Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Death throes or fairytale torpor?

Kills in wormhole space are tracking lower than average, over the past week, by about 25% for Sudden Buggery, plus many other w-space entities. This can be normalised versus the overall decrease in maximum concurrent server logins.

Take a minute to familiarise yourself with Chribba's handy EVE Offline, and play around with the sliders on the TQ login history. These are the facts, and as any scientist will tell you, you have to first have the facts n your possession and clear of any biases or interpretations, before you can analyse the fact according to your hypotheses. So unless anyone argues with such basic primary information being submitted as facts, we'll take it as given and move on to the analysis phase.

The above shows 2015 is trending to be the lowest number of subscriptions in six years. 2008 had a yearly average of 33K, it's 31K for 2015 so far. It is therefore reasonable to say that subscriptions are down, people are playing the game less. This meshes with the anecdote, above, that we are experiencing less killboard activity this week, even though compared to 2010, wormhole kills are up, general ratting activity is way up, and populations (until recently at least) are way up in w-space. At least, until this week.

Now. Why are subs lower? That's the million dollar a month question for CCP, isn't it? There's several main theories.

This gets trotted out every year to explain either Eviction Season in wormholes (which no one can agree whether it's summer or winter), War Seasonin nullsec, or fuck knows what in lowsec. However, there's very little actual seasnality in logins that can be gained from looking at the graphs. There's always a Christmas Lull, but beyond that, not much really changes week to week or season to season in any discernible pattern.

However, a 25% drop in subs within 6 months, as a coherent trend, hasn't been seen before in any year. So something more must be up. 

 An article on Mittani.com posited that EVE was 'holding it's breath' for the sov changes. This is a typical response to low logins; people are waiting to see what the patch will bring, and for large patches like sov, want to avoid wasting their time ahead of the change. This is probably a reasonable theory; the change from DPS and EHP to attention-occupancy based sov grinding is about as massive a change as could ever hit EVE.

It is a huge, basic change to the way you do sov warfare, because it changes how the people in the game spend their hours - passively pressing F1 on a station by the hundreds, or squatting capture points in smaller gangs waiting for skirmish warfare.

In other words, if the game is going to fundamentally change the time sink mechanism, do you continue to invest hours beating up passive objects now, ahead of the change? Only if you percieve it as having strategic value or you have some competitive edge now, which you won't have later. The reverse is also true; do you go on holiday from the game now and come back when the conditions better suit your skills, your group's abilities, versus beating your head against EHP walls and getting welped by PL's wormhole elitism.

Of course, there's always the theory that a death in concurrent ogins is due to people just giving up on the game. it's a horribly time-inefficient way of getting content, lets be honest. My corp is good at finding small-scale content. I trim dead wood from the ranks regularly, but even so, there's been a lot of churn. I went through my notifications - 170 toons have joined BUGRY in the past year, and 100 have either been booted, left, or gone AFK and been trimmed. Quite a lot of the latter. The reasons are opaque to me in the main (they are AFK, and can't respond) but it's clear that formerly active players are just...petering out. Whatever the reason, people are either busy or just get bored, even in a corp that has content. Well, a corp where a few people do the content creation and the majority POS spin and do fuck all.

Regardless, it's a lack of engagement in the game which causes exodus. Getting welped by ishtar blobs, you get over it and stop fighting the Ishtar blobs, or whatever. You move down the pecking order and pick on people you can pick on. By itself, imbalanced shit like that doesn't really cause subs to lapse.

Systemic game play problems
This is obviously an interesitng theory as to why subscriptions are down - are systemic imbalances in the metagame environment contributing to people leaving the game? No, i don't think so.

It might take a few weeks for the new meta to emerge after the latest ineffective ishtar nerf and the belated and mostly ineffectual attempt to buff missile doctrines, but you're still mostly fucked using Minmatar ships and mostly fucked in Amarr ships. But that's not going to cause people to quit; newbros are clearly not training Minmatar because they research the shit out of the meta on Reddit (and elsewhere), or join an alliance as a grunt and get told to train this or that. If something is the meta, there's enough social pressure within the game, and/or enough basic mathematical logic available to players, to influence skilling and shipping and training.

People dont quit playing the game if the ishtar gets nerfed, despite the threats. After all, the drone dominant meta of today is unchanged from this latest attempt. Gilas are still OP as fuck. Rattlers are still the most cost-effective OP as fuck BS out of a range of BS which are shitty useless punching bags. VNI's are still OP as fuck. Etcetera. Besides, the downtrend in subs was in train for 6 months, the latest Ishtar nerf has nothing to do with it.

The Old Guard Problem
However, more broadly, there are systemic imbalances which do contribute to people realising the game is actually a waste of their time and/or money. These imbalances are at the core of the game, and are cultural.

Take the post from a few days ago about PL. Got me 600 hits on this shitrag of a blog because, I believe, it lays out what the real score is with nullsec wormhole warfare, and warfare via the crawlspaces of New Eden. It's a ttactic available to all nullsec alliances, but because a couple of them do it and do it really well, it suddenly becomes a problem.

I was about the only person in NC Dot (when i was in NC Dot) which actively sought out wormhole content. That included finding S199's to Goon space and tagging along with their second-rate FCs to get Cynabal fleets welped by the then-newish Ishtar doctrine. I tried, I really tried, to ntegrate wormholes into NC Dot, but no one respected my opinion or gave a shit; the old farts in NC Dot just wanted to duke it out on undock in their titans with doomsdays, lolol, and it was all about the Eu TZ anyway. So you don't see people complain about NC Dot coming through wrmholes and being a nuisance.

This is the key here - there's only a few alliances in nullsec which are mastering the game. Goons, PL and BL. Let's be honest. N3 is a far second place. They've got money and chutzpah, but who cares? Everyone else are just targets to farm.

The key difference between good null alliances and bad is the IT infrastructure, and organisation. That's what the previous post was really about - here's PL, with decent organisation, exploiting a wormhole underworld, to wage war all across New Eden (and here's the nerf). But the take-home isn't the tactic itself. it is the fact that, finaly, someone's realised that with proper organisation and resources and a leader capable of organising fleets to exploit it, an alliance can wage war.

That's what, eg, Triumvirate lacks. The complaints on the forums centred around, basically, how they are disorganised and incapable of mounting a resistance. Maybe they should get organised.

Same goes for BRAVE and the implosion of HERO; they could be exploiting wormhole content to mesh in with nullsec, but they don't have the IT infrastructure to do that.

This then devolves back onto a systemic culture problem with the game, and one beyond the devs to address. How do you level the playing field of a game where a few old organisations have organisational and logistical and IT advantages far, far in advance of any newer group which comes up? Like, how is a new upstart organisation supposed to cut it out in nullsec?

PL (and here, lets just say any of the Old Guard) has jabber. If you don't have jabber, how do you form a CTA?
PL has Siggy. Obviously, you need Siggy, and a working knowledge of wormhole rolling, to defend yourself or minimise risks of wormhole rape train underground railroading.
PL has their d-scan parser info tool. If you use that tool, odds are that if your d-scan result contains a capital ship result, a little red ight goes off in PL's NORAD bunker and alts get logged in to check. (hint: don't use their d-scan parser in nullsec, idiots, what were you thinking?)
There's tools for routing, which let you use jump bridge networks and gates to get from A to B most efficiently.
There's forums, doctrines, fitting tool analysis widgets, probability analysis of DPS efficiency of fleet comps versus other fleet comps, there's working groups and elite fitting teams working on their doctrines.
They also have incalculable resources from moons, which they've been running for years, and years. Plus of course rental empires they've been milking for years. They can outspend you, et alone outfight you, cap blobs and supercap blobs aside.

nowadays, you can't even say they are elitists. Pandemic Horde is their newest noob harvesting foray. it used to be Sniggwaffe or Waffles. They've been recruiting cannon fodder for years, deploying the meatshields and maintaining an inner circle of elite anciens in the peak PVP corps. Others have imitated them. But PH is a direct ploy to defang and weaken BRAVE via sucking their noob recruits away. So you can't even escape the aggregation as a noob.

So, it is a reasonable argument to ask - is power concentrating too much into too few groups? Is Fozziesov really going to make a difference? Or has the game become too old, and the organisations in the game too well-resources inside and outside the game, to maintain interest for people who don't want to go to the major nullsec entities?

If you don't, what kind of game is it, being in BRAVE and being 'farmed' by PL for killboard padding?

I don't know what's causing this drop in numbers, but we'll have to hope that it's mostly patchitis ahead of full fozziesov, because if it's not, the reasons for the dying member counts are not going away.

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