First, the standard in the MMORPG industry is moving towards faster releases of content. ArenaNet really began the trend with the success of its two week release schedule for Guild Wars 2. But setting such a pace is easier said than done. Carbine is the lastest studio to find out, as Wildstar's Senior Game Designer Megan Starks admitted at Gamescom that the studio was abandoning the attempt to release content every month. But as CCP demonstrated over the past few expansions its ability to release point releases, I'm pretty confident that the game devs will have no trouble keeping up with a six week release cadence.
A steady release of content is important, especially for a subscription game in a genre now filled with free-to-play and buy-to-play games. The more frequent release schedule also is consistent with Hilmar's past statements that EVE is a service. Selling the game as a service will make sense to those used to subscribing to entertainment services like Netflix and Spotify. The consistent updates will help convince people that the monthly fee is worth the price.
Another benefit I see is in marketing. Let's face facts. EVE Online is an eleven year old game. Barring CCP adding a functional version of Walking In Stations or vastly improved PvE content, the game is probably not going to attract a huge wave of new players who are going to jump into an expansion and play for years. The old PR model of hyping two big expansions and then relying on player events like Asakai and B-R to publicize the game just wasn't working anymore.
Going to the six week release cycle means a constant stream of dev blogs that the gaming press can write short stories about. Between that and coverage for regional events such as EVE Vegas, Evesterdam, and EVE Down Under, and CCP can keep EVE mentioned on the gaming sites. Keeping EVE constantly visible could draw in lapsed players, especially if CCP fixes features that irritated the former subscribers. At this point in EVE's life, targeting former players is a viable option.
Theory is fine, but what are the results? In fairness, I think we really need to wait until early December and the Rhea release to judge. From the launch of Kronos to the launch of Rhea would represent the typical length of a summer expansion. But since I'm starting to read and listen to analysis and speculation as to how the new deployment schedule is working, I thought I'd pull out some numbers and take a look at the halfway point.
The chart above lists the performance of each summer expansion at both the twelve week mark and at the end of the expansion. The year 2009 did not have a summer expansion as Apocrypha launched on 10 March 2009. I added an entry for Kronos to show the performance of the new release cycle this year. The calculation was performed by taking the average concurrent user mark (ACU) for the week before an expansion launched and comparing it to the ACU number for either the twelfth week after launch or the week before the launch of that year's winter expansion.
The historical data shows that by the twelfth week after the launch of a summer expansion, one could determine whether the expansion would have more or less activity by the final week of the release. If that trend continues this year, the first five releases of the new release cadence will result in fewer accounts logged into EVE. But that could change, as Oceanus is scheduled for release on 30 September, with Phoebe following on 4 November.
I was also interested in the trends after the launch of each expansion compared to the new release cadence. The above graph represents the change in the weekly ACU compared to the ACU recorded in the week before the launch of an expansion. An interesting fact is that seven weeks after launch, all the summer expansions (not including the 6-week releases) showed a positive change in the ACU. Even Incarna. But the strength of small, frequent releases began to show at the nine week mark, as Crius began to outperform Incarna and Hyperion scored better than Odyssey.
Will CCP buck the historical trend and see the ACU in the first week of December exceed the number set at the end of May? With two more releases, the possibility exists. But CCP Seagull's announcement at the end of her dev blog on Oceanus could also play a role. CCP is currently working on changes to null sec. She linked to a forum post by CCP Fozzie who spelled out CCP's plans:
"Those of you who watched the Fanfest presentations or the recent Alliance Tournament will remember that we have formed a targeted 'Nullsec Working Group' back in April of this year to lead the way towards our next major round of changes to zero security space. This group consists of CCP Bettik, CCP Delegate Zero, CCP Greyscale, CCP Masterplan, CCP Rise, CCP Scarpia, CCP Ytterbium and myself.So we could see action concerning null sec, even if it is the form of offering feedback, as early as the end of September/beginning of October. The first changes to null sec are likely to deploy in the Rhea release on 9 December. Would the promise of change to null sec, and the coverage the associated dev blogs may receive in the gaming press, lure players back to EVE? We'll know in a few months.
"We have been working on re-evaluating the high level goals for nullsec and sovereignty, surveying and learning from the EVE community’s extensive discussions on the issues, and designing and prototyping potential changes to improve nullsec gameplay.
"The working group recently held an extended offsite design and discussion session on September 5th, in which we discussed many of the player-written proposals about Nullsec, clarified our collective position on several issues and made a lot of progress in preparation for the CSM Summit.
"For this upcoming CSM summit we are planning to discuss in detail a set of significant, specific and targeted changes that we hope to release in late 2014, as well as the concepts and prototypes that we are developing for more far-reaching changes in 2015. The CSM has already proven an invaluable resource for bringing us feedback and analysis on the current state of nullsec as well as the community’s desires for the future. We are confident that the multiple nullsec sessions that we have scheduled for this summit will be extremely valuable.
"Our current plan is to bring the late 2014 designs to the wider community for feedback very soon after the summit, independently of the minutes."