Player Retention: Cradle to Grave After Grave

Bill McDonough 2016-09-25

Player retention is a matter of critical importance for the long-term health of any MMO. EVE is no different in that regard. For a game like EVE Online, it is even more important  than it is for more traditional MMOs. In EVE, players aren’t only the people someone players with, or even the people someone competes against.  In EVE, players are behind just about everything a player does. Players create just about everything any other player uses.

With that in mind, EVE’s long-time player retention numbers are abysmal. There are a lot of different reasons for this, some of which were covered in an earlier article. It remains true that the best way to keep people playing is to get them playing with people. In the first part of what seems to be becoming a series, we looked at the root cause of engagement in a social game: people. This time, we’re going to focus on a few of the tools that can help CCP ensure people can connect with people. We’ll also get a little more specific about how to improve the mechanics of Sov. With just a few changes, CCP can preserve the benefits of the Aegis system, and allow more engagement.

Right From The Start

EVE used to start up, that first time, with the kind of phrase that grabs a potential player’s attention. It was simple. It was direct. It was a promise.

“You are about to become what all men should fear.”

That opening cinematic gave players a taste of what was out there, what they could aspire to. Most MMO’s promise epic combat against powerful enemies. EVE, though, promised that there was more out there for people to find than just shooting one another. And yet, after all that, a player’s first taste of gameplay was, well, underwhelming. New players got a rookie frigate, and were sent out to shoot a red plus sign in space, or maybe shoot a rock with its mining laser. The disconnect is jarring.

Every character in EVE begins in an NPC corporation. That NPC corporation is one of the three schools for the player’s faction, like Pator Tech School. Lore-wise, each character enters the game upon graduation from their school’s capsuleer program. Think about that. The game begins with a tutorial to teach players what their character just learned. And what is it their character just learned? It’s the answer to the question they’re already asking: ‘what the hell am I doing?’

Why not back that up a bit? Instead, begin gameplay before ‘graduation’. The character is there to learn these things, right? At the same time, EVE can learn from the successful games of years past. EVE has always made its name by being a ‘hard mode’ game. Dying matters. You lose your stuff. Your ship blows up, it’s gone. You don’t just run back to your corpse to pick it all up again. In MMOs, that’s unusual. In the rest of sci-fi gaming, it’s much more common. In fact, there’s a much-loved franchise that adopted a similar approach: losing matters.

In most single player, story-driven games, you progress through the story by overcoming challenges. If you can’t beat a challenge, you don’t get to the next bit of the story until you can. Maybe the mission restarts. Maybe you respawn and keep pounding your head against the wall. Either way, sheer dogged persistence can often get you through on most of these games.

Back in 1990, though, the original Wing Commander game took a very different approach. Losing meant losing. The storyline of the Terran-Kilrathi war progressed, either way. Beating missions meant strategic victories in the ongoing campaign. Failing missions saw the Kilrathi push the human forces back farther and farther. It was a game the player could actually lose.

Of course, you could always just reload a saved game, but Wing Commander wasn’t built around the idea of forcing players to relive their failures until they won. Instead, Chris Roberts went game-ception: within the video game was a video game. At any time between missions, a player could hop into the simulator and get in some practice. They could take some time to hone their skills without jeopardizing their progress. Practice remained practice, and flying ‘for real’ retained that feeling of having consequences.

It’s not impossible for EVE to do much the same thing, for new players. Between Brain-in-a-Box and the arena/dojo system that got tested but never implemented, new players can get a taste of what’s out there to aspire to. It wouldn’t take much to set up a ‘simulation’ area. New players would be able to try out a cruiser, battleship, or advanced frigate of their race. That way, they could learn the ropes and get a sense of what’s out there.

While the initial sense of ‘it’s a simulator’ would seem to point toward solo play, there’s no reason it can’t be multi-player. Put all the new players in a faction (or, if there’s that many, in a school corp) in the same ‘simulator instance’. Give them a goal to achieve, and let them go at it. Encourage them to use EVE’s voice comms, or set up a CCP-run TS or Mumble server for the simulators. Give the burner mission AI appropriate hulls to use, and it can challenge them. The better step would be to let experienced players sign up to be members of an opposing force (OPFOR). This would let the new players get a real sense of what’s waiting out there for them. It would even include the vicious murdering sociopathic mons–err, I mean, us. When there aren’t enough people signing up to be the OPFOR, then in come the burner rats again. Challenge them as they learn, but give them something fun to meet the challenge with.

Whet their appetites. Once they know what they could be flying, they’ll be eager to get back into those ships.

Hit the Ground Talking

Another problem, though, comes once the player gets out of their starter system. NPC starter corps exist to give new players a built-in avenue to socialize with other people, but they run into a couple of problems.

The first of these is that the chat tabs are small, and easy to overlook. During the ‘Using Science to Help Newbros’ presentation at Fanfest 2015, CCP Rise noted a similar problem. The small Opportunities pop-up took up ‘2%’ of screen space. As a result, playtesters reported that it was often missed. If that window wasn’t getting noticed even though it was a new pane appearing on-screen, how much easier are the chat tabs to miss? Sure, the chat window itself is easy to see, but it defaults to Local, not Corp. That’s not a bad choice, in and of itself. Local is the channel people are going to need more often, and get more use out of. But if CCP wants new players to use Corp chat, they need to see it. Before they can hook up with one another in their newbie corp, they need to know the chat’s there in the first place.

The second problem is, they’re not curated enough. In fact, they can be downright toxic. Once people know to look for the Corp chat, they wind up in what amounts to General chat in more standard MMOs. Sure, there might be people talking, but what they’re talking about might be as bad as the infamous ‘Barrens Chat’ of WoW. Call it moderation. Call it censorship. For people who are new to the game, though, that first impression of the people they’re expected to be dealing with is critical.

Even when the conversations aren’t stomach-churning, there isn’t much reason for a new player to decided to engage with people unless they have a problem. That may seem odd in a social genre—and MMOs, at their root, are a social genre. It’s the same as any other new social setting, though. People hesitate to put themselves out there. They don’t want to look foolish or embarrass themselves. That’s not going to change, but the other issues can.

The easiest and most immediate measure is just to begin with the Corp channel in a separate panel. The default size for the chat windows isn’t large. A second panel wouldn’t cost too much real estate. From there, add moderation. CCP already has GMs moderating other public channels in-game, like the public recruitment channel. They can moderate the newbie channels as well. One GM for each faction, if twelve channels is too much. Then each of them only needs to focus on three channels. The initial work might be daunting, but channel moderation is a system based on inertia. Once you start it rolling, it doesn’t take a lot of wprl to keep it maintained. The effort is all on the front-end.

Making the Corp channel more obvious will encourage its use. Making the conversations there less offensive will help players find people they want to deal with. Once they start forming contacts, then they’re more likely to start looking for more. That least to other avenues, like the recruitment channels, or forming their own corp with their new friends.

Taking The Next Step

Once players leave the comforting surroundings of their rookie system, what then? For those who move into established corps and alliances, there are pretty well-established paths. Those groups work keep their people invested. For those forming new corporations, though, it’s still just stumbling around in the dark. This is where CCP can copy one of the positive mechanics of Faction Warfare to help new players find their way.

In Faction Warfare, players join their faction’s Militia. The Militia is an umbrella organization—individuals, corporations, and even alliances can join it. Joining the Militia brings access to the Militia’s chat channel. This allows easier coordination and socializing between its members. Most of the LP farmers tend not to use it all that much, but it’s there.

Similar umbrella organizations could exist for a wide variety of activities. ORE or Upwell, for example, might have a similar organization for miners. The Sisters of EVE could have an affiliate organization for explorers and hackers. Exactly which professions pair with what organization is irrelevant. What matters is a cross-faction framework for getting people together. Will this be a magic bullet? Of course not. Still, the more tools players have at their disposal to find people to interact with, the more successful they’ll be.

These groups don’t even have to be singular. Some might even be single-faction. Imagine them as trade associations. Being a member of the Association of Federal Resource Procurement (or whatever) could bring its own buffs to mining within Gallente space, or reduced taxes and fees at associated stations. Sure, those are coded systems, but the idea is to use the coded systems as a means to get people into a situation where they’re interacting and socializing with others.

People stay for the people they fly with, and the rat bastards they’re looking to kill. Giving them more ways to establish those bonds, friendships, and rivalries is critical to keeping them invested in the game.

Null Set

In my earlier piece, I touched on how Entosis warfare works against player retention. It reduces the amount of engagement players feel with one another while contesting sov. It also eliminates most of the participants’ feeling of actually contributing to the outcome. That is all a result of one specific part of the new sov system: the Entosis Link. ‘Orbit the button in space and wait’ is just not engaging gameplay.

That doesn’t mean Aegis sov is a complete boondoggle. As I said in that same article, the ADM system itself has solved a lot of the problems the new system exists to address. It doesn’t need the FW-inspired Entosis mechanics to work. In fact, it works better without them.

We know this because we’ve seen how the system works without the Entosis mechanics. We see that just by looking at how it works when sov isn’t actually being contested. People live in denser-packed space. Response times are better than they were. Groups that might have controlled a region in Dominion hold a few constellations. Groups that held half the map now content themselves with a single region. People are engaged with one another and living in the space they hold. It’s only when the Entosis mechanics start to come into effect that people tune out. And the more experience they have with Entosis warfare, the more they just do not want to be involved.

Ditch the parts of the sov system that aren’t giving the players what they need. They aren’t giving CCP what they need, either. What CCP needs is engaged players, the kind that stick around. Then improve how ADMs work. There were a lot of different things we were told were going to factor into ADMs. Industry, research, exploration, they would all count. After sixteen months, there’s been no sign of those things coming into play. That’s part of a trend. New or updated systems get released in a partly-finished state. They’re not done, but they’re done ‘enough’. CCP promises to finish the features Soon™, with an update or iteration. That iteration either never comes, or completely fades out after one pass. Meanwhile, developers move on to another shiny new system to release before it’s finished.

That hurts retention, too. When players see CCP isn’t actually living up to their promises, they stop trusting them. If the devs won’t deliver on promise after promise, how can they be trusted to deliver on anything else. And why invest time in a game you don’t think will deliver on its promises?

So roll out the rest of the ADM contribution systems. Maybe it will all be part of the industry index. Maybe it will mean introducing a new index. The specifics of that aren’t relevant. What matters is that all the things players do should be represented in the Indices. They are, after all, a measure of occupancy as much as anything else. At least, two of them are. The Sovereignty Index is a measure of how long someone has owned a system. So decouple it from the others, and give it a simpler, more sensible use. Let the Strategic Index determine how fast the other Indices decay. The presence of an IHUB can just give the Strategic Index a bump, rather than holding down the decay rates on its own.

Then let people shoot at the sov structures. Give each type of sov structure the same kind of vulnerability timer the Citadels have. Then give them the damage cap and minimum damage threshold to go with it. Once that’s done, let the ADMs affect those numbers. With the Strategic Index decoupled from the ADM calculation, the average of the Military and Industrial Indexes would affect the minimum damage threshold, damage cap, and even the size of the vulnerability window. That means that if there’s a system nobody’s used in a long enough time for the ADMs to drop all the way down then some guy in a frigate should be able to take it—if he’s willing to shoot at the structure for half an hour or so. But for busy, important systems, it will mean needing to commit a fleet, and that means an opportunity for defense, for fighting, for engagement.

It gives the players a chance to matter, and more importantly, it gives them the chance to feel like they matter.

Be Consequential

Players want their actions to have meaning, to have significance. It’s one of the things EVE’s marketing has understood all the way through. The ‘Butterfly Effect’ trailer made that promise in no uncertain terms. ‘All player actions, no matter how subtle or bold, always have an impact’. ‘Causality’ followed a single player’s choices as well. That trailer told the viewer ‘your choices have meaning. They will make an impact.’

That means those choices need to have consequences. Right now, most of them do. They’re often subtle, long-term consequences, based on the reactions of other players. And that’s a good thing, other players should be able to react to the things you do. Other players should, and do, remember the things you do. But other players shouldn’t be the only ones who remember. They shouldn’t be the only ones who take notice.

As things stand, they are. The only official ‘notice’ comes in the form of faction standings, and security status. As they currently exist, both of these are more or less meaningless.

Negative faction standings mean the ‘Faction Police’ get pissy with you on gates. That’s the Amarr Navy, Republic Fleet, etc. Some players are spooked by this. Everyone else, though, just keeps calm and warps away. They don’t pursue. And with rare exception, they don’t use warp disruptors. They web you down, but that just lets you warp off faster.

Poor security status gets the Faction Police’s attention, too, but it goes a little farther. It also gets you a suspect flag when you go into certain high-security system. Which ones depends on how far you’ve slid. That suspect flag means other players can attack you without CONCORD interfering. Of course, security status is lowered by killing other players. As a result, other players can shoot at you. It carries more penalty than bad standings do. But should it? Or should the Empires care as much about their enemies as they do about criminals? Either way, it’s easy to avoid punishment. Just go make more money in ways that faction likes.

Running missions for one faction improves standings with them, and the other great empire they’re aligned with. It also lowers the player’s standings with that faction’s enemies. That penalty is much smaller than the increase, though. As a result, a careful player can use this to maintain a good rep with all four empires. Even if the player does fall afoul of one or another, they can fix that. The Sisters of EVE have a mission arc that will let them rebuild those standings. Of course, an even simpler option is to avoid that faction’s high-security space.

Security status, too, carries with it no real long-term penalty. If a character’s security status drops too far and begins to be inconvenient, all they have to do is go ratting. Killing pirate NPCs will raise a character’s security status over time. It also while pays out bounties from CONCORD.

Yes, the cops who will let people blow the character up for a low security status continue to wire that character money for murdering the right people. In effect, CONCORD is paying for the next ship they’re going to blow up when that character misbehaves again. Since there’s no limit to how often players can rebuild security status, there’s no reason not to misbehave again. It’s like a battered wife who doesn’t just forgive her husband as long as he’s hitting people she doesn’t like, she actually buys him shiny new cufflinks and a nice set of brass knuckles while she’s at it. She knows he’s going to hit her again, but she’s just so happy he’s beating up the neighbors instead.

This is all supposed to be somewhat offset by player-based consequences, including bounties. People can put bounties on one another, filing them with CONCORD. The intent of ths bounty system is to encourage bounty hunters to go after their intended targets. This system is so broken it isn’t funny. Destroying a ship flown by a target with a bounty doesn’t actually pay out the bounty. Instead, it pays out part of the bounty, based on a percentage of the value of the target’s ship.

A pirate blows up a miner’s one billion ISK blingy Mackinaw and his victim decides to put up a one billion ISK bounty. Now he’s running around with a one billion ISK price-tag on his head, right? The problem is, nobody will ever get that billion unless they kill that pirate while he’s flying a supercarrier. Otherwise, it will just whittle down bit by bit as he gets killed again and again. If he’s any good, the odds are he’ll be amassing bounties faster than he’s getting killed. Worse, the system more or less guarantees that whatever investment and effort needs to go into collecting that bounty will exceed the amount collected.

Oh, and if he’s in high-sec, all the normal rules of wardecs and CONCORD apply. So going to collect a bounty on a high-sec ganker means declaring war on his corporation. That’s impossible if he’s still in an NPC corp. Or, the bounty hunter can have CONCORD come in to blow them up for collecting the bounty CONCORD is advertising. And, of course, take that security status hit for shooting another player.

As a result, if a player does go out bounty-hunting, they are almost guaranteed to never see a penny in profits. When a bounty is placed on a character, it winds up functioning at most as a badge of (dis)honor. The only consistent payout of bounties is in fleet engagements. There, it’s far more of a curiosity than anything meaningful.

Taken together, this means the ‘consequences’ of being a villain in EVE are inconsequential. EVE is a game full of villains, as a result. The number of real ‘white hat’ actors is vanishingly small compared to ‘black hat’ actors. The vast majority of non-villains, the people who would benefit most from having more ‘white hats’, are ‘grey hat’ types, minding their own business and not getting involved. It’s all very reminiscent of reality, but the problem is, it’s a game. If we wanted hopeless nihilism, we could just watch the news.

Heroes need villains. It’s a given. It’s well-understood. A hero without a villain is just a guy with nothing to do. But villains need heroes, too, even if it gets overlooked a lot of the time. A villain without a hero is just a jerk boasting about how badass he is because he can pull the wings off of flies. Villains give heroes something to oppose. Heroes give villains something to test themselves against. They give one another meaning. Yin and Yang. Black and White. Ponch and John. Oh, come on, you know John Baker was smuggling drugs right under Ponch’s nose.

Player actions, whether heroes or villains, need to have consequences. They need to matter. When members of Pandemic Legion decided to mess with a Live Event by ensuring the event was unwinnable, that should have mattered. It mattered enough to get a mention in the ‘World News’ channel that describes significant in-game events. But it didn’t matter enough for there to be any actual repercussions.

I’m not talking about CCP coming down on PL for messing with the event. They’re capsuleers, they engaged in the event and played it how they wanted to. That’s good. That should be encouraged. But at the same time, that should’ve pissed off the Caldari State, too. The simplest reflection of this would have been a change in standings. As we’ve seen, though, standings aren’t exactly an effective carrot or stick.

That needs to change. The kinds of actions that affect security status need to effect standings, as well. And rebuilding either needs to be more difficult for the real ‘bad apples’ out there. If you wind up with only slightly negative standings or security status, the current system is fine for recovering. The folks who push themselves down to -5 or worse, though, should find it harder and harder to get back in the authorities’ good graces. And when you hit -10, that’s the point where your mere presence should trigger a CONCORD response in any system of 0.8 security or higher.

There are multiple ways to go about that. The easiest one would be to simply reduce the status recovery gained by ratting. Every full point of negative security status below -4 could bring a corresponding -15% in status regained. At -10, the unrepentant pirate would only be getting 10% of the current security status boost from an activity plenty of people do while afk.

This may make life a little more difficult for the dedicated gankers. Right now, though, ganking is a low-risk way to harvest loot and tears. Just assume the ship is dead and factor that into the cost of doing business. Goonswarm’s Ministry of Love is wildly successful. Not only are they self-funding, but they recovered from a quarter-trillion ISK theft in under six months. It’s a fair bet that if other groups didn’t see similar profits, they wouldn’t be doing it.

Next, revamp the bounty-hunting system. This can be another option for the NPC organizations idea. Establish a ‘CONCORD Bounty Hunter’s Association’ umbrella group. Set up requirements and conditions. Maybe membership requires maintaining a security status of above 2.5. Give it membership perks. If someone’s got an outstanding bounty, CONCORD will not interfere with a Bounty Hunter collecting on the bounty, and it won’t ding the hunter’s security status. No suspect flag required. Let Association members receive the full measure of the bounty, regardless of the value of the ship the target was flying. By allowing for the full bounty payout, it means small groups of hunters could go after particularly big targets, and still come away with something to show for it.

Can that system be gamed? Of course. It’s not even difficult to imagine how. Maybe gankers start putting bounties on freighter pilots, then using that to escape CONCORD. Maybe our pirate friend goes and sets up an alt on a second account who’s a bounty hunter. Whenever his main’s bounty gets high, he comes along and collects it. That doesn’t mean everyone who comes hunting is going to be his alt, though, and it gives the bounty system at least a little of the bite it doesn’t have right now. As for the gankers, a 24-hr lag time on the bounty taking effect would give the freigher pilot plenty of time to make use of other systems that could be put into place to allow characters with good security status to pay off the bounty—or get his own alt ready to collect the gankers’ money.

The real thing to remember, though, is that in the long run any system can be gamed. Anything I think of is the product of one brain. There will be thousands of brains looking for ways to poke holes in any system the devs come up with in their half-dozen brains. They will find ways. It’s unavoidable. The aim of the system shouldn’t be to prevent people from gaming it. Rather, it should be to ensure that it meets the needs of the legitimate users.

Last time, I said that automated systems don’t work. That’s still true, they don’t increase player engagement. What they can do, though, is create more reasons for players to engage with other players. Bounty hunting is an example of that that is currently being completely wasted. The same is true of the other professional associations. It’s true of improving the New Player Experience. And it’s true of making NPC corp channels more accessible, less toxic and more relevant to the interests of players who are looking for a way to find their place in the game. But there’s one more aspect of things CCP needs to do to help player retention. And this is something they need to get done before the November release opens up alpha clones, and f2p.

Go Pro

In a recent blog post, Gevlon Goblin discussed toxicity in player/dev relations. He focused on one of his favorite targets: CCP Falcon. There’s a lot to disagree with in almost any sentence Gevlon strings together of more than three words. This time, though, he got something right:

“professional people are not toxic with toxic people. They calmly escort them out.”

This is exactly true. It’s why sites like reddit can be as much a trap for game developers as a vital, constructive venue for connecting with, and getting feedback from, the players of their game.

In a lot of cases, CCP’s made strong efforts to remain professional, even dealing with non-CCP platforms, but there have been notable exceptions. CCP Falcon, for example, has been undeniably harsh on Gevlon on reddit. It’s a level of behavior he wouldn’t engage in on the EVE Online forums. It’s also behavior he doesn’t level at anyone else on /r/eve.  Stunt Flores got an account banned for actions that took place outside of the scope of CCP’s software and websites. Someone else made public a joke image Stunt had sent them.

Was the joke a stupid idea? Sure. Was it in poor taste? Definitely. Is Gevlon someone who quickly, easily, and enduringly rubs people the wrong way? Oh my God, yes. Does any of that matter?

Not one little bit.

CCP banned Stunt over what they claimed were EULA/TOS violations. The EULA and TOS cannot cover activities that are not taken within the EVE software environment, though. Something that happens on the EVE forums? Something in-game? The TOS and EULA cover those. But on a Slack server that is not operated by CCP, is not moderated by CCP personnel, CCP’s EULA and TOS for EVE Online are meaningless. It means CCP is asserting the right to police the things you send to friends of yours in email. Say the wrong thing, and if someone tells them, you’ll get banned. That’s not just unprofessional, it’s unreasonable, and it’s insane.

Similarly, Falcon’s behavior toward Gevlon on the /r/eve subreddit was incredibly unprofessional. It was funny as hell for a lot of people, but it was still unprofessional. If someone is being disruptive and causing a problem in a store, the manager might call security, or escort that person out themselves. If they resist, maybe they’ll call the cops.

What no manager should ever do is to be just as disruptive, lewd, crass, disgusting, or obnoxious toward that individual. By the same token, they shouldn’t go engaging in that behavior in someone else’s store while they’re recognizable in uniform for their own. They shouldn’t avoid that kind of behavior because the person doesn’t deserve it. Whether the person deserves it is completely irrelevant. They should avoid that sort of behavior because other customers see it, and it will leave a lasting impression with them. They will remember the sort of manager that store has, or remember ‘hey, that jerk works at (insert chain here)’, and many will decide to shop elsewhere.

The same thing holds with customer service online. One thing that came up in Sion’s articles is the clear and simple statement that the players of EVE Online aren’t just people playing a game. They’re not just people CCP is entertaining. They are paying customers. By and large, they are the customers CCP is completely beholden to for its month-by-month revenue stream. If customers feel like they’re not going to be treated professionally, they’re more likely to decide they don’t need to be your customer anymore. If potential customers are sampling your product, and they get the idea you don’t conduct yourself professionally, they’re less likely to choose your product over that of your competitors.

Any time anyone from CCP Games does anything in a public venue as someone from CCP Games, they represent CCP Games. It’s obvious. It’s so obvious it’s a no-brainer. Steve Clevinger of the Seattle Mariners just got suspended by Major League Baseball for offensive tweets. He wasn’t tweeting during a game, wasn’t tweeting about a game, and he wasn’t tweeting from the MLB account. As an active, visible employee of the Mariners, though, his public persona reflects on his team, and on Baseball as a whole.

If CCP reps want to spout off on reddit under their real names, with no attachment to CCP, then hey, great. If they want to go, as one recent commenter put it ‘assuming things based on alliance flair’, it’s a free internet. But when they are representing CCP Games, they need to remember that they are dealing with the people who pay their salary. They don’t need to be obsequious. They don’t need to be particularly deferential. I spent years in customer service—retail, call center, online, and running a contractor’s office. God knows I’ve found ways to let a customer know just exactly when they’d crossed a line. But they do need to be professional. Always. At all times.

It seems like a silly little thing, especially someplace like /r/eve. It’s a place where the regular users get abusive at one another all the time, and the mods just let it all go. Maybe because it’s EVE, that means we’re supposed to tolerate people being bottom-feeding pondscum. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people on /r/eve are perfectly fine. Some, though, definitely fit that description. And especially now, with EVE’s retention numbers still low, and the PCU count down to the point where at 9 p.m. Eastern on a weekend, TQ is just barely breaking 20k, CCP can’t afford to drive off anyone.

That’s not an attack on CCP, or Fozzie, or Falcon, either. They’re human beings. They slip. It happens. But it’s a problem they need to be aware of. Because the time to fix that problem is now, before the alpha clone program brings in a wave of new players. Those of us already here, well, we’re already here. But CCP only gets one chance to make a first impression on new customers. Just like with the corp chat channels, that first impression can be critical. It would be terrible if the f2p initiative were to crash and burn because of bad customer service. It would be the kind of missed opportunity from which it’s hard to recover.

Looking to the Future

As we near the end of September, EVE Online sits on declining player numbers and a growing sense that the slump might not abate any time soon. At the same time, we are now just over a month away from a new chapter in EVE’s story that may bring in new and returning players alike. Those players will be deciding if this is a game they want to invest in with the one commodity they cannot replace: their time. The MMO market is a lot more crowded than it was when EVE launched, and the sci-fi MMO market especially has been getting more competitive over the last few years. EVE cannot afford to let retention levels remain as low as they have been. They need to improve.

The way to improve retention is simple. CCP Rise touched on it in that 2015 Fanfest presentation on ‘Using Science to Help Newbros’. The devs need to stop looking at what they need, and start remembering to ask what the players need. They’ve made progress, in fits and starts, but they’ve made some drastic missteps, too. It’s not too late to undo those mistakes. If they put in the time, investment, and effort, EVE can start growing again.

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Comments

  • Erick Asmock

    Fantastic Article. It really touched on a number of issues I have with the game and CCP in general as a player.

    September 27, 2016 at 12:17 pm
  • Borrox

    Well written, especially the parts about professionalism. Some great ideas too. CCP will doubtless ignore every one of them (bitter-vet mode enabled)

    September 27, 2016 at 4:05 pm
  • Dan Cyr

    Speaking from the perspective of an Eve player who subbed and quit on several occasions because I kept trying to play the game solo, PvP is what ultimately kept me around in the end. Nobody forced me into it though, and even my first try at PvP didn’t totally hook me. As you mention though, it’s not in just getting somebody to try PvP once, it’s in giving them plenty of opportunities to do so. Lots of really great stuff in this article indeed, which we can only hope to see at least discussed seriously, if not implemented.

    September 27, 2016 at 5:57 pm