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.
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Feast and famine

OK, let's get back to what I wanted to write about this week, because I'm now once again way behind.

I last looked at Snapcount data back in April and as the Odyssey data started to come in, it was clear that I was going to have to give it some time to mature before any conclusions could be drawn.  The data was really odd you see, and... well, let's just look at the graph to start:

For the second time in a row, I've put the 30-day trend in front of longer term trend because I think the short term trend is more interesting.  Each little spike in the 30-day graph represents a weekend, where EVE players tend to log in in larger numbers.  This graph picks up where the April one left off, with the release of the Retribution expansion on 4 December.  At that time, I noted that we were in the midst of a historic spike of logged-in players and in danger of finally breaking out of the 30,000 logged-in player rut that EVE has been in for years now.  However even in April you could begin to see the dip in the graph as players burned out on Retribution's features and were looking forward to the next expansion, Odyssey.

This dip is typical and is nothing to worry about.  Most EVE expansions are characterized by this large spike after the release of the expansion followed by a slow fall in the number of players.  It's one of the reasons that I measure the success of EVE expansions as I do, by looking at their logged-in user count both 30 days after the release of the expansion and 60 days after its release.  Does positive word of mouth about the expansion spread, getting more players to log in (Incursion, Crucible)?  Or do players look at the expansion, say "eh" and go back to playing other games (Tyrannis, Inferno)?

Then I look at the long-term: does CCP do a good job of selling the next expansion to try to retain and build the player base?  Incursion was a good example of this one as well, but we'll get to that.

As I looked at the data, it was pretty clear that Odyssey was going to be another "eh" expansion, and once we were past 60 days, that was confirmed:

RMR/Bloodlines  T2s, Carriers+4.6%+7.0%+11.9%Success
Revelations IInvention, rigs  +4.3%-0.1%+17.6%Major success
Revelations IISov changes+0.8%+6.4%-2.6%Failure
TrinityNew graphics+2.4%+29.0%+19.5%Major success
Empyrean AgeFaction war+0.5%+7.1%-8.5%Major failure
Quantum RiseNano nerf+18.5%  +30.5%  +24.7%  Major success
DominionSov changes+13.6%+13.5%+6.4%Success
IncarnaCQ+0.3%-0.2%-10.7%Major failure
CrucibleIterations+7.7%+14.6%+20.4%Major success
InfernoMissile GFX-8.3%-6.9%-10.2%Major failure
RetributionCrimewatch+17.0%+24.6%+20.4%Major success
OdysseyHacking sites+2.5%-6.0%???Failure

Minus six percent at 60 days.  Minus nine percent at 90 days.  Ouch.

People are logging off in large numbers and there isn't even a dip associated with the release of another MMO that I can see.  There is a pretty good dip at the end of the Fountain campaign and that is arguably not CCP's fault.(1)  But overall, we've got 6000 fewer players logging into EVE on a daily basis than when Odyssey was released and that's got to hurt.  But I'm writing this post now since Rubicon was just announced and its features laid out a couple of days ago, so we can see if that starts the trend curving upward again.

In the meantime, let's look at the long-term trend:

As I stated above, we're still more or less firmly trapped in the 30k logged-in player rut that EVE has been in for five years now.  I've highlighted four expansions in particular since they represent two attempts by CCP to break out of the rut.  With the release of Incursion in late 2010, we saw a content-driven expansion bring in thousands of new players logging in only to see that momentum dashed on the rocks of Incarna.  And now we see the player-driven expansion Retribution and its fantastic Crimewatch system not followed-up or capitalized on effectively in Odyssey.  The curves look different; people were asking "where the hell are the spaceships?" pretty frequently in the run-up to Incarna.  But the effect is the same: in both cases the 90-day logged-in player trend -- the thick green line -- starts at nearly exactly 30k both before and after these periods start and end.

What's it going to take to blast out of this rut?

We'll see where CCP is going with it and of course as a member of the CSM I've heard a few -- but definitely not all! -- of the plans.  But in public, the goal seems to get players to accept and embrace a long-term vision where each expansion builds on and capitalizes on the strengths of the expansion before it.  If the strategy succeeds, the data will show it starting now, late September 2013.  With that in mind, most long-term trends in my future Snapcount posts will start from where the problem started, with the release of Apocrypha in March 2009.

It's time to break out of the feast and famine cycle.

(1) You could make a meta argument about moons not being conflict drivers any longer, but I personally think it's far too early to make any judgments on that score.


  1. CCP just needs to man up and whip out a roadmap for the entire 3-year plan. And not just some generic words like "exploration" but a list of all the expansions in the time frame along with planned major features for each.

    This lets people see that the "crappy" features are in fact just stepping stones to some cool stuff, and that there is something amazing to look forward to at the end. Do that and you'll have your player retention.

    Of course that will never happen because then CCP would be accountable if they slipped a deadline on some features.

    1. IMO that's good advice because there are a lot of players, like me, who are pretty sure there IS nothing amazing to look forward to at the end. CCP Seagull may be the best thing since sliced bread, but I'm firmly in the "watch what they do" camp. So far I haven't seen a lot.

  2. The problem with this metric is that it doesn't correct for the seasonal variations we would see absent expansions. All 3 "major failures" are summer expansions, all 5 "major successes" are winter expansions (judging by just counting back by 2's, did CCP ever skip an expansion because if so then that isn't true). It's still a good way to compare winter expansions to other winter expansions, etc, but referring to the normal august-september drop in server logins as a "famine" seems like quite a stretch. I feel like you've probably addressed this issue before, but I don't remember what you said if so. What I see when I look at this graph is the growth in multi-boxing leading to more volatility in the graph with people's free time, as the long term players who resub and unsub depending on their free time are probably the people who sub and unsub multiple accounts to do so, as longer term players seem to have more accounts than newer players.

    1. The summers of 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2012 correspond with either steady or increasing activity in EVE. I've never written a post directly addressing it, but the "summer slump" is kind of a myth. It's only down when compared to winter where activity is higher, plus the result as you say of a couple of lucky expansions being released then. Hell, Rubicon itself may well continue the trend.

    2. I think your methodology is lacking somewhere because the summer slump is not a myth. Look at this PCU page https://www.eveger.de/page_serverstatus.php From mid-June through August the numbers drop a good 5,000 per day. Every summer since I've been playing the number of players dips noticeably.

    3. You're not taking into account the change in CCP's development strategy though and the lasting effects of previous patches.

      Pre-2010 era is quite different to compare, however, because almost entire areas of the game were added in regards to ships, modules, and balance. They also still believed in jesus features.

      The nano nerf fundamentally reset the entire PVP meta, similar to how Retribution worked, so you had tons of players logging in to explore this area of the game. Likewise, Apocrphya a summer expansion introduced, not only rig size changes which helped keep Quantum Rise momentum going, but wormholes as well.

      Even though you list Apocrypha as only being a success, compared to a major one, I think you can attribute a lot of the "success" of the next few patches Apocrypha's continuing effects. Wormholes took quite a bit of time before they were demystified enough that players really started to dive in. It also extended the logins of players who would have normally gotten bored and left the game after the following patches which were to me, weren't the best since they happened during the 18 months period before Incarna.

      Also, Inferno is the crimewatch patch. A lot of people left because they fucked a lot of things up and it was a really broken and shitty feature until they fixed it with Retribution.

    4. It depends on how you define summer, I think. I took a look at average concurrency from 2007-2011 using Chribba's data and the months of July, August, and September all showed an average drop in activity compared to the previous month. I haven't done a recalculation since Chribba started using weekly average concurrency numbers instead of daily concurrency numbers, though.

  3. stagnent nullsec with goons firmly implanted at the top now. snoooooore. logout.

    1. If that is so boring than prepare for your war in rubicon against them ;-)

    2. Oh just quit with the come at us Bro stuff. Goons would just win and will get even stronger with time. It

      is indeed boring and the dude is correct. Test losing, and Reddit being the primary way most people join or find out about the game now, especially hurts membership. No I am not a member, I don't have a personal stake, however the whole thing did make me uninterested in playing more or ever moving to nullsec. Goons are just so dominant it's boring.

  4. Could the decrease in activity relate to the end of the Fountain War?

  5. Firstly, CCP was dumb enough to make a change that made maintaining POS's harder with the ice idiocy so some decided it's not worth it anymore and left. Maybe we are also getting tired of the endless retraining because of ship overhauls and we want to actually play something. Nullsec is boring with Goons so dominant. WH's don't get any new content or fixes can't even change a T3 module there ffs. Lowsec, ok that's been the least harmed lately but is a mystery to most players on how to get there and live, Brave Newbies though has been fresh air for some but that is the only fresh air I can think of and it didn't come from CCP

  6. snapper here I worked hard to get to be a good explorer...they ruin it and they need to fix drone sites they suck

  7. Take out the ship rebalancing parts and the recent 'expansions' are very weak. What was it that drove the growth from 25k to 30k over 4 years ago? Oh look... Apocrypha with a ton of new content.

    Take all 3 of the next planned expansions, with their "improving and iterating" on content, and roll it all out in a year and a half as a major expansion while keeping up with the ship rebalancing along the way. I guess marketing wouldn't like that too much. EVE is mired in the need for something "new" twice a year. CCP will keep on getting away with it until a true competitor emerges.

  8. "(1) You could make a meta argument about moons not being conflict drivers any longer, but I personally think it's far too early to make any judgments on that score."

    Correction: You can make the meta argument about which moons are conflict drivers being changed. Or, arguably, the meta argument about moons being turned back into conflict drivers, seeing as you can just as easily make the argument that Tech /wasn't/ a conflict driver...

  9. What's interesting is when you overlay the graph with the moving average for Intact Armor Plates. You can see player numbers stabilizing during a time when the price for armor plates also seemed to stabilize after the initial crash. Then followed the second crash and at the same time crash in player numbers. I would conclude from that that Odyssey was a failure. It might have increased the total number of players doing exploration but at the same time made a lot of players quit. And that was only worsened by CCP's stubbornness to not iterate, tweak and fix after the initial release despite all the promises.

  10. ive told you what CCP needs to do. it'll get them more subs and it'll make way for creating content so instead of pressing buttons in a station interface, you can get out of your ship to do them instead. Apparently though, creating content and making current content less boring applies to only in space stuff, not station side stuff.

    But nope, what do I know?

    1. Continually repeating yourself doesn't make you right. In fact, it's a possible indication of some type of cognitive failure. That or you're spouting crap so no-one listens to you. Either way, I'm surprised you haven't got the message yet.

      I prefer:
      EvE Online - A game about flying spaceships.

      EvE Online - A glorified social networking site.

      Try facebook or something. I heard they have a game where you can walk around and look at stuff and chat to people. I think it might be on a farm though.

  11. Ripard - another insightful analysis, thank you. Your charts have inspired me to speculate a bit on how to reverse the downward trend line: http://nevillesmit.com/blog/2013/9/28/the-problem-with-selling-futures

    Please take a look, when you can. I know you can't say anything specific about future expansion plans, because of your NDA with CCP, but please assure me that my fears are unfounded. That'll be good enough for me.

  12. I think it's as simple as looking at the depth of the added gameplay. Incarna is the natural example of zero depth added, since even after several passes at smoothing out its technical issues, the CQ is still an existential hell.

    Trinity made the game gorgeous, enriching every corner. Apocrypha's introduced space led to gameplay that its designers didn't anticipate--people living in wormholes--which is the gold standard for depth of gameplay.

    Odyssey's features failed because, while they succeeded at opening exploration to new players, and took away some of the gratuitously annoying aspects of the scanning minigame, they also took away almost all of the depth of exploration. Once you get your T1 scanning frigate fitted out, and run a few high sec sites, you've seen all there is to see. The only difference as you scale up is the difficulty of the hacking minigame. There are no sites that are particularly challenging to scan down, partly because of the changes to scanning and partly because grav sites became anomalies. And once you've done that... there's nothing left.

    If you're really interested in figuring out what drives a successful expansion, ask the designers how the features they want to introduce will enrich gameplay after their mechanics have been mastered. Because while it was clearly fun for a bunch of people to run around in covops for a while, the while passed, and then... what? So they wandered off.

    I acknowledge that that's a damn hard question, and it sets a high bar that's hard to clear, but if they can't answer it, you'll be logging another "Failure."

  13. "People are logging off in large numbers and there isn't even a dip associated with the release of another MMO that I can see."

    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in late August
    Grand Theft Auto 5 in Mid-September (Granted not a MMO.....but its GTA5)

    The lack of new content in Odyssey and the feature revamp that left most of us scratching our heads (Scanning....really?) was rather lackluster and didn't have me logging in at all to explore the new expansion. I am considering shutting down my three accounts as I haven't felt any real excitement lately when logging into the game.

    The CCP roadmap is great and all but when the playerbase is left blindfolded driving thru fog at night down this road with no map to follow; I can't see anymore players hanging around to see where any of this is going.

  14. Shrug....CCP is complicit in allowing the RMT lords in null sec reign supreme in a big blue doughnut, which will be a big blue blanket when CCP hands high sec stations to the cartels. (High sec POCO's, then null sec NPC stations, then low sec NPC stations, and finally high sec stations).

    How many in null sec actually log on once they have made their 1st hundred billion? Not that many I imagine? And how many supercap accounts have been shuttered now that there is no more fighting in null?

    And as someone else pointed out, the high sec industrialist is being squeezed out of the game with the ice prices and falling T2 prices (we know that will change when T2 production is firmly in the hands of the cartels).

    The high sec casual player has been decimated, since someone can't expect to get home from work, and do some ice mining before bed.

    The high sec miner is faced with a slow inexorable decline in ore prices, thanks to the gifts to the null sec miners.

    Now you are handing control of high sec POCO's to the cartels.

    And you wonder why the number of people logging on is shrinking?

    The fix is easy and impossible at the same time: blow up the game mechanics that allow near instantaneous force projection. Make it hugely expensive to maintain a massive empire. Make every ice field, every ore belt a randomized location throughout the entire region, making system renting valueless. Wipe out moon goo and replace it with randomized belts. This will help break up the cartels, and allow smaller groups to roam through a smaller area. That will draw more people to null sec, a LOT more.

    But that won't happen, because CCP is way too tight with the RMT cartels to break their stranglehold on the game, which is the root of the stagnation.

    1. CCP doesn't cater to null sec alliances over others nor do they endorse RMT. You have absolutely nothing to back up your conspiratory claims.

      Coincidentally, I still mostly agree with the changes you propose to force projection and moons.

    2. Don't ever stop posting comments, please. I love reading them.

  15. It would be very interesting to find out what types of players are no longer logging on. My guess is that a lot of high sec (ice) mining alts are no longer in the game because of the changes.

    1. *scratches head* well, PLEX were cheap and icicles were so lucrative alot of players, including me, could easily create new accounts and run them off of hard core daily mining in 0.7 sec ... it was a bit silly though

      So, yes, i went from 3 accounts to 4 accounts back then. Why am i down to only one account (and that just to do blueprints and planetary plus corp ceo stuff)? I figure RL stuff got in the way...can i attribute it to bitter vet syndrome? I don't think so: i love mining. i love sci-fi. i love space sims. Don't think i'll ever get over the fantasy of paying a small fee every month for the pleasure of pretending i work in outer space. lol

      I probably don't play as much anymore based on stuff CCP haven't done versus stuff they have done. The obvious stuff but sadly things PVP and CAREBEAR risk-averse fanbois don't yell about 24/7

      Was there anything in Quantum Rise that addressed the non 'risk-averse' mmog customer base?
      Certificates? lolz no
      Orca? uhm...i'd like to think so, but what about a new ship addresses risk in a way older ships didn't? Did it make null, worm and low sec mining ops more attractive?
      Server improvements? a bigger blob or jita population does not address risk i don't think
      Autopilot changes? hardly
      Nano nerf? not sure if it impacts risk quotient. It might, but i don't like that conclusion. lol
      Alchemy? definitely made low sec more attractive as a regular haunt to alot of industrial minded people willing to risk it.
      The sparkly Trailer? i admit the attraction one has for high sec cyno fields...was it a lie to sucker players to hope it might happen one day? lol
      PLEX? hmmm...was it a boon to RMT? We all know it happens and ridiculous killmails prove it. noone ever has a reason to move plex cuz you can activate them remotely across the galaxy you silly silly people.

  16. First of all, I think your analysis needs some sort of seasonal adjustment, except Apocrypha (which was more of a spring-addon) and RMR every summer addon was a failure, while not a single winter expansion truly failed.

    That said, I am sceptic about Rubicon reverting Odyssey, at least with the features currently announced. What the expansion sorely misses is a big, striking feature, beacause to be honest, if one is not already into EvE, they will not really see the impact the balancing changes and the new deployables are going to have. Sure, shaking the status quo is great for customer retention, but it fails to attract new subscribers.

    We need good Jesus features.

  17. I watched the Rubicon video. It did NOT inspire me. The first item, they got super excited about? POCO's in hi-sec being player owned - Really? That's new content? I watched to the end to see what the big 'and finally!' was, except there wasn't one.

    Rubicon - Going all in and taking a risky venture? Hardly, unless they're talking about playing fast and loose with the PCU.

    Jester, you're on the CSM, and I don't expect an answer to this question, but did the CSM not also say 'that it?'

    I remember the big argument about no new content for 18 months whilst they fiddled about with the zombie that has turned into DUST. From where I've been standing aside from Incursions there has been no new content for a very long time. Sure we get the odd module or spaceship and you could argue that the big tiericide has added content, argue maybe.

    WTF is CCP doing? Rubicon is seriously nothing, 'Grand Idea?' as you said extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. If its all back end work then fine but for the love of god get them to tell us!

    One thing this really does not bode well for is Valkyrie.

    Hang on, are the devs by any chance now all working on that sparkly instead of EVE? I hope not, the last time they tried that it cost 20% of the workforce there jobs.

  18. Well they tried expanding their audience with Incarna. Could've worked really well if they didn't vastly under deliver.

    How closely do you think actual subscriptions follow activity.

  19. Apologies for the long comment.

    Recent expansions have tended to focus more on improving existing game mechanics. Odyssey being a particular good (bad) example of this. Focus on exploration = game mechanic change. Exploration did not include any discovery and is still just about obtaining ISK without any story to go with it. CCP sold it as the first steps towards something bigger but forgot to provide even the smallest morsel of a story in game.

    What is the most visible aspect of CCP’s Rubicon announcement? The 2 new ships? What does that mean to someone who hasn’t ever played the game? Not much. The only narrative related to Rubicon, seems to be about how much better the following expansions are going to be. Not very good marketing.

    Changing existing game elements and mechanics is not going to generate excitement with people that have never played the game. New players are more likely to be drawn to the game for the story. While player generated stories have previously drawn people in, being dependent on existing players to generate content and marketing material will never result in consistent growth.

    The narrative of New Eden shows up more in the trailers than in the actual game. In order to properly sell the game to new players CCP is going to have to invest in the in game narrative again. The narrative needs to be provided when someone logs in, not just when they browse EVElopedia or go to Fanfest. If players can find the narrative in game then CCP will have another platform for their marketing.

    EVE needs new players. Without a more substantial influx of new players all they are doing is working on a game for their current subscribers. And if that is the case, then those log in numbers are only ever going to go down.

  20. Interesting stats as usual but I am not sure just logged-in characters are a good measure for the success of an expansion. Most hardcore players have multiple accounts logged in. Older players have a higher retention rate as newer players as well. So a veteran with 3 accounts logged in through a crappy expansion masks a new player with one account who logs off after his trial is over. I believe in DSP, this is called dampening. I would think correlating your Snapcount data with other available data (e.g. ships destroyed, market volume and velocity) would give you much better resolution who logs in and why.

    Lastly, we are leaving out external factors, have other major game titles been launched, is the world really moving to tablet / mobile etc. External factors can explain steeper swings, i.e. more players sign up for a trial (=better marketing of the CCP team) or down when e.g. WoT has a new expansion. External factors can also explain long term shifts (i.e. a slow decline for all PC-based games) that have upticks on a difference frequency (expansions)

    Together, you are running a multivariate analysis by displaying only outcome and extrapolating from there. While the outcome is fact (log in data), the reasons why the data is so seems very speculative.

  21. After five years of "Expansions", I can only think of 2 or 3 them being expansions. The rest have been "Contractions". Sure they have bloated the game to over 10 times the original size since then. So I guess that is expansion. :)~

    The loss of game play and nerfs directly related to ISK making in last 5 years. Which IMO affect casual players more than anyone; Roid fields re-spawning 2 days a week not everyday, Ice fields de-spawning, no drone droppings, sanctum placement, lvl 5 mission placement, incursions, high-sec P.I.,faction loot tied to faction war. There are more that have slowly been added. If you find a new field in
    EVE to try out and start making ISK better make hay while the grass is growing because it is only going to be a short time before it is nerfed.

    The raw gritty feeling the game once had is gone. It is too dumbed down now. Eve had a Linux meets Klingon feel before. The only raw and gritty I feel now is CCP not wanting you to play their game. I know the learning cliff needed/needs worked on, but it has become hand holding game play. I know I sound like the "hard for hard's sake crowd", but after you get past the how-to in this game there isn't much depth. Example: Remember when there where different probe sizes? Almost no one scanned for profession. Now there is a T1 ship bonused for that not to mention the ease of probe usage today. So add in a mini-game. lol

    Ships or bust? Every new patch lately brings out a ship or re-balances ships (making new ships without making new ships). In fact it's worse than that. They're makin' shit up now, Faction Drake or Faction Hurricane? FFS stop it already. Ships are not content in my book. They are more distraction to we have no content. I will get a new ship if I come back. Give me a retro-server with EVE circa 2008 on it.

  22. i'm more fascinated by December 2008 when it jumped up to "the rut"...Quantum Rise wasn't just about the 'nano nerf' and i'm intrigued by the spindoctoring. How sure are you it was solely the nano nerf that defined Quantum Rise? Is it a case of oversimplication in explanations until noone remembers there hasn't been a decent explanation of 'why'?

    1. In that list, each expansion is tagged for what capsuleers most remember about that expansion, not what it was sold based on at the time (though they can sometimes match).

      During 2008, CCP was doing a lot more advertising of the game then there are doing today, including TV spots on the SciFi channel. That probably had a good bit to do with QR's success.

  23. If CCP weren't blowing most of EVE subscription dollars on Dust there might be a decent expansion. People may return and bring others.

    However we are talking about CCP here.

  24. Hey, maybe this decline are simply the ice miners realizing that they only need half the time to collect their ice or don't get there hands on the belts fast enough and log off? ;-)

    Some bot bans happened too. But yes overall the excitement about odyssey soon wear off around my friends.

    If you can convince CCP Seagull to plot out a less shade road that would be great. I really like to dream and imagine stuff, but I'm not designing eve. Obviously our great community needs to understand in that case, that such a statement is fluid and may change.
    If we start screaming in 2 Years "but you told us you would " Seagull would regret it to have done such a statement in the first place and it is our fault if we don't get more information.

  25. Well, I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I can attribute a large part of my own reduction in desire to log on since Odyssey to the new gate jump animation - I do not enjoy risking headaches every time I have to go through a few jumps, and just the prospect of it saps my will to play. I haven't convinced myself to break off entirely just yet, but with as little as I'm playing these days, unsubbing looks more and more like the most reasonable option. It's a shame that something that should have been such a minor aspect of the game is having such a significant impact on my participation, and may ultimately drive me away.

    Also, prior to Odyssey, I had recently gotten into exploration, and was rather enjoying it. After the changes though, it stopped being fun for me. I dislike how little effort it takes now, and how the "feature" is shoved in your face (constant scan animation, blips in space, etc.). This change has less to do with me logging in less, but it has kept me from participating in one aspect of the game I previously enjoyed.

  26. This is the 3rd expansion I've looked at with "meh" as my answer. I'll be honest with you Ripard, CCP Seagull needs to drop the nerves and sit down and spell out, piece by piece this road map of hers. I sincerely don't think you will have the playerbase around in 3 years that you have today...and with big competitors coming down the pipe as well now is not the time to play "atypical CCP"...

    People are getting seriously bored with this game and their new content lasts at best a few weeks before its back to the grind. I wish CCP had the guts to just drop all other productions and just concentrate on what is making them money.


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