Friday, October 7, 2022

EVE Muddles Through The Launch Of WotLK Classic

Last week I wondered how the launch of Wrath of the Lich King Classic would affect player activity on EVE Online's Tranquility shard. Would a highly disgruntled player base do what it did in 2019 when they flocked to play on the World of Warcraft Classic servers? Or was the disgruntlement overblown and would they stick around and fly internet spaceships?

To be fair, this year the developers offered players more than the *cough* awesomeness *cough* that was Blackout. On 29 September, CCP launched the Empire Frontiers patch which offered new story events in both the Caldari-Gallente and Amarr-Minmatar war zones. The event also offered early access to the 8 new faction navy ships that will appear in the Uprising expansion in November.

In addition, the Alliance Tournament season began on Saturday with the Trials Tournament. The Trials is a play-in tournament for the Alliance Tournament for those alliances that failed to automatically qualify for the main tournament. The last weekend of the Trials is the weekend of 8-9 October.

The big question though, is, did EVE Online experience a massive exodus with the launch of WotLK Classic? To answer the question, I looked at the week-over-week change in the number of peak concurrent users (PCU). For the first few days after the launch of WotLK Classic, the PCU did drop, although not precipitously. The largest drop occurred on the first full day the servers were open. Notably, the daily PCU never dropped below 20,000.

Then, a funny thing happened. Even before the first full week was out, PCU counts began rising. To me, a sign that the player dissatisfaction wasn't nearly as great as during Blackout. I guess you can't believe everything you read on the EVE Online sub-Reddit. Imagine that!

I don't want anyone to believe that I think EVE is in an entirely healthy state. As seen by the ACU chart above output by Ripard Teg, the concurrency numbers declined in September. While not unprecedented, a September decline is, to use the technical term, a bad thing. And while EVE survived the launch of WotLK Classic, CCP really needs to see the concurrent user marks increase in October. The developers are trying, but can they succeed? I think that's the question everyone wants to find out.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Star Citizen Stumbles To $5 Million In Sales In September

In September, Cloud Imperium Games recorded four thousand dollars short of $5 million in sales for Star Citizen and Squadron 42. For the year, the CIG recorded $74.6 million in sales on its publicly facing funding page. Oh, and during September, CIG reached over $500 million in sales for the 10 year history of the project.

The Star Citizen money machine stumbled at the end of September, however. From the start of the year to 20 September, CIG had only failed to record $100,000 in sales for a day once, $97,462 on 27 July. But in the ten days following CIG reaching $500 million in sales, the highest amount recorded in a single day was $90,616 on 24 September. The last time CIG failed to raise at least $100,000 a day for 10 days was from 28 July to 6 August 2021.

I didn't anticipate the slowdown in funding after the milestone amount was reached. Perhaps with Citizen Con and the accompanying ship and vehicle sales led to a pause as players wait for deals. Or perhaps players are unhappy about the lack of new content. Patches for Star Citizen usually come out every three months or so, and CIG released patch 3.17 on 29 April 2022. The last I heard, patch 3.18 has not reached Evocati testing and is due out in mid-November.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A Telling Week For EVE Online

Today is a special day, as we get to witness the first full day a new generation experiences Wrath of the Lich King

The launch of Wrath of the Lich King Classic

For some companies, the competition isn't scary. The example that comes to mind is Final Fantasy XIV. The game's producer and director, Naoki Yoshida, actually urges players to take a break when they begin feeling burned out on the game. With patch 6.3 due out in December, now might be a good time for players to dip over and play what many, if not most, consider WoW's best expansion. If they don't like the game, well, patch 6.25 comes out in three weeks or so.

FFXIV Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida

On the other hand are games like EVE Online. Two of the metrics CCP Games uses to determine the health of the game is daily active users (DAU) and monthly active users (MAU). If players decide to take a break, the bosses begin to panic. And, in some sense, so do the players.

Courtesy of Jester's Trek

Not only is the activity on the Tranquility global shard the lowest it's been in the last four years, but is lower than any year over the past 16. Lately the decline as stopped and the average number of players logged in over the past few weeks has increased. With the release of new ships imminent and the first expansion in years due in November, the situation is beginning to look up for EVE players.

In 2019, EVE experienced a backlash by players fed up with the changes occurring in the game. The studio's leadership continued to tout the unpopular moves and when the original WoW Classic servers opened up in late August, activity suffered. A lot. The picture of how much damage became clearer when Pearl Abyss published revised revenue figures for EVE at an investors' earnings call in May 2020. The Pearl Abyss leadership also made the following statement at the time.
EVE Online is also maintaining stable performance. EVE Online -- which was known as the most difficult MMO game -- had the most important challenge, which was to motivate the interest of early users. Using Black Desert know-how and experience from EVE Online, many improvements were made. And accordingly, we saw a meaningful increase of new users. EVE Online, which is in its 17th year of launching, shows through many indexes that a well-made MMO game has a very long lifespan value.
The situation is not quite the same today, however. Back in 2019, the studio's top developers either didn't realize, or didn't care about, the player discontent. In contrast, CCP has dropped ideas like including unpopular monetization mechanics like non-fungible tokens and loosened up the economy. Will players look at the improvements and an expansion on the horizon and not turn to the latest shiny? Or is New Eden about to experience another massive player decline? The rest of the week will give us a hint about the future.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Star Citizen And Cloud Imperium Games Reach $500 Million In Sales

Last last night I refreshed my browser and the Funding Stats counter on the Roberts Space Industries website reached $500 million.

$500 Million Achievement Unlocked

Cloud Imperium Games incorporated in April 2012 and launched a Kickstarter on 18 October 2012. I highly doubt anyone thought the single player Squadron 42 and accompanying Persistent Universe would still be under development 10 years later, especially after raising a half a billion dollars. CIG itself estimated delivery of the game in November 2014.

The Initial Star Citizen Pitch Video

Things didn't quite work out with the timing. The amount of money CIG raised so early wound up contributing to feature creep. What initially was a spaceship game became one with a huge first person shooter component. 

CIG doesn't depend on the ship and equipment sales recorded on its funding site. Total known income since October 2012 so far is:
  • Ship/equipment sales: $500 million (through 20 October 2022)
  • Subscriptions: $22.8 million (through 31 December 2020)
  • Other income: $44.7 million (through 31 December 2020)
In addition, CIG has received a total of $63 million from South African billionaire Clive Calder and his son Keith's Snoot Entertainment. The first phase of the investment, $46 million, was originally targeted for marketing Squadron 42 for a summer 2020 release. CIG missed that date also.

But despite all the delays, the money machine known as Cloud Imperium Games marches on. May Chris Roberts one day delivered a finished product and make thousands of players' dreams come true.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

A Shopping Center In My MMO?

Running around Final Fantasy XIV, I thought I'd seen everything in the form of player housing. From 21st century kitchens to 17th century Japanese style homes. I've eaten at a small Starbucks style cafe in my apartment building to visiting a tavern with a live music played by a bard and big hamburgers. The music venues range from discos to a copy of the old Tunnel nightclub in New York City.

A popular item at the launch of Endwalker

But last Thursday I encountered something from a movie. Someone had set up a free company house and turned the building into a shopping center. The house has 15 rooms and most of the space was occupied.

The Forum Shopping Center is built around The Swaggin' Wagon Department Store. Taking up 8 of the rooms, the concept is a bit wild. Each room has a theme, ranging from casual glamour all the way to crafting and gathering gear. The selection is limited by the number of mannequins available plus the 100 item per room limit, but the idea is nicely executed.

What is a shopping center without someplace to eat? That's right, the shopping center has a restaurant called Lil Lyne Mheg Cafe. When I went in, the place was dimly lit with a bard playing on the stage. Have to have the music, right? When purchasing food in an establishment in FFXIV, the prices are a bit high, but that is to help pay for the total role play experience. If you want a place to stick around, buying something from the owner and talking a few minutes helps a lot.

What's a shopping center without specialty shops? The Forum Shopping Center has three. The first one I visited was Time To Dye. The shop goes well with the department store, as people generally like to dye their clothing if they don't have a glamour plate ready. If Tiny manages to expand his dye supply, I can imaging some players searching him out when the Fashion Report goes live every Friday. Too bad the place is officially only open on Thursdays.

The second specialty shop is Eben's Toy Kingdom. The store specializes in stuffed animals and plushie type items for your in-game homes. When I walked in, the room was filled with them. I didn't realize for a few moments that I could buy things.

The final specialty store is Greenhearth Apothecary and Gardens. The shop spans two rooms, with the Gardens a place to buy indoor items. I've seen some of the items, like the Indoor Oriental Waterfall and Indoor Pond, in other people's homes. I personally can vouch for the Planter Partition, as I've used a few in my apartment.

The Apothecary section is the first time I've seen someone selling food and beverages in a shop for actual raiding/crafting/harvesting use and not as a form of roleplay. I have to wonder if the owner is combining a little roleplay with their crafting.

Next comes one of my favorite places, Steamy Ventures. The place is a complementary onsen for people to gather and relax after running around the shopping center. Having built a second floor in an apartment, I have to say the onsen is very well designed. The first floor has two changing rooms, each with a shower. Stairs lead up to the second floor, which has 6 hot baths, three lined up along each side. I wasn't sure exactly what to do, since The Forum Shopping Center is a safe-for-work environment but nudity is mandatory in real life onsens. I played it safe and switched to the bathing suit I use when spear fishing.

Finally, no place in FFXIV is complete without a photography studio. The shopping center has its own place, Peach Pelegrino Photography, to pick up a few gpose shots done by someone with a lot more skill than I have.

Despite writing a bit more than I have lately, I don't have a financial stake in The Forum Shopping Center. No, I just found an unusual place and thought I'd share. Amazing what players can do if given some tools, isn't it?

Friday, September 9, 2022

Uprising - The Next Major EVE Online Expansion

On Wednesday CCP gave a name to the expansion it teased at Fanfest: Uprising. Why the switch back to expansions? Who knows? Did CCP fear a backlash if the company continued to try to implement non-fungible tokens into EVE? Or did the replacement of Pearl Abyss CEO Jung Kyeong-In with Heo Jin-Young in March 2022 indicate a general change of direction away from the blockchain, NFTs and play-to-work schemes at Pearl Abyss? Whatever the reason, CCP's Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson announced in April that NFT now stands for "Not For Tranquility". 

If I were the cynical sort, I'd say CCP spent the month between the NFT announcement and Fanfest thinking up replacement content for the originally planned blockchain/NFT/play-to-work updates. I'd also say the scramble to present alternatives to the player base gave CCP Aurora the opportunity to push her ideas about factional warfare to the forefront. At least, the leadership at CCP seems satisfied to give her the credit for the idea. Of course, if the changes go wrong, the leadership seems willing to let her take the fall. Another reason to root for the success of the expansion.

The expansion is based around a revamp of the factional warfare feature. Introduced in the Empyrean Age expansion in June 2008, the feature really hasn't seen a lot of attention from CCP since the Inferno expansion in May 2012. In August, CCP issued a dev blog and produced a one-hour stream to update players on the new system.

One of the interesting themes is that all the features introduced in Uprising is just an introduction. In addition to the factional warfare upgrade, the developers will introduce the first steps of the Heraldry system.

Alongside this big shake up of combat strategy, opportunities to earn rewards that unlock Heraldry on ships will be made available. Corporation and alliance logos on ships will act as the introduction to Heraldry, with many more customization options on the horizon following this initial launch such as citadel SKINs and holograms on ships.

Oh, and did I mention new ships? Not a lot of details about those, but we may see new ships introduced for the first time since the introduction of EDENCON ships in the Lightning Strikes patch in June 2020.

CCP is promising an increase in information as we approach the launch of Uprising. Hopefully the hype train can pull players back to the game. Because at the end of August, the number of players in the game rivaled the low point of Blackout.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Cloud Imperium Games Rakes In $5 Million In August

For the first time in 2022, Cloud Imperium Games failed to set a new record sales total for a month. Last month's total of $4.96 million was $350,000 shy of 2020's sales of $5.32 million in August. Still, the total was still over $320,000 more than last year's total.

The company developing Star Citizen and Squadron 42 is still on pace to easily surpass last year's total of $86.4 million in sales. Through the end of August, the company had recorded sales revenue of $69.7 million in 2022. During the 12-month period running from 1 September 2021 to 31 August 2022, CIG brought in $113.3 million. The company is well on its way to surpassing the $100 million mark in 2022.

As of the publication of this post, CIG is less than $3 million shy of $500 million in sales listed on its website. The Kickstarter campaign for Star Citizen began in October 2012. The company should reach $500 million well before the tenth anniversary of the launch event.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Pearl Abyss Q2 2022 Earnings Call

Pearl Abyss held it's quarterly earnings call for the second quarter of 2022 yesterday. The South Korean game maker experienced a 2.8% increase in revenue compared to the first quarter of the year. Year-over-year, revenue increased by 6.2%, up to ₩94 billion.

Taking into account the strengthening U.S. dollar, Pearl Abyss revenue declined by $3.3 million (-4.4%) compared to the first quarter of 2022 and $6 million (7.7%) compared to Q2 2021.1

The profits for the second quarter look a little strange. For the second year in a row, Pearl Abyss ran an operating loss in the second quarter of the year. The executives on the call explained that the company runs an employee incentive program in which Pearl Abyss spent ₩8 billion, including ₩7.5 billion in treasury shares.

The net profit of ₩32 billion, or 34% of the company's revenue, seems unusual considering the operating loss. Pearl Abyss explained that ₩18 billion of the profit came from tax refunds. The figures also were related to financial gains due to currency valuations.

For the second quarter in a row, Black Desert revenue increased, this quarter by 4.8%. Year-over-year, Black Desert revenue increased 5.8%. The Black Desert IP usually gains revenue when Pearl Abyss takes over publishing in a region. With the company now publishing in South America, Pearl Abyss now publishes Black Desert Online globally.

The intellectual property experiencing the biggest declines is EVE Online and EVE Echoes.  EVE revenue declined by ₩600 million compared to the first quarter, or 3.3%. When converted to U.S. dollars, the decline was $1.5 million, or 10%. Going back to Q2 2021, EVE IP revenue declined year-over-year by ₩500 million, or 2.8%. But when won is converted to dollars, the quarter-over-quarter decline was $1.5 million (-10%). Compared to the second quarter of 2021, the decline was $2.5 million, or 15.6%.

The big EVE news was the disclosure Pearl Abyss plans on opening a new server for Chinese users in Q3. A dev blog was released on 15 July with the details on the move, with a better translation posted on the EVE Online sub-Reddit a day later. If the move works in China, would CCP start a second server in the rest of the world?

The only other news was the lack of updates on Pearl Abyss' upcoming titles. The investment analysts did hear that the company plans on releasing an in-game video trailer sometime before the end of the year for Crimson Desert. Other than that, the company may not launch another game until 2023.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

It's Asher's Alliance Now

And a war that should have been over in weeks took another 6 months. I was specifically told I was not allowed to attack, that all I could do was camp. Because even though we had one of the greatest moments in the history of wars in Eve Online there was a still a 5% chance of failure. And that 5% chance of failure was too much of a risk to lose our merchandising and our subscribers. The goal was not to win, it was only never to fail.

- Asher Elias, Goonswarm Federation Executor, 28 July 2022

With the fall of The Mittani from the leadership of Goonswarm Federation and The Imperium, a lot of people have celebrated. Some are disappointed I did not jump on the bandwagon and mindlessly support everything posted on the EVE Online sub-Reddit. Sorry, but relying on that pit of misinformation for accurate news is folly.

But I am about to break that rule. Why? Because The Mittani's replacement, Asher Elias, posted his first speech as the executor of Goonswarm Federation there. With no reliable sources of information available to cover the fall of The Mittani and what follows, I decided to listen to what sources friendly to The Imperium have to say. I recorded the words of Brisc Rubal and Merkelchen on the first The Meta Show episode following The Mittani's resignation. I think Asher's first speech to the alliance is also worthy of recording for posterity.

Hi friends. I haven’t come up here to read you a typical talk about the alliance and what it needs this week, I don’t have an itemized list from each department with bullet points to hit. Instead, I have come to talk to you about Eve Online. I think every one of us can think of another game that if you want to have fun for 60 minutes easily blows Eve Online out of the water. But if I asked you about a Halo match you had 5 years ago you couldn’t tell me a single thing about it. However if you get some Eve nerds sitting around the digital fireside you can bet that they will start waxing poetical about a fight that happened, 5 or even 10 years ago. They will fondly remember their FC and call out the time that they saved the day by landing that scram or the time their titan died and they reshipped into another titan and jumped back into the same fight. I’m an Eve romantic because of those chats around the fireside. There may be a million other games that are better to play but there none that are better to experience. Eve is the game that we tell stories about. Eve is the game where we fondly remember our comrades that we fought with and hope they are doing well, wherever they are in life.

But as time goes by we started getting bitter. It’s easy to start building up anger at this game and at our enemies. We’ve seen how the sausage is made. Everyone here has an idea for how to improve things and we’ve all been frustrated when what we would like to see change doesn’t happen. But, we have also been part of the problem. There’s a problem in video game design where if you let the player sit around and build up their walls and their weapons they will do it in such a way that they will never attack until they have no chance of failure. Until they’ve optimized every last bit of fun out of the game. How many of you here who played Age of Empires or Starcraft can say you didn’t do exactly that. When the game let you, you made your army so big that by the time you finally attacked your CPU foe they had absolutely no chance. And after you did that there was this brief, tiny moment of happiness as you watched the enemy fall so swiftly. But it’s like playing Grand Theft Auto with all the cheats on, it’s fun for about an hour then you get bored.

In our last war, World War Bee, we fought in M2- and we did what every player seeks to do. We utterly destroyed the enemy. We had their titan fleet trapped, we had their morale destroyed. And did we take advantage of that? No, we decided that instead of threatening their keepstar exit route we would sit in that same system for months ineffectually camping them in. Our intel after the war told us that our enemies were shocked at this, they were ready to crumble and they thought we would surely attack their keepstar in NPC Delve and they knew that once we did - they would have to leave.

But we didn’t do that, we let them rebuild their shattered morale. And a war that should have been over in weeks took another 6 months. I was specifically told I was not allowed to attack, that all I could do was camp. Because even though we had one of the greatest moments in the history of wars in Eve Online there was a still a 5% chance of failure. And that 5% chance of failure was too much of a risk to lose our merchandising and our subscribers. The goal was not to win, it was only never to fail.

And to me that was a betrayal. The amount of time that everyone had put into the war was immense. People made sacrifices of their friendships, their money, and their personal lives. I remember friends inviting me to see a movie on Friday night but I would turn it down because I needed to be within sprinting distance of my PC at all times in case the enemy attacked. And when I was told that we couldn’t finish the war it spoke volumes to me about what was more valued, the time and lives of the people who run it or the smallest of chances of failure of the empire. It wasn’t right. But I stayed on, I finished the war at great personal cost, and I didn’t say anything negative. I just told people I was taking a break because I didn’t want to threaten to tear apart the group that I care about, so I just waited for the right time.

And now that time is here, this is our time. It’s time for things to change. If you joined Goons because you wanted to have a totally safe titan until the day you quit the game of boredom then this is no longer the place for you. It was easy in the past to sit behind our player erected walls and have our leader insult our enemies based on the things they did out of game, based on who they were. The policy, unspoken but ever-present, was to make them so angry at us out of the game that they had to attack us in the game. This is corrosive, and it’s no way to run an alliance.

From now on we will make people dislike us because we evicted them from their space. Because we made them move three times. They will want revenge because we fought them not because we made fun of how their leader looks. You will get the chance to be part of the stories that people tell about this game. You will have the chance of incredible victory or the chance to experience failure. It’s time we start pushing in the chips that we’ve gathered. You bought a super? You built a titan? It’s time you had a chance to use those not to shoot an undefended fort but to shoot their guns in anger. To become the story.

In Eve you can’t vote for an alliance executor. But there is a truly powerful way you can show your endorsement of a leader. You vote with your feet. And I’m going to ask you to vote for me. Eve Online is a game that delivers greater experiences than any other game but it also demands more sacrifices. And when you are staying up that extra hour late even though you’d rather be sleeping because you work tomorrow your alliance leader won’t be missing it because he’s got other things to do. He will be right next to you in fleet.

So if this is the future you want for Goons, the future you want for the Imperium, I want your endorsement. I want you to resub that capital account. I want you to show up to fleets in greater and greater numbers. Be there next to me - we will create those memories, those stories together. There was a time when every one of you was a romantic about this game but slowly you lost it. You took on the title “bittervet” and you bore it proudly like armour so that no one could accuse you of loving it and make a fool of you for liking it like you once did. If you ask me if I’m bitter about Eve Online, about Goons and the Imperium. No, no I’m not. I’ve fought with every one of you and all I remember are the good memories. How can you not be romantic about Eve Online? So I thank you for the trust you’ve given me, and I ask you to be a romantic about Eve Online, about Goons, and the Imperium again with me. I’ll see you in fleet.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Cloud Imperium Games Sales Hit $5.9 Million In July 2022

Cloud Imperium Games exceeded $490 million in overall sales in July, selling $5.9 million in virtual goods last month. The monthly figure was high for a July, exceeding the $3.2 million figure in July 2020 by 84%. So far in 2022, CIG brought in $64.7 million.

In July, CIG introduced a technical improvement with increased server capacity. In update 3.17.2 released on Thursday, the server cap increased from 50 to 100 characters. I normally don't comment on technical news, but after 10 years of development, the ability to have 100 players play together is noteworthy.