Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Look Back At The Summer Of Rage And Blackout

With the current decline in the average & peak concurrent user counts on EVE Online's Tranquility server, I expect a lot of looking back at rather famous declines in history. I think the two most famous are the Incarna expansion debacle and Blackout. 

Incarna: In retrospect, by the summer of 2011 EVE was a tinderbox ready to catch on fire. In July 2010, summit minutes released by CSM 5 indicated CCP only had 22 developers out of a 200 person development team were working on new features for upcoming expansions. In January 2011, CCP released an update which increased hardware requirements. In April, the new EVE Online forums launched with technical issues. Concerns about monetization arose with the announcement of an in-game cash shop and charging third party developers for access to the API. Two weeks before Incarna hit Tranquility, CCP announced the upcoming DUST 514 would launch as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Normally, activity rose prior to an expansion, but in the three months leading up to Incarna the number of average concurrent users fell by approximately 4,000. 

From the Jester's Trek archive

The launch of Incarna on 22 June 2011 was, to put the case kindly, sub-optimal. Despite claims by Senior Producer CCP Zulu the expansion launched smoothly, players reported graphics cards melting attempting to run the game. Worse yet, only one of the four versions of the Captain's Quarters were available at launch. But the worst part as far as players were concerned was the Noble Exchange. The $70 monocle was the symbol of an overpriced cash shop looking to fleece players.

What players saw in the client was bad enough. Then came the leaks. The most damaging was the publication of Fearless, the internal CCP newsletter. The publication on opened up the floodgates of concern about the future of monetization in EVE. Unfortunately, the public response from CCP didn't go over too well with the player base, as $1000 jeans became part of the conversation. Then an internal email from CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson leaked that enflamed the situation more. The money quote was:

Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change. [emphasis mine]

CCP quickly flew the Council of Stellar Management to Reykjavik for an emergency summit meeting. On 2 July 2011, CCP and the CSM issued a joint statement about the situation

Subscription data from MMOData

At first, the efforts to mitigate the damage seemed to work as EVE Online hit an all-time high of 375,565 subscriptions in July. But in August, the ACU dropped by 4,000 to under 27,000 players logged in. By October, EVE Online had lost 8% of its subscribers. On 5 October Hilmar published an apology blog to the EVE community. Two weeks later, CCP announced a layoff of 20% of its staff.

From the Jester's Trek archive

EVE began to recover with the Crucible expansion in December 2011. Crucible addressed many of the bugs and quality of life issues players thought CCP neglected due to the diversion of resources to its two games under development, DUST 514 and World of Darkness. CCP also named John Lander the executive producer of EVE in December 2011. By February 2012 the ACU was back up to 30,000 accounts. Following the release of Retribution in December 2012, the ACU would return back to the 34,000 account level, or over 10% higher than the mark at the launch of Incarna. On 28 February, CCP announced 500,000 subscribers world-wide, with many estimating the number of subscribers on Tranquility at 400,000. 

Blackout: Trouble loomed over the horizon going into 2019. The chat servers still performed poorly since the switch to new servers in March 2018. In March, CCP announced nerfs to Force Auxiliaries, High Angle Weapons, carriers, super-carriers, and Rorquals. The massive nerf to null sec income generation did not go unnoticed. In late June, a poorly implemented Drifter invasion of sovereign null sec brought major hostilities to a halt. Also at the end of June players noticed packages in the cash shop that allowed the purchase of skill points for real world cash. 

From the Jester's Trek archive

The spark from CCP that provoked a crisis was a change to the way local would work in null sec. Basically, CCP implemented the delayed local feature from wormhole space in null sec. Introduced on 12 July 2019, the change was touted by CCP as the introduction of "The Chaos Era". CCP propped up the introduction with a sale on Multiple Character Training for purchasing 3 months of game time on 15-17 July, a bonus skill point week from 17-24 July, the Skilling Spree event that ran from 24 July to 21 August, and a final bonus skillpoint weekend on 23-26 August.

One misconception people may have is that the change to local chat is the only thing that upset players. CCP continued swinging the nerf bat throughout the next two months. On 25 July, the Vexor Navy Issue received a nerf to its ability to AFK rat, while all Alpha accounts received a nerf to drone skills. On 1 August, the developers increased sales taxes and broker fees. With the August 2019 release on 13 August, CCP introduced aggressive Triglavian NPCs that would attack travelers and ratters in high sec along with the high sec war changes. Finally, the September 2019 release changed cyno mechanics making travel more complicated.

On 16 September, six days after the September patch went live, Blackout ended. Looking back, CCP apparently looked at the July data with all the events, determined people liked the feature, and kept Blackout on when the August patch hit. I think a lot of players believed Blackout was a temporary feature, and not seeing local return to normal probably made a number of players no longer wait on the game. The exodus from EVE began on 26 August, the same day World of Warcraft Classic launched. In the space of 3 weeks, the average number of accounts concurrently logged in fell by 4,000, or 20%. Once Blackout was removed, the ACU returned to pre-Chaos Era numbers in 3 months.

The revenue for EVE and BDO

Financially, the revenue generated during the third quarter of 2019, while not showing gains, certainly didn't collapse. The drop from ₩14.9 billion earned in Q2 down to ₩14.6 billion in Q3 was still ₩100 million more than the revenue for Q1. The collapse did not occur until the fourth quarter. Even then, the fall was not apparent immediately. On the Q4 2020 earnings call, Pearl Abyss announced to investors that EVE Online earned ₩15.6 billion, an increase of 6.8% over the third quarter. However, Pearl Abyss had to correct the amount on the Q1 2020 earnings call in May 2020. The figure was revised downward by 20.5% to ₩12.4 billion.

From the Jester's Trek archive

The story of the Great Collapse of 2021 is still ongoing, as the ACU continues to fall. We also do not know the financial ramifications for CCP and Pearl Abyss. Hopefully looking back at past events can bring clarity to the present.

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