I believe it’s both.
Unless you want to outright claim CCP is lying about having 450k+ subs, then they do. Which is a lot of subs for anything not called WoW. And this for a ten year old game. Not bad, and likely very profitable. The king of the niche really, if we define the niche as any MMO not called WoW (which is how we should define it).
I also think Jester’s numbers are correct, in that I don’t believe he made a mistake in collecting them and that what they show is in fact true; the average number of players logged in today is similar to the amount back around May 2009.
So again, is EVE growing, stagnant, or bleeding? How can subs be up but player activity be down?
Because EVE today is a more casual game than it was back in 03 (launch), or 06 (start of Jester’s graph), or 09 (Apocrypha). From the game itself getting friendlier (the UI improvements, the new players experience), to what I believe is a (slowly building) trend amongst MMO gamers looking for something closer to a virtual world than a themepark, EVE today is made up of a far more casual crowd than before. Now don’t get confused, the average EVE player is still a few steps more serious than the average MMO player, but the gap is closer today than it was in the past, and EVE itself is no longer filled with the purest of diehards.
Casual players don’t log in as often or for as long, which drops your concurrency numbers. Luckily for CCP, they still pay the same $15 a month (and use less bandwidth, yo).
To use an extreme example, what would Jester’s graph look like if only bots played EVE, with their 23/7 schedule? Average logins would look massive, very close to that 450k number. Now what would the numbers look like if all 450k subs only played once a week? The number would be pitifully low. In both cases however, CCP is collecting $15x450k.
The real danger here would be if player activity on the server dropped below the critical mass needed to make an MMO something other than a solo game you have to log into. EVE has a massive edge here over every other MMO (including WoW) because everything takes place on two (China and everyone else) servers, rather than dozens or hundreds. That said, New Eden is a big place, and places like Jita are what they are because thousands of pilots visit daily, so in-game activity does matter.
Not that CCP should get comfortable now. Just because they have the best MMO out (for what that’s worth, given the current state of the genre) does not mean the game is finished, or that more can’t be done to further extend the appeal of the game. And as that appeal gets broader, the amount of time spent playing per account will continue to trend towards a more casual number, whatever that might be.