incarna Plus isn't the only thing CCP could do to morph EVE Online into a F2P model. But here's the key ingredient, it will be done once CCP has new revenue streams ensuring their future as a business. Then they will turn back to EVE Online. They won't abandon it: not unless we do. But they will make the change, and they will give us no option. They won't have to. Then it will be up to us to decide if EVE Online lives or dies. We can either rage quit at that point, or embrace the change as inevitable and enable EVE Online to live on another decade. The choice will be ours. Won't that be an interesting day?