It’s 2022 and EVE is fast approaching that fabled third decade. How about we set aside a bit of time to talk about the state of the game in general. How is New Eden faring and what, if anything, does EVE need to stay relevant these days? I’ll preface by saying that this article is not going to be massively data-driven simply because I don’t have that data. I would rather keep a focus on what EVE feels like to play. I think that I am justified in doing so as games are meant to be emotive experiences to enjoy. So ultimately the way the game makes you feel is the most important thing, right?
Really, part of what brings me to write this article is my own apathy and bitterness that I have held towards the state of the EVE for some time. Put simply, I’ve been bored for a while and I’m honestly worried about the game I love. Whether or not this is due to what I’ve previously referred to as “The Bittervet Disease” I do not know. What I can see is that my feelings are worsened by some of the popular player count graphs distributed by Jestertrek and by EVE Offline.
It’s hard to look at graphs such as these (right) and not be concerned. The important point to remember is that losing a half to two-thirds of the playerbase (compared to EVE’s heyday) means much more than just a number.
If we assume an even sample having quit the game then you could reasonably take any system and cut the number in local in half. Cut the number of corps in half, the number of players to hunt and fight, the number of industrialists and marketeers. You end up with less and less activity across all aspects of the game
That’s pretty upsetting if I dwell on it too long and I would love to be proven wrong. Someone tell me that there is more than meets the eye.
A Starting Point: Wormhole Space
If you’ve read my blog before then you know that wormhole space is and always will be my home. It’s one of the few areas left to retain a modicum of mystery due to what it’s like to live there. I feel like if there’s anything I can comment on and anything I should be listened to about, it should be wormhole space, its players, and its problems. At the very least I can be much more specific about things. Let’s break it down by category.
Wormholes – PvP
For those with no experience with wormholes, they’re a winding series of ~2,500 systems that are connected to one another for only a brief period of time. Connections between wormholes can be manipulated by players and the unique challenges presented create a landscape vastly different from anywhere else in the game. With the other natural property of them being that they act like nullsec sans-sovereignty, they have bred a very specific culture of PvP. This is one of both cloak-and-dagger style gameplay and ganking, mixed with a style of brawling akin to a gentlemen’s duel.
So how healthy is this PvP ecosystem these days? Well, it could be better. Wormhole space PvP is not exactly in danger of dissipating entirely and many groups can still find good fights weekly. It is, however, becoming much more difficult to find that content in the first place. There seem to be fewer wormhole residents and capable wormhole corps than ever before and that reflects in the general attitude. I surveyed several dozen wormholers and a common theme echoing across their responses was that things feel quiet, they feel slow. We simply need more reasons for PvP groups to live in and engage with wormhole space.
Part of the reason why the situation sits as it is is because of the slow decline of heavy armour brawling – a common format in which wormhole corps would field armour fleets against one-another leveraging electronic warfare to win the day. Battles historically would last an hour or more and would test the skill of all pilots involved immensely. They would also often utilise three capital ships which was the maximum that could ever fit through a wormhole. It is widely believed that this decline is primarily due to 3/4 main points:
- Surgical Strike: This patch reduced resists and increased close range damage massively making it nearly impossible to survive in these brawls and ending them quickly. The focus became DPS and numbers rather than skill. Note that in my first impression I was wrong and figured that it would not have the impact it did. This has since been slightly resolved with Bolstered Bulkheads, but the damage to the PvP population and culture is done. Wormhole bushido might sound like a joke, but it used to be a common thing where honour 3v3 capital heavy armour honor brawls were the standard.
- Force Auxillary Nerfs: These capitals logistics known as FAXs were limited to one cap booster per ship. This meant that it became next to impossible to survive long enough against a fleet prepared to kill you. This led to players not using FAXs and reducing the scale of fights once again.
- Triglavian Ship Power Creep: While I very much enjoy Triglavian ships, the power of the Leshak was another turn on the rack for those who engaged in these capital ship armour brawls. Combined with being mass-efficient made them even worse for the meta.
- Scarcity & Capital Prices: Felt across the entire game, but with no clear end in sight to high scarcity prices there is no desire to risk capitals. These massive investments are better used as home defence and kept safely docked up for years.
Outside of the regular complaints about heavy armour brawling, PvP in wormholes has seen some meta shifts over the past few years. These days with DPS being a higher priority, energy neuts have become less useful with players often opting to field fleets of maximum DPS and ECM (jamming ships). This reflects in how more groups seem to utilise heavy shield (low EWAR- high DPS) fleets and heavy armour marauders. Each of these meta shifts move towards the idea of deleting your opponents before they can repair.
Solo and very small gang content in wormholes is difficult to speak of. Much of it revolves around the use of cloaks and jumping wormholes to run away should you be close to dying. This is the same as it has ever been. There does also exist a small amount of warfare among Asteros and other ships in hacking sites, but it is often a one-sided affair.
Innovation in the field of wormhole PvP is not impossible and I feel that it is in a better place than much of space. We’re starting to see a resurgence of Leshaks now, and buffer Marauders are a really interesting addition to wormhole fleets. That’s not to say that more changes would be unwelcome though. We just need to tone down the dominance of pure damage to reduce those few apex doctrines which dominate all others and create an n+1 situation. (Wherein the only way to beat someone is by having their number plus one more pilot). Admittedly, Bolstered Bulkheads goes a good way towards resolving this. We do still need some careful attention to particularly overpowered ships like the Nighthawk and perhaps Marauders.
Wormholes – PvE
Wormhole space is well known for having always been a haven of krabs. That is, it serves as an excellent place for players to make money in both combat and hacking sites should they wish to face the risk of having little intel and being at the mercy of whoever finds you. The general moneymaking process in wormholes will typically involve killing Sleepers in sites, using a mobile tractor unit to bring the wrecks in, collecting the blue loot, then moving on. This loot is sold to NPCs in highsec for a steady price.
Making money in this way means taking on some of the highest DPS and neuting sites there are in the entire game. While this is a fitting challenge, it is a one-time affair to create the single most efficient ship. In fact, I am likely partially to blame for the current ships that krab in wormhole space due to my How 2 Krab series.
The bigger issue with PvE sites, however, is that they are simply boring. You must grind through the EHP of several ships before killing the trigger and moving onto the next wave. You can then spawn the Drifter at the end which has also been calculated and spreadsheeted. Turn your tank on, fire your guns, and walk away for 16-22 minutes while he dies so you can collect your free 300m ISK. This is not particularly engaging gameplay and it never changes from site to site.
Beyond sites in general, class-4 sites stand out as particularly unworthy of player time investment. Their niche is that enemies spawn hundreds of kilometres from one another. This only exacerbates their issue of offering lower ISK proportional to C5s and even C3s.
Finally, the replacement for capital escalations – the Drifter – could do with another rework. As previously touched on, killing the Drifter boss is a simple process that needs next to no interaction from players. Due to the ease of killing him with multiboxed subcap fleets, it has become somewhat uncommon for actual capitals to participate in this replacement for capital escalations. A true rework of capital escalations for wormhole sites would go a long way towards encouraging players to really step up the risk for a worthwhile reward.
Overall WH PvE is fine, if slow and ageing content. Much like other areas of the game (highsec missions), updates are needed to bring out its true potential and reduce the ease of botting and extreme multiboxing.
Wormholes – Exploration and Industry
When it comes to EVE exploration, wormholes are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. As far as activities go, players are able to complete data/relic sites, scan down chains of wormholes, and hack ghost sites. Little complexity exists beyond the gameplay loop of scanning sites, hacking for loot, then selling it on the market. It feels like a missed opportunity, but it isn’t in a bad state. For players who enjoy the minigame, it can be a relaxing and lucrative activity to explore and earn in these sites.
Industry is a much more interesting area to discuss here as wormholers have long felt that they received the short end of the industry stick. With moons in wormholes effectively the equivalent of highsec and with no natural asteroid belts, mining is a rarity indeed. It follows that Rorquals simply are not found in wormholes outside of being used to bait fleets once or twice a year. Rethinking strategy on moon seeding would offer an excellent opportunity to bring more content to wormhole space overall.
We can at least talk more positively about wormhole space gas. It is well known for being lucrative and serves as an easy beginner activity that many veterans will also partake in due to the great return on investment. Gas huffing is in a great state as it is. It even has the benefit of following up with the great T3C production line unique to wormhole space.
Finally, I can’t say I can really comment too much on it due to lack of experience, but Planetary Interaction seems to exist in an ok place at the moment. The primary bottleneck for players here is simply hauling the products out to sell. Otherwise, wormhole space isn’t particularly unique with regards to PI.
Wormholes – Overview
To close out this section of the article we can consider wormholes as a whole. I would say they are healthy-ish all things considered. They aren’t doing as badly as they could be, but some particular areas as outlined above could do with a little love and care. Wormhole residents really just want to avoid being the unfortunate collateral damage of updates (e.g. the HIC mass change). Any updates that do arrive need to be tailored to not break this precious little community.
If done well, the future offers a great opportunity to offer feature updates to wormholes that simply make it more attractive as a place to visit and live beyond simply more PvE. Having better moons is a great option that would draw player groups for example. A better and often touted update would be the make better use of C6 space by giving systems dual statics. This, however, is not the time or place to delve into the intricacies of one idea or another.
Furthermore, the wormhole space community is divided on the general health of wormholes and this will be down to the varied opinions and gameplay that individuals have in their own individual situations. Wormhole space is vast and the life of a C2-C5/NS pilot will differ from what a large C4 corp experiences. To gain some excellent perspective on wormhole life from wormhole pilots themselves, please read Loroseco’s ecosystem document and my own wormholer survey responses.
The Bigger Picture: Nullsec, Lowsec, Highsec, and Pochven
Opening up the wider world of New Eden we certainly have a lot more to discuss. I’ll be writing this from the perspective of someone who has only had limited amounts of experience in the grand scheme of things. To use two examples: I have spent many many hours roaming nullsec but I have never lived there; I have lived in and roamed Lowsec, but I don’t know it or the politics like I know wormhole space.
Perhaps this is where the combined experience of the CSM and of others should come in handy to temper my thoughts and get a fuller view of what each area of space is truly like. To see all N+1 sides of the EVE coin. That’s not this article, though. I’ve taken on some feedback and adjusted the article, but it’s mostly the way I see the world.
I don’t want to spread fake news. If I am factually wrong then drop a message in the comments.
Nullsec in 2022
So I’ve never lived in nullsec, but I still use it as a source of content. It’s still a part of the general gameplay loop that I participate in. My general experience with nullsec is that it’s full of skittish players who don’t want a fight. I might not be the best at finding content, but I barely see anything out there regardless of what I do. I am about 90% confident that I could head to nullsec right now in a busy region and find nothing fun in two hours. Well, that is until the 80-man response fleet shows up to make sure my 5-man gang goes away while insulting me.
I’m not saying nullsec is dead, but if I’m looking for content then it might as well be. System after system is just full of bots or players roleplaying bots by simply participating in the same 19-year-old combat sites that can be completed blindfolded, literally. Or at least until they get warned that I am 5 jumps away so they can safely stop “playing” EVE. I am not trying to be salty here, but this is how it feels to attempt a roam in anyone’s space.
It’s why most roams end in suiciding ships because you become bored and don’t want to feel like the last hour was wasted time. I think my sentiment is best expressed in the Isk Averse article: Wait, you WANT the response fleet? It’s an excellent read that captures how it feels to play EVE for the evening and come away wishing you hadn’t bothered.
It would seem that the majority of EVE gameplay in nullsec comes in the form of mining and PvE (assuming that there are no hostiles in the entire region), or large scale battles over space and structures – the kind of gameplay EVE is known for. The kind it breaks records for. It’s just that between those big fleet fights and wars there is a lot of downtime where many people break their own ship spinning records instead.
This is the way I see nullsec as an outsider, though. It isn’t the way that the residents of nullsec live it.
From what I hear from nullsec residents, they aren’t having the best time of their lives. The Dynamic Bounty System goes against what they want (single system krabbing for renters etc.). I can’t speak for how that feels to experience, but I can imagine that moving around and hunting for the same ISK you had before is an ISK/hr loss due to travel and it adds additional danger. It feels like a failed experiment and one that needs to be replaced with more robust changes to the nullsec Farms and Fields.
Speaking of farms and fields, one of the things which has come up following discussions with a few prominent nullsec players is the nullsec status quo and a lack of war in EVE. We had WWB2 just recently but put simply, more war is good in the context of this spaceship video game. Nullsec having entered a period of relative calm with few conflict drivers is not a good thing and does little to encourage growth beyond that of wallets.
All of this adds to a general feeling of null being quieter than ever. It feels apathetic. Things still happen and many will claim that a single fight or one good day means that EVE doesn’t have problems, but anecdotally it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like it’s becoming harder and harder to squeeze the fun from the stone.
If you were to ask me what nullsec needs to improve, there are three key factors:
- New players, new blood that is interested and wants to stick with EVE. CCP has long-neglected that player groups can be one of the best tools there is for recruitment and helping people stick around. Instead, we are seeing narrative-driven content delivered slowly. It’s good content, but I don’t think it’s what EVE needs. Ultimately, resolving this issue will result in more players for null and more content to be had. How CCP resolves it doesn’t matter so much but to give just an example, forcing players to work together in quick-access content right from the beginning would be a good start.
- A rework of day-to-day content, namely in null sites. Industry is already undergoing a seemingly disliked overhaul that helped decimate capital ship usage. An attempt at overhauling combat and exploration sites to a modern standard is about 15 years overdue to make the space more fun to exist and play in. This ties into some points I will raise later about toys in the sandbox.
- Content drivers that players appreciate and enjoy. I don’t have a quick fix for this since it’s a complex issue. Having proper content drivers that force alliances to fight for space is vital. As much as players create the fights and the content themselves, there needs to be something worth fighting over. Fixing this can help bring new players to restart a cycle of improvement rather than the slow death we are seeing. How about a return of passive moons?
Roaming the nullsec wasteland almost makes you wish for a
nuclear winter old-school cap drop meta.
Lowsec in 2022
Now this is somewhere I’ve lived and loved. There are places of lowsec that I could call home if I weren’t the CEO of my wormhole corp – Kourmonen and Vlillrier. I spent some time back in 2015-16 in Gallente faction warfare followed by some lowsec pirating and such alongside Predator Elite in Did He Say Jump. I recall lowsec as a place of nigh-unlimited small fights in FW plexes, gatecamps to set up to smash down, and roaming gangs who would engage one another.
These days it’s a different story. The FW plex battles are all but replaced by farmers and bots, gatecamps are sparse, and the roaming gangs are gone. One side of a warzone might push against another and create a day or two of content, but it peters out and you’re back to the base level of activity once again. PvP content exists, but it is hard to find and hard to have fun with these days, particularly compared to the heyday of FW. I’ve discussed this with a friend and former lowsec CEO of mine, Julianus Soter. In his own words “it’s a shame because I do want to play more and it’s frustrating to have to jury rig content.”
Why is lowsec so sparse, then? The obvious answer is the low player count that is affecting all areas of space in EVE. I’ve already said that half the players in EVE equals half the players in every system, half the PvP’ers and so on. Lowsec has had a rather special treatment compared to other areas though. Faction Warfare as a system is mostly untouched since its original inception.
At the time of writing, the last update came over two years ago: Loyalty to Lowsec. This ironically named update increased loyalty point payouts, reintroduced a player-emergent mechanic (gate sliding), and added a new size of FW plex to fight in. Those are good changes and I don’t hate them. But it was too little too late too long ago and it speaks for so many of the other changes to EVE being the same way. It’s a theme that I’ll come back to later, but updates, especially in the last five years have often been small, unexciting, or late – with exceptions of course.
Back to lowsec anyway. In my honest opinion the mechanics of Faction Warfare and the current state of EVE mean that we’re well beyond the point of return for lowsec in the state it is currently in. Any updates to lowsec space going forward cannot be simple quality of life updates. There is no point giving quality of life to that which has no life anymore.
Instead, I would propose that a change to lowsec should be something that affects the entirety of EVE. I’m talking about (as I always do) new ships, new modules, new gameplay, and new PvE. An update to lowsec could be something incredible. It could be the thing that gets people to play EVE for the first time. The thought of proper integration with and fighting alongside an empire’s navy while getting new navy equipment is awesome. I could outline something here and rant about my idea is great, but then game design through Reddit is a bad idea.
I am not sure there is much else to say about lowsec really. Everything I see and most of the people I speak to points towards it being a shadow of what it once was. It needs work, but EVE needs work as a whole.
We’ve all lived in highsec at some point in our EVE career. You start out there and it’s often too scary, at least at first, to venture beyond the supposed safety. Rather than starting out with the problems like I often do, what does high do right? How is it to live there?
Looking at content alone, highsec does have a decent selection of low-ISK earning activities, solo content, and multiplayer content. It even has PvP if you count instanced matchups through abyssal proving ground events. There are incursions that are dated, but a pretty cool concept and have a niche community around them. There are old data/relic sites as well as escalations. You can do some basic industry, market PvP, low-ISK mining, 19-year old missions and… highsec wars?..
I know plenty of folk who are happy with their lot in highsec. I’ve met multiple people at my various jobs over the years who play EVE. They usually tell me that they’re a highsec miner who hauls their ore to Jita and builds up their ISK. That’s all they do and I guess that’s fine, I just don’t understand the appeal to be quite honest. I think what I can take away from that is that the content provided by highsec is not necessarily bad. There’s always going to be a market for it and CCP certainly has recognised that.
What CCP hasn’t recognised, acknowledged, or chosen to fix, however, is the issue that keeps cropping up. The content itself is dated. Missions are almost 19 years old, incursions are 13 years old, data/relic sites are very old too. While it’s true that highsec has had new (indirect) content by way of abyssals, annual events, and the industry update, the ageing gameplay is at its worst in highsec. This is because a lot of highsec content can be done solo. It is very much just you and the game’s systems, often without the player-driven activities that are so frequent everywhere else.
Keeping to the topic of the state of EVE, one of the biggest issues I often hear from highsec-dwellers is the ability to suicide gank. To throw away your ship to CONCORD in order to kill someone in an area where people believe “there is no PvP”. The topic deserves an article of its own, but if I were to weigh in on it, it’s an interesting player-emergent mechanic that has a problematic effect on today’s new players but EVE would not be the same without it. Something should be done in <currentYear>, but suicide ganking should not be eliminated entirely. Miner assault damage controls, maybe?
I don’t really want to try and suggest ways to improve this region itself. Theoretically improving the rest of the game should improve highsec. It’s primarily a market and industry area at heart and activity elsewhere will drive that. At the very least, old content needs to be entirely modernised to pave the way for new PvE across all of New Eden.
I don’t like highsec, but it exists to serve a purpose and it needs some love and care.
Pochven, or Triglavian space, is the new kid on the block. It was introduced back in October 2020 by taking a set of 27 kspace systems and turning them into an entirely new region of their own. This Doritos-inspired region is subjectively one of the most interesting experiments CCP has made in the last decade. It’s a new area of space with unique mechanics and an awesome theme. Bravo for being brave enough to create it.
So we’re a year and a half into the experiment that is Pochven. How is it doing? From my own expeditions there and my discussions with some of the long-term residents, it certainly has developed its own culture and style. This is a big big win in my book. If Pochven had released only to be a copy of Thera, wormholes in general, or just like a null region, then it would have failed. Instead, we have some very distinct Pochven enjoyers who make use of the space to take part in their own content under their own Triglavian identity.
One of the best things about Pochven, I’m told, is that you can make a hell of a lot of ISK there. It is one of the main reasons that people choose to live there, much in the same way that people choose to live in high-class wormhole space. This comes about thanks to the extremely lucrative site, the Observatory Flashpoint. It works out to about 230m ISK per person per 10-minute site. If you can multibox these 15-man sites, it’s even better. Even without multiboxing, though, that enables ISK generation beyond what C5 wormhole space will give you with even more safety and no limit on sites.
The resident will then use this ISK to fund extremely blingy doctrines for some high-quality heavy armour brawling in a mostly cap-free environment. That means battleships are king and we have a super interesting meta that is quite distinct from most nullsec or lowsec PvP. Continuing with the theme of the state of EVE, as of April 2022, this heavy armour PvP style has been starting to see a shift. The incursion of larger null entities and perhaps an amount of apathy on behalf of Pochven content creators has caused it to decline.
This points me to another facet of Pochven which is that – with it having such a small community – Doritoland is quite susceptible to small numbers of players having quite the sway over how much activity there is and what form it takes. This is no fault of CCP, it just is what it is. It’s a region of 27 systems so the smaller groups living there will nearly always be reliant on a small number of content creators to make anything at all happen.
So overall regarding Pochven, I would say that it’s… fine? It seems to have worked in isolation of the effects on New Eden around it. The Edencom crowd are still angry that they didn’t get a piece of the triangular pie and CCP shoehorned this story in with a disguise of player choice. I’m not sure we can do much about that now other than to accept that CCP’s “player choices” are always going to be predetermined decisions.
Furthermore, despite the heavy armour brawls that occur in Pochven and the niche community, it can have plenty of opportunities for new players. They can teleport straight there using cheap filaments and many of them will find good opportunities to loot both NPC and player battlefields for excellent spoils of war.
The one thing that CCP still has in their pocket here regarding Pochven is that the floor is still wide open with regards to further abyssal lore, Triglavian ships, and the potential to do something with the Triglavian home systems and their Anchorages. Regardless, Pochven these days is pretty cool.
Rounding It Out: Crowd Control Productions + EVE
And finally, we move on to the core of EVE. Often described by CCP as the core being the playerbase, I would argue that a second, equally important core is CCP Games itself. While the players play the game and exist as EVE’s beating heart, CCP is responsible for the update cadence, for keeping players interested over the years, and for charting a course of growth. EVE Online is a live service game and it must be properly supported to avoid stagnation and decline.
Herein lies what I have been most worried about for a long time now. While the previous sections have spoken on the health or status of various parts of space, I am truly most concerned with the future health of EVE. People may have been saying that EVE is dying since 2003, but for the first time, it seems real. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I think EVE will pop out of existence tomorrow. It’s going to reach the third decade. It’s just a matter of whether the ship can be turned around before it’s too late. Nobody wants EVE to be the next Ultima Online or Everquest II.
EVE Online’s Update Content & Cadence
One of the most important parts of ensuring that your live service game stays healthy is to keep players excited and to keep them feeling like they have something to do. One of the many benefits that EVE is that its single-shard server is already full of players willing to get at each others’ throats over space pixels. All you need to do is enable them and avoid boring them.
Historically, CCP used to run a twice-yearly release schedule. Expansions such as Incarna would be announced, hyped up, and launched every six months. They were a mix of all kinds of updates including balance changes, graphics improvements, new features, bug fixes, and more. In 2014, ex-executive director CCP Seagull shifted this to a 5/6-week sprint cadence with the aim to get exciting updates into players’ hands as soon as they were available.
For the most part, this fast-release model has stuck ever since with a slight shift at first towards monthly updates before quietly becoming the numbered releases we know today (i.e. 20.04). It was shortly prior to this that Quadrants began to be released at a rate of four per year. These were aimed to represent the overall theme for the coming months alongside some headline features. While a good idea at first, I feel that Quadrants have fallen flat and were not properly aligned with the monthly release schedule. They sound exciting as a concept, but in reality, they have become restrictive, forcing development to be less ambitious. After all, you probably shouldn’t release much-needed PvP balance changes during an extremely PvE-focused Quadrant, right?
As an armchair-producer, I think EVE needs a change focused on building excitement for what’s coming. Having observed the releases of other games such as WoW, FFXIV, Sea of Thieves, and many more over the last few years, building that hype factor is important. I would love to see a return to an expansion model with mid-cycle balance adjustments. This could even be built in as a hybrid Quadrant expansion. Imagine if Quadrants remained just as big, but with one big three-monthly release that is hyped up like expansions used to be. Get players talking about what is to come and planning for an exciting drop of content as opposed to a slow drip of changes without a clear roadmap.
EVE Online’s current trajectory is unsustainable. As for what CCP could or should do to turn it around, it’s difficult to say. What is certain, however, is that whatever form it takes needs to be exciting and needs to somehow recreate the growth period of 2006-2013. I’ve not done the research to figure out what that truly means, but I hope someone at CCP has.
CCP’s Priorities & New Player Retention
Ultimately, CCP is motivated by money. Their goal is to create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life, and they do so to make a profit. This isn’t greed and it isn’t surprising, they are simply a business. They need to generate that profit to justify existence. This is something you have to keep in mind when considering their business decisions around EVE Online. The need for money should justify the constant stream of packs and offers, right? I don’t think so.
My problem with the current strategy as it appears is that it is myopic. It is almost like the sentiment is “if we just get new players in, it will solve everything.” And that’s true… kind of. 89.74% of new players quit the game within a week. This comes after the 50% dropoff from registration to first login. These figures are from 2019 and I hope they are better now, but I have my doubts. The problem is that we shouldn’t just be looking for the raw number of recruits for EVE. The retention issue must be approached from two sides toward a common goal. Work to improve new player retention by improving veteran sentiment and word of mouth advertising.
I hate to refer to some players as being of a higher quality than others, but it’s a good way of describing what I believe EVE needs to get back. Imagine if, like myself, the reason you started playing EVE is because a friend regaled you with the tales of their wormhole adventures. You log in, join them, and get involved before weaving your own story into New Eden. Now imagine that you heard about EVE and jumped in because it popped up on Steam. You log in, complete a 40 minute New Player Experience, then sit mining in a Venture. You tell me who is more likely to stick around.
The key difference between these two hypothetical user stories is connection and commitment. You need one or both to become socially or monetarily invested in EVE. From there, the story writes itself. This school of thinking is likely what inspires the packs aimed at new players so it definitely makes sense what CCP is trying to do. Players who buy something for EVE are more likely to stick around to get their value. After all, there’s a common marketing phrase: “If Content is King then Conversion is Queen.” And I would argue that CCP is focusing too much on the queen rather than the king.
What I am really saying here is that CCP is missing the second half of the approach to retaining players: the content. In my opinion, the content that has been produced over the last few years has mostly been lacklustre. It’s my biggest gripe as a veteran player that I often have so little to get excited about. There are balance passes here and there such as the recent Bolstered Bulkheads update, but it feels so sluggish and frankly unimpressive. The meta always tends to evolve quite quickly until, like we always do, we solve it and it becomes stagnant. Players go back to their Munnins and back to their 19-year-old PvE sites.
Some might argue that the content issue is remedied by events in this living universe such as The Hunt and the Guardian’s Gala. I say otherwise. Spending that resource on revamping our day to day gameplay systems, dungeons, and ship trees. Additions such as the abyss, Pochven, and Precursor ships are good examples of the content I’m talking about. Give me something to be truly excited about. Make veteran players excited with content and they will convert new players for you.
While I still have the chance to talk about selling ships, SP, and the argument of pay 2 win, I want to state that I am quite firmly against it and not in the name of the bloody economy. I don’t think that “ship in a box” packs being made by players solves the problem at all. The real problem is the perception of any game offering such microtransactions and the slippery slope it leads EVE down. Now that the official response has been “sorry, we removed it, we’ll do it again on a bigger scale later” I guess we just have to wait. I just hope to never see it go too far.
EVE in Modern Times
I want to talk a little bit about EVE itself in 2022. For one, it’s incredibly impressive that EVE is nearly 19 years old and still breaking records. But that comes at a cost. The mountain of tech debt sitting behind such a codebase must be phenomonal. A spaghetti mess glued together with POS code sauce. The video below shows just how massive that codebase is.. and this was five years ago.
One of the big issues that EVE is facing is that despite all the transformative updates and content that we’ve all seen, EVE can’t change it’s heart. It is a space “submarine simulator” with the same UI style as ever. I can only speculate that a lot of people drop the game because of that dissonance between what is advertised and what it feels like to really play. Once you really get playing, the 1s tick speed and 10s session change timers hit you hard and they still hurt to this day.
At the very least, Photon UI and the UI unification project are steps in the right direction of EVE modernisation. Photon feels and looks good, it’s just extremely unpolished in the beta state right now. Perhaps nothing else could or should be done to EVE’s core mechanics unfortunately.
Another key point that is often raised about EVE in modern times is just how long it takes to do anything. A two-hour gameplay session in EVE can easily be filled by warping around systems or sitting somewhere waiting in a fleet for nothing to happen. In many ways it is inevitable when your opponents are human and they are afraid of the risk that comes with fighting you. And that content can be worth the payoff.
It’s for that reason that I have to actually applaud CCP’s efforts to make events and content that are somewhat easy to jump into. Abyssal PvP and PvE as well as easily-accessed event sites are nice to have. As are Needlejack filaments, even if they are problematic in crafting the decline of nullsec entry system content. These systems are aimed at giving people ways to play EVE quickly and easily. Make more of them, just try not to make it instanced!
Finally, I want anyone who reads this to understand something that even I have a hard time accepting. EVE has changed and – assuming it lives on for years to come – it will continue to change. It is, rather interestingly, in a unique position where some of the ancient EVE players could have gone from single and 21 to a young grandparent. Few other games have that kind of generational challenge to content with. Somehow, CCP needs to retain those veterans while being hip and down with the new generation of players – all without losing the essence of EVE. It’s a tough one for sure.
Because I wasn’t sure where else to say it, let me just use this chance at the end to add to the rallying cry for structure SKINs and cat ears. Monetise the players in the way that they want and you’ll make so much cash. To be honest it’s less about the cat ears anyway. EVE doesn’t actually needs cat ears, it needs the weeb dollars.
Ultimately I wrote all of this less to create a detailed report and more to document my sentiment towards EVE right now. Hell, I barely even touched on scarcity or industry at all. There are dozens of issues that I have barely scratched the surface of in this massive game, but this is a snapshot of how I see it.
Does my sentiment mean that you can’t have fun in EVE Online? Of course not. Extracting fun from EVE is like squeezing blood from a stone, but it can produce some of the best gameplay experiences out there if you get it right. I have forged bonds unlike any others through EVE and one of the main reasons I still play today is because I see my corp, Foxholers, as my family.
But still, the question remains on my mind. Will EVE race triumphantly into the third decade, or will it limp there instead?…