EVE Evolved: Getting new players to stick with EVE Online

EVE Online has the odd distinction of being one of the most impenetrable MMOs on the market today and yet also one of the stickiest. Few new players make it past their first week or month in EVE, but more of those who do scale that infamous learning cliff tend to stay for several years and become part of the community. Many of the most active veteran players have even admitted that EVE didn’t really click for them the first time, and for some it took them several attempts before they finally got hooked.

This anecdotal evidence seems to mesh quite well with CCP’s own brutal retention statistics, as we heard back in 2016 that over 1.5 million people had signed up new accounts that year but just over 50% of them quit within the first two hours. Even after the free-to-play option was added to eliminate the biggest barrier of entry for new and returning players, retaining more of those players in the long term is still proving difficult. So what is it that prevents new players from really clicking with EVE even if they want to, and what can be done about it?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at some of the factors that make EVE difficult to penetrate, the importance of joining a corporation, and a few things CCP could do to help with player retention.

What makes players quit in the first place

Last month I looked at some of the different factors that can drive EVE players to breaking point and make them quit the game, from the catastrophic collapse of a beloved alliance or corporation to major losses sustained during a war or suicide gank. Every player will eventually experience one of these natural jumping-off points where they lose the things that tie them to the game world or the community, and for many the option of quitting seems reasonable. You can see some of the more bitter breaking points (such as losing all your possessions in a suicide gank) spelled out in the comments of almost any EVE article online, and seeing those comments may be enough itself to turn some players off trying the game.

But what about that 50% or more of players who do try the game and don’t even make it to the two-hour mark? Excluding alt accounts belonging to existing players or accounts made by farmers, these are all people who saw something about EVE that attracted their interest. They put in the effort to download the client and register an account, and yet they give up shortly after coming face to face with the game itself. There’s a clear disconnect between the expectations some players have coming into EVE and the reality of the game that meets them. Perhaps they read some interesting article about a war going on in EVE and decided to give it a go, only to find themselves mining or shooting NPCs in a tiny ship with no clear path to the gameplay that interests them.

Joining a group is absolutely essential

The single biggest factor in new players sticking with EVE in the long term has always been whether they join corporations or social structures in-game, and CCP isn’t oblivious to this fact. In a recent Newsweek interview, Senior Game Designer Linzi Campbell said that “when new players find a group to play with quicker, they stick around longer” but also that “people don’t necessarily want to join a group immediately.” Recent group PvE additions such as Resource Wars mining sites and themed events have been designed with new players in mind and to encourage ad-hoc groups, but we don’t know whether these have improved retention.

It’s not necessarily the case that group-based gameplay is more attractive to new players, I think it’s more that EVE‘s most compelling hooks are all in the emergent interplay between players. EVE is not so much a game as a virtual society with spaceships, and finding a place to belong in that society is a powerful draw. That’s where the community comes in, with well-known organisations such as EVE University and Signal Cartel having proven track records of showing newbies the ropes. Many players who start life in a training corp will eventually leave and join one of the other thousands of player-run corporations across the game that focuses on their particular area of interest, finding a place they can belong in New Eden. Those players stick!

Would improving the tutorial help?

CCP has overhauled the new player experience several times over EVE‘s 15-year lifespan, but even its most ambitious and well-executed plans don’t seem to have made much of a dent in the retention problem. My introduction to EVE way back in 2004 was being dropped into space in a tiny ship with no instructions, set adrift in an unfamiliar universe and presented with an inscrutable user interface. I promptly shot a stargate and was blown up by the police, and if I had been just randomly exploring the free trial, then I’m sure my EVE career would have ended right there.

What made me stick around is that I was invited by a friend who offered to show me the ropes and invited me to join his corporation. Though today’s tutorial is incredible compared to the hammer in the head I received in 2004, all new players are still presented with an intimidating user interface and gameplay that’s now 15-years deep. They need something that compels them to get over that hump, and not everyone has a friend in the game to rely on for that. This could be an opportunity for CCP to use its new data collection technology that’s coming this month in the Into the Abyss expansion, which will give CCP an impressive granularity of data on all player activity and could open up some interesting new feature possibilities.

Could career milestones be the answer?

The upcoming expansion will add a new Activity Tracker interface showing detailed stats on everything a player has done in-game. I think CCP should go one step further with this, adding achievement-style milestones for each gameplay area. The milestones should be tiered and spaced incrementally further apart so that new players experience a lot of them, encouraging continued play to get over the two-hour hump. CCP could even add small rewards in the form of ISK or skill points, and incentivise joining a corporation by adding special milestones for doing things with corpmates.

I suggested a similar milestone system back in 2015, but a lot of the data it would have relied on to work may not have even been feasible to capture on the server en masse until now. Taking the idea another step further, CCP could also give corporations special rewards when their members accomplish milestones or even just make certain combined stats of all members publicly visible to provide visible corp milestones to achieve. Any rewards associated with these systems would have to be carefully selected to prevent abuse of free alpha accounts, but a system like this would be great because it only rewards corps that actively engage new players in activities.

It’s said that there are two very different types of player who come to EVE: The type who quits in frustration when ganked for the first time, and the type who writes the ganker’s name down in a little book and starts making plans. I’m always tempted to think that trying to retain the former player is an act in futility and that EVE will just never click with certain people, but then I think back to my younger self shooting that stargate in 2004 and wonder whether I would be one of those people too if I didn’t have a friend in the game.

While there are almost certainly things CCP can still do to improve the new player experience, the most important factor in getting new players to stick with the game in the long term will always be choosing to interact with other players and finding a place in the virtual society of New Eden. Maybe all anyone really needs is a friend to show them the ropes, whether that friend brings you into the game or you meet them there, and perhaps the best thing CCP can do to help new players is just to point them in the right direction and let the community handle the details.

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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rktsci
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rktsci

I understand the complaints about not being able to fly your spaceship like a flight sim and Eve not providing that. However, having flown real spaceship sims, except for landing and the last few feet of docking, Eve is pretty realistic in that most of what you do is punch buttons on a computer and it makes the burns happen. At least, that’s how the Space Shuttle flew.

Landing was like flying a plane in a flight sim except you had no engines and the vehicle is very slow to respond and has lots of resistance to changing what it is doing. (So if you turn, you need to start coming out of it early.)

Docking is done with a joystick and some overlays on the monitors and takes real skill to do well and efficiently.

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Aaron Biegalski

Honestly, EVE simply is not a game built for the more casual crowd. The typical “casual” player (1) isn’t much of a PvP player, (2) generally does not like committing to regular group play (i.e. guilds / corps / etc.), (3) is interested in games that can cater to a limited / flexible playtime, and (4) most importantly, does not threaten the player with LOSS of game play time in the form of loss of possessions or XP penalties.

EVE is none of those things.

I don’t think that’s a failing. EVE is exactly the kind of game it was designed to be, and it caters to a specific audience. I don’t think that updating the tutorial or “new player experience” can really change that.

Source(s): Was once “hardcore”. Grew up and got responsibilities. Turned “casual”.

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Robert Basler

In my 16 days of playing EVE, I was never ganked, I was pestered constantly to join a corporation, people answered my questions nicely, about a week in I discovered there was a 3D spaceship view behind all the spreadsheets, I wasn’t in any space battles, I researched some sort of abilities offline, and I spent most of my time on websites trying to figure out how to do the tutorial because what it told me to do didn’t ******* work.

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Oleg Chebeneev

What Id love to see in EVE is rich and complex missions unlike those that agents offer. I want to experience amazing EVE lore through solo or group PvE content, cut scenes, interactive chat with NPCs, memorable scenes. Just what CIG is doing with Squadron 42, but with EVE’s engine and budget.

As for what can keep players in a long term. Maybe they should organize world wide events on regular basis. Not wait when someone starts war or something interesting but initiate it. Just like GMs in roleplay MUDs organize events for players to participate

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Ceres Outpost

The learning curve isn’t an issue for me. It has always been that I don’t have a character, but I’m basically just a ship. I’ve tried several times and I can’t identify with the game because of it. If they ever add ambulation that is meaningful to the game, that might do the trick.

More generally speaking, the game just feels disconnected for me, as someone who has been playing more traditional MMORPGs since the beginning.

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Reginald Atkins

I tried EVE, pretty sure I’m in the 2 hr or less mark of the people who quit it.

I just don’t have that kind of time to invest in a single game anymore, I’m too interested in multiple experiences add to that while the random PVP isn’t dreadful, I’m not into it enough to play a game where that’s almost it’s entire focus. I get it, it’s that gritty realism that draws people to the game but I suppose I have enough of that IRL, I don’t necessarily need it in my games too.

EVE is a game that is fun to read about, but after kicking the tires I know I’ll never play it and that’s just fine.

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IronSalamander8 .

I’ve never played but have seen all the stories about it so was leery. Then I met some co-workers and people who have played it in other games and all of them (anecdotal of course, it’s a small sample overall) tell me that it’s a great game but they hate it and left and I probably wouldn’t like it based on our conversations.

An interesting assessment!

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Kickstarter Donor
squid

Eve needs a fresh start server.

plasmajohn
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Loyal Patron
plasmajohn

EVE needs a complete rethink.

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Rolan Storm

Exactly.

They building on formula that was able to catch interest of a player ten years ago. And that’s a very different crowd compared to current majority. If they want to move forward they have to.

My personal favorite was NPC that will have their own goals and will work towards them. Sounded almost like a virtual world to me. Never heard about it again.

Dantos
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Dantos

I don’t think they can do anything that wouldn’t fundamentally change the game and alienate the vets with 2, 3, 4+ subs. They’re kinda stuck. For me, the day to day gameplay just wasn’t that interesting.

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Khrome

There isn’t one single reason why EVE isn’t keeping players around. There’s many small ones which combine into a big turn-off for anyone looking to join.

– The game itself is stagnant. No actually new content has been added since wormholes in 2009, almost every single other piece of new content has been geared solely at nullsec players. The content that there is which new player can engage in without being forced to join a nullsec alliance is content which is *at least* 9 years old. The recent 2018 EVE keynote was utterly embarassing in this regard. Their recap video of AN ENTIRE YEAR OF DEVELOPMENT went like this: Balance patch – Some random PvP battle – balance patch – some random PvP battle – and this ad nauseam. It’s even worse than Bungie is doing with Destiny 2.

– Even worse, most of it is content which is only relevant to the top end of nullsec players. There is no real sense of doing anything together, you’re just a cog in a machine being controlled by a few bittervets. It’s the same people under different names deciding what happens. More stagnancy, but this time in its intra-player relationships. There is nothing for a newbie to do except dance to the pipes of the oldies: The snowballing effect of contacts and isk means you’ll never even get a foot in the door if you’re trying to start something truly new.

– Most of the marketing focuses on events which happen maybe a few times a year: A lot of playtime is necessary for that one hour where your ship moves REALLY SLOWLY and is then blown up, with nigh zero interaction needed. This just doesn’t happen often enough to be actually interesting.

– The game itself is being marketed as ‘internet spaceships’ but it doesn’t fulfill that expectation. What EVE *actually* is is a hero unit RTS, where you control one unit and everyone else in the field controls one unit. For combat, anyway. The combat itself is a convoluted mess of arbitrary spreadsheets, statistics and a meta which is based on ‘whoever brings more shit, wins’. The core gameplay has not been touched since beta and feels truly old and outdated, the moment to moment experience is boring AF.

– The “extensive crafting” side of the game is a mess of spreadsheets and windows where you look at numbers going up or down, nothing else. It’s busywork disguised as gameplay. The crafting is functionally identical to crafting in WoW, where you gather/buy the items necessary and then click to magically create the end result, just with far more pointless steps added. There’s no engagement in that side of the game.

– Mining is one of the first things a new player does. How this is a bad thing is something i should not have to explain to anyone who’s ever played EVE, and to those who didn’t: It’s literally more boring than watching paint dry. It doesn’t help that CCP has promised to overhaul mining for nigh on a decade now with absolutely nothing to show for it.

– Walking in stations might seem like a meme to most veterans, but i’d argue that it’s absolutely necessary for the game to be able to grow again. New players are faced with an extensive character creator, a character they *never ever see again* in their entire time playing EVE. Again, expectations which are not fulfilled. There’s no attachment to your character possible in the game. Having meaningful gameplay outside of your ship would go a long way to holding a newbies interest for more than 2 hours since they have something they can identify with. EVE is far, far too abstract for its own good.

– Passive skill training used to be a neat idea, until you realize that simply to fly the ‘cool’ ships in the game you have to *wait* for months or even years at a time. Just wait. Character progression in EVE consists of *waiting and doing nothing*. Brilliant! Even worse, the game has turned this on its head by making it quasi P2W with skill extractors/injectors when going “F2P”, making this aspect of the game even more bewildering to newbies. Let alone that you can buy ISK with cash straight from the developer, making almost every single bit of personal progression in the game feel utterly and completely pointless. Granted, this is something a newbie won’t figure out in the first few hours, but it doesn’t help.

– Hilmar talked at the 2013 fanfest about how he realized the players were making the game better than CCP could themselves. These couple of minutes are well worth your time (no need to watch the entire keynote): https://youtu.be/VXYu5oUc0p4?t=998 – The thing is, CCP forgot the actual meaning of this story, and has been actively working to curb any kind of creative thinking its community does with nerfs, patches, fixes, balance passes and anything else. They don’t want to empower the players, despite their claims, they want to limit them to “play their game”. Sure, that’s a developer’s prerogative, but it’s exactly what *didn’t* make EVE popular back in the day.

And so on. There’s plenty of more reasons i can come up with for why EVE isn’t doing as well as one might think. In general though, CCP has lost the plot, and is now desperately trying to save a game which they themselves have run into the ground with bad business decisions and bad design decisions. Unless they turn the company around and actually focus their efforts on what is supposed to be their cash cow, i honestly don’t see EVE surviving for very long anymore.

It doesn’t help that they now want to enter the shooter market – again – on PC where they will be directly competing with all manner of other, already succesful shooters. Given that they’re refusing to link the new game directly to EVE itself, it’ll be a small wonder if it even will be released at all. If Dust had been released on PC back in 2011…..

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Nemui Byakko

+1000

styopa
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styopa

Brilliant, thorough, thoughtful comments, should be stickied, engraved in bronze and sent to CCP.

TLDR: dull, unengaging gameplay. The only “excitement” is playing cannon fodder for bittervets because there’s zero chance you’ll ever compete with them in a game where simply time-served = advantage.

The reason most players leave after 2 hours? Because it takes them that long to really understand that yes, “space ship combat” really IS that clunky and dull, forever, and no, it really doesn’t probably get any better.

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Kickstarter Donor
xanadox

I agree with you.

I am now trying Eve again,as two friends told us to join them in a new corp.

These two friends are explaining to us all the stuff, fitting some cheap cruisers to PVP close to high sec, giving ISK to buy ships… They have even made a guild-station and they are doing their best to keep us amuse (blowing up planets to mine included)

But.. one of our friends have already left the game, not in 2 hours (he managed to get lvl 4 missions), but in one week. I have arrived to lvl 4 missions to realize that, with real risk of losing my 300 kk ship, I have to spend hours to get 100 kk isk. I’d rather play Teso or Pubg than Eve, I haven’t quit because I don’t want to let my friends down.

Mining is boring and disappointing, as you know you are wasting your time, as you could do it quicker and better with a better ship. The objective is to motivate ppl to get the money and the skills to own that better ship, but it does the opposite.

My two cents:

– Allow groups into ships, all ships. You could choose the boost control or the turrets control or the target control. Give a 10x bonus for having someone in your ship (10x speed, 10x damage or 10x target speed). Why not, let us pilot the drones!
– Traveling through acceleration gates and looting should be instant (or at least quicker) if there’s nobody near you. Give a 10x speed boost if no one is looking…