Posted in EVE Online

Bargain Bin Posts Week: EVE Online — The Hope For The Future Of MMORPGs?

Huh… here is an example of “I have no idea what happened.”  It’s a fully-written post that for some reason, never got published.  This topic’s been done before and since, but here’s my take:

Time to take a break from the Fallen Earth Love Fest (don’t forget to buy your t-shirt at the Bio Break store, only $19.99!) to look at a game that doesn’t get a lot of talk around these here parts: EVE Online.  Now my personal history with EVE is fairly anemic — I did a couple of free trials, and subbed for one month, but it just never took hold with me.  I found space to be too big, the activities too boring, and the game way too complex (even though they’ve been working hard at making it more accessible for newbies).

But what’s always intrigued me about EVE is that it has absolutely bucked the trend of MMOs in terms of subscribers.  Most online games release to as big of an audience as possible, and try to retain as many of them as possible from month two on, hopefully adding enough people to keep steady (or increase somewhat) as others drop away.  Because many online gamers have become restless, picky and more prone to pulling up stakes and wandering away than ever before (which is aided by more choices on the market than ever before), one a MMO has shot through its release month, a downhill slide is all but inevitable.  Sure, expansions, releases in other countries and surprise course changes (i.e. DDO) may put the subs on a severe uptick, but it’s mostly damage control.  MMOs tend to shrink over time.

Except for EVE, which has grown.  Grown every year since launch, in fact, hitting the 300,000 mark on May 6 of this year (starting at 244,000 in January).  300K is a very respectable number for a newly launched MMO, but for a six-year-old game that isn’t World of Warcraft?  It’s practically amazing.  As MMORPG said:

Regardless of what the future might hold for this game and its franchise, it has solidified its place in the MMO history books by defying the trend in MMO subscribers, especially for an independent project. Generally speaking, the number of subscribers that any given MMORPG sports is at or near its peak soon after launch. From there, it’s a question of retention, with the scale fluctuating slightly throughout the life of the game but generally trending in the downward direction.

With EVE Online, the opposite has been true. Each year, the game has grown in population (paid subscribers) from the year before so that six years after its launch, it is still a thriving MMO in a very difficult and competitive market.

My question is, how has EVE bucked this trend?  What’s their secret recipe?  And how might other MMOs learn from their gradual success, a game “with legs” as one might say?  I’m no expert, but here’s a few of the factors that might have helped:

1. EVE started small and was self-published

There’s no doubt that CCP has done amazing things with EVE, and it enjoys a luxury many MMOs do not — the independence from a publisher’s meddling hand.  Instead, EVE launched without the huge amount of hype and fanfare that we expect out of big-budget titles today, and it was all done in house.  50,000 players was all it needed to keep the dev team funded and working, and from a small but solid start it grew gradually — avoiding the dangers of day one overpopulation and crashed servers as well.

2. EVE continuously reinvented itself

EVE’s had a vast array of updates and expansions, several of which have overhauled the graphics (updated for 2009 sensibilities) and retuned the game to make it slightly more friendly and accessible to newcomers.

3. EVE’s players became their marketing team

CCP relied more on word-of-mouth to sell the game than massive ad campaigns, a strategy that seems to have worked.  If one was to judge a MMO solely based on the blogs that players created to discuss it, it’d be easy to assume that EVE was one of the top three titles in the world.  Players are absolutely rabid about this game, reveling in its brutal cutthroat world and no-nonsense complexity.  For many of the players, there’s simply nothing else like EVE on the market, and they’re fanatical in promoting it.

4. EVE had a monopoly on the space-scifi market

With Earth & Beyond out of the way years previous, and no other major space science fiction MMOs out there, it was EVE or… EVE for any players looking to fly their own ship around the galaxy.  Even with SWG’s Jump to Lightspeed expansion, EVE still dominated with depth and breadth of content.

Of course, after writing all this I did a bit of Googling, only to find out that both Massively and Kotaku wrote on this same subject, just without all the typos and hidden anagram swear words (kids, see if you can find them at home!).  So, I have learned a lesson as a blogger: don’t write on anything, because someone’s done it first.

4 thoughts on “Bargain Bin Posts Week: EVE Online — The Hope For The Future Of MMORPGs?

  1. I think something EVE has going for it is that it clearly is not the game for many people. This means that players like me can try it and quit with nothing bad to say about it; it’s just not my sort of game. I can’t say anything bad about it because I wasn’t around long enough to find it. In contrast a game that might work for someone, they’ll play longer, find the flaws, and that’s why they’ll quit, leading to negative reviews.

    The marketing probably helps too: no one goes into EVE expecting a casual-friendly game, so no one can be truly surprised by the learning wall.

    If we nerver wrote something that someone else had written, there would be no more topics ten years ago.

  2. While I agree with the premise, several of your points are incorrect.

    1) EVE did indeed have a publisher at launch – it was Simon and Schuster Interactive. At some point after the launch, S&S closed their software branch (if I remember right) and at that point CCP went to a self-published, pure digital distribution system.

    4) Earth and Beyond ran from 2002-2004. EVE launched in 2003. E&B was certainly active and competition, especially early.

    I’ve been with EVE off an on since beta, and FWIW, here’s my own reasons why it continues to grow:

    1. EVE is unique in its combination of PvP and open market. This creates a massive amount of interaction with other players. Even if you don’t want to do anything all day but mine in a belt without ever speaking to another human, you MUST interact with people. The price of your minerals will fluctuate based on other players in the market, and there’s always the threat of a pirate gank. This makes the world feel alive in a way that no other MMO can match.

    2. Scale. EVE allows player organization to a level unmatched in other MMOs. My alliance has something like 2900 pilots in it. We have treaties and truces with many, MANY more.

    3. Impact. EVE is a painful, harsh universe. That means that sometimes you suffer losses so bad you quit the game. But it also means that what you do matters. When I pop and pod a trespasser in our space, he doesn’t respawn 10 minutes later, and when we need to restock our mexallon it’s not going to some bottomless pit, it’s going to our production. It has meaning, it’s player-driven, and the pain creates a pucker factor that other games lack.

    Now on the contrary side, EVE hasn’t grown as much as subscriber numbers might make it seem. No other game I’ve ever played requires alt accounts to the extent EVE does. I know very, VERY few people who run only a single account. Part of this is because of the training system (you can only work on one alt at a time in most games, but extra accounts in EVE train just as fast as your main), but it’s also because most things just require multiple pilots. Whether it’s a cyno clone to help capital ships get around or a hauler to pull in your ore while you mine, dual/multi-boxing is far more the norm than the exception in EVE.

  3. Alts, alts, alts. Plus you can play entirely for free if you are good at making money, while people who hate making money buy your sub for you.

    It’s really dull to play, and it always sounds better if you aren’t. The reality is a lot of waiting and grinding.

  4. @Dblade, waiting is something you do in every MMO (and in live), only in EVE you can do something while waiting. Like mine, read 2000 blogs… complain about lagg… and much more. Not all MMO’s have this big plus ;). Found this in the end of the 90’s in Utopia. But after that, EVE did it for me.

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