Failure to Launch
Over the past few months, I have been racking my brain trying to write this article regarding demographics and how to target a specific genre of gamers or interest people that might play EVE Online. More importantly, what motivates these people to seek out a game like it. My motivation and drive to seek out these answers has everything to do with what I might consider a “Failure to launch” scenario after the Ascension release that solely relied on word of mouth, social media, and poorly worded articles written by magazines and blogs. With a release this ground-breaking, I couldn’t believe that CCP would have decided to not buy out advertisement anywhere on any medium besides the those that pop up from web search analytics. To make matters more confusing, there was a tweet from one of the developers that generally stated they didn’t want to advertise Ascension or EVE until they “worked out all the bugs” (for the life of me I can’t find this tweet or recall which dev said it). Sounds like a master plan.
So how do people find out about EVE online then if it isn’t advertised like every other successful and popular game? For me, I simply found a link to it as a result of searching for an MMO that I might like to play that was space based. At this time, Star Trek Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic weren’t out yet, and I was getting somewhat tired of Guild Wars or waiting for the promise of GW2. It wasn’t a colorful ad or cleverly placed trailer that led me to EVE, rather it was me doing a Google search based on keywords and nothing else. I had never heard of the game before finding it in the search results, nor had I ever seen any type of advertisement for it. From what I could tell in 2006, it was a brand new game that just came out and hadn’t received any traction at that point.
Real People… but not the same
Asking around on Twitter, the EVE-O forums, Discord servers, and in-game I was able to gather responses from a few people to help me try to help me better answer the question of how CCP could market to and target a demographic. Coincidentally enough, one player that saw my question on the forums admitted that he found this game the same way I did. A search based on certain criteria. Khergit Deserters from Crom’s Angels [-CROM] who typically frequents planted tank aquarium forums, reads Guitar World magazine and The Economist and is a big sports fan would never have seen an ad for EVE. His Google search wasn’t even geared towards a space-based game, but instead fulfilled his requirements for a sandbox game that was competitive and social, while all on a persistent server.
Morgan Starkiller is an EVE-Radio DJ and member of The Mjolnir Bloc who is also openly transgender and a part of the EVE LGBT community in and out-of-game. A candidate for CSM XII, Morgan said that she only heard about the universe of New Eden after a friend introduced her to Dust 514. A slowly decaying first person shooter on an outdated console was the drive behind getting into EVE for Morgan. Conversely, we have David Kraznayevsky from Stay Frosty. [ST-FR] who is a machinist by trade and a reader or tech and space magazines, never had any interest in anything like sci-fi and found comics and tabletop gaming to be boring. He would rather be out riding motorcycles and shooting guns, but randomly saw a Reddit thread about the Battle of Asakia and was intrigued. His first gig was with a “new group” that was calling themselves Brave Newbies.
Well then, who are these people?
Talking with people or reading bio’s on social media you can clearly see that our player base comes from so many cultures and demographics that it would be almost impossible for CCP to market to any one group. EVE had doctors and actual rocket scientists that work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, grandmothers and housewives, as well as high school students and hard-charging military veterans that have been back and forth to real combat. Not one group remotely stands out as a “target audience” that could guarantee a successful ad campaign.
Many players are still going to argue though that CCP doesn’t need to advertise, and that we need to be a niche game and a special club with a special handshake to get in. Some think that the servers couldn’t handle a mass influx of new players, which might be somewhat true based on the many issues CCP is still having with customer support and player retention after Ascension. There are those however who will agree with me that there could be more that the marketing department of CCP could do to encourage more growth.
What would the game as a whole lose by adding a million new players after seeing a sweet trailer before the start of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? Would the server break if every guest at the San Diego Comic-Con received a special EVE Comic with a fee month long Omega subscription code? Even if it did just crush the hardware in Iceland, that would be an indicator to our community that we need to expand our horizons just a bit more. It’s absolutely sad that the developer-run stream for Star Citizen—a game that is still in Alpha—had nearly 10,000 live viewers on Twitch for their Christmas special. Just a few days before, CCP held their special with just over a thousand live viewers to talk about a game that’s been in actual production stages for over a decade.
This doesn’t sit well with me for many reasons, but first some number crunching. A quick check on #hashtag statistics over at www.ritetag.com shows that #StarCitizen is leading both #EVEOnline and #TweetFleet in usage.
What I do find interesting about this statistics is that the #tweetfleet use and visibility are much higher than #eveonline itself but this is more than likely due to the “meta” followers. Those who are following and in the know are typically using that hashtag more than they are just for the EVE Online hashtag, so it isn’t hard to believe. It just goes to show you how niche the EVE community actually is, but it is still beat out by a game that is still in development.
That funny feeling inside
So on to why this doesn’t sit well with me. For a company who has had a fully operation and public game for over a decade, it’s striking that they continue to rely solely on word of mouth advertising in hopes that they will have a steady growth. As I have discussed in length already, targeted advertising is going to be a veritable nightmare but this does not mean that there shouldn’t be ANY advertising. In my previous article “EVE? Never heard of her”, I had said that when mentioning this game to “gamer” friends, none of them had ever heard of this decade old game. When I asked these same friends about Star Citizen, they all have heard of it and can’t wait for it to come out. Even though technically Robert Space Industries has done about as much self-advertising as CCP has done for EVE, but it’s kind of hard to miss when you are the highest grossing Kick Starter on the face of the planet right now. Everyone is talking about this. Nobody is talking about EVE except EVE players. Face that fact whether you like it or not.
When Star Citizen goes live, and if they take some of those gazillions of dollars that Christ Roberts has pilfered from all those backs to put TV, Movie, and print ads… EVE is going to take a serious hit. CCP may have gotten Katee Sackhoff to voice act for Valkyrie, but when you hear Mark Hamill (you know, Luke Skywalker) as a character in that TV commercial, you are going to take interest immediately. Like I’ve said before: if we want this game to survive past two decades, CCP is going to need to start an advertising and stop letting the 1337 players dictate who they want in their “community”. If something bigger and better comes along and shows even remotely more momentum than what EVE Online currently has going for it, that “community” will find a new home.
I just can’t see CCP doing something like this on their own. It is also not good to throw new players at this game cold and alone. The reasons Goons do so well is the network of people that built the out of game connection first then moved to EVE. SomethingAwful is where they built a power base, if we want to see more people come to EVE, we need to encourage blocs of potential players. Think about it, Test is a Reddit origins group, Goons SA, BoB was based in an external faction as well. There are very few organic super blocs in EVE, people who naturally accumulated in the game alone.
It takes administrators and logistics type players to get people into the game outside of shitting up high-sec. Build foundations for people to come in to the game, and they will come.March 7, 2017 at 9:55 AM
Kael Decadence Worlds Smuggest
Yes that is true, but I think you are looking at it like most players do, and that is the absolute belief that it is the responsibility of the player to generate content and gain new players. Don’t you think at some point CCP needs to accept some level of responsibility for the game they created and actually implement something that the average joe might look at for more than 2 hours before saying “eff this game man”?
Why would they have released a Free2Play option if they didn’t want new players joining? Yet for the most part, all the people coming in as Alphas are just RETURNING players who are happy to play without that monthly charge. In my opinion CCP absolutely missed the mark on releasing this change without having something worth new players to experience, and failed even more by not advertising it. Then again, if I knew my release was going to be as un-amazing as it was then the were better off not doing any advertising. This really goes to show you the future we are headed into if CCP as a company doesn’t start paying more care to their flagship product.
I really am fearful that EVE won’t make it past 2020 and by no means will there ever be an EVE 2.0. That just won’t happen. If anything it will end up like Guild Wars and they keep TQ running because they can’t imagine shutting it down, but their focus will be on new products and IP’s.March 7, 2017 at 4:05 PM
Getting new players in is actually not the hard part. As you said doubling down on advertisement efforts will typically accomplish that and Eve is no exception to this. The real hard part is making them stay, so this advertise money is not going to be a waste.
And making players stay in Eve is still nowhere where it needs to be. Despite recent improvements the vast majority of new players will still bail out without ever having played with others, simply because the NPE is not providing such an experience. If you can’t offer a proper taste of what this game has to offer in its first hours, then new players have nothing to look fwd to and will simply bail out.March 7, 2017 at 10:50 AM
Kael Decadence Rolfski
I completely agree. That really is the hard part about this whole scenario. They put out one of the biggest changes in the game’s history, but with little fanfare. Yet if they did go all out and plaster ads everywhere it would have done little good as the NPE is still lackluster and the first hours very broken.
I really hope that I can drum up some support on my idea of a training room where users in their captains quarters can “load” a scenario into a dojo and re-enact famous battles or experience different play styles in order to get used to playing/dying. I think the fear of leaving HS and losing everything you own is a huge deterent, but if you had a training environment where it didn’t cost your whole life savings then you might actually learn something and start moving out of your comfort zone.March 7, 2017 at 3:59 PM
Daito Endashi Rolfski
Still though, two times the player influx with the same retention rate is two times the players that stay.March 7, 2017 at 7:57 PM
Rolfski Daito Endashi
Lesson one in marketing is that keeping current customers happy is way, way more cost effective than spending that same money to attract new ones. CCP would be wiser to spend their money to increase retention rate than to double down on acquisition of new players.March 7, 2017 at 9:39 PM
Kael Decadence Rolfski
Like has been brought up to many a times (even as of 2am this morning in the help chat), the average age of our player base is around 35 or 36. We started playing when we were in college and didn’t have much going on. Now we are grown with kids and jobs right? In the next 5 years when the average age is climbing closer to 40, is that who CCP hopes is still clinging on to a game that is past its prime and not scooping up fresh blood?March 8, 2017 at 1:27 AM
theseconddavid Kael Decadence
The reality is we are starting to die out. Are we dying faster than people quit? I’m sure we aren’t, but CCP has to start to take that into consideration.March 8, 2017 at 11:47 AM
Retention rates under newcomers, not vets, is the problem. So there is were a big part of the marketing effort should go.March 9, 2017 at 12:12 PM
Rolfski Kael Decadence
Increasing retention rates by keeping players engaged is NOT the same as serving to bittervets only. In fact, veteran retention rates are fine for this game compared to other MMO’s.
New player retention rates however are still horrible, so there is were a lot of work still needs to be done. Meaning, once you get people to try Eve, make sure they stay longer and have them experience more of what this game has to offer.March 9, 2017 at 12:10 PM
Bill Bones Rolfski
Well, so far the new NPE haves worse retention than the old one, and maybe the reason is a very poignant one: the story isn’t working.
The first part in hooking people through a story is that the story must hook them. When only 32% of new players make it through the story, that’s not because they’re not learning to play the game. That’s because the story isn’t hooking them.
It’s not that they watch the film and don’t understand it and never come back. They’re leaving the theater before the film even ends.
Their first experience with EVE it’s a story and 2/3 don’t even finish that story. Are we sure it’s a good story?March 8, 2017 at 8:04 AM
I think you have a lot to discuss with CCP when you make it on the CSM!March 7, 2017 at 6:42 PM
Kael Decadence Set
Here’s hoping right?March 8, 2017 at 1:24 AM
That EVE will take a hit from SC’s launch strikes me as a bit of a reach. But I agree something needs to be done. I think the answer is in a bipedal character-centric PC title. Truly integrating one into EVE is probably expecting too much and I’d expect it as a stand-alone like Legion was going to be.
If EVE did take a considerable hit after SC’s release, it hurts to say this as a possible future games industry dev, but I imagine EVE could survive in a severe limp mode with reduced active development.
This article begs the question of EVE’s future and overall I think the structure and stewardship is good enough to keep it alive through wild successes of other games.March 8, 2017 at 12:35 AM
Also, am I picking up an insinuation that the Incarna riots might’ve been a mistake?March 8, 2017 at 12:36 AM
Kael Decadence Rain
I actually wasn’t playing at the time of Incarna unfortunately. I was one of those that picked up the game in 06 and couldn’t figure out how to play it, so gave it up. Imagine that right?March 8, 2017 at 1:24 AM
I can’t recall when I first played eve. Been an on and off player for years though. The main reason I have quit within the month each time I try again is because there is a disconnect between the painted picture of the game, and the reality of the game. Even now, CCP is flat out lying to returning players when they say there is an infinite skill queue. No there isn’t. It’s finite. Limited to 50 skills in the queue. [shakes fist at CCP]
But deeper than that. There is a fantasy portrayed. And it does hook you in. The story and the fantasy built up in the mind of an entering player is enticing and exciting. But then you start to play, and what you actually get is grinding. Sitting in a Velator, mining, trying to make sense of layers and layers of spreadsheets.
So here’s an interesting question. Does Farm Simulator pretend you’ll be doing anything other than driving round in a tractor?
Perhaps if they started to tell people they can become data analysts in space, there’d be no disconnect and you’d get new player retention of the kind the bittervets would approve of. This is a joke.
My real point is, when the idea of a product, doesn’t match the reality of the product, the buyer feels cheated (yes, even alpha). No matter how good the product is. It’s like taking home a hottie and being really excited but they turn out to be a dud root. This is why new player retention is low. Initial expectations are not being met. Set the right expectations, retention will rise. Then advertising RoI will make the expense worth it.March 12, 2017 at 11:26 AM