Lost Ark – Month and a Half On
Personally? I’ve still been playing. Still struggling to find the time to slot in posts between playing probably excessive amounts of both Lost Ark and Elden Ring. Reading has taken a fairly severe backseat too. This one month has likely put my ’15-books read’ target for the year in jeopardy already.
The shine of Lost Ark I would say was finally starting to wane for me recently when it received quite a shot in the arm. Nothing the game itself did — although I have been pleased with the content cadence so far — but rather the fact the friend group that I’m playing with are now all in Tier 3 with me, and all above ilvl 1340 to boot. Just like that, everything I can do they can do too.
And that’s awesome.
It would seem, though, that the fact my friends and I are still playing would put us in the minority.
Using peak simultaneous players as a proxy measurement, just under 30% of Lost Ark’s players from launch seem to have stuck around this long. Of course, this measurement isn’t necessarily a very good proxy measurement as it isn’t able to reflect the fact that players are likely to be playing for shorter play sessions now. Just jumping in for their chaos dungeons, guardian raids or other maintenance-type reasons and then logging out again. This in turn impacts the degree to which players overlap with one other, pushing the peak simultaneous player counts down more than we might see if we had direct access to the MAU (Monthly Active Users) data.
Anecdotally though, even some of the game pre-launch supporters such as Mailvaltar are expressing the fact they didn’t like it as much as they thought they would. And others who merely dipped their toes in haven’t necessarily found it to their liking either. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the shape of the MAU graph largely reflected this one.
You’ll also note though I added a comparison to New World, and aligned the launch dates as the start of the data set. New World is one of the few other MMO’s exclusively available via Steam and so able to reflect the entirety of its userbase. ESO and FFXIV have an unknown split between Steam and their own launchers.
The pattern to date is… remarkably similar.
You can see a few bumps in Lost Ark’s count with the content pushes so far but they’re extremely short in nature. I expect in April we’ll see what I would probably call the first ‘major’ content push with the South Vern continent and campaign story being added so I am somewhat curious to see what that’ll do to the numbers.
The Bamboo Illusion Island and Guardian Slayer Kadan storylines added to date are fairly cool but are also fairly short and clearly haven’t been viewed as big enough to create that game expansion effect where you see a fairly significant influx of players for a while.
Finally, to address the other elephant in the room… New World is considered in many quarters to be a failed game. And Lost Ark appears to be on a similar trajectory.
It’s perhaps still a little soon to say with any certainty. We don’t quite have a perfectly obvious inflection point in the data set yet.
No doubt a large portion of players would’ve drifted off simply from the levelling experience. The campaign is… It isn’t good. Carbot’s ‘Earning Experience‘ video — as they so often do — perfectly encapsulates the experience. Beyond easy combat followed by a period of smashing ‘G’ to get through the dialogue as rapidly as possible. That’s it.
I feel like the story itself improved a little after getting your ship and heading for distant shores, but the experience remains largely the same.
So perhaps cut as many as a third to half the player base from that alone.
Then, if you do get to the end… Well; for a start it isn’t really the end. There are several more continents to do after hitting 50, spread around various gear levels which introduces another element I suspect driving a lot of players away.
The relentless focus on gear levels combined with a very dry RNG system. The end of each tier before cracking into the next one feels — and there isn’t much way to sugarcoat this — pretty bad. Sure, there is that rush when you actually manage to do it but this is after days potentially of seeing altogether too many red puffs of smoke on attempts to raise your gear.
Those puffs of smoke which may themselves represent what feels to be a significant amount of playtime both already spent and, perhaps worse, yet to come. The various materials collected to buff the gear, poof, gone. And due to the failure, now need to be collected again as well. The further you go, the higher the chance of that failure is too and the more easily you can imagine a future in which your next x number of attempts won’t work either.
To say the least, it’s easy to become discouraged and move away to greener pastures.
I’m at about 1356 ilvl now, with the next big breakpoint for additional ‘things’ at 1370. That feels like an incredibly long way away. If you didn’t yet know this — Tier 3 gear moves in 5 ilvl jumps per successful honing attempt, not 20 ilvl jumps like Tiers 1 and 2.
The base chance I have on honing any particular piece of gear right now is 10%. Every failure only gives ~1.5% additional chance on the next attempt. There is an additional protection built in the way of ‘Artisan Energy’ wherein when each failure on a given piece of gear raises this percentage. When it hits 100% your next attempt is guaranteed. But this can still represent a good many attempts and many, many crystals, leap stones and whathaveyou essentially down the toilet before you get there.
Unless you’re willing to go down the P2W route, to last through this you really have to be both willing and able to take quite a particular mindset. One that says actually the speed of this progression doesn’t matter. That in the end, you’ll get there. Artisan energy absolutely guarantees you’ll get there, even if you have the worst RNGesus luck in the entire history of the world.
Hopefully on top of that, you’re actually having fun with the content that gives you the necessary honing materials to keep going. Which, to be fair, I am and I think many people would too, given there is a range of both solo and group-required content to get you there. But! And its a big one. If that more distanced, philosophical, slow-burn mindset isn’t backing it up then the crushing disappointment of failure after failure after failure of honing attempts is going to absolutely outweigh any other fun that may exist.
And I’d say this fact is taking out a huge chunk of the remaining players.
The smallest chunk of all, I think, will be those who have actually ‘done’ everything available (e.g., up through all phases of the Argos raid). Given the backlog of content available, I suspect this tippy-top end of the player base will be able to be kept reasonably happy going forward. But I guess we’ll see.
What I don’t necessarily see is how Lost Ark might be adapted to be more palatable to those who have left for the other reasons. The approach so far seems to be introducing additional methods of gaining the various honing materials which I do think will help but isn’t a complete solution. I’m also not entirely sure there is a palatable adaption for this market though that doesn’t gut the core of Lost Arks systems.
So I’m curious to see how well the trendline I’ve mapped above ends up being reflected by reality a few months out from now.