Ask any active EVE Online player what they think of the state of the MMO, and you’re likely to start hearing a recurring theme. That theme in the answers you get is likely to be some variation of “EVE is dying,” and with this oft-uttered phrase, one might be fooled into thinking that it’s actually true. That the iconic spaceship MMO which has stood for more than a decade might soon go dark. But according to CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson, that’s not true at all.
In a recent interview with Gameindustry.biz, Petursson talked frankly about the state of the game, plans for the future, and the current health and growth of the project. According to CCP, EVE has around 300,000 active players, with around 30,000 concurrent during peak times. There’s no denying that this is a far cry from the 2014 glory days of 50,000+ players zipping around New Eden. And as can be expected, players miss those days. But to their credit, CCP has been doing a fair amount of work to rebuild the game from the ground up and to attract new players. And for the most part, it seems to be helping keep EVE alive to some degree. Perursson has made it clear that the game is getting new players every day, but some players are still concerned.
Contrary to what some people think, a lot of new people join EVE Online every week. Every week we have about 10,000 people that log into EVE Online for the first time. It has existed for 16 years and people think it’s in stagnation. But that’s the story with a lot of these long running franchises; it’s like a river that flows through, and there’s a bottom layer of people that stick, and over time there are layers of generations of EVE players that keep on being added every single year.
Last year, I think about a million people came into our systems in one way or another for the first time.
As is the tradition with these kinds of statements, there are at least some of the playerbase that disagrees. And throughout the article, some players are finding a notion of fault with CCP and their approach to the game and it’s core design. Players are pointing to issues with long-term player retention, and declining concurrent user numbers, as evidence of a deeper issue. Problem is, what exactly is that issue?
It’s almost impossible to distill down the things that drive people away from EVE Online into a single idea, so let’s run through some common objections I’ve seen, and consider how they might be fixed.
The community is toxic
This is one you hear most often leveled at the more hardcore elements of the game and it’s hyper-competitive nature. Although in my mind this is more a problem of the way groups and individuals approach the game than a design or execution flaw. It comes down to this. Being an online game, the people you play with are your own choice, and how that group self-moderates is a reflection of their core values. It would be nice to live in an online space where more extremely offensive behavior is completely removed or filtered out, but that’s not the case, and at the end of the day the onus to control more devious or trollish impulses is down to the individual. Luckily, the community has gotten better over the years, and most of the EVE community that’s organized into formal player corporations and alliances have a somewhat classy atmosphere. Some are more tightly controlled than others, some are a lot looser and more rowdy. But just as the impulse for moderation is on the individual, the commitment to find a player group you can tolerate is on you.
The gameplay is boring
It’s true that EVE has a very narrow focus, with it being an incredibly deep space simulation with a living economy, that is impossible to deny. If blasting spaceships doesn’t interest you, you probably won’t like this game’s combat. If mining space minerals and creating products from them doesn’t get your brain firing, you likely won’t have fun with the industrious side of EVE either. This game isn’t for everyone, but there is a target audience here.
The best argument for playing EVE is also one that’s a ding against it. The people. The community is what interests so many day-after-day. The interpersonal drama, the political intrigue, the casual socialization, all of this is deeply woven into the fabric of the game. And for anyone interested in what makes people tick, this is one of the best mediums for exploring what the human condition looks like in a very particular, and often peculiar, microcosm.
Exempting that, there is lots of shooting to be done and wars to be fought, in space no less.
The game is too hard
There’s no denying it, there’s a very steep learning curve in EVE Online. Although much of this particular issue comes down to the so-called “New Player Experience” or NPE. After all, a player has to put in the time to learn the game and the wide array of mechanics involved, while also finding time for the gameplay loops that they enjoy. And if a player can’t even get to the mining, shooting or trading that they enjoy, they won’t stick around.
This is probably where the most important and substantive criticisms of the game lie. From the labyrinthine menu systems to the awkward control schemes, there are a lot of user experience issues in EVE, and it’s mostly on CCP to create the optimal version of the solution to these issues. The problems in this area of EVE Online share at least some similarity with Path of Exile, given that both titles are seriously lacking in in-game information, and players must rely heavily on external sources for information. This reality leaves behind a question, what can actually be done to ease the difficulty of entry.
It’s true that gaming tastes have changed over the last 16 years. As EVE players leave, more and more gamers are picking up games like Apex Legends which offer a much simpler access point to fun gameplay. The larger gaming audiences have moved to other games and genres, what matters now is that CCP actually starts hitting the niche that matters to their core players, and hits it hard. The company has made some missteps, but they’re going to keep trying, and I hope they succeed.