Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 52st edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.
In this edition, Blog Banter supremo Kirith Kodachi asks:
Go to the always useful EVE-Offline.net and take a look at the All Time (weekly average) graph for concurrent accounts logged in.
For the past four and a half years, the graph has hovered around that 30,000 mark; it is, for all intents and purposes, a plateau. But everything must come to an end sooner or later and that is what this blog banter is about.
What’s on the other side of that plateau?
Is there any path for CCP to follow to raise those numbers upwards for a sustained period, or is EVE going to enter a decline to lower logged in numbers from this point? How soon will we see an end to this plateau? Months? Years? Or will you argue that ‘never’ is a possibility? Or you can look at the root causes of the plateau and tackle the question if it could have been avoided or shortened if CCP had taken different actions in the past.
Judging by the 4 1/2 year average as shown, I would say that EVE Online has achieved a state of homeostasis.
Don’t worry, that’s not something you can catch; according to Tortora & Dickinson’s Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (I don’t get much cause to blow the dust off my favourite medical tome much these days), homeostasis is defined as follows:
Homeostasis (homeo- = sameness; -stasis = standing still) is the condition of equilibrium (balance) in the body’s internal environment due to the ceaseless interplay of the body’s many regulatory processes. Homeostasis is a dynamic condition. In response to changing conditions, the body’s equilibrium can shift among points in a narrow range that is compatible with maintaining life.
Like the human body, EVE Online is an incredibly complex interplay of components, structures and systems. But instead of base chemicals, cells, tissues, and organs, EVE comprises base data, ships, players and developers, and organisations (corporations, dev teams).
Considering the way these all interact, EVE Online could be viewed as a kind of digital meta-organism.
Therefore, homeostasis is a good thing – it means EVE is most certainly not dying. As some elements within this EVE meta-organism inevitably burn out and are flushed from the system (even blood cells only last 120 days before being recycled), so they are replaced and homeostasis continues.
This analogy applies equally to individual players, corporations, alliances, fleet doctrines, flavour-of-the-month ships, popular playstyles all of which contribute to this strange interweb lifeform. Like phagocytes and enzymes, the player and gameworld processes are policed and revised externally by CCP, whilst simultaneously the staff contingent and development processes themselves continue to be reviewed and updated.
Of course, it could be argued that the absence of the continual subscriber growth that we saw in the years prior to this plateau could be an indicator of some kind of malaise. I think that this is not the case. Instead, I see it as EVE reaching a kind of maturity.
Like other complex organisms, EVE Online‘s need for growth ceased when it reached an optimal state. Things have found a balance; the population densities of the various playstyles married to the demand for those specific game experiences are unlikely to see any significant increase. For example, there are only so many people who will fit the specific criteria required to be a high-sec industrialist, a roving piratical terror, successful wormhole resident or sov-warfare grunt. Niches within niches have only so much room.
In its current form EVE can at best only expect to continue to enjoy this stability and CCP has become very adept at staving off the decline of old age. But the need for growth would require fundamental changes and additions to the environment to provide a true expansion to the existing fields of play.
Such changes have been attempted in the past, with varying results:
Stitching On Additional Organs
In 2009, the Apocrypha expansion saw the successful introduction of an additional 2000+ star systems and a whole new element to the New Eden sandbox and was widely considered to be an outstanding success, even though the technical debt caused CCP serious problems.
Nonetheless, the mystery and solitude of wormhole space still holds some allure today and more than contributes to the New Eden meta-organism.
In 2011, Incarna was to provide the stage for a whole new arena of avatar gameplay within New Eden’s thousands of space stations, but the expansion’s execution failed to match the vision and calamity occurred instead. Incarna now remains attached to the main body but only as a withered appendage we are unable (and/or unwilling) to show in public and few still find time to play with.
2013 saw the the most recent attempt at EVE Universe expansion with the launch of DUST 514 on the PlayStation 3. An EVE-themed first-person shooter aimed at an entirely new player demographic had the potential to trigger real growth and see that static 30,000 average concurrent user line climb, but sadly the early signs have been underwhelming and DUST 514 has proven to be a Frankenstein-esque attempt to graft on additional organs in a pioneering but dubious experiment. The result has shown signs of life – and may still thrive – but presently it is an ungainly addition to New Eden which struggles to bear its own weight, let alone improve the quality of life of the EVE organism as a whole.
There are rumblings of new reasons for growth in the future. The nebulous promises of player-built stargates and whatever lies beyond the Rubicon may contain the right components to trigger another growth spurt. That remains to be seen.
But for now EVE Online is a rare, ageless, stable, if slightly odd creature. An internet Dorian Grey perhaps?
I wonder if there’s a portrait in CCP’s attic of malevolently pulsating legacy code which stares back into your digital soul…
[This topic is being discussed across the EVE blogosphere, check out Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah for other entries.]