Friday, July 14, 2017

The Concurrent User Drop And The Release Cycle

To say that the number of concurrent users in EVE Online dropped over the past few years is a pretty accurate statement. When CCP Seagull became the executive producer of EVE Online in July 2014, the number of concurrent users on Tranquility was approximately 26,000. Looking at the numbers on EVE-Offline, the concurrent user numbers had dropped down to 22,000 over the past month.

Given the level of "EVE is dying!" angst seen amongst some members of the player base, I expected to see a much greater decline than the approximately 15% drop in concurrent users over the past three years. One of the hallmarks of CCP Seagull's years in charge of development is the desire to break away from the cult of the subscription and not require EVE players to maintain as many accounts as previously. In some respects, I believe the decline is a feature in her overall plans, not a bug.

I believe that one of CCP Seagull's major decisions unintentionally contributed to the decline of concurrent users, however. The decision to move from a two-expansions a year to a five week release cycle I believe cost EVE Online a lot of activity. The graphic above is one example. In June 2014, CCP launched Kronos, the last of the old style EVE expansions. Would Tranquility have experienced greater player activity if CCP had launched a Kronos-level expansion in June 2017? I think so.

During the Age of Expansions, EVE typically experienced month-over-month growth during three months: December, January, and June.

Growth during winter is expected, but why the increasing activity in June? Because CCP traditionally launched expansions in late May or June. The expansion would draw people into the game, thus mitigating the traditional summer fall off. Even Incarna followed the pattern, with the steep drop-off in player activity occurring in September, not June or July.

Perhaps surprising to many players, the largest July drop in activity occurred in 2009, not 2011. I see two causes for the drop. First, the critically acclaimed Apocrypha expansion launched in March, not in June of 2009. The second, and perhaps more important reason, was the anti-bot/anti-RMT operation known as Unholy Rage that launched on June 22, 2009.

Returning to the present day, I believe CCP could boost numbers, or at least slow the decline, by targeting the June and November content releases more like the old style expansions than just another incremental drop. Hopefully, the upcoming winter expansion is a move in that direction. Now, if we just see a summer expansion in 2018, perhaps we will see a reduction in the cries that the game is dying.

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