"We've actually been quite open with the new player situation this year, and how we've done a wonderful job killing new players before you guys get to kill new players in New Eden."
This statement, while said in a joking way, highlights a real problem I've heard discussed since I started to really cover EVE Online closely back in 2017. However, as I spoke to the developers over the weekend, a confidence that they can turn that number around filled every conversation regarding the subject.
Additionally, EVE Online has made waves throughout the summer and into EVE Vegas with some of the ways the team has shaken up the status quo in New Eden. Dubbed the Chaos Era, capsuleers in New Eden saw Drifter attacks which threw nullsec into chaos, as well as a blackout, which fundamentally changed how the Empires of EVE conducted intelligence and threw wars and ongoing campaigns into...well..chaos. The player response across forums, Reddit, and more was interesting for the dev team to watch unfold.
"One great thing we learned in the Chaos Era," Bergur "CCP Burger" Finnbogason told me during EVE Vegas this weekend, "when the Drifter Invasion started I was basically following Reddit, and you could see it in 10 minutes, it just went from the Reddit we know to just about New Eden. Blink of an eye, every single thread was like, 'What the F*** is going on?"
The team monitored the situation quite closely, debating the ramifications of the event.
"Everyone was talking about it. The debate in the community, the debate in-house were the same, so we're having the same conversation inside and outside of the game."
This level of data gathering and the types of conversations the team had leads into the roadmap which CCP unveiled at their keynote last Friday. By breaking it down by quadrants and assigning a name and a theme to each one, Bergur hopes this can create similar conversations in-house and with the community as to how they can push live development of EVE even further.
"This is super healthy. Learning from it is like, the whole quadrant stuff we're talking about, by having a name for a thing and a theme, we can actually start to have the same conversations that will help live development. On our side, being like "Okay, what are we going to do about fight or flight PVP? It's kind of quick battles, skirmishes, whatever. We can have those conversations inside. And the community will have those conversations like, "Hey, you know, this would be cool. We should try that thing." Or, "Here's a crazy thought!" And I would say, "Let's test it." Do an event, test this crazy thing for two weeks. If it's fantastic, let's figure out a good way to integrate it. If it's awful, then we can be like, "Hey that was great. We tried it, it was awful, let's not do it again."
Tryggvi "CCP Ghost" Hjaltason pours over much of the data for CCP, as well as provides snapshots of player behavior and feedback for the Icelandic developer to dissect and work with. Speaking with him over the weekend, it seems clear that these events that are going on in New Eden, while sudden to the players, are being thought of and poured over to help improve not only the experience for existing capsuleers, but newer players as well.
"We've become really good at not just doing stuff and then moving on and doing more stuff," Hjaltason told me. "But stopping and being like, 'What did this mean? What type of impact [did it have]?' This was especially important over the summer because we did a lot of controversial stuff. To understand what was the good thing and what was the bad thing - what we need to do more of, what we need to be more aware of and what we need to do less of.
"We're coming out of the Chaos Era - the Blackout, the Drifter Invasions and such - with so much learning. It was such a fun summer for me. Because it was unannounced, because it was sudden, because it was poking at stuff there was a lot of reaction. [The reaction] was emotional and the change in the numbers moved swiftly. And sure, that might be bad to a degree, but it's a super good environment to learn and understand. 'Why did this happen? Why were there these types of reactions? Why did we lose these types of players, and why did we gain these types of players?'"
As a result, CCP Games is armed to the teeth with information to not only understand the hardcore player base which was intrigued to a degree with the Blackout, but also those who were opposed to it, and even parley this into how to attract new players. In an interview with Talking in Stations, an absolutely fantastic player-run podcast, CCP Games CEO mentioned how the active and daily users in July were at their highest points in the last five years. So something obviously worked with the Chaos Era.
However, going back to what Bergur said at the Keynote, the Chaos Era may have helped inject new learning and conversations with current EVE players, but how do you attract new ones? What will CCP be doing to combat this issue?
In addition to putting up more tutorials on their YouTube channel, one of the new features, which we've seen some of already in game is the introduction of log in awards. Like the free skill point events the team has been running, these types of log in rewards have an impact on players according to Tryggvi. But logging in for the reward is one thing - what will players do when they do log into the game?
"One of the greatest things coming out of the summer was experimenting heavy into log in campaigns, and what type of impact that has on us, and it's fantastic. It has a beautiful impact on everything - it's one of those rare things where you're like, 'Where's the downside?' It's raised almost every positive number that you want to see, and we're learning."
Bergur agrees, and as Tryggvi pointed out to me, it's not a matter of logging in and getting something, sometimes it's about logging in, getting a thing and then doing something. The Skilling Spree is an example of this. You can log in during the event and kill NPCs for skill points. It's an event that you log in for, engage with the game and get a tangible reward as a result. And according to Bergur, this is not random at all, but completely planned to learn from.
"It's very conscious, we're super adamant about all these things we're doing. They're all part of a bigger plan. We're trying to learn as much as we can, we're not doing any random stuff. The Halloween event, with 100% loot drop, it's been a debate we've been having for a while. Let's test it, let's see what happens. Will we see gankers in Highsec go bananas, or will we actually see people in null go raid s***? Are we going to see more people go into wormholes? Are the Null Seccers actually going to venture into wormholes and blow up, you know, the pinatas. It's going to be super interesting to follow, and I think we're going to learn so much from these changes."
The Chaos Era coverage didn't hurt either with new players, as many mainstream gaming outlets picked up the story. The reaction from the gaming media actually caught CCP by surprise, as Bergur confides it wasn't a publicity stunt on their part.
"We knew that the EVE community would talk about it, but we did not know that the media would necessarily pick up on it."
This influx of EVE articles talking about the change up in the status quo in New Eden likely helped attribute to the increase in numbers Hilmar mentioned to TIS back in July. Tryggvi tells us, however, that the team is only just beginning to scratch the surface of all the data they collected during the Chaos Era and the overall impact on New Eden itself.
However, at the Keynote, and even in my talks with the team, they seem invigorated with what they are doing after the Chaos struck. Changes are coming to EVE Online to help attract and keep players in the game at the outset of their journey.
Drastic changes are being made to the UI and early experiences to help newer players when they start out in New Eden. As Bergur put it on stage, "Fix the Stupid. "
"We've been splitting our focus into four major categories. The first one we call "Stop the Bleeding." The next one: "Fix the Stupid." Then of course we need to engage them and teach them stuff. And then we want to incentivize return. "
As a result, the team is making huge changes and improvements to the early moments of the game, fixing "really stupid and odd, silly things you run into in your first thirty minutes," such as adding contextual buttons to the info panel and changing how the tutorial is represented in the Agency. But that's only the beginning. Bergur declared on stage that they " have fixed a lot of stupid" in the last few months, from simple things such as adding community fittings in the game to ensure players can learn the most up to date fittings rather than searching for a Reddit post from 2015 that isn't meshing with the current meta.
However, the team has a ways to go, but they feel confident thanks to the amount of resources the company is devoting to the new player experience.
"This is probably our key problem out of everything," Tryggvi mentioned. "Which is why Hilmar has been really adamant and the company has shifted and we've never had as many resources and as consistent an approach and commitment to thee new player experience."
All of the stories to come out of the summer, the Invasion World Tour - including a hot tub conversation with many of the devs during Fanfest Home in Finland late August - and the changes the team has been making makes EVE feels primed more than ever to go into the next year on a high note. And why not? As Bergur mentioned in the keynote, the completion of the tutorial has gone up from 22% to 30%. That's 750 new EVE players piloting their first vessels into New Eden every week, or almost as many people in attendance at the Keynote itself.
When EVE is interesting, the game can sell itself, as it provides one of the more unique sandbox experiences in gaming to date. And one of the most important lessons CCP has taken from all of the Chaos and how they are approaching new players is simple: take risks and learn from them.
"One of the big learnings is, you know, actually working up the guts to do something like this, actually going in and doing the change and testing it out. If it doesn't work, you roll it back. Gather as much data as you possibly can. Talk with as many people as you can, and formalize a good plan of action so that we can push forward."