Eve: Challenges of Bloat
I started playing Eve in the Fall/Autumn of 2008. In a few months I'll be celebrating seven years of continuous play on my Main character. That is easily and without question the longest I've ever stuck with a "game", it isn't even close. I can't really explain it. If you had told me on day one that I'd still be playing, writing, drawing and driving content seven years later I would have laughed - right in your face. I mean, c'mon, that ain't normal.
It does offer a certain level of perspective however and that is what I'd like to focus on over the next few days. I've been growing increasingly concerned of late about my favorite hobby. Despite being the best it has ever been, and there can be no argument about the validity of that statement, Eve's subscription numbers have not only stalemated - they may have started to drop. (And I don't care about the details, other bloggers and forum writers deal with those. What I care about is the trends, and no matter what numbers you look at, the trends are not going in the right direction.)
When I think back about how Eve was perceived at the time I started playing it is amazing to me that it was considered "complex" back then. This was the age when the infamous "learning curve" graphic was made. I find that surprising considering how simple Eve in 2008 seems compared to Eve 2015. Everything was so much more streamlined back then. Just off the top of my head we've added Strategic Cruisers, T3 Destroyers, Dominion Sov, Incursions, FW Systems, Missions, Wormholes, Crime Watch, Exploration ships like the Astero, Stratios, not to mention a slew of additional ships like the Barghest and others. And that is just off the top of my head. And soon we'll be adding even more to that list. Citadels, player-built Gates, and a whole new Sov system. Not to mention other things that I suddenly remember, like y'know, Drifters and Sleepers and... the list is rather long.
Which begs the question, has Eve become bloated with features and choices? And is that a good or a bad thing?
During the journey we all cheer and argue and debate each and every change, addition and modification. Endlessly. But it is always seen, no matter how you feel about each detail, as progress. That is the problem with creep and bloat, at the time it all feels like a natural progression. Changes are needed, new features are needed, new content to keep the troops engaged. It is only in hindsight, when you look back, that you start to realize just how far we've come at the service of progress, change and features.
Eve is a magnitude more complex now than it was just seven years ago. And yet we would have to admit the subscription numbers haven't grown at the same magnitude. If anything, in comparison, they may very well be in the negative overall. Once we admit that, are we left with any other conclusion other than bloat?
And while there are many infamous paths upon which Eve has failed to develop, are there any instances where paths have been removed from the game? I can't think of any. Are we at the point where some paths should be removed? If Eve is in its middle age, is it time to trim the fat?
Personally I think the issue is much deeper than that. Eve has always suffered from a general lack of focus, an identity crisis of scale. In service to all play-styles it must develop an entire universe of options across an increasing number of paths in order to properly service a wide and diverse player base. This is both its strength and its weakness. I believe we've probably all be challenged at one time or another to properly describe Eve to a friend or family member. What exactly is it? Is it a combat game, an industry game, a mission running game, or what exactly? And while it is famously an open-ended sandbox, a choose your own adventure on a grand scale, is that still the best thing for it?
Just to be clear, I like Eve complex and challenging and diverse. But I'm not the issue here, I'm a dedicated power user and I'll most likely be one until the bitter end. What I do care about is that vast ocean of potential players that are choosing not to play my favorite game. Without a certain percentage of them, that bitter end only grows closer. And that is something I would certainly prefer not happen.
Those seven years saw a lot of hope for a feature that would finally click everything into place. A "jesus" feature that would define Eve for a wider audience and make everything make sense. That never happened. And it is entirely possible that it didn't happen because of us players. We'll never know the answer to that question, but in hindsight, the Summer of Incarna may very well have been the moment when Eve stopped searching and instead became an endless iteration. Only time will tell.
Now we have an increasingly fast and ever-moving development cycle that moves forward relentlessly. The "bloat", if there is bloat, only grows and grows and grows. There is no longer time to pause, to reflect, heck there is barely time to figure out the new before it changes into something even newer.
That was a lot of questioning. Are there any answers? I honestly don't know. As I said earlier, there can be no question that Eve is a much better game now than it was seven years ago. It works better, it looks better, it has so many more awesome things in it. This is, in my opinion, a fact. The new development cycles are better. Changes and revisions happen sooner. CCP is more responsive than ever before. The leadership is superior in every way. Everything seems incredibly positive.
And yet, where are all the players?