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The death of a game

August 29, 2017

Many people playing EVE Online, our beloved game, invest a lot of time (and sometimes money) in a digital world. By doing this we are rewarded with a hobby, a sense of (in game) significance, power and the occasional spark of fun. Some call it a way of life, that lets them escape the reality of their own life, in exchange for the challenging, exciting life of a spaceship commander. But with this time investment we also become reliant on our spaceship commanders. We spend many nights spinning our ships and watching our ISK-ticks, building ships or exploring the darkness. Some of us would not know what to do with their time if EVE would not be there. Of course we all take breaks from our EVE-online life. Some people choose to take a few months ‘off’, away from the ships and space stations. Those who don’t probably have the occasional computer free holidays, in which they can only wonder what is happening to their spaceship world. Many of us have a few apps on our mobile phone that can track some of your EVE-business. And if you’re like me, you will start checking up on your ISK-balance and skill-training every time you pass a free wifi-spot. Even on a hot sunny beach, my mind wanders into the blackness of space. I would not want to be without it. Does that make me addicted? Perhaps! It certainly shows how much I miss being at the helm of my spaceship.

However, what if our game would suddenly disappear? It’s hard to believe that someday all our hard work may go to waste. All that ISK, all those spaceships, skill points, social contacts simply evaporated because somebody feels it is time to ‘pull the plug’. Looking at the time and effort we’ve invested in the game it isn’t surprising that many of us fear the moment it could come to an end. If you think the term ‘fear’ is an overstatement: Go start up reddit and look for threads about game-changes. Most of them are infested with comments about CCP killing EVE, driving away players and giving up. Some comments are so hate-filled that it’s hard to believe they are written in a well-delivered and calm state of mind. I believe the only reason people would write such comments, is because the existence of something they come to love is threatened. They fear that their spaceship life will come to an end. That their hard work is wasted and they have to invest in a new hobby. They have a lot invested which they fear to lose. In a sense these hate-filled and emotional remarks are the work of dedicated players who are loyal to the game. You could actually consider the raging hatred as a sign of a healthy player-base! (Although I prefer not to).

Let’s think about how realistic it actually is that EVE will end on short notice. If you think about it, there are only a few ways EVE could end. The first option is when the players simply stop playing EVE. With the number of players dwindling, the PVP content in the game will run dry, as there is nobody left to fight. PVP enjoying players will probably stop playing as they become bored. That leaves only those who enjoy PVE. But how many of us actually play EVE for the PVE content? Most of us realise there are way better games if you want to do PVE. If you are anything like me, you see the PVE in EVE as a way to support your PVP expenses. If ‘PVP’ dies, there would be no real reason to keep PVEing. So it’s likely that eventually the PVE numbers start dwindling too. It would turn New Eden into a void, with only a handful of PVE-players scattered across the galaxy, each doing their own thing without interaction, the rest of space would consist of empty systems and uninhabited structures.

This makes me wonder: What would make people suddenly stop playing EVE on such a scale? Some options come to mind: Consider the complete breakdown of the internet! The invasion of aliens wiping out humanity! An infectious disease that rots away our arms! Of course there are hundreds of such possibilities, each one less likely than the other. In a reasonable sense, there are only a few: Either people stop enjoying the game, or a game that’s simply better shows up.

Lets be honest, it’s likely that option two has already happened. Our 14 year old game has already been outclassed by newer games hundreds of times. Perhaps they aren’t better in every aspect, but they certainly are on specific parts. However that doesn’t seem to bother us much. EVE has a dedicated community (remember all that time and money we invested?). We simply keep telling ourselves that EVE is ‘different’ and gives us something we can’t find anywhere else (which is by definition right). And that other games seem bland compared to the depth of New Eden, so we keep playing. As mentioned before the other reason why people could stop playing, is if we stop enjoying the game. This is directly related to the question: What makes EVE enjoyable? If you know the right answer to that question, I’d like to hear it! I think the answer is probably different for many of us. Do we enjoy the space-friends we made? The challenge the game offers? The satisfaction of getting large ISK-ticks? Or the occasional mega battle? I’ll leave that question for you to answer. I assume each of us has a feeling of enjoyment when playing EVE. Otherwise, it would just function as a escape from something even worse. Because our enjoyment is so diverse, it’s highly unlikely that something would take away the enjoyment for all of us at the same time. Mainly because something that takes away ‘my enjoyment’ would probably not affect many other players. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that its unlikely that all players will quit EVE at once. New Eden is spared a ‘empty future’ for a while.

The second reason that could end our beloved game is of a whole different kind. CCP! The existence of New Eden is directly related to a few people in Iceland who determine its fate. Every time somebody at CCP hint’s at game-changes, our community panics. But what evidence do we have to ground our hate-filled ideas? Has CCP really given up? If CCP has given up, and just tries to ‘milk it’ we would probably see the signs. A good strategy for that: Invest minimum effort for maximum profit. Then keep doing that as long as you make profit. In order to make minimum investments, it would be best to only make small changes in the game. Because each one requires a investment of man-hours and risks people leaving. So a company using that strategy would simply let the game run its course, without doing anything. As long as something makes money, keep it going. Once profits stop, pull the plug.

Now lets compare that idea with CCP’s development: In recent memory we have gotten “fozzy-sov”, T3 destroyers, citadels, reworked capitals, ‘the agency’ and soon we will be getting new moon bases. Each one of these changes where/are big enough to upset the game-balance in a major way. Each one risks upsetting players and driving away players. Not at all the ‘risk-adverse’ profit maximizing strategy that a company would use when ‘giving up’. It means that CCP is willing to take risks to keep its players engaged. If we can get over our frustrations and look at the great picture, EVE still exists and is running strong. Some would even say EVE has become better than it used to be. Although some changes may be for the worse (CCP: please rethink the fozzy-sov + citadels combination). In the end I feel CCP is putting in real effort to improve on their game. Of course you could consider these man-power investments a small price payed by employees that work for CCP anyway. A necessary evil needed to keep players engaged and the money rolling. You could be right. Although that would not explain the large financial investments that CCP makes to items that aren’t directly influencing game play. Does anybody still remember the multi million dollar investment CCP made in a new server? Or the (still ongoing) graphical updates, that are purely asthetic? I refuse to believe those investments are made for a futile cause.

It makes sense that CCP chooses to invest in a game. Despite the small niche of gamers that are attracted to space-sandboxes, we generate a lot of income for CCP. How much?

Lets make some guesses: On a good weekend the number of online players easily reaches 20,000, but since players are spread around the globe, the actual number of active players is probably a lot higher. A simple guesstimate would quickly add up to 30-40,000 active accounts at any one time. Despite EVE getting a free to play option, most of these accounts are Omega-clones. Meaning those accounts are subscribed with either PLEX or subscriptions (read: real life money). Of course some of us never invest money, those people buy PLEX off the market. But in the end that doesn’t change the fact that they are generating money. Somebody bought that PLEX and put it on the market. Meaning that you’re in game ISK-making efforts resulted in somebody else paying for your account. In the end, our player base generates a large monthly income in subscriptions. Did you realise that there are few of these servers? This does not even include the money earned otherwise (vanity store, skill injectors, merchandise). All together we can conclude that there is a lot of money getting invested in EVE Online.

Every year CCP releases a financial statement which includes an overview of the income and expenses. The 2016 statement included a total game revenue of 81 million USD from subscriptions and 5 million USD from elsewhere, resulting in a impressive 86 million total revenue. That’s a 31% increase from the previous year! After expenses they reported a profit of 21.4 million USD over 2016. (Correct me if I am reading this wrong: I’m poorly educated in economy). And if there is money like that to be made, people won’t give up on it!

Remember: CCP employs hundreds of people who build their lives on the income they receive for maintaining and developing EVE online. It pays for their houses, their cars and their kids education. If we stop playing EVE Online, they would be the ones in trouble (more so than we would be). These employees depend on us, as much as we depend on them. We all depend on the digital space-world we call New Eden. As long as we keep playing and enjoying the game, we keep CCP’s employees fed, happy and hopefully doing their job. Let’s be good to them, trust their will to keep EVE enjoyable. Realise that they are the reason we have a great game to play.

I’d like to thank all players for making a great gaming experience. And I would like to thank CCP for all the hard work they put into EVE Online. Keep it up!

Let’s hope EVE lives on for a long time!