Blog Banter #77 - The EVE Crisis of Confidence

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 77th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are please visit the Blog Banter page.

Is there a malaise affecting EVE currently? Blogs and podcasts are going dark and space just feels that little bit emptier. One suggestion is that there may be a general problem with the vets, especially those pre-Incarna and older, leaving and being replaced by newer players who are not as invested in the game. The colonists versus immigrants? Is this a problem? Are there others? Or is everything just fine and it's just another bout of summer "ZOMG EVE IZ DYING!"


Last September, I perceived a growing restlessness in the EVE Online player community. I wrote about this in an article on Crossing Zebras called "Overcoming EVE Malaise":

It happens to many of us. We play EVE Online for months or years with enthusiasm, but then, mysteriously, some of us begin feeling less entranced with the game. Our interest in internet spaceships flags. When this happens, some players drop out for a while, put their character in mothballs, and then rejoin months later to a significantly different game, their interest rekindled by some new feature or development. Others, however, never return to active play – they are lost forever to EVE ennui.
I’ve been playing EVE Online since 2009, and I’m familiar with the symptoms of “EVE malaise”. It is a common affliction of veteran players, especially after they’ve settled into a particular playstyle, becoming so good at it that the game becomes routine. Those vets who fall victim to this disease suddenly lose their motivation to sustain their success. They wonder, “Why am I no longer excited about something that used to make me so passionate?”

I myself have been struggling with EVE malaise ever since Fanfest in April. I had high hopes - perhaps excessively so - that I would see some exciting new developments announced at that event that would once again reinvigorate my interest in the game. But I was disappointed. In fact, I even got a little angry about it. My involvement with EVE Online dropped to the lowest level in five years. Only recently, with the Shadow of the Serpent PvE event, did I log some significant time in the game, but even then, it has been only a relatively slight increase. And once that event is over in the next month, I am sadly confident that my time in game will return to its previous somnambulant state.

Is my experience typical? I am not entirely certain, but I see a lot of signs of a creeping sluggishness in the EVE Online community - especially in the EVE media. I see an increasing number of once vibrant EVE-related blogs posting less frequently, or others shutting down altogether. EVE Radio had to threaten imminent shutdown, in order to collect enough contributions to keep afloat - until September, anyway. Some of my favorite EVE-related podcasts, which used to be prolific fonts of new content, seem to be on informal hiatus.

These trends do not paint a healthy picture of the EVE Online community, full of energy and enthusiasm. Not at all. Rather, it shows an increasing amount of listlessness. EVE Online seems to be somewhat adrift in the doldrums, for the moment.

The End is Nigh?

Does this mean that "EVE is dying" - a phrase so oft repeated that it has now become a meme in our community? I've been hearing this ever since I joined the game in 2009, and yet, EVE keeps chugging along, getting incrementally better with each update, year after year.

More than two years ago, the rumors of CCP Games' imminent implosion were so sonorous, they were impossible to ignore. I took a close look at the data, and came to the conclusion that there was little to worry about - I wrote a post about it, and my conclusions have been borne out by history. In general, EVE players are a cynical bunch, and we tend to exaggerate bits of bad news, while failing to give CCP and EVE Online due credit for being far more resilient than we think.

After World War Bee wound down to a surprisingly swift anticlimax in the spring, there has been little news in New Eden, except for the introduction of Citadels. Some ownership of space has traded hands, as usual, and CCP's summer PvE event has generated some player engagement, but for the most part, not much is really happening right now. For many otherwise ardent capsuleers, there simply isn't much reason to log in regularly at the moment.

In addition, it is summertime - at least, for those of us who reside in the northern hemisphere - and people are enjoying holidays and family and other interests in that strange world known as "outside", which we tend to ignore in the blustery days of autumn and winter. This is when CCP developers go on extended holiday, like most of Europe. Not much happens in EVE Online during June, July and August. We bittervets know it's been that way for ages, and probably always will be.

From EVE-Offline.net: I started playing EVE in 2009, and there has been a temporary decrease in average player counts online each summer, every year. Of more concern is the generally lower daily log-in counts, which dropped in mid-2014 and again in mid-2015. This level of traffic seems to be the "new normal" for activity in EVE Online - at least for now.

Of more concern is the generally lower level of player engagement, as measured by daily player log-in counts, relative to EVE's heyday in 2011-2013. According to statistics from EVE-Offline.net, EVE Online saw a general drop in player log-ins in mid-2014, and again in mid-2015. World War Bee and Citadels helped spark a higher level of activity through the spring of this year, but it has now returned to the previous lower activity norm.

We Need New Toys

This hardly means that "EVE is dying", of course. It simply means that little of interest is going on at the moment. The Shadow of the Serpent PvE event has been an entertaining diversion, but it hardly qualifies as a major game development.

In my own experience, I am simply bored. After six years, there isn't much left to try in the game that sounds especially appealing. Plus, with my busy lifestyle, it's more difficult to reserve hours for marathon online gaming sessions, like I once enjoyed. For my currently casual, and mostly solo, play style preference, there just isn't much for me to do - or at least it feels that way.

This isn't unusual for EVE Online. Something new is introduced, and we dive in with gusto to master the new mechanic or capability. Then we figure it out, and the once entrancing new toy becomes familiar. I remember learning to solve a Rubik's Cube - I practiced over and over until I could solve the puzzle effortlessly, and then I put it on the shelf, and forgot about it. It's still there, forty years later, untouched for decades. I remember how much I enjoyed playing with it, long ago, but I'm unmotivated to pick it up again.

I'm waiting for some new toys in EVE Online. I'm hoping that industrial platforms prove to be an interesting alternative to POSes, and a tool for successful and profitable invention and manufacturing in high sec. But we don't have enough details yet to know for certain. So, I'm just sitting here, waiting. Meanwhile, my log-in activity averages less than 15 minutes a day, mostly to conduct a routine checklist of maintenance tasks in a perfunctory manner. It's not much fun.

We need some big and exciting new toys to rekindle interest in EVE Online, and we need them badly. We need to see the full realization of the entire vision for new structures, as soon as humanly possible. We need massive revamps and enhancements to wardec mechanics, mission-running, mining, and exploration. We need formal support of non-corporation societies within the game client. We need new space to discover - and compelling reasons to go there. We need to restore a sense of wonder about the potential of flying our ships in New Eden - the feeling that anything is possible.

For me, that sense of wonder has been missing from EVE Online for more than a few months now. 

A Crisis of Confidence

In 1979, US President Jimmy Carter gave his "crisis of confidence" speech, addressing the nation on the effects of the energy shortages at the time. While many criticized Carter for the speech, he made an important point:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our ... will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose...

There's a lesson to be learned here: when people start to give up hope that things will get better, they start to disengage, and then that disengagement becomes increasingly pervasive and endemic. Thus begins a downward spiral, which is difficult to overcome.

Is EVE Online having a similar crisis of confidence? I submit we are collectively on the brink of one - a crisis created out of a growing perception that not much new is happening, and that the prospects for significant innovations appearing soon are dim, or so far in the future that they are irrelevant.

Jimmy Carter was criticized for describing the problem, but not articulating a vision of a solution. It's well past the time for CCP Seagull to update her vision for the future of EVE Online - not as vague generalizations of intended direction, but with more specificity, starting from today and moving forward. Of all the things I saw at Fanfest in April, her lack of precision in defining the current state of her developmental roadmap was the most disappointing - it was mentioned only in passing during her keynote presentation. I had assumed that as CCP was progressing through the phases of that grand vision, the picture would become ever clearer, as we got closer to the end goals. 

I'm attending EVE Vegas in October. My principal reason for making the trip is to give CCP the opportunity to once again sell me on the future of EVE Online. It is my sincere hope that I will see and hear a fully revised development roadmap - one that takes us from the new structures all the way to stargates and the path to new space, with some general timeframes for when we might see new deliverables.

The EVE Online player community is suffering from a growing feeling of malaise. We need big, shiny new toys to play with in New Eden. And we need a clear, refreshed vision of where we are going and when those new toys will be available. Otherwise, we will fall into a genuine crisis of confidence - and a potentially inescapable death spiral for the game we all enjoy.

Personally, I'm hoping for the best.

Fly safe! o7