EVE Evolved: EVE Online is losing players, and no one can agree on why

    
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Nobody wants to think that a favourite MMO is losing popularity, but with EVE Online now being over 15 years old, it’s a possibility that is never far from players’ minds. Even after CCP Games stopped releasing firm subscription figures, players still track the daily concurrent player trends and analyse the monthly economic report data following major updates and expansions. Some of those players have recently raised red flags over a significant decline in activity metrics, but there are so many factors in play that there are more than a few theories out there about what’s going on.

In the middle of July, the EVE Online devs took the risky move of blacking out the local communication channel in null-security space. We said at the time that it would lead to anarchy across the game (which may be a good thing), and CCP confirmed that it was just the first step in a new “chaos era” for EVE. Now that we have a full month of data from August, players are growing concerned that the chaos may actually be driving people away.

Of course, as with anything in EVE Online, the reality isn’t quite so straightforward.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at some of the numbers that have players concerned, the shakeup from the Blackout, and the possible effect of botting on activity numbers.

We sure do love our graphs

Here’s how it all started. EVE analyst @noizygamer put together some interesting graphs based on PvE activity in nullsec across various regions, showing a drop of over 1 million NPCs killed per day across nullsec between July and August. There was a significant increase in PvE activity in highsec at the same time, but this was likely caused by an event that rewarded players with skill points for killing NPCs each day. Comparing this to data from previous years shows that there’s usually a slump of PvE activity in nullsec in August, but it’s not normally this severe. The PvP figures were increased slightly in nullsec, with a much higher increase seen in highsec.

Player Ripard Teg of Jester’s Trek has produced graphs of the rolling averages of daily active users for EVE over the past several months, which clearly show a recent decline. Two upticks in activity were seen corresponding to login reward events, but a sharp decline was seen briefly mid-July in the first few days of the nullsec blackout. A more recent downward trend has been seen, with 66% of that being in the Australian time zone. Ripard Teg suggests that this is due to a drop in the Chinese players logging in in large numbers.

Graph by Ripard Teg of Jester’s Trek. Source: Reddit

Botting complicates things

The figures seem to suggest that activity in EVE is in a slump right now, but that’s not the whole story. The blackout had a devastating affect on players running botting software that relied on the local chat channel to see hostiles incoming. The sharp decline for several days after Blackout is likely just evidence of people shutting down their bots until they could figure out how to adapt to the changes, and bots may be responsible for another trend: the shift in activity from nullsec PvE to highsec.

Some of that shift is definitely nullsec citizens being unable to consistently farm without the local channel intel they once had, and switching to running incursions or Abyssal Deadspace in highsec. Players have also noted that there’s been a significant increase in the number of bots in high-security space running missions and other forms of PvE.

It’s likely that some botters moved from nullsec to highsec to avoid being killed and just accepted the lower income rate as a tradeoff, while others decided it wasn’t worth it as being in highsec makes them more likely to be discovered and reported. CCP’s Security team also dropped a major ban wave of 4,369 bot accounts and 2,454 RMT-related accounts in August, which muddies the waters significantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the drop in Australian timezone (accounting for 66% of the overall decrease) was mostly bots hiding in that low-activity time-zone to counteract the effects of the Blackout.

The timing of these concerns from players isn’t coincidental: EVE always gets a drop in activity over the summer and recovers in September, sometimes earlier depending on expansion release dates. A major bot ban wave hitting just at the lowest activity point in the year and following the end of a major login reward event is kind of a perfect storm of factors to make a month-to-month activity drop like this happen on paper.

I would also expect that many players have been drawn away from EVE temporarily by WoW Classic, which is starting to see a gradual slowdown in daily activity. I’ll admit that even I have been spending some of my EVE time in WoW Classic lately, an effect Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob mentioned as well in his recent blog post on EVE‘s popularity crisis.

The next few months will be crucial to figuring out where the trend will go for EVE Online. Will activity recover in September as it usually does? Will the bots find a new niche or stay away from the game for good? Is EVE‘s new Chaos Era actually helping the game or hurting activity in the long term, and have players been adversely affected by things like the Triglavian invasions and Blackout? I think it’s still too early to tell, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on how things develop.

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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Random MMO fan

It’s been losing for a long time. Regardless whether others can agree or not, I do know why – the botting has always been an issue and CCP never put enough resources into combatting them. That was one of the major reasons I quit the game. Another reason is that many people eventually get tired of flying spaceships or playing market game, and there is NOTHING ELSE to do, by that I mean there is no things like walking avatars with the space to hang out, talk to each other, emote, do other stuff that you can do with your avatar in other MMORPGs or what you can do in VRchat. CCP wanted to expand the game this way but for some reason they stopped putting resources into it and closed it. Same goes for combining the EVE and FPS combat – CCP tried it with Dust 514 but they again did not put enough resources to make it good and make it available on all platforms. As a result of all those, the subs continue to decline, the company is basically sold to Perl Abyss and the subs will continue to decline no matter what combat changes CCP will continue doing. Only way they can recover subs is they will start expanding gameplay from space ships into walking avatars again.

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Denice J. Cook

Problem being that Eve’s 2D point and click engine with 3D models is just horrible for that sort of thing. Walking in stations was terribly clunky and awkward (even almost-two-decade-old, rickety 3D MMORPGs like Dark Age of Camelot and Anarchy Online with terrible controls and UIs handle better than that thing did). Not to mention that walking in stations was such an engine resource drain that CCP ultimately abandoned development and shut it down.

Unfortunately, any further developmental ideas for Eve would be much better saved for an Eve Online 2. I’m really surprised CCP has never worked on a fully-3D engine for an all-out successor to Eve. It’s long overdue. They’ve had so many years to work on it that they could have had not only fully-3D spaceship flight but also plenty of fully-3D FPS shooting on the ground of the actual planets long ago, had they tried. It’s a shame, really.

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Stovakor21

ever sense the last rorq / carrier nerf people started dropping off . it’s been like they been punishing people who play the game legit more than anything over the last 6 months of changes .. the Rorq mining drone exploit is insane. bots every where as well. and now i see tons of bots in high sec doing abyss stuff .

The changes they have done have been absolute crap it just forces the player to change the way they been playing the game. I 100% agree something needed to change up null sec umbrellas that should of been with the moon changes making those more lucrative to fight over and reasons to take space, instead no one cares.

I dunno best way to describe eve in its current state is to be a Credit card warrior / Cheater or a minion of some other player/corperation. good luck attracting new players .

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

I noticed a sharp drop in EVE’s popularity when CCP was taken over by Pearl Abyss . With WoW Classic just launching as well, it’s a no brainer.

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Denice J. Cook

Oh, their population drained out back at 2011’s Monoclegate and has never really recovered.

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Baemir

My theory? CCP screwed up when they decided that they wanted to chase those mainstream market trends rather than build upon the game’s strengths. I feel like EVE is suffering from a serious identity crisis. They took an axe to it and removed the Captain’s Quarters, which was one of my favorite things about the game, as it made me feel like I was actually living in a virtual universe; the functional TVs in particular blew my mind back in the day. I’m not much of a RPer at all, but I thought that stuff made the game feel like something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to invest a lot of time into. Then they started working on more casual PvE content for shorter gaming sessions, which was obviously done with good intentions, but they were not iterating on the right aspects of the game. EVE’s combat system is mediocre at best, and it can be downright boring in PvE, so I don’t think that’s the kind of content that devs should be prioritizing when their game is going through a rough patch. Other recent changes have been more positive, but also quite small and ultimately insignificant. IMO they should have gone ahead with WIS, incorporated more of the lore into the actual game, and events that really shake up the status quo like this ‘blackout’ should have become routine years ago. I fear it may be too late now. CCP wasted a lot of time messing around, changing their minds, adding silly simplistic minigames, making boring balance changes. These news are anything but surprising.

Covynant001
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Covynant001

CCP has been flailing wildly for quite some time and its catching up with them, simple as this.

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rayraycharlie

I have played Eve off-and-on for 10 years. In the early days I would try to finish the tutorials and do some basic quests, it was a very non-rewarding experience. So I dropped it for several years until my brother got me back into the game, we did PvE missions, and while it was fun with a partner, it didn’t really hold my attention. The last time I seriously tried to play (2015) I joined a PvP focused fleet and tried that for a while but soon after joining, the fleet basically dissolved and I was not engaged or equipped to continue.

TLDR: I was a carebear that tried PvP but was never engaged or entertained enough to continue.

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Armsbend

So the pressing question is: how do we keep the bots happy?

X0cist
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X0cist

Horrible UI. Lack of accessible content or any kind of immersion. No discount for multiple accounts. They couldn’t see the demise coming? Really? I reactivated an alt account a week ago after not playing for 5 years wanting to do some PvE missions.. it’s going to take this character over 2 months to get the weapon skills alone to do level 4 missions. My sub will expire before then and I won’t ever come back. I need a new sci-fi MMO :(

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Hirku

They lost me in the tutorial with the UI text alone.

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Zero_1_Zerum

How about because EVE sounds like a grindfest, and just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the time or money investment, to people who don’t already play the game? Like, what are the numbers of people trying the game, and sticking with it?