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.