EVE Online has no problem getting new players, but retaining them is a hell of an issue

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Emotions instead of skills may be the answer

“It’s super depressing,” Andie Nordgren said with a sort of semi-defeated smile. She’s the executive producer of EVE Online, one of the deepest and most complex sandbox video games in existence, and she’s reacting to a key statistic that developer CCP shared at this year’s EVE Fanfest: In the past year, more than 1.5 million new players signed up to try EVE Online; the overwhelming majority of them permanently quit after two hours.

Of course Nordgren feels that way. How could she not feel that way? She’s steering the ship that has created one of the biggest living science fiction universes of all time, a game that tens of thousands of people are logged into at any given minute. There’s obvious appeal for anyone willing to see it through, but that’s the exact issue — so,somany would rather give up than dig deeper.

In my third Fanfest, it’s a problem that has come up before. Every year, in fact. This is the first time that CCP has quantified it, though. The new player experience is something the developer is continually working on, and that’s assurance we get every single year.

One of the oddest moments of the weekend concerned this very topic. CCP took some time out of the EVE Onlinekeynote to address the new player experience to its install-base who cares enough about the game to trek to Iceland in celebration of it. It’s important to everyone; those EVEveterans stand to hypothetically see their corporations and alliances grow with an influx of new players.

A man who only went by his developer handle of “CCP Ghost” took the stage. He put a picture of his unusually gray brain on the theater screen. He detailed how dating back to his childhood, he was obsessed with learning how his brain works. As a part of this obsession, he learned doctors were interested in his dome because there’s an absence of vessels to carry blood to his brain. Over the course of his 12-minute talk, Ghost never once explained how he’s still alive.

What this eccentric man did explain was his mission. His brain infatuation led him to study complex biological systems, which led him to talking with CCP. Specifically, how to retain newEVE Onlineplayers. The short of it is that CCP will try to structure the initial experience to tell stories and to form an emotional connection. It wants players to care about the game before they’re concerned with learning all of its systems.

How that will work remains to be seen. In our interview, Nordgren admitted it’s a very fresh perspective, one that’s far from fully formed. “We’re really early stage and that’s kind of the reason (CCP Ghost) was talking more conceptually about how we’re thinking and how we’re approaching it. What I really want is that you don’t feel like it’s a tutorial, but that you feel that you just started playing the game,” she said.

Nordgren continued “This is how I want to experience games today. I don’t necessarily have time to first learn and then to play. I want to learn by playing. I want to take some meaningful actions while I’m learning that feel like they have something to do with my progression. We’re going to try to build an experience where you’re involved and it’s clear to you how you’re making progress while we gradually reveal more of the complexity of the game. But it feels like you’re playing, not like you’re learning.”

As for the “It’s super depressing” quote she started with? Nordgren supplemented it with an understanding thatEVEisn’t necessarily for everyone, and even the people who appreciate it might not have a life-long relationship with it.

“I know that we have a hobby-type experience and that’s also something that not everyone is into. I think that we’ll always have a lot of people who kind of go ‘Oh, that looks cool!’ and then they get into it and are like ‘Ehhh, okay that wasn’t for me,’” she said. “You’re never going to sign everyone up, right? But, I think we have a chance to have more people at least enjoy some more time in New Eden before they drop out. Then, of course, some of those will actually discoverEVEas a hobby and as a passion. I think that’s the exchange. If we can give you a more powerful experience in the beginning, it’s not necessarily that everyone has to stick around forever. I think it’s a fair trade that if we can give you a better experience, you might stick around for more time. You’re happy, we’re happy, and then you may or may not stay as anEVEhobbyist, if you will.”