Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dance with the one that brung ya

There's a funny dichotomy about EVE players that strikes me from time to time.

My two nephews are brothers, of a similar age, and ultra-competitive with each other. They'll occasionally have very impressive physical or mental battles. But if an outsider attacks one of them, the two are instantly united against the outside aggressor. All differences between them are put aside. Thus it is with EVE players. In-game, we're often incredibly nasty to one another, and many are just as brutal if not moreso toward CCP. But there's also a group of these very same EVE players that will instantly oppose any sort of perceived nay-saying about their favorite past-time or the creator of it.

I'm catching the outside edges of the phenomenon lately, so I feel the need to further explain the "Patchwork" post from yesterday (among others). I find this comes up when something extraordinarily positive appears on EVE's horizon, I praise 47 aspects of it to the skies, but I also issue a caution about the two or three less positive items that also appear. Invariably, someone will comment that "Jester's being all bitter again."(1) Maybe it's the number of paragraphs I spend on the good versus the bad? It's hard to write at length about stuff that's clearly good. You people are pretty smart and don't need me to say why the good stuff is good, right? ;-)

As someone who enjoys word games, I assure you that I chose the name "Patchwork" for the post yesterday deliberately. A patchwork quilt is a blanket sewn from many disparate pieces of often mismatched fabric that nevertheless forms an aesthetic and pleasing whole. But I should have realized the word also has an undeserved negative connotation, and that connotation was not really intended. I find patchwork quilts quite beautiful.

But patchwork quilts aren't usually organized or structured like a more traditional block or tiled quilt.

Let me be completely clear here: I think the winter expansion is extraordinarily positive. I believe virtually everything in it is a positive change for EVE Online, and there's almost nothing in it this expansion that I think is a poor design or game change. If I hadn't already resubbed to EVE months ago, this expansion would have gotten me to resub.(2)  Is that clear enough? Do I have to write more paragraphs around this? I will if I have to. Don't make me get my good keyboard out. ;-)

Now, with that said, the issues facing EVE and CCP have not gone away. EVE still needs a larger subscriber base. The winter expansion isn't going to do very much to help that. Here's the current marketing website for the winter expansion, and granted, it's out of date and doesn't include a lot of the winter expansion's features. It also includes a few features that either definitely (AFs) or probably (FW) won't take the cut. Even after the list is complete, though, CCP's Marketing department is going to have a very tough time selling the Crucible to brand new EVE players. It's absoultely terrific for bringing back lapsed hard-core EVE players. That will help stabilize CCP's numbers.

But have a look at this chart from this year's Fanfest:

Think CCP is going to be content with "stable"? Think they should be?

With Incarna going on the far back-burner, the problem of building an "elevator pitch" for EVE also remains a major issue. EVE continues to be a hard product to package, market or sell, and again, Crucible does little to help. It's aimed squarely at people who already know what EVE is. Within that limited scope, it should be extraordinarily successful. But unless I miss my guess, it's not going to greatly expand EVE's base beyond where it's already been.  CCP definitely wants to find a solution to this problem.  There's no question about it.

And I'm not attacking EVE or CCP when I point it out, OK? ;-)

(1) I do invite you to reread the introductory paragraph at the very top of this blog, though. ;-)

(2) Though as I said at the time, I resubbed in part because I wanted to push CCP in this direction and felt my blog would be a good way to do it. I wanted to be part of the fight for EVE's future.


  1. C'est la vie. I usually tend to reinforce the positive aspects of whatever I'm looking at much to the annoyance of the people around me who would prefer to wallow in what they find to depressing, negative, or indicative of a larger problem or conspiracy.

    On the other hand, it seems EVE is populated by people with the same demographic breakdown of real life (just all nerds). You've got the vocal minorities that drive the public conversation, the larger majority that is influenced but not driven to action by the vocal edges, and the rest of the people who just "do their thing" and let whatever happens happens.

    I don't worry when people start being publicly negative, but I do worry when they are drowning out the voices of people pointing out the positives in a rational way.

    That being said, I'm really happy with what CCP is doing for this expansion, but they didn't really have enough time to do something epic. Save that for the next one once they get the boat back up to full speed.

  2. I've been enjoying your blogs recently and will be starting my own soon but I find myself disagreeing with you about what this patch will do for CCP's numbers:

    Alot of the negative press and reduced subscriptions happened because of Incarna, and
    there's also been alot of negative word of mouth. However, there is the other side of the coin that might argue that more people than ever have been exposed and talking about Eve. So a massive influx of positive comment and speculation may well generate a bounce effect and increase the subscriber counts overall (and CCP will be hoping this is what will happen).

    This can only then lead to Incarna being "that patch no-one remembers" because all they remember is a massive player uprising that resulted in the best space MMO becoming an even better space mmo!

    Not nessesarily true or factual but worth baring in mind when we are all feavorishly analysing the subs stats in 3 months time!

  3. You may be right. But then again you might be wrong. If you think traditional marketing, you are undoubtly right. Making the game more shiny, fixing issues etc are going to first and foremost please existing and former players, not attract new ones that have barely heard about EVE. New ones are attracted by new exiting features.

    Or are they?

    Because you see, the main selling strategy for arguably the most complex, impossibly hard, cold and ruthless MMO in existence has historically been word of mouth. EVE has never seen exponetial growth. It has seen a slow, deliberate build up based on the fact that those who allready played it brought in their friends, relatives, collegues, gaming partners etc. But sometime - 18 months ago - the "curve" flattened out. Coincidence? I think not.

    Persoannly I think we will see the curves go the right way again, becauseonce again - word of mouth will be as exiting as ever.

  4. @Laurentius: Indeed. I covered that aspect of EVE's marketing two weeks ago:


  5. I don't know the answer here either, I talk with my friends who grind hours on end with wow, and are looking forward to stor, but when I tell them about eve as soon as they understand the nature of non consential pvp they tell me this would not be a game for them. They like to pvp in the other games but in those games there is no real death penalty, and items and gold can not be lost or looted.

    I feel this is one of the major selling points of the game, I enjoy this risk and the game literally gets my pulse up when my assets are at risk, which in eve is anytime you hit the undock button.

    We will see how dusk intertwines with eve, and see bow well they actually implement walking in stations / if they do. I can remember way back in 2005 them talking about it and here we are 6 years later and still not in game.

    We also still have many of the old broken mechanics that were in game then as well as about 3-4 partially introduced expansions that never got revisited. I guess this is why we are all called bitter old vets. The new folks don't understand it.

    This game could be truly awesome if they would keep their focus and consistently make changes for the better. I am looking forward to the winter expansion for one thing they are finally addressing many many low hanging items that should have been addressed years ago. But sometimes I am left with the feeling I might enjoy a second server that is re rolled back to day 1 more than I am enjoying the game with a 85m sp toon.


  6. I watched Incarna's launch and it's subsequent fallout- I was disappointed by it, but not so badly that I felt the need to riot was called for.

    The drama has not helped EVE. Sure, some squeaky wheels are getting greased in the next expansion- but as you point out, that is only keeping the current player base happy and not bringing in new blood...and at the same time, potential new players have heard way too much about the bad with EVE this year instead of hearing about all the stuff that is really good.

    Incarna was supposed to be the big hook to reel in players that weren't already here- because most of the time if you show another gamer EVE, one of the first questions they will ask you is "Soooooo, you never get out of your ship?". This idea is now on deaths door, and in the meantime I have a strong feeling that many of the people who protested for FiS improvements are going to be appeased by the new changes for about a month.

    If things work out right, stabilizing the player base will have to do for the time being...and it's possible that just changing player base from "bitter" to "hopeful" will be enough to bring in fresh faces while CCP works on their next expansion. (hopefully focusing on Incarna the way they have focused on FiS since last June)

  7. I feel that in the long term this new expansion will help CCP and Eve out, but probably not significantly prior tothe sub numbers coming in. The last few expansions have been a rapid move towards bringing in a new influx of bodies but the problems with that are many fold. However, this move had two major flaws. First, the old players, and what is quite honestly the base of CCP's market, felt they're gaming interestes where no longer being addressed and left. Second, not enough new people liked Eve to subscribe.

    CCP has been trying very hard up until recently to break into the mainstream gaming market but unfortunaly for them, Eve is not a game that appeals to the average mainstream gamer. You have to REALLY WORK at Eve, for a LONG TIME (at least 1 year) before you really begin to start flying the ships you want, with the skills you need to make this game a lot of fun. Too many casual gamers just arent into this. They want a game they can turn on and jump right into. To put it in eve terms, they expect to be flying MOM's and Titan's within a few hours to a few days. Additionally, as much as we want to give 'bears' crap here in Eve, many people who play other MMO's are scared off by even the high-sec risks that a miner lives with ever day in Eve. The end result is that all the new 'flash' CCP was putting in the game, while it may drive people to try eve for a day, was not yielding any additonal subscriptions. If you dont believe me just go to a noob system and start asking the new players on the trial accounts if they will be suscribing or not.

    Additionally, Eve is a hard game to play. The interface is convoluted. The tutorials are patchy. There is a million different options and custom settings, hot keys, overview layouts, skills,..... and no clear guide or reference unless you know where to look. DONT THINK IM BASHING THIS!!!! it all goes into the 'sandbox' play that we all love and makes Eve unique, but it can be quite daunting to the new players.

    Between the steep learing curve, work required, risks and changes in gameplay not only has new subscriptions failed to skyrocket (as i believe CCP hoped) but unsub rates for older players went through the roof. So how is Crucible going to fix this? First, by bringing back those old bitter vets with 4+ toons who all left. They are, after all the base of CCP's income. Secondly, all these little bugs that CCP has been fixing lately help make that learning 'cliff' of Eve a little more friendly. Last, as was noted above, happy fans are fans that bring they're friends to play. Word of mouth, at the end of the day is CCP's biggest recruiter and even better, its free!!

    ~srry for the long read.

  8. Wh Denizen:
    I face the same thing. The great part about EvE is you choose the death penalty. If you do not want an expensive death do not fly your faction battle ship into 0.0.

    EvE lets you choose the death penalty, the penalty is a harsh as you are willing to risk.

  9. Jester,
    am wondering what the Sales in the CCP graph referring to?

    Also, I can't help but wonder how many folks are like me. Having to unsub because Incarna wont run on older Mac laptops only to watch now Incarna being shoved on the side lines for undetermined future. Think there's another ~9000 people that would have subscribed ;)

    and no, getting a separate machine for "just" gaming is not an option.

  10. You want more new players in EvE? Add F2P option and wait for a horde of noobs to jump in. Add basic training certificates for sale in Nex store and no industry or T2 without a sub and that would go a long way in bringing new blood into the game. This strategy did wonders for DCUO.

  11. The most consistent line of positive talk about the upcoming expansion revolves around "CCP is finally fixing the small things that should have been fixed years ago."

    Is this something that will entice new players or is it something that places doubt about the game into the minds of new players? If I start today, will I also have to deal with little problems that will not be fixed for years?

  12. Also instead of PS3 DUST crap, make an IOS client for EvE with casinos where you gamble ISK. The only way to get ISK is through EVE, so they will have to play the game to make it :)

  13. "They'll occasionally have very impressive physical or mental battles. But if an outsider attacks one of them, the two are instantly united against the outside aggressor."

    Are they Goonswarm?

  14. @ the anonymous with the comment on (mac) laptops.

    At the time the topic of hardware requirements became a topic at CCP, there was a lot of unfounded optimism. When the planned test setup initiative failed, and "plans" got caught up by reality CCP managed to get itself stuck in a doctrine that bled down from upstairs when Hilmar stated "they need to buy better hardware".

    While there is truth in the evolution of hardware, CCP screwed up with their projections on that set of targets and cut corners. A tactical mistake, as is clear in retrospect.

    But it is equally a strategic mistake. There are many trends in hardware evolution, and the interesting thing is that particularly where it comes to concepts rooted in active computing there is a trend towards increasing hardware performance tiers and lower (even if increasing) hardware tiers. It is too easy to simply dismiss that as PC versus mobility computing however.

    Especially for the gaming industry. Black Prophecy started out with a good set of concepts but got mutilated in its potential through its financing and publishing hiccups, but it did grab an interest set of targets with its focus on lower end hardware requirements. Particularly in emerging markets, something which for CCP with its increasing penetration of (for example) eastern european but also pan asian markets should have been of interest.

    But even more so in regards to the laptop market on its own. When you look at the user types of EVE Online as CCP has researched them, there is something quite visible: a lot of these user types are connected to professions or points of life where the work provided / used harware is not necessarily predominant, but is at minimum firmly vested. Writing off those user types and corresponding groups under the guise of "buy better hardware" is an opinionated conviction rooted in something between arrogance and segregated perspective and discarded market research (interestingly, at the last Fanfest staff floated graphs around on the share of laptop sources among account usage, and it was quite simply a stark contrast to other mmo's).

    Back on topic though. Yes, the winter expansion is a first step towards adressing CCP's retention challenge for particularly those segments of users which go "deep" and are likely to generate sales through retention. While the polishing aspect serves those, I do think that there is minimal supply of new user paths or behavioral niches in the winter expansion. Yes, there's some new stuff, some new puzzles, but overall the emphasis is on the polish.

    The target for the winter expansion as such is quite clear: can CCP reignite those curves beyond the little spike syndrome which we have seen to arise in the past few years while recouping a substantial amount of those catalogued as "lost".

    Further targets do not currently have the time really to be considered for the winter expansion, nor the requirements for those. For that, CCP has to first take the hurdle of the winter, second take the hurdle of the attention & resource focus required for the Dust launch and then third ... proper research & planning for the summer (without skipping a beat on communication, striving towards rediscovering synergy and without falling prey to past traps).

  15. http://failheap-challenge.com/showthread.php?4443-Are-you-going-to-resub

    Perhaps of interest, in light of the challenge. Few interesting posts there.

  16. IMO, changing the fundamental nature of Eve to appeal to casual gamers will cause its demise. Just look at the damage WoW:Cataclysm did to its harcore player base.

    Fact is, adding casual players gives you an initial income boost, but the income, like the players themselves, is transient, leaving the game worse than before.

  17. Why is the CCP fanfest chart missing the year 2010?

  18. I think you need to draw the line between goals of retaining old players and inviting new ones. Most of previous patches were aimed to inviting new players and for some time it worked - more new players came then old players left. Incarna was different because it failed for both new and old players. And due to summer problems old player numbers were decreasing rapidly. So winter expansion is a good damage control and was correctly not aimed at new players.

    I would say that the breaking point would be not the winter expansion, but the next one, when CCP will have to get back to "inviting new players" expansion.

  19. @serpentinelogic

    But I trust you recognise that for CCP it remains a scenario that can be quite seductive to them.

    I'm not saying they are capable of engaging in changing themselves, their procedures and methods and organisation, to take on (for example) the requirements of quality in delivery or even the necessity of increased cycles of content & feature creation. I highly doubt it suits their organisation or even their culture.

    But considering CCP's historic tendencies to take for granted what is present and discard anything that does not support personal wants & wishes ... there is always a high risk with CCP of doing things (or doing them in manners) which are not in their interests effectively.

    Your argument is logical, and correct. It is also founded in widely available research. But this is CCP we are talking about. The syndrome of "we know best, tis gonna be awesome" still prevails, even after the 20% in many deciding places.

  20. This expansion will no doubt bring in lost players. But I think that it will also bring in new players. Nerds are plentyfull and nerds loves spaceships, when the news hits the grapevine (or comic store) that eve online has fixed bugs, made advances in every field and updated alot of graphics that will drawn in new people as well.

    Don't forget that even though Incarna has been "shelved" there is still working being done on that front. So the new CQ's and the optimization of the new player experience can advance.

    The most succesfull release so far was a big released focused on spaceship content and "the unknown".

  21. The Winter expansion may help with player retention, in which case if less players are leaving the game the rate of increase in total players will increase.


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