Greetings Fellow Empyreans it is I, Ashterothi and boy am I tired about hearing about PCU.
In 2019 playerbase pointed to flagging PCU count as evidence that there were problems in the game that needed to be addressed. Now with the PCU again sinking down to low 20k, once again players are crying out about how bad EVE Online is doing.
So let’s talk a bit about the PCU.
The PCU or “Peak Concurrent Users” is a measure of the most number of accounts that are logged into Tranquility at any given time on any given day. It does not count how many people login in a day, only how many are logged in when the most people are logged in that day. This makes PCU a terrible stat to determine health for several reasons:
- It disproportionately counts AFK players and playstyles - long play sessions are more likely to be online during the peak count for the day, and thus more likely to be counted
- It disproportionately counts multiboxers - Likewise people with multiple accounts logged in, especially a large number of accounts logged in will have a big impact on the PCU as they push up the logged in numbers more for an individual. Players having several accounts logged in at once does not necessarily indicate a healthy game
- It doesn’t account for playstyles that don’t involve logging in - There are lots of people who play the game without being logged in to do what they do.
- It doesn’t include any measure of actual activity - It only measures if someone is logged in, including people just sitting in the station.
So PCU is a pretty terrible stat to use to gauge the health of the game and it’s playerbase. So why do we use it? Well because simply it is the only such statistic we have access to. This is the same problem we ran into in 2019, especially as CCP started to crack down on bots during and after Blackout, the PCU dropped further and caused people to cry out that the sky was falling. At the time CCP discussed a lot of this in EVE Vegas 2019 and people started to quiet up about it as by May of 2020 the PCU was 25% above what it was in May of 2019.
CCP has far better metrics to understand player behavior, and while they showed us a glimpse of what they have, we simply do not have access to this information on an ongoing basis.
All that said, the current PCU chart for EVE Online measuring from Jan of this year is quite stark, leading many to suggest that EVE Online is “falling off a cliff”, and I will admit at first glance it is quite striking.
You can see starting in June we have a sharp downward slope from 30k average and 25k lows to about 23k average with 20k lows. That is a huge drop in a short amount of time, but what could be causing it? Industrial changes? Capital nerfs? Microtransactions? I don’t believe so…
Often when looking at this PCU graph people like to compare it to last years which makes it look even worse by comparison:
This graph, which shows the same range of time (Jan though Jul) of 2020 does show a bit of a slump at the beginning of June, but not nearly as significant. However, the bigger anomaly is that while the PCU was steady from January to May of 2021, you see a jump in April 2020 that means that even if it does dip a little bit in June, it is still far above the pre-April counts.
So what happened in Late March 2020?
On March 19 2020 the State of California became the first State in the US to issue a Stay-at-home order due to the Covid-19 pandemic. By April of 2020 the vast majority of Nations from which EVE players come from were under lockdown. There is also a spike in new accounts to correspond with this.
In addition to this, we do see that while the 2020 numbers did slump some at the beginning of June but by the July it appears to have picked up again, why is that?
On June 21st Legacy forces delivered a message to Imperium that the ‘The Die is cast’ signaling the start of the War for Delve that has been going on ever since. This war used the lockdown to drive an extreme amount of excitement and activity within EVE and yet never hit the yearly PCU of May, right after Lockdown was announced. While this may suggest that the was wasn’t as impactful as many would expect on PCU count (only really helps if the big fight happens in peak hours), it more just shows that the Wars numbers were simply covering up what would be the normal “Summer Slump”
If you look at the same time period from years other than 2020 you start to see a pattern within the PCU in June. The 2019 chart looks like this:
While it is not as pronounced as 2021, in 2019 you can see that the PCU remains relatively flat throughout January through June with a falloff starting around June. Additionally you can see the entirety of 2019 was lower, with the Average PCU of this time being 25k as opposed to now at 31k or last year at 32k.
2018 shows a similar picture.
Although it has a 32k average, you can see once again that it starts to fall off again in June, and 2017 is even closer to 2021s trend.
In fact going back you can see an overall trend every year to start to see a slump in the beginning of June.
Another thing to think about, as was pointed out by CCP Larrikin in that 2019 talk, bots have a huge impact on the PCU numbers, and thus CCP going after bots aggressively can be seen as a drop in PCU numbers. Additionally, CCP has been going after AFK gameplay and activities that favor large scale multiboxing for hours at a time, but most specifically for this discussion they introduced the Mobile Observatory on June 8th, ending AFK cloaky camping as we know it. We have no real way of knowing how many AFK cloaky campers stopped operating after that, but we can safely assume that it would have an impact on the PCU numbers as AFK cloaky campers would almost certainly be logged in with all of their accounts during peak time.
So in conclusion, what may seem like the sky is falling can be reasonably understood as a combination of these four factors:
- End of lockdown and players of the game interested in doing activities outside of the house
- Slowdown in the War - with no progress by PAPI forces in over a month the war has ground down and players engaged in it are not logging in as much or for as long
- Mobile Observatory ended AFK cloaky camping which disproportionately impacted the PCU
- The normal “Summer Slump” which always begins in June
So Chicken Little you can go back to the shed. It’s fine, you’re fine, everything’s fine.