There are only so many people in the world that like to play computer games.
That like/tolerate MMOs. That like/tolerate monthly subscription fees. That like Sci-fi games. Spaceships. Player versus Player emphasis. Single shards. Real consequences. Open markets. Allowed scamming and stealing. The HTFU culture.
In other words, there is a hard limit to the number of potential players of EVE Online, and I don't think that number is in the millions. As much as I love it, and if you are reading this you love it too, the fact of the matter is that EVE's recipe does not make for wide-scale audience appeal.
I think the reason we have seen a plateau in the weekly average of concurrent logins for the past few years is that the size of the pool of potential EVE players has stopped appreciably growing. Having been around for ten years, there are no new markets or demographics or interest groups to target. We've got the attention of the Sci-fi Spaceship Hard MMO players that exists already.
What this means is we've reached an equilibrium: the number of potential EVE players is static with people growing up and joining that group equaling those that are leaving that group, thus the rate of those players trying EVE or re-trying EVE has equaled those leaving EVE to become Ex-EVE players.
The upshot is that I don' think there are any untapped markets to advertise EVE to. While its probable that not everyone who would make a good potential player has heard of EVE, they are the exception: EVE has been around long enough and visibly enough that the majority of the pool has been exposed to it at one time or another. There is nowhere else for EVE to grow, we have reached the limits.
There was one attempt in the past few years to increase that pool of Potential EVE Players. It was called Incarna. As I've said before and I'll continue saying, Incarna was a good idea badly implemented. Had CCP successfully added an avatar based gameplay element where players could own and manage station side stores and drinking/social establishments it could have opened up several new markets of subscribers who eschewed the spaceship game for the station game. But alas, that boat has sailed forever from all indications and we are forced to live with the spaceship only game.
One could argue that DUST 514 and EVE Valkyrie are attempts to expand the player pool but you would be wrong; they appeal to different (albeit overlapping) pools of interest. I don't expect that if either were to become massive successes that EVE would see an appreciable gain in the rate of new subscriptions over the long term; we're not going to turn First Person Shooter players and First Person Flight Simulator Fighter players into third person EVE spaceship players.
The Crystal Ball
So we're in equilibrium, but for how long and what is going to happen next?
Well, Rubicon and its future releases as speculated and advertised are not going to expand the potential player pool. They are cool, and have great possibilities, but still appeal to the same sensibilities that EVE already covers. There is new content in the same style and vein of what has come before. At best it keeps existing players playing and perhaps attracts a few ex-players back, but there is no new groups who would suddenly be drawn in so the pool remains mostly static.
The Dark Road
With Rubicon and its following releases not really changing the landscape of the game, the relative stagnancy of null sec and wormhole space will start to catch up with CCP soon. If not this year, then the next. As the rate of exiting players increases ever so slightly, the plateau will dip into decline. CCP may try some big things to reverse that trend which may succeed in reversing it, but more than likely it will precipitate a Star Wars NGE event and disenfranchise a large portion of the playerbase, accelerating the decline into full-blown disaster.
If this happens, CCP will be forced to close the doors on the EVE servers as the cost of maintaining the massive cluster will outweigh the income from subscriptions. Unlike something like Ultima Online, it would be very difficult for CCP to scale back operations and milk profits out a shrinking playerbase.
The Bright Road
On the other hand, Rubicon and its sister releases may finally shake things up enough that some vibrancy and excitement return to the game. The pool of potential EVE players won't grow but the equilibrium will be maintained such that CCP can continue to operate the game and invest in its growth. Beyond that, it depends if CCP can find a way to create new interests in this game that expand the potential player base beyond its current borders.
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A Thought on Serenity
While I was writing this, I thought about Serenity and how CCP was forced to miss a huge opportunity due to the political realities of running an MMO in China.
One of the great things about EVE on Tranquility is the global nature of the game and the opportunities for interactions and organizations. More than a few alliances have external bonds outside of EVE and it tends to make for the most solid alliances. One of the bonds an alliance can have is a national one. So could you imagine if Serenity did not exist and instead those thousands of Chinese players were allowed to play on Tranquility? Furthermore, could you imagine how much easier of a sell EVE would be in China with the added bonus of competing against players from all over the world instead of just inside their own country? Would Alliances and Coalitions be looking for Chinese PvP corps to increase coverage in the Australian-Chinese prime time? Its so exciting and frustrating to think about...