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How a Legendary 20-Year-Old MMO Space Game Broke Through the Behavioral Data Barrier

As video games move to prioritize predictable growth over time, longevity continues to become a key marker of success. For a game to remain relevant and popular for years, it must continually innovate and offer new experiences to its players. This is particularly true for massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, which rely on player engagement to keep the game world alive.

For an MMO to endure for five years is a true achievement. But 20 years and beyond? It’s almost unheard of.

But then there’s EVE Online, a game that has managed to not only survive, but thrive for two decades. The secret to its success lies in its ability to stay ahead of the curve and break boundaries in the MMO space. By putting the wants and needs of their players at the center of their creative process, the developers of EVE have built a unique experience that keeps players coming back for more.

But keeping players central to game development takes a significant amount of work. There are all types of players out there, each with their own wants, needs, and desires. Build your game for the wrong players, or incorporate the wrong feedback, and you run the risk of releasing a game that doesn’t resonate, and an experience that doesn’t appeal to your players.

Ultimately, the success of a game like EVE Online comes down to a delicate balance of player engagement, innovation, and strategic development. By charting a course that puts players at the forefront and remaining adaptable to change, the developers of EVE have created a game that continues to stand the test of time.

But putting players at the center of your game development is easier said than done. Independent developers lack the budget and time necessary to do this kind of intensive player research. The outsourced services favored by medium-sized developers often can’t scale alongside a game as it grows. Even large developers with in-house audience research teams face problems. Audience research will always lag behind development.

In short, existing audience research tools don’t offer the kind of timely data and feedback that modern developers need. These tools rely on analyzing and observing player behavior to form predictive models. This immediately limits the quality of available data.

Nobody wants to base important decisions on unreliable data, so how can developers navigate around this problem?

The answer here is to look beyond player behavior and into the deeper psychological reasons of why a player actually behaves the way they do.

Instead of trying to guess what an audience will do based on past behavior, developers should base decisions on what players actually need. They should make more accurate behavioral predictions based on the psychology of the player, not the behavior that happens much farther downstream.

Developers can then answer the all-important question of “who should we make this for, and what do they need?” with a stunning level of accuracy.

Our founder, Joe Schaeppi, saw this challenge as an opportunity to radically change the way persona development works.

Joe’s background in both video game development and clinical psychology put him in a unique position to push for a higher standard of audience understanding in the gaming industry. With three billion active gamers in the world, it was a perfect environment for comprehensive cognitive assessment to be delivered at scale.

His guiding principle was simple: observing audience behavior and understanding audience psychology were not the same thing.

Joe reasoned that if developers had the power to understand their audience on a psychological and value-based level, they could understand player behavior in a much more complete way. If they could create more specific and relevant audience personas based on psychology and values, they could create experiences that speak directly to the player.

They could even account for what might seem like irrational and unpredictable behaviors.

And they could do it all in a far more effective, healthy, and sustainable way both for players and developers.

Solsten grew from these ideas.

Today, Solsten offers a psychology-powered, AI-driven platform that prioritizes the values of the customer. Game studios of all sizes can create based on what they know their audience actually wants, as opposed to how they think their audience will act.

The developers of EVE Online put this platform to use when they set out to gain a better understanding of how new players grew to become EVE Online veterans. They were looking to capture what it is that motivates somebody to play, and also what keeps them playing. Their development team used Solsten’s product Traits to help unravel this mystery.

As you can probably imagine, EVE has A/B tested and optimized just about everything one can in a first time user experience to improve retention. But there’s only so much juice that you can squeeze out of a lemon. Behavioral data has a local maximum. And the team behind EVE found that the answer to breaking through it was Solsten, leveling their behavioral data up to cognitive-behavioral data using Solsten’s psychological AI.

They started by sorting their audience into value-based personas. This revealed two large populations they hadn’t previously discovered — players that were highly altruistic and collaborative.

The team worked to tailor the early-game experience to those personas. They introduced an NPC that acted as a buddy, guiding them through the tutorial. They also built in narrative elements that appealed to these personas’ wants and needs.

By relying on these personas — and a lot of creative ingenuity — EVE Online saw a near 20% increase in the number of players that completed the FTUE, significantly increasing their active player base.

And they didn’t stop there. They even added communication styles based on these personas to their support tickets — and saw NPS scores go up by 30 points on average as a result. The overall sentiment was that players felt more heard.

Game development is difficult and it can be even more difficult to capture an audience in a sea of copycat games, market saturation, and data privacy complexities. Solsten exists in order to empower gaming companies with the tools to chart their own course and sail confidently into the blue oceans of gaming to find, target, and understand new, valuable audiences.

Traits, Solsten’s flagship product, allows companies to deeply understand their player base. From the values that drew them to the game in the first place, to the psychological reasons they stopped playing, to the most effective ways to bring them back. Traits connects live game data with a clinical-grade in-game assessment. This allows the player base to be sorted into unique and specific personas based on their intrinsic psychological traits.

With an additional product, Navigator, companies can venture out into the unknown, and identify new and unexpected markets. This is vital for companies still in the concept stage, as well as for companies looking to launch limited-time events or promotions.

Solsten designed a platform to make game development as successful, efficient, and stress-free as possible. With these tools at their disposal, developers can spend less time worrying about audience research and retention, and spend more of their time doing what they love: making amazing games.

To see these tools in action, schedule a demo today. Solsten has worked with some of the most prominent studios in gaming to bring audience understanding and psychology-backed persona development to the center of their creative process. Whether you’re developing your first mobile game, or want to improve retention on your MMORPG, Solsten is here to help.