DUST514 – The Players Count

In the last few weeks we have had Uprising 1.9 released, Project Legion shown as a game (and quickly restated as being just a project), and a curious comment that DUST514 has 300,000 “Unique Monthly Players”.
All of these caught the general player-base by surprise, and we are continuing to investigate some of this to see what is really happening in New Eden.
We previously covered the EVE: Legion and John Wick story, this time we’re looking at the player-statistics.

Project Legion is not an official game yet.
CCP Games, October 2014

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At Fanfest, CCP Games told reporters there were 100,000 daily players in DUST514, a number that was shown to be questionable at best when looking at data from CCP. Now they’re saying 300,000 unique monthly players, with no further details to back that that number up. So, how can the player-base trust this? If it is true, then DUST514 is more popular than EVE Online, and one would be staggered to think that CCP would shut down a game that has more numbers than its thirteen year old flagship product!

Julien tells me DUST still has 100,000 active players every day.
Kotaku, May 2014

In May it was shown that it took DUST514 18 days to sell 100,000 root skill-books (Dropsuit Command) after a partial reset. Uprising 1.8 caused all players to have their Dropsuit Command skills reset and all skill books returned to the market-place, causing everybody to re-buy them. Even then, with the new dropsuits, and including the base-line rate of 2500/day from before the reset, it took 18 days before 100,000 player-characters had bought the root skill-book, casting doubt on the number they were touting at FanFest.

Now they are saying 300,000 Unique Monthly Players, without qualifying it? Given the wording, we can at least expect it to be player-accounts, and not characters. Each player-acount in DUST514 can have up to 3 characters, something some players use for having alts, and others have been using as a way to farm ISK through recreating accounts. Even then, players have to use separate PSN accounts (aka player-accounts), as only a single character on each PSN account can receive passive skill-points. This way, with players using multiple PSN accounts, we have to ask how they came to 300.000; are these individual PS3 consoles, individual PSN accounts, or individual characters?’

Last month the average cost per install for a free-to-play MMO in the US was about $8 dollars.
Superdataresearch, on F2P and MMO ARPU, April 2014

Looking to the Market Data available from the CREST interfaces maintained by CCP Soxie (FoxFour), we can also see that in the last 2 months before Uprising 1.9, the activity on the DUST514 markets were at its lowest since the public release of the game, and almost every week set a new low record. Now, players may simply be using more BPO-, Factional-, or Aurum-gear, but there has been nothing from CCP Games to trigger such a behaviour.

But assuming that 300,000 Unique Monthly Players is true, and assuming an (optimistic?) Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) similar to Planetside 2 (another F2P shooter) at around 2.86USD per month as of March 2014, that translates into about 850,000 USD monthly revenue, or just over 10 million yearly. We know that CCP Games took a write-off of around 24-30 million on DUST514 leading up to the Rouge Wedding, and digging further into the financial reports, we note that while we cannot see exactly the costs of running CCP Shanghai, it looks plausibly in the 10 Million USD range. So if the numbers from CCP Games are actually genuine, and not “adjusted”, it is plausible that DUST514 is currently carrying its own weight.
(Note: Reports show F2P ARPUs hitting 15+ USD/Month, but this generally include mobile/tablet games, where conversion-rates are higher than all but the best-performing PC games, e.g. World of Tanks)

 

Using Concurrent Player Counts (Hourly sampling over 1 year, via EVE Offline), we modelled monthly player counts using a static model of player-engagement (e.g. players playing the same number of hours every week on average), and we found that to hit near the 300,000 active players, there would be between 1.7 and 2.5 hours played per week per player on average. Just as critically, it showed a few drops, first following 1.8 and then The Wedding Planner’s presentation in May, and later following Hotfix Charlie.
Longer average play-sessions, or multiple weekly sessions, would result in a higher level of engagement per player and thus lower total number of players, and is part of the parameters that let us scale the model to hit the target Player Count.

Modelled DUST514 Player Totals

Modelled DUST514 Player Engagement

The Orange/Yellow lines are modelled on Average Player Counts @~1.7hr/week, while the Blue/Blue lines are modelled on maximum values @~2.5 hr/week. The lighter colours outline extrema, while the heavier lines are smoothed out over 3 weeks. One of the assumptions applied here, is that more dedicated players are likely to play through the weekdays, while casual players, and players with spare income, are more likely to play only on the weekends. For this reason, we decided to model on both weekly averages, and weekly maximum. This also implies that some of the episodes over the last year have impacted the casuals and the dedicated player-base differently, resulting in 2 distinct curves.

We’re not saying this modelling is correct (in fact, it is too simple to be correct), but we present it here to show part of the reason why we’re sceptical of the numbers given by CCP Games, and also to show how Average Player Counts and Maximum Player Counts have behaved over the last 1 year.

A little learning is a dangerous thing
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709

Finally, I’d like to point out that we’re not doing this to pick on CCP Games, or continue the barrage of useless doom-and-gloom, that has infested the forums for so long – We’re doing it because we’re sceptical, and concerned, and scared by the nature of CCP’s communication (hint: It is still insufficient). We truly want DUST514 do to well, to hold its own, and to evolve into EVE:Legion; some of us are actually even buying PCs just to play EVE:Legion on!
It has been more than 2 years now, and CCP is still just throwing crumpets at us, and expecting us to be well-pleased that we get anything at all. In this age, where other companies are engaging their customers much more frequently and direct, especially in the F2P area, we are getting the odd bit of information, with nothing to support it or any explanations, and we’re just here to say that CCP Games can and should do better. With only a little knowledge and a little learning, it is easy to jump to conclusions.