Friday, June 19, 2015

Concurrent Users

Over the last couple days, I’ve been tossing around the fact that in USTZ prime time, I’ve noticed (what I believe to be) an alarmingly low number of logged in players.  Rob K challenged me on this, so I want to defend my concerns.  So, let’s dive in.

First of all, I’m going to use USTZ numbers as my baseline, since that’s the one that matters to me.  I don’t care if the EUTZ is strong if the USTZ consists of me flying around by myself.  If that happens, Eve becomes a EUTZ game permanently.

I’ve spoken many times about the importance of encouraging players to pursue in-game actions that generate a bunch of interactions with other players.  Like a ping-pong ball being thrown into a room full of mouse-traps, you want one spark to set off a cacophony of activity.  It’s awesome to see someone actually toss a ball in, then watch as trap after trap springs in a chaotic eruption.  Eve is that room, and the players are those mousetraps: mousetraps with a desire to be part of a big collection of interactions (ie. something bigger) and the ability to walk out if they’re not interested.

Now, if you have 50,000 mousetraps in the room and you toss a ball, the result is going to be pretty much the same as if you have 30,000 mousetraps.  They’ll all snap as they react to things falling on them – starting with the ball, then changing to their fellow mousetraps as they bounce around.  If you drop to 20,000, fewer traps will be sprung, but it should still be exciting.

But, at some point, you take away too many mousetraps, and the cascading interactions stop.  When you throw a ball, a couple will snap, but they won’t be close enough to the others to keep the chain reaction going.  And when the other mousetraps see this, over time they’ll decide to go to another room (game) where they CAN get in on that chain reaction.  And each one that leaves decreases the chance of that reaction happening again, as it diminishes the appeal of that particular room.

This is a cascade failure.  We see it all the time in Eve, with corporations losing members to the point of becoming non-viable.  And we see it with alliances.  We recently saw it with a coalition.  How many mousetraps do we need to lose before the whole game cascade-fails?  How low can Eve go and keep players thinking to themselves, “I can reliably expect to find content every time I log in”?

When I started playing Eve in 2011, the USTZ was regularly above 25,000 users and sometimes higher than 30,000 users on a consistent basis.  Now, we’re below 19,000.  Does anyone reading doubt that 19,000 players produce fewer interactions than 25,000 players?  And the difference isn’t linear, either… 20,000 players produce far more than double the number of interactions as 10,000 do.  Perhaps exponentially so (statisticians and mathematicians, please help me out here…).

At some point, the concurrent user count drops to the point that players lose faith that logging in will reliably result in meaningful content.  That level is different for each player.  When a player reaches it, he/she lets the subscription lapse and plays another game permanently.

“But Tal, it’s the summer.”  “But Tal, ISBoxer…”  We can justify away this drop all we want, but the simple fact is that I’ve never seen numbers this low before, summer or no.  And even ISBoxer players are able to be shot and be someone else’s content.  Games fail when their player count drops too much.  Every player that leaves weakens the value proposition for those who remain.  And it’s hard to stop the momentum when it picks up.  There’s a reason more struggling companies fail than successfully turn around their finances.

And now, a couple weeks before FozzieSov hits, is a particularly troubling time to be observing numbers dipping so significantly.  As Rob points out, all of the CEOs and content enablers who are interested in making a play for sovereignty under the new mechanics are and have been subscribed and logging in for quite some time.  They’re ready; you wouldn’t see a bump in their activity.

But the players who are eager about a “null-sec shake-up!” and who will fill these corporations and alliances should be coming back by now.  As every marketer knows, you need to make hay while the sun shines, and the sun never shines so brightly as when you’re generating buzz about your product.  The FozzieSov changes are the hot topic right now, and CCP needs to capture player interest while it’s top-of-mind.  That means lapsed and new players signing back up and getting logged back in.

Let’s assume people are signing up (pretty big assumption); it certainly isn’t translating to players logging in.  While the revenue of subscriptions is nice, that revenue does nothing to entice other players to subscribe… only logging in and providing creating those interactions can do that.

That’s why the number of logged in players matters so much.  It’s a direct measure of, “How likely am I to get my preferred type of content?”  which heavily factors into, “Is it worth it for me to continue paying for this game?”

1 comment:

  1. While it's certainly true that you've never seen concurrent logged in numbers so low, CCP most certainly has (this is mathematically necessary as they recall starting a 0). While the lower concurrent log in numbers are nothing to celebrate, CCP doesn't appear to be panicking (hell they’re enthusiastically showing up to more and more player gatherings rather than fearfully cowering in the corner) so I think I'll refrain from panic as well. Retrenchments are unpleasant. We know not CCP’s bottom line. We know not what the critical mass log in number is meaning we know not how far we are from it nor how long we have available to complete a shift towards a bright expanding future.

    I can say that from my mostly industrialist perspective, the markets be booming. Someone somewhere seems to be generating a whole lot of content because my manufacturing lines are careening off the rails. Among other things, Henny Penny (Chicken Little in the US) was narrow minded.