EVE Evolved: How many subscriptions does EVE have?

Two weeks ago, a mathemagician over at The Nosy Gamer published some interesting calculations showing that EVE Online‘s subscriptions may have dropped by around 18% in the past two years. CCP has always prided itself on the fact that EVE has grown year-on-year since release, but the last official number we heard was when it reached 500,000 subscriptions back in February 2013. Players have taken the company’s silence since then on the matter of subscriptions as an admission that subs have been falling or at least not growing for the past two years.

So where did this 18% figure come from? It was extrapolated from estimates of player participation in the last two CSM elections, and the reasoning behind the number seems pretty good in the absence of any official announcement. It will probably not come as a shock to anyone if this calculation turns out to be accurate, as EVE‘s concurrent player numbers have also seen a roughly 20% drop since 2013. As development on EVE has been very well-received over the past two years, I’m inclined to believe that the drop in activity has more to do with trends in today’s gaming habits and purchasing choices. Online gaming seems to be going through an evolution, and the mandatory subscription model may be becoming obsolete.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I run through a set of calculations to work out how many subscribers EVE really has, determine where the reported 18% drop is coming from, and ask whether this is a trend CCP can fight.

opportunities-3Official subscription numbers up to 2013

The latest three official data points we have for EVE Online show that it passed 400,000 subscriptions in March 2012, went on to hit 450,000 subs in December 2012, and finally reached 500,000 in February 2013. The last two of those numbers included subscriptions from the game’s relaunch in China, and CCP hasn’t released any official numbers since then.

In the absence of official figures, players have turned to a little piece of mathematical wizardry involving the CSM election results: By dividing the total number of votes cast by the percentage participation, we can see how many accounts over 30 days old (and thus elligible to vote) existed on Tranquility during each CSM election. The numbers obtained using this method for the CSM elections from 2008 to 2012 match up within a few percent of the official sub numbers, the difference being due to inelligible accounts under 30 days old.

The participation percentage was omitted from 2013’s election results, but CCP did release a breakdown of voter countries as a percentage of subscribers, which was enough to calculate that turnout was around 12.13%. Extrapolating from that number proves that as of April 2013, there were just under 410,000 voting-elligible accounts on Tranquility. There were also an unknown number of accounts younger than 30 days (possibly a few percent), and up to 90,000 active subscriptions on Serenity. This is the last piece of concrete subscription data we have.

subdeclineFiguring out the 2014 subs

EVE blog Jester’s Trek estimated that EVE lost 5% of its 500,000 subs by May 2014, but that was just an educated guess based on the fact that CCP didn’t release new figures at Fanfest. CCP’s PR department confirmed in an email to me at the end of January that global subs actually grew by a small amount between February 2013 and 2014. The press releases throughout that entire year even read that EVE was “celebrating an unprecedented eleventh consecutive year of subscriber growth,” but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that subscriptions dropped after February 9th when the game hit peak concurrent player activity for the year.

Another potential data source is the number of names on the EVE Online monument, which were collected from active subscribers on March 31st 2014 (originally March 1st, but was apparently changed). A developer reportedly confirmed at Fanfest 2014 that there were 480,000 names on the monument, which includes players from Serenity but excludes any names found to be offensive or inappropriate. Assuming fewer than 1% of names were rejected, that means there were at least 480-485k global subscriptions at that point, which is a drop of up to 3-4%. Some of those accounts may also have been registered or resubscribed solely to get onto the monument and allowed to lapse before the CSM 9 election, so the real drop could be a little worse.

globalsubsThe 2015 subs and 18% drop

A 4-5% drop for February 2013 to May 2014 looks like it’s about the right number, which would put the final total of eligible voters in CSM 9 at 389,500 to 393,600 for a percentage turnout of 7.95% to 8.03%. The Nosy Gamer’s estimate of the 2015 subscription numbers was based on CCP Leeloo’s statement that turnout for the CSM 10 election was 3% higher than last year, which by my numbers would be a 10.95% to 11.03% turnout. That produces an estimate of 335,170 to 337,731 eligible voters, which would be a drop of 17.6% to 18.3% since April 2013 and puts global subs at around 410,000. Unless CCP Leeloo was mistaken about the 3% increase or someone has his wires crossed, it looks as if EVE may have lost up to 18% of its subscribers over the past two years.

That may seem like a huge loss, but the latest financial projections on the worldwide MMO market actually predicted an 18% drop in global revenue from pay-to-play MMOs over this two year period. That means EVE Online has the exact same market share as it always had and still dominates its particular niche, only now the global market for subscriptions is shrinking and squeezing EVE as it does so. It’s interesting to note that EVE‘s player activity graph began to plateau around 2009 right when the subscription MMO market levelled out; EVE‘s success in 2013 and 2014 was actually bucking a significant downward market trend. That makes the recent drop an understandable rebound effect and gives me some hope that EVE can beat the market trends again in the future.

finalthAs tempting as it is to assign blame for a subscription drop to a particular update or an unpopular change, it may simply be the case that fewer gamers are willing to pay for mandatory subscriptions now. Today’s PC gamer is also bombarded with cheap Steam games and free-to-play titles and is starved for time to play them all. It’s no surprise that games like EVE that require a great deal of time investment per session are being squeezed while more casual games like free-to-play MOBAs continue to grow.

Only time will tell whether EVE Online will defy the current downward market trend in the subscription MMO sector or CCP will have to adjust to an ever-decreasing revenue stream and push more new projects like EVE: Valkyrie out the door. With any luck, the upcoming nullsec changes will help revitalise EVE and bring back a lot of old faces to take part in a new type of territorial warfare, and we may see EVE go through its own virtual renaissance.

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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alan roig

Players online amounts have risen lately but the unlimited trial will not save this game. Some no-life old players will continue for ever but new players quit very fast. EVE is slowly but constantly dying because CCP fukkn developers don’t learn how a good, player-friendly game should be made. The game is boring enough as to throw at player these tons of useless attributes info instead of making possible an easy-mode playing with a game telling you your best options for the moment. After tutorial that only teaches you basic stuff- you are alone. Confusing, boring, complicated, time robbing game, only playable with calculator and hours of free time. Time that nobody will lose in EVE nowadays when there are sp many really F2P games to try.

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Tryst46 .

Eve started to lose interest for me when they had huge numbers of people in highsec but refused to expand highsec to accommodate them. New players started their career and couldn’t find a single asteroid to mine to make any initial isk to get started. PVP was a bust in the early stages since you are so lacking in skills to even win a 1v1 against a 1 week old account. Mining was the only real way to get isk while you stacked up basic combat skills right back since the game launched. Due to so many macro miners, (mostly isk sellers), that CCP did absolutely nothing about, new players could barely find a pebble to mine in any belt in any highsec system.

If you did manage to find a BP and wanted to research it or build something with it, good luck, every research station or manufacturing station in highsec had a queue that was several weeks long. I had a BPO for a Rorqual and couple of BPC’s for various ships but only ever managed to build 1 Rorqual due to the excesively long queues that CCP never did anything about. They were too interested in giving yet more power to the nullsec alliances, especially since most of them were members of BOB.

Stepping into lowsec meant immediate death due to gate camps everywhere and cowards who cyno in a carrier when the gatecamp gets busted by an equal force. It wasn’t PVP, just wholesale slaughter. Again, nothing was ever done about that either.

The game was ALL about nullsec PVP and devs barely even noticed that so many people were crammed into highsec, all screaming about how to get the isk and skills and how to avoid the gatecamps at every gate into lowsec.

I had 3 accounts for 5 years and quit back in 2005 and never looked back. It WAS good when you could find a decent 1v1 in lowsec and players had enough honour to tell their mates to stay out of it and let you go if you won.

slavetoguilt
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slavetoguilt

I simply unsubbed for a couple reasons (4 year old account)

1) PVE got REALLY boring.

2) Finding a PVP fight took way too long.

Nyphur
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Nyphur

GeneMartin2 Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine There’s a huge difference between what Star Citizen is doing and EVE Online’s single-shard server model, in terms of what’s possible as emergent gameplay. When we talk about pirates, for example, I’m talking about actual players rather than NPCs. And when we talk about events, we’re talking about incidents where actual players get together and do something spectacular rather than pre-organised official events.

Even just looking at developer-run events, a sharded or instanced server model inherently limits the efficacy of events that can take place. EVE once had an event where Serpentis pirates stole a Federation Navy titan, and some players started chasing it and locked it down in nullsec, sparking a huge battle. People turned up in droves to kill the titan, others turned up to defend it, and some turned up just to take advantage of the situation or loot the battlefield. What made that event special was that the outcome was determined on the spot by players, but if the event was spread over hundreds of instances then that couldn’t happen. The outcome would have to be the same over every single instance, so it has to be determined in advance. You’d just be taking part in an NPC’s pre-written story, and your actions or the collective actions of players could have no real lasting consequences.

EVE Online’s single-shard model is largely responsible for the emergent gameplay that happens there and no other game can meaningfully intrude on that niche without using the same model. The fact that there is only a single copy of any location in the EVE universe has an extremely powerful effect on gameplay, which I’ve written about a few times before:
http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/17/eve-evolved-building-stronger-communities/

http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/08/eve-evolved-four-things-mmos-can-learn-from-eve/
http://www.engadget.com/2012/11/18/eve-evolved-how-would-you-build-a-sandbox/

Playos
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Playos

GeneMartin2 Playos Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine Really? Overhyped game that literally has to be on a god engine to deliver… sounds like Daikatana to me. 

If and when SC actually delivers something compelling and new, I’ll eat crow and admit that Roberts might be decent. I feel no danger of that happening, but the universe is an odd place. Until then ED and Valkyrie have both shown as much in the space dog fighting genre in about the same amount of time and SC hasn’t shown anything to compete with either in the MMO area. 

Remember now, his original timeline was BETA IN 2014. But ya know, early projections and plans, we’ll give him a pass… fast forward to quotes from late 2014… we’re getting pretty far into 2015… where is the announcement on S42? Oh it’s being pushed back too? Notice a damn pattern. Better companies with more money have tried to do less and failed, I have literally no reason to believe this diva can do better.

Jarin
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Jarin

Dope_Danny Let’s be honest here… the real reason EVE remains a niche game is the unfriendliness of the nature of the game, not just the unfriendliness of the UI. That “Cold Dark Universe” stuff keeps a core playerbase engaged, but shuts out anyone who doesn’t want to have to spend every moment of every day hiding from trolls. Add to that the ridicule of the community of anyone who complains about the above as a “carebear” and you have a nice recipe for never expanding your game.

GeneMartin2
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GeneMartin2

Playos GeneMartin2 Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine Okay, you just gave yourself away as a troll at this point. Daikatana and Star Citizen have nothing in common.

Playos
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Playos

GeneMartin2 Playos Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine Hey, look you linked a lot of people who have over promised before as well. It’s the nature of game development, and especially hyped up infinite stretch goal crowdsourced projects.

You’re right he’s not Peter Molyneux, at least he’s been shipping games this and the last decade.

It wasn’t a well fleshed out idea in the first place and people keep pouring ideas into it and so long as the money keeps rolling in Roberts has no reason to stop trying to wiggle more into it. This project looks more like Daikatana day by day.

GeneMartin2
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GeneMartin2

Playos GeneMartin2 Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine Evidence to what? Freelancer? That he was forced to leave because Microsoft was pulling a typical publisher wants it now thing? Even then, many of the features he spoke about that didn’t make the publisher’s cut were in the game’s files and snippets were released in mods. Wing Commanders 1 and 2 were spot on what he said they’d be and more. I don’t know how much development CR was in charge of for WC3, so I can’t speak to that. Chris Roberts has a fine track record on games he’s been involved in though, he’s not the Peter Molynoux you are looking for. Have you looked at the 300+ developers working with CR as well? Can you honestly say that his team is inexperienced or hasn’t proven they can deliver? 

Just do a quick search on some of them, Erin Roberts of Starlancer…legos games, etc.

Tony Zurovec of the original Ultimate games.

Alex Mayberry of several Blizzard games.

http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/13/star-citizen-hires-ex-blizz-producer-mayberry/

I could go on, but their dev team is too massive even for a massively OP comment chain.
But yes, Star Citizen is full of mights right now. That’s certain. CR hasn’t even released a deep dive doc on this stuff yet, because he’s acknowledged there’s a lot of unknowns. However, there’s no reason to spread misinformation that the devs are unreliable or simply designing things in a way they aren’t.

Playos
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Playos

GeneMartin2 Nyphur Kayweg keysmachine You’ll note that’s a dev talking about the game and NOT gameplay. Comparing what Star Citizen’s MIGHT do vs what Eve ACTUALLY does isn’t apple to oranges. Considering Robert’s history, gameplay footage or it isn’t happening.

GeneMartin2
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GeneMartin2

Nyphur GeneMartin2 Kayweg keysmachine I’m not sure where you are getting your info. However, you won’t be able to switch to another instance to avoid pirates in Star Citizen either. There won’t be copies of star bases. Although, there is a bit more complexity into instance matchmaking. You can argue that EVE is more PVP focused and will force PVP more often, sure. However, the System Server will look at the economy and activity in that area and feed it to the Universe Server. If there is a high probability of pirates in that system, then you will be forced to deal with the pirates. It’s not like SWOTR where you can just click “instance 1-10” in the top left corner to move out of it.

Since the game world is 90% NPCs, unless you are in an area of space that the vast majority of the galactic empires don’t visit, you’ll most likely run into NPC pirates and there is no way to avoid that. If you choose to do PVP, then the server will look to match player pirates against you if there are player pirates chilling in that system. 
Star bases, which are extremely limited at the moment, are persistent. If you go to capture one and not enough players can be accommodated, then you will be stuck in orbit until there is room. There might be different orbital instances, but there isn’t another copy or instance of the star base to take. Star Citizen won’t focus on structures as much as ships though. The big prizes for PvP guilds in Star Citizen will be derelict carriers or large capital ships.  There is talk of making separate room servers control areas of those ships, that communicate to a local server, then system server all to one Universe Server. These ships are also persistent though and all players will be forced to compete over a limited number, there are no copies of them in different instances. 
Still, these are all mechanics that are in development. There are still many unknowns, but there are some nice recent interviews on instancing in Star Citizen. IT has nothing to do with putting the game in different shards or copying persistent locations. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0r6aOasFEQ for a recent one done by Gamers Nexus. 
As far as persistence and everyone being able to get involved in an event in an area. And same with Star Citizen,  check out Operation Pitchfork that started forming as a concept in 2k13. https://forums.robertsspaceindustries.com/discussion/60679/invading-vanduul-space-at-the-end-of-the-beta-operation-pitchfork/p1 Something the Devs have said will be possible, mentioned in their dev videos, etc. Everyone can get involved, but there will be limited players in different instances. So, while you won’t be able to see several thousand ships at once, you’ll still be able to make a lasting impact there. I’m not sure waiting for a long time for Time Dilation, dealing with server hiccups and lag in EVE is much better than simply segmenting people off into areas where everyone is able to move in a twitch-based time frame.