Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blog Banter 60: Measuring Success

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 60th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.

Jakob Anedalle of Jakob's Eve Checklist blog asks:
With Phoebe about to land, CSM Minutes now out, and more of CCP Seagull's vision from Eve Vegas it appears CCP has a bold roadmap, is making big changes, and is willing to take a hit in the short term to see it through. What do you see as the measurable signs that will tell us that they've succeeded? What outcome will we see as players? Is it concurrent player count or something else?

I've never participated in one of the Blog Banters before, but the current subject is one I occasionally write about.  Up until May 2012, CCP released monthly subscription figures to the now-defunct MMOData, so anyone wanting to keep track of the health of EVE could just visit that site.  But since then, trying to figure out how EVE Online is doing is like reading tea leaves.  No one outside of CCP, except maybe the CSM, really knows, although all indications are that the game has lost players over the past year.

EVE Online has run for over 11 years and any decline in player numbers should surprise no one.  But EVE players are shocked and alarmed.  Much like World of Warcraft, EVE Online is an anomaly in the MMORPG industry.  Except instead of posting Blizzard's huge numbers of subscriptions, CCP managed to make a game that grew in numbers for the first ten years of its existence.   I honestly don't think that will ever happen again, at least in my lifetime.

So what is success if I expect declining player numbers will naturally decline in a game this old?  I think if CCP is able to have the same number of players in June 2017 as EVE had in June 2014, then the efforts of CCP Seagull will have succeeded.  But how do we measure success if we do not have subscription numbers.  Personally, I will look at three areas: financial, technical, and player activity.

In the financial area, the obvious measure is looking at CCP's periodic financial statements.  A player always manages to get the information and post the reports on the internet.  But I will also look at a different measure.  Did CCP have to lay people off.  If CCP does not have to have another round of layoffs, then things are going well.  I should probably qualify that as layoffs outside of China.  I don't know what will happen with DUST 514, but any layoffs associated with the sunsetting of that game should not count against EVE.

In the technical area, I look at two areas.  First, will Tranquility support EVE game play without the servers either crashing or displaying the "soul crushing lag" message?  Probably not, but if in three years the game supports 3,000 man fleet fights without reaching 10% time dilation, I'll consider that a win.  Look for the implementation of "Brain-in-a-Box" and any new server hardware purchases for progress in this area.

The second area is if CCP is able to maintain its aggressive release schedule.  Watching CCP Seagull's keynote presentation at EVE Vegas, I think she was pretty pissed off that people don't think that CCP can maintain that schedule.  If CCP can maintain that 10 releases a year schedule with good quality updates, that will help the marketing efforts.  Currently, video game players are paying for season passes to get all of the downloadable content for single-player an co-op games.  That isn't much different than what CCP is charging.  If an EVE subscription is viewed by potential players as paying for a service, then that helps CCP financially.

Finally, player activity.  Yes, with no subscription numbers to look at, the all-time Average Concurrent User graph on is still an important indicator of the health of the game.  But I also will look at the player activity as shown by Dotlan as well.  Ships exploding is not only a sign of player activity, but helps drive the economy.  The more ships exploding, the more business for industrialists, thus making that type of game play thrive as well.  The last metric I will use is the PLEX market.  Not necessarily the price of a PLEX, but the volume of trade as well.  While not a great indicator of player activity due to the actions of speculators, the volume can tell a tale, especially in tough economic times in real world.  If in June 2017, all of these indicators are at June 2014 levels, then I'll consider that a success.

Now, some may consider my criteria for success rather modest.  I'd disagree.  If in June 2017, a 14-year old game is still a top 10 game in the Western MMORPG market, then I think anyone from the outside looking in would consider that a rousing success.

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