Let's start with this:
That's the 90-day rolling average of players logged in to the game through the entire Crucible and Inferno expansions. Crucible was released 29 November 2011. Inferno was released 24 April 2012. Just to refresh your memory, I've been periodically updating this table of the EVE expansions since about 2006:
|Revelations I||Invention, rigs||+4.3%||-0.1%||+17.6%||Major success|
|Revelations II||Sov changes||+0.8%||+6.4%||-2.6%||Failure|
|Trinity||New graphics||+2.4%||+29.0%||+19.5%||Major success|
|Empyrean Age||Faction war||+0.5%||+7.1%||-8.5%||Major failure|
|Quantum Rise||Nano nerf||+18.5%||+30.5%||+24.7%||Major success|
|Inferno||Missile GFX||-8.3%||-6.9%||-10.2%||Major failure|
Again, just to refresh your memory, each expansion is listed with a signature feature, and +30D, +60D, and +Next percentages. Each corresponds with the growth in logged-in players. +30D is 30 days after the expansion's release, showing initial excitement about the expansion. +60D sometimes shows an initially exciting expansion dying off some (Tyrannis) or growing even more because of positive word of mouth (Trinity). +Next is where the logged-in user base is when the next expansion is released, showing the final success or failure of that expansion.
I think everyone kind of instinctively feels what the chart and the table are saying: Crucible was excellent damage control, calling back the players that unsubbed during the summer of rage. Inferno, though, has been "more of the same" and has not done a good job of retaining players. Even the tent-pole feature of Inferno, the so-called Mercenary Marketplace, could not be regarded by any objective witness as a success. It's certainly not what the Inferno expansion is going to be remembered for a couple of years down the road. Just as Quantum Rise is now remembered as the nano nerf expansion, Inferno is going to be remembered as the missile graphics expansion.
Taken together, these two expansions have grown the base of players in-game by 3.7%. But that's only after the 20% drop inflicted during 2011. The damage inflicted by Incarna and the NeX and :fearless: has not yet been repaired. It's too early to predict the impact of Retribution.(1) But long-term, my gut instinct is that Retribution is another "more of the same" expansion.
The good news is that through these two expansions, we've seen growth: lapsed players have come back, and we've picked up a few new ones. The bad news is that the chart shows significant depressions with the release of competing MMOs this year. Once you see it, it's hard not to see the big dip in active EVE players in late May when Mechwarrior Online entered closed beta, and the even bigger dip in September when Guild Wars 2 was released and started getting such excellent word of mouth. Ouch.
I've got a little widget on my gaming desktop these days. It's counting down the number of days until 19 November 2014. That's the day that Star Citizen closed its crowd-funding effort, plus two years. Will Star Citizen release on that day? Not a chance. It will almost certainly be at least somewhat late.
But that game is swinging right at EVE, almost 100,000 people contributed to its crwod-funding, and EVE has already shown that it's vulnerable to pressure from competing MMOs. If CCP hasn't done something pretty dramatic with EVE Online by November 2014, then it's a pretty good bet that they're going to lose the bulk of their customers to Star Citizen on or about that date. Releasing "more of the same" expansions between now and then isn't going to cut it.
Which is no doubt why CCP Ripley is looking to strike a new balance between iteration and Jesus features. I think she has better data than I do, and can see that EVE is slowly bleeding out.
Last year, I produced a chart showing average logged-in players going all the way back to 2006, with lines showing where every EVE expansion had been released. I think it needs an update, so here's the updated version:
Concentrate on the green line, though I've left a blue 30-day rolling average behind it to give you an idea of more micro changes that are having an influence. The dip in the 30-day average in 2009 is due to Unholy Rage banning a large number of active botting accounts. If you take that into consideration and give Apocrypha credit for the logged-in players that were lost to that, something interesting emerges: the expansions that have been built around one big idea have been the successful ones in terms of growing the EVE player base. The only exception has been Quantum Rise, which saw big growth despite not being built around a single big idea. I think that expansion actually benefitted from the fact that CCP was advertising and marketing EVE heavily during this period, including television advertising on the SciFi Channel.
The other big jumps in on-line players correspond with:
- Trinity (big idea: complete graphics refresh);
- Apocrypha (big idea: wormholes);
- Dominion (big idea: allowing null-sec alliances to upgrade space); and,
- Incursion (big idea: incursions).
But they were justified each time.
It's becoming increasingly clear to me that DUST 514, while intended to be this cycle's big idea, is really going to struggle to bring in a new wave of EVE players. I still think the game is going to be mildly successful, but I also think this is going to depend heavily on how much impact DUST play has on EVE sovereignty. That's not going to happen easily or quickly -- it could, in fact, bog down into another Incarna-level mess if CCP isn't careful. In any event, there's a ton of coding between here and there. That means to grow EVE, the spaceship game, I've come to the conclusion that EVE is going to need another big new spaceship idea. I don't think orbital bombardment or ring mining or new POSes is gonna do it.
And I suspect CCP Ripley has come to the same conclusion. It'll be very interesting to see what the CSM December Summit Minutes have to say on this topic.
In the meantime, I have a goofy little proposal for EVE's next big idea. Come back tomorrow for that.
(1) One bit of interesting news: the "MoMA Day" that CCP declared on 9 December 2012 caused the biggest single-day sustained average on my chart in almost two years. It did not, however, beat the logged-in players record. Not even close.
(2) CCP might argue that they don't have the resources to do this. I would argue that they've done it before, with fewer resources than they have today. CCP was a much smaller company when Trinity and Apocrypha were released.