Although the most popular MMOs of today are in the fantasy genre, a niche within the MMO market has always existed for sci-fi games. For quite some time, EVE Online has dominated this niche with a steadily growing playerbase that has now exceeded 300,000 paying subscribers. It's been noted that releases in the fantasy market tend not to affect EVE Online, showing that it's not directly competing with games in the fantasy market. Perhaps the target markets of sci-fi and fantasy MMOs have very little overlap or perhaps the gameplay in EVE is unique enough that no real alternatives exist. Whatever the reason, EVE has been blessed with a relative lack of competition since its release in 2003. But with four major sci-fi MMOs on the horizon, could the game's creators CCP be in for a rough ride?

In this speculative opinion piece, I examine how EVE reacted to competition in the past and suggest how it may react to the next wave of sci-fi MMOs to hit the market.

Past competition:
Although EVE has had relatively little competition over the past few years, it hasn't always been that way. Aside from small titles such as Vendetta Online pitching to the same audience, EVE has directly faced off with at least two major competitors in the field. The first game to hit the market was Earth and Beyond, which was actually released before EVE in September of 2002. When EVE was first officially released in May 2003, E&B was considered by many to be the superior game of the two. It grabbed 40,000 subscribers at launch while EVE Online struggled below this number until 2004. When the shut-down of E&B was announced, CCP ran a special deal for previous E&B players and successfully absorbed thousands of new players.

Released only a few months after EVE In June 2003, Star Wars Galaxies provided significant competition in the sci-fi market. Achieving a total of around 300,000 subscribers shortly after launch when EVE was floating around the 30,000 mark, it was clear that the Star Wars name had brought a lot of new people into the market. Due to mismanagement of the game, subscriptions fell dramatically from 2005 onward. This prompted even more radical game changes, with the controversial "New Game Enhancements" overhaul at the end of 2005 causing even more players to quit. As with the shut-down of E&B, EVE Online saw a higher than usual increase in subscriptions during this period as thousands of players went looking for an alternative sci-fi MMO to play.


Future competition:
The sci-fi MMO scene has been growing steadily over the past several years. EVE Online has been leading this expansion and their success has caught the attention of some fairly big game studios with some fairly big ideas. Four major sci-fi MMOs are currently under construction and slated for release in the near future:

Black prophecy:
Newcomers to the MMO market, "Reakktor media" began development of this impressive-looking MMO in late 2006. Black Prophecy sounds like it offers a very different game style to EVE Online, favouring first-person viewpoints, level-based skill progression and casual gameplay. If the screenshots are anything to go by, this game is going to be visually stunning, with an art style that favours a realistic, gritty nature that looks eerily like EVE. BP is sure to attract the kind of player that loves EVE's graphical quality but isn't too keen on its gameplay. Since EVE's gameplay and single sandbox universe are its main selling points, there may not be much overlap in the target market of the two games. It's hard to judge just how much impact BP's release into the market will have on EVE but this is one game that I'll be keeping my eye on and trying out at release.

This article was originally published on Massively.
Infiltrating SOE to get a sneak peek of The Agency