Incorrect. Sins Trinity should have injected new life into the online game, not put the last nail into the coffin. When the awful Tales of Valor expansion got released for Company of Heroes, a lot of veterens finally left. But I saw a lot of new faces as well before I too moved on. Though the competitive scene has largely died off, the casual community will contrinue to live on for many months still. If the new Sins players tried ICO and quickly fled, that tells you something about the state of the community. And of course with new RTS' being released, the old players are finally moving on causing a net loss in population. Stop blaming the expansion for the fall of the house of cards keeping ICO alive.
That's one way to interpret it. All I know is that player counts were higher before Diplomacy and it was much easier to find and fill 5v5 games. I blame it on the subdivision of the community. It makes logical sense. By dividing up the player base it becomes difficult for each segment to find games, so people tire of waiting and leave Sins for other games. If what you say is true, then why does the precipitous drop in online activity correspond with the release of Diplomacy? Why didn't it happen months earlier or months later?
All other online RTS' have a matchmaking system. You can't stack teams, because the other team will also be another organized team assigned by the server. You can smurf and keep making new accounts every 5 wins, but this means you'll never climb up the ladder and forever be a low rank player whom no one will respect. Also, most other RTS' focus on 1v1 and 2v2. It's hard to stack a 2v2 as it will be obvious that the hosting team knows each other, and most people who join will probably also know each other. Sins doesn't have a matchmaker and people seem to love 4v4 and 5v5; smurfs stacking teams has a disasterous impact on this format, and it is the leading reason why the Sins community has not grown in over a year. It is simply NOT any fun for the losing team, and giving the time required to get a 4v4+ going in the first place, it very, very rapidly leads to the death of the community as people simply never come back.
This game was doomed from the start when it only attracted a tiny online player base in the first few months after its release. If a game peaks at 300 people online at one time shortly after its release, it doesn't bode well. Having to wait to find a game that you want to play is a symptom of low player counts, not smurfing. Also, players who feel they are being smurfed can simply make their own smurfs. Futhermore, if hundreds of people played it online at once it wouldn't be hard to fill 100+ or 200+ games-played (on the player's account) only games. I think smurfing is an issue and one of the causes of this game's malaise, just not the predominant cause nor even a particularly large cause. The online multiplayer game had a great many other problems than just smurfing. Really, a great many factors worked against Sins online. Let me list some of them for you:
- 99% of all players play single player only or on LAN. From the very beginning it had low player counts (300 people peak).
- In the early days of the game only about 15% of the players could host games! This left groups of players in the Lobby asking if anyone could host and getting frustrated.
- This game suffered from Minidumps.
- This game suffered from Desyncs.
- The implementation of Impulse after the game's release significantly increased the barrier for legitimate users to patch and to play the game online.
- Sins games take a long time to play relative to other online games.
- This game lacked support for custom maps (Galaxy Forge made maps), which means that players were stuck playing inferior stock maps and random maps which sometimes resulted in frustratingly bad starting positions and unfairness to one of the teams.
- Expansions divided up the player base and the new expansions did not mesh well with the previous games, making it difficult for players to close one game and load the other version (resetting all keybind settings) as well as to see games for the other version and to be able to join seamlessly join them.
- This game can be computer resource intensive--lag is a problem--many players simply don't have the RAM/CPU needed to play it online.
- Smurfing is also a problem.
So, you see, a great many factors combined to kill Sins online. Smurfing is one of them, just not the predominant problem and probably not a very large one. The smurfing issue is also greatly magnified by the low player counts that this game has in general. Put 1000 or even just 500 people online at once and the smurfing problem could be made to go away.