Overall, 2014 has to be considered a disappointment in comparison to 2013 which saw higher than average numbers except in August and September. It started strong and fell quickly in spring, and September was really dismal for the population averages of the game.
But as the fall came on we saw an uptick that moved the averages back towards respectable and so far has continued in the first month of 2015.
First, let's speculate as to why numbers were declining in early 2014 despite a steady stream of spaceship content development. In April of 2014 I wrote about the CSM 9 campaigns and how a lot of null sec candidates and other commentators were running around claiming null sec was stagnant.
In a nutshell, null sec pilots, from the top to the bottom, were in a morass of stagnation of their own making and seemed reluctant for any of them to put the guns down to each other's heads and break the logjam. As I concluded:
Here we are, about 15 months later, and nothing has changed. Even worse, if we take Sion Kumitomo as an exemplar of high level sov null sec opinion, the current leaders of sov null sec can't see that they themselves are to blame for the stagnation, not CCP's mechanics. Sure, the Dominion mechanics do not help in the matter but the fact is that the professional gamers in the null sec coalitions' leadership have min-maxed those mechanics to the point where they have built a great wall around sov null sec to keep everyone out but themselves and then sit around complaining there is no one new to fight. And should someone new try to scale that wall, the incumbents use those same mechanics to strangle the life out of them.
In the end, I fear the only way the wall will come down is for the current null sec residents to quit from boredom. Any change that CCP introduces will be consumed and gamed by the entrenched professionals whose investment in the status quo ensures that only their desire to stop guarding the wall will see it breached.So as 2014 progressed I believe we started to see my fear come true as pilots in null sec began to leave and the changes to industry in Crius did nothing to alleviate the deflation. However, something did change: Phoebe release was announced with a little thing called "Nullsec force projection" as a feature and it radically altered the environment that null sec was festering in. As I said in a post titled "The New Coming Reality":
This Great Jump Nerf of 2014 is the gift that keeps on giving. As the playerbase moves from resistance and/or shock at the coming change to acceptance we start to see people thinking about what the new reality is going to be.What it meant for null sec was a number of migrations, plans, and doctrine shifts as they adjusted to the new reality and a future planned wars. While some pilots may indeed have unsubscribed in displeasure at the change, many more started logging in to help their alliances adjust and reposition themselves. Hence the bump in average concurrent players over the fall as that mechanic change continues to play out.
Coming hot on the heels of that radical shift has been the new Tactical Destroyers and Tech II rebalancing changing the theory of ship designs, a renewed interest in moving the lore forward in exciting directions by CCP, new space with new mechanics in Thera and the other shattered wormholes, and the promise of new space and player built stargates. These have all served to galvanize a playerbase in different ways that had become rather indifferent to the changing game around them.
The only question now is: Can CCP keep up the excitement in 2015?