I was surprised that people were surprised and distressed by the dropping numbers. Endie on twitter used it as an excuse to claim CPP "squandered" the new subscriptions brought to them by the big battles of Asakai and BR. Declarations of War podcast has a segment on the recent podcast talking about if EVE is dying.
I was not surprised because I've been staring at this graph since January:
The fact of the matter is that the hump from Retribution launch to a year later was an unusually optimistic time in EVE in the past four years and after that has been a returned to more historical level (albeit a bit lower). That's not to say that the numbers are not concerning, just not surprising to anyone paying attention to the game overall. We've been hovering above and below the 30K concurrent user mark for years.
The fact of the matter is that we are at a tipping point; on one side we have the resurgence of the game and possible rise to higher concurrent user numbers, and on the other side we have ever declining numbers and the eventual shutdown of the server. I wrote about this last January in my post called Limits in response to this graph:
The Crystal BallWe are sitting at that point where we go one way or another and the playerbase is holding its collective breath in a wait and see mode. The promise of that new game play and space and new sov mechanics hangs over the game's future like the sword of Damocles; the promise of a new powerful future balanced by the possibility of certain doom. And players are waiting to see if the sword falls.
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 RoadWith 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.
The longer it takes for CCP to lay out the details of its future plans and to start to deliver on them in meaningful and fun ways, the greater the chance that they are going to miss the mark and the tipping point will fall into the abyss of failure. However delivering poorly thought out and/or implemented features runs the risk of death by the sword as well, so its a very damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario.
The Industy update coming on July 22nd is not going to reverse any numbers. The end of summer in a couple months might help, but the future rests on making real progress in gameplay features that a lot of people can use (unlike the Industry changes that only will really impact in a large way a fraction of players). More new combat ships or pretty graphics will not help the numbers increase; we're beyond that point now. We need substance, we need information, we need to know what we are waiting for.
And we need to see it soon.