Dabbling in Dangerous Waters

I confess that I spend most of my time in high security space in EVE Online, and have made a small fortune there over the years. That wealth now affords me the luxury of relative immunity from the first adage of the game: Never Fly What You Cannot Afford to Lose. And as a result, I've felt encouraged over the last year to try riskier ventures in New Eden.

Soloing in W-Space

It started last year with a few dalliances in wormhole space, which I now enjoy thoroughly from time to time. Soloing a few anomalies in C1s and C2s, when I can find them, is a great way to pass a couple of hours in a Proteus.

Wormholes - not so scary once you get used to them.

Wormholes - not so scary once you get used to them.

Amazingly, I've not yet been ganked in a wormhole, though I must admit I am probably more paranoid than most players and routinely warp off to a safe spot to cloak up whenever I see anything odd on directional scans. In my initial forays into w-space, I think I was spamming the d-scan button about every three seconds.

Since then, experience has taught me to relax a bit. In fact, most of my w-space soloing exploits have been somewhat lonely - I rarely encounter another soul in a wormhole. Perhaps it is the time of day that I typically play, or maybe that is the real nature of most w-space systems, but generally, I find most wormholes to be bereft of pilots. For my casual dips into Anoikis, that suits me just fine.

The blue loot pays pretty well, too.

Giving Low-Sec a Chance

I've been spending more time in the Solitude region lately. Though it's a bit of a pain to get there initially - with routes through low-sec or null-sec space - once I set up a jump clone there, it's easy to visit. It's a wonderful place for explorers. Even though it is mostly high-sec space, Solitude is relatively under-populated, meaning there is less competition for exploration sites.

The small, diverse and relatively isolated Solitude region - lots of fun if you are looking for some change of pace.

The small, diverse and relatively isolated Solitude region - lots of fun if you are looking for some change of pace.

A dedicated band of EVE University students reside in Solitude. Like me, they appreciate the variety of options that the region affords. In addition to the wealth of exploration and combat sites available, the region provides easy access to low-traffic systems in low-sec, as well as to null sec space in the Syndicate region.

The other night, I was flying my Stratios, probing down cosmic signatures, and jumped into an adjoining system. I wasn't really paying much attention - I had simply picked the next system on the overview and clicked the "jump" button. On the other side of the gate, I realized I'd inadvertently jumped into a 0.4 low-sec system.

I make it a habit to avoid low-sec, in general. And if I have to go there, I go in a cloaky ship, like a blockade runner. Low-sec always gives me the willies.

"Uh oh, that's what I get for jumping blindly," I said to myself. But then I realized I was the sole inhabitant in Local. Further, this was a system I'd originally traversed through to get into Solitude, and I had made three safe spots there, as is my usual habit when entering a new system. (Yes, I'm obsessive like that. I've got safes tucked away just about everywhere now, though my library of bookmarks pales in comparison to "The Safest Man in EVE", Seamus Donohue, who has over 50,000 of them. CCP Games devs cite him as a test case for the bookmark code.) I selected one of my safes and warped to it, cloaked.

There were a couple of signatures in system. "What the heck," I assured myself, "Since I'm here, let's just probe these down and see how it goes." I launched probes, and soon identified a wormhole and a gas site.

True confession time: though I have the skills for it, I have never mined gas before, other than in one high-sec mission a couple years ago, and that doesn't really count. And here I had found two nice clouds of harvestable Celadon Mykoserocin. I warped to 100km, and observed them from a safe distance. They were like tufts of purplish cotton candy.

I love cotton candy.

Suddenly, I got the urge to mine these things. I've been reading Sugar Kyle's blog, Low Sec Lifestyle, since the start of the CSM9 election season, and have been influenced by the possibilities of doing more things in riskier space, just for fun. And here I was, with the perfect opportunity to do just that. I had no idea what I was going to do with any gas I collected - heck, I wasn't even sure what I could make with the stuff (Exile booster drugs, I figured out later). A quick market check showed that it wasn't particularly valuable. But that didn't matter.

My little Venture, huffing gas in low-sec.

My little Venture, huffing gas in low-sec.

The twin blobs of pretty cotton candy were going to be mine. Decision made - damn the consequences.

I just wanted to see if I could do it, really.

My Little Venture

I jumped back into high sec and went to Boystin, which is the closest thing to a trade hub in Solitude. Everything is expensive in Solitude. There isn't much industry there, and many items have to be imported. I paid far too much for a Venture and a fitting for gas huffing, but I didn't care. Those clouds were going to be mine, regardless of cost.

Though the Venture features a +2 warp strength, protecting it from single scrams, I fitted a warp core stabilizer to give it an extra point of tackling protection. Further, I put a prototype cloaking device in the spare high slot, alongside the two gas harvesters.

I jumped back into my low-sec system, checked Local, and found once again that I was the sole inhabitant. I warped to one of my gas clouds and went to work, watching Local like a hawk. I got my directional scan set up, too - ready to use if anyone entered the system.

The Venture is the only ship with a gas harvesting cycle time bonus, but I could tell that it was going to take a while before I could fill the 5,000 cubic meter ore bay. And that was assuming that no one interfered with my operation.

My solitude (no pun intended) did not last long. Two pilots appeared in Local, so I warped off to a safe and cloaked up. I started clicking the directional scanner.

I found an Imicus and a Heron on d-scan. Both pilots had high positive security status. Probably just a couple of scanners looking for sites, just as I did. Then I saw scanner probes. One of them was probing down signatures. I watched the probes' distance change on d-scan a couple of times.

"This is cool," I said to myself. "I see exactly what this guy is doing." He was probing down my gas site - now the only signature in system. I was tempted to broadcast in Local - "Hey, dude, it's a gas site", but I decided to just keep quiet. Eventually, the probes disappeared, and the Heron left Local. He had likely identified my gas site and decided it wasn't worth further investigation.

Meanwhile, my Imicus friend was still in system. Suddenly, a cynosaural field appeared on my overview. It was right next to the gate back to hi-sec. I narrowed the focus on my directional scanner tightly on the field and gate. Ah, there was the Imicus. And then, a jump freighter appeared, and promptly vanished - it had taken the gate into high-sec. The Imicus followed soon after, and the field faded away. Obviously, some traders importing items into Solitude.

It's amazing what you can see if you use d-scan.

Alone again, I warped back to my gas clouds and started harvesting them again.

One thing I learned about mining in low-sec: you have to be incredibly patient and diligent - Local, a cloak and d-scan are your best friends. Whenever someone appeared in Local, I warped off to a safe, cloaked up, and scanned. After a while, I began to see patterns:

  • A couple of stealth bombers moving through the system every so often, looking for targets.
  • The same two scanning ships coming back every once in a while, searching for new signatures.
  • Someone just hanging out in a nearby station, but never undocking.
  • Somebody shuttling planetary interaction items out of system in an Epithal industrial.

No one tried to hunt me down or kill me - or perhaps they did, but they couldn't find me. Having to warp off from time to time was a pain, but it seemed the safest plan. Besides, I was learning a lot and having fun by just playing with d-scan.

After a couple hours, I finally had a full hold of gas. I jumped back to high sec and unloaded my booty. Now, what to do with the stuff? I did a little research on drug manufacturing. Maybe I'll put up a POS and make some Synth boosters. It might not be terribly profitable but it'd be fun to figure out how to do it well. I found a Drug Manufacturing skillbook in the market and bought it, and added it to my queue.

Another possible avenue opened in the EVE Online universe, thanks to the butterfly effect, and my affection for cotton candy.

Flirting with Factional Warfare

I've been telling myself that I was going to give Factional Warfare a try for the last two years, but never got around to doing it. I have an unskilled alt based in the Rens trade hub which I use every once in a while to get local price quotes or manage sales of a few items. Last week, I logged in on that character and did a couple market checks. I was about to log off, when the Militia button on station services caught my eye.

Once again, on a whim, I clicked it, and signed up that character for the Minmatar militia, the Tribal Liberation Force. Now I have access to a cool new window of information - and I have no idea what to do with it.

My new factional warfare window. It looks nifty, and I think our side is winning, but I have absolutely no clue what to do with it yet.

My new factional warfare window. It looks nifty, and I think our side is winning, but I have absolutely no clue what to do with it yet.

I must admit that my first impression of the factional warfare (FW) experience is that I am woefully underwhelmed. I expected at least an EVE mail saying something like:

Congratulations, volunteer! Welcome to the great struggle against the tyranny of Amarr oppression! You should now read the following briefing located here, and report for duty at this agent located here. Good luck, Nation Warrior! 

Instead, I've received nothing. Clearly, the devs who designed FW assume that whoever signs up for the militia knows what they are doing, and what is expected of them - this is a very bad assumption.

I'm now trying to read up everything I can about FW, but am still confused about what to do next. This is standard operating procedure for EVE Online, of course, and I'm sure I'll noodle it out eventually. I'm told that this lack of clear direction is not how armies operate in Real Life, especially with new recruits. CCP Games, please take note.

While I'm trying to figure out how to engage in FW, I logged into my subscription administration and ordered a month of Multiple Character Training (MCT). Until I have a clear plan of action, I can at least get my alt character trained in some basic piloting and combat skills. To that end, I've begun a three-week development plan. Perhaps by the end of that time, I'll know how I can make a meaningful contribution to the Minmatar cause.

Dabbling in Dangerous Waters

My sampling of more risky activities in EVE Online has not been stimulated solely by a search for variety - it is motivated far more by what I perceive to be a coming sea change in the game. And I'm not sure that I like the portents that I am seeing.

Are there rough seas ahead for high-sec industrialists? Some signs seem to be pointing that way.

Are there rough seas ahead for high-sec industrialists? Some signs seem to be pointing that way.

My journey through EVE Online started in high sec space. I mastered the basics of the game there, thanks to EVE University, and I've built upon that knowledge to pursue ISK-earning options that have proven to be moderately lucrative - mostly, in high sec industry. My initial goal was to build up enough wealth so that I could afford to pursue whatever options I wanted in the game. Over the last four years, I've achieved that goal, and can now comfortably begin to experiment with other, riskier options.

However, I fear that this path is about to be closed to future players of EVE Online. Ripard Teg, vice-chairman of CSM8, posted a commentary about the future of industry on his blog. In this post, he says:

[The coming industry changes are] absolutely, totally going to flip high-sec industry and trade on its head... And in the midst of this, the people who are making their living doing the bulk of their manufacturing in high-sec -- and I include myself among this number -- are going to be the most trodden on: we'll be paying the most for minerals, we'll almost certainly be paying the most for manufacturing. That is going to make our margins on a lot of products razor thin... where we're able to sell these items for a profit at all. I suspect there are some items for which manufacturing in high-sec at a profit is about to become impossible!

While I have liked the announced changes to industry so far, and though I support further boosts to industry outside of high-sec space, it appears that instead, the coming changes may simply move profitable manufacturing wholly into null-sec. In fact, if Ripard Teg's post is accurate, that seems to be the intent of the CCP Games developers, by design.

This could be the end of any possibility of wealth accumulation by high sec industrialists. I sincerely hope I am wrong, and not over-reacting, but the omens are clearly beginning to point in that direction.

So, it's time to adapt and diversify. I may need to find other avenues of ISK-earning beyond high-sec manufacturing. Hence, my interest in investigating other aspects of the game. It is very lucky that I have enough ISK in the bank to let me afford to do this. I worry that high-sec players who do not have similar resources will simply throw their hands up and walk away from EVE Online. Ripard's suggestion that industrialists should try to establish alt characters in null-sec renter corporations strikes me as unrealistic and impracticable. Players who enjoy a relatively low risk to reward ratio simply won't do it - they will just leave, especially if that becomes a low risk to no reward ratio.

I hope CCP Games realizes what they are doing. I fear that they may simply enrich the established and entrenched null-sec powers further, and simultaneously eliminate what once was a viable path to success for many players in the game. They may not realize it, but CCP Games is dabbling in dangerous waters - with serious implications for the future viability of EVE Online.

Fly safe! o7