It’s expansion day in EVE today, and Crucible sounds like it will get the game back to its winning ways. What’s interesting about Crucible is that it comes without a ‘killer app’ of a feature. Nothing that really jumps out at you and says “start playing NOW!” Which got me thinking, just how important is that, and furthermore, what exactly should an expansion do?
I commented recently that WoW’s WotLK failed because it stagnated the games growth, while Cata further failed because it’s costing WoW about a million subs every, oh, minute or so now? MoP very clearly has a ’killer app’, pandas/pokemon, and Bobby is praying at his stock-options alter that Kung Fu Panda is still a hot trend among pre-teens when MoP hits stores.
I bring WoW up because (bashing for my amusement aside) Blizzard’s strategy, reflected in their expansions, is very different from CCP’s. Blizzard, for some time now, has been trying to replace disgruntled WoW players with fresh blood, while Crucible is very much a bittervet-driven release. As TAGN highlights, there is nothing in Crucible itself that grabs him and demands he return, while Blizzard ‘restarting’ WoW with every expansion certainly provides that motivator, be it for totally new players or those on break.
Where CCP will likely see growth is not from a bullet-list of expansion features, but what those game changes will do for the players currently playing. If it’s successful, moral in-game will improve, and current players will be more likely to recommend the game to their buddies, or write blog posts about how much they are enjoying the game. This won’t result it first-week sales of a million copies, but it does result in 7+ years of year-over-year growth.
This is also why WoW’s decline is so shocking. 12 million people have a lot more buddies, and a lot more blog writers/readers, than a pool of 300k. What exactly does it say about your product when a pool of 12 million can’t bring in others, especially when one of the core values of an MMO is the social ties and motivators of playing in a massive, online world?
Whenever I brought players into Darkfall, League of Legends, or now EVE, I’ve always followed up with them and provided a resource for questions. This instantly gave them at least one social ‘hook’, and made the initial experience a bit easier. Many of those players have either joined Inq or DiS, giving them yet another social tie. If they enjoy the game itself, they might bring in a friend, who might know someone, etc. It’s not hard to see why WoW initially went from a beta size of a few hundred thousand, to well over 10 million “back in the day”. The social momentum not only brings in new players, but helps keep existing players around far longer than the actual game content should. MMO content is not months/years-worth ‘better’ than single-player content; playing it with others makes it what it is.
From a player’s perspective, it’s hard to argue against the game you are currently enjoying simply getting better, rather than resetting and changing directions. Crucible is very much an EXPANSION to EVE, rather than a replacement for existing content. This also, in part, explains why EVE players stick with the game for so long. If you loved the content in 2005, it’s still here in 2011, only now you also have X, Y, and Z to play with as well. Oh and the game looks like something from 2011, rather than 2005. And if your buddies play EVE, you play on the same ‘server’. And the conflict they were talking about that got you interested initially? That’s happening on your ‘server’ as well. All of these social benefits, and EVE’s long-running growth, are not independent items.