There is a lot of excitement for EVE Online right now and rightly so. The road map on EVE Updates website has a lot of interesting features promised. A lot of old dusty game mechanics have been revised and a lot of new features and functionality have been added over the past year. The lore has gone from static and boring politics to dynamic and alien (for all intents and purposes) invasions!
After 9 years of play I can honestly say that EVE the game is in the best place its ever been.
But EVE is dying.
I don't mean "hemorrhaging blood from a gaping wound on the floor" dying. EVE's death is not imminent barring a sudden unexpected disaster in Iceland. I mean "we're over the hill and entering the golden years" dying. EVE's most vibrant and alive time is in the past and I don't think its coming back. We are fully in EVE's twilight.
I don't know when exactly we entered this phase of EVE's life. Was it way back when the Summer of Incarnage raged and video cards overheated in a flame or hubris? Or was it recently when the sovereignty changes came and the null sec overlords discovered that getting what they asked for gave them something they did not want? Or somewhere in between? If that "18 months" had not happened and EVE in space had been given all the attention, or if that time period had delivered compelling avatar game play, would EVE's twilight still have come now? I don't know, but regardless here it is.
This period could last another decade or more. There are online games out there still alive long after entering their twilight ages. As long as people enjoy the game and the owners keep the lights on, there is no reason EVE couldn't still be a game I'm playing in another 9 years. It will never have that vibrancy and optimism of 5 years ago when subscription numbers were announced at higher and higher levels every fanfest and we watched with fascination as the concurrent player count edged closer and closer to 40K, 50K, 60K... but the game can exist quite happily at lower levels of participation.
We are already seeing the necessary contraction of players to certain areas, and these migrations will continue. There will still be new players coming in and there will still be veterans leading corporations and alliances, but the numbers of both will dwindle over time. There will still be awesome fights and newsworthy clashes, but we will never have the wave of new players that join up en masse and make a splash.
Couldn't EVE regain the glory days and subscription growth? I don't know, the world has changed a lot in the past decade and the potential pool of players has different expectations and that critical mass of players that grew like a black hole in a dust cloud has shed enough bitter veterans to poison the well just enough to break the feedback look. I think we still have enough to stave off immediate collapse, CCPs actions for the past two years have assured that, but we are never going to grow significantly again.
My biggest hope is that CCP has prepared for this eventuality. That CCP has accept that EVE's best before date has expired and that they plan financially for a long twilight and not betting heavily on a resurgence that I feel is not coming. If the former, we've got a long time to enjoy this game and the ongoing development roadmap and Drifter storyline for years to come. If the latter, then the catastrophic end of our beloved game could be closer than anyone wants.
Some people might read this as a pessimistic doom-saying post and I want to assure you that its not. I'm very optimistic that I'm going to have fun playing EVE for the foreseeable future. What this post is is a statement trying to set expectations for you who is reading this. Consider it counter-programming perhaps.