As my ponderous grey slab of a ship slides slowly out of warp towards the Niarja gate, much sportier and more stylish frigates and cruisers pass me in hurried paces and jump through. The gate winks and belches its light show ahead, waiting patiently for me to sidle up to it and take my turn into the next system.
I always fret a little about Niarja, the lowest security system on the 9-jump run between the Amarr and Jita trade hubs. If anyone is going to take interest in abducting my sole passenger - the precious cargo container that my client entrusted to me - this would be the time and place. I sigh, and resign myself once again that there is little to be done about it anyway. I have no weapons. I don't even have any fittings to ward off ill intentioned interlopers. All I have is bulk, and that in plenty.
I reassure myself that I have presented as unappealing a target as I could. I never autopilot with a client's cargo aboard. I see a couple other fat freighters ambling slowly towards the gate, 15 kilometers away. If any ambitious gankers are going to stomp on anyone today, they'll likely choose a pilot who seems to be dozing at the wheel.
I laugh at myself. I always manage to forget that I've got several billion ISK in collateral at risk in my hold. If a ganker scans me down and finds my goodies attractive, they'll just pounce on me on the other side of the gate, whether I'm autopiloting or not.
"Well, it's too late to worry about it now," I mutter to myself. I tend to do this a lot during courier runs. I click the jump button, and hold my breath.
It's another typical day in a space trucker's life.
The Trucking Life
One of my alt characters is a professional hauler. She excels in getting stuff from point A to point B, smoothly and efficiently. It's not a glamorous life, but it is extremely useful - and usually quite profitable as well.
Many PvP pilots claim exclusive title to excitement and glory in EVE Online. They maintain that they alone are the sole masters of content creation in the game. Most regard haulers as simple targets, unworthy of respect. This arrogant attitude is ignorant, at best.
Haulers risk more loss, and do so far more regularly, than the vast majority of combat pilots. Haulers are the ones who put themselves out there, quite literally, in the face of danger every time they take a load of valuable goods from one place to another. Haulers contribute more impact and provide more content to the dynamics of New Eden, for they accelerate the momentum of commerce which drives the economy, every time they take action - while PvP pilots only make a difference if they succeed in demolishing a selected prey.
It is an undeniable truth that if haulers were not valuable, then few would bother to gank them. And yet, I find that few PvP'ers are willing or able to acknowledge the inherent utility of we space truckers. They don't understand why anyone would bother to train a character for the sole intention of being able to move things around with efficiency. "Boring!", they exclaim with derision.
They are so wrong.
Over the last four years, some of the most exciting and interesting episodes I've experienced in New Eden have been when carrying cargo. I recall one time when I was moving some highly researched BPOs to a client's station deep in low-sec space, in a blockade runner. The pirates were active that day, and they were well aware of my presence - and I suspect they may have had some advance warning of what I was carrying, for a dozen of them seemed very motivated to kill me. Playing hide-and-seek with them as they chased me across four systems, and then evading their grasp as they attempted to tackle me at the destination station - while both docking and undocking - still ranks as one of my more skillful piloting feats. And the barbed comments we exchanged in Local during that hour still bring a smile. A boring day that was certainly not.
As a hauler, I've been to almost every region of the New Eden cluster. I've taken side trips to view the Monolith in Dead End, the EVE Gate, and most recently, the graveyard of titans at B-R5BR. I've seen shattered planets, lonely memorials and ambitious research sites - and they've taught me all about the backstory of EVE.
As a hauler, I've learned how to avoid bubbles, frustrate gankers, evade gatecamps and escape tacklers. The joy of expert space trucking comes not just from completing a run and earning an honest paycheck, but also from the satisfaction of knowing that I can go anywhere - no matter how dangerous the trip may be.
New Eden is my domain, and no corner of it remains closed to me.
My Space Trucker's Career
My hauler specialist amassed the skills, equipment and capital needed to ply her trade over four years. Today, she has trained all of the appropriate skills for every kind of industrial ship to the maximum levels possible. But she has been a valuable asset throughout her career, even when she was a newly-created capsuleer.
I wrote a guide to effective hauling, based on my experience and study. It provides practical advice for anyone who may be interested in creating a hauler alt character. But if your experience is like mine, you'll soon discover that a hauler is more than just a handy utility to be tapped from time to time. Space trucking is its own career, with an extensive development path, and each step reveals new levels of variety and capabilities - ones that I did not fully appreciate until much later.
Truth be told, though I have three main characters in EVE Online, each in a separate account, I spend the majority of my time in game as my space trucker, who also doubles as my industrial and research specialist. She has become my meal ticket and my money maker - and a heck of a lot of fun.
If fully developed, there are five major stages in any hauler character's career, defined mostly by the types of ship that they fly:
- Industrial pilot
- Blockade runner
- Orca booster
- Freighter pilot
- Jump freighter pilot
The indy pilot is the entry-level hauler, but do not mistake this to mean that they aren't useful, or potentially profitable. I first established my hauler alt for the purpose of shuttling ore from mining barges in belts to nearby stations, to improve efficiency. That is less important now with the large capacity mining ships now available, but hauler alts have other valuable uses today. As an out-of-corp transport character, they can be very helpful during wartime. And they can make a fair amount of ISK moving low-volume items around for trade. And with the broad diversity of Gallente specialized industrial ships available, indy pilots are great for doing planetary interaction pick-ups, runs to nearby trade hubs, and resupply errands.
For most hauler alt characters, that is as far as it goes in their development. But serious space truckers should train to fly Tech II industrial ships as soon as they can, with the goal of piloting one of the amazing blockade runners.
I remember getting into my first Prorator and found it to be a revelation. This is a ship that can go anywhere, fearlessly, if you fly it well. It's fast - warping nearly as fast as an interceptor - and extremely agile, especially with nanofibers fitted. It is easily one of my favorite ships to fly. I undock in it whenever I can, simply because it so speedy and maneuverable. A five-jump run to the nearest trade hub, which seemed to take forever in an industrial, is nothing in my quick blockade runner. With a covert ops cloak, you can traverse through low-sec, 0.0 and w-space with relative impunity. Once you get in one, you'll never want to pilot anything else.
I also trained for deep space transports (DSTs) as well, but have found their usefulness to be very limited. Other than for moving moderate-volume high-value goods around in high sec, I rarely use them. CCP Games has said they are going to rebalance DSTs, and I'm eager to see how they revamp them - I hope they give them a better defined role.
My other main characters are miners, and so it seemed logical to train my hauler alt as an Orca booster to support them. Choosing to train as an Orca mining booster is a serious commitment, as it is a very long train indeed. In addition, Orcas are expensive, and also costly to fit properly. And finally, there is the the Mining Foreman Mindlink, which is also expensive but which boosts your fleet's mining yield by 15 percent. It took months of intensive training to max out my hauler alt's Orca piloting skills, but I've never regretted it. She's now in high demand as a mining fleet booster amongst my corpmates.
The Orca is also a very handy hauling ship in its own right, with large cargo bays. For me, it gave me a taste of the potential for training to pilot a large-volume freighter, and convinced me to invest in that development path.
Being an Amarr character, my hauler alt first trained into piloting a Providence, which is easily the prettiest of all the freighters. I started using my freighter to make trips to and from Jita, as everyone does, picking up a few courier contract jobs along the way. But I soon learned that the most lucrative trucking opportunities require the maximum capacity of the Charon, and so I eventually traded in my pretty Provi for an ugly grey slab. I've never regretted it, and I make easy ISK grabbing contracts between hubs, especially the easy 9-jump run between Amarr and Jita.
At Fanfest, CCP Games announced that freighters will become rig capable, which is wonderful news. I will have to decide whether to fit for speed, capacity or tank. Given the ponderous, slow-motion nature of freighters, I'm tempted to go for speed, but I'll need to see the stats before making that choice.
(UPDATE: CCP Fozzie published a forum post about rebalancing changes to freighters and jump freighters. Basically, cargo capacity is being heavily nerfed on freighters, which means that the only practical choice for rigs is expanding cargo capacity - very disappointing. Further, hit points on freighters are also being reduced, making them easier targets for ganking. Oh, goody - I can barely contain my enthusiasm, I say with heavy obvious sarcasm. See the comments below for further discussion.)
My hauler alt is now training for a jump freighter. Originally, I didn't see much call for this, as I had no need to move large volumes of goods into lawless space, but I recently changed my mind. My sojourns into the more isolated Solitude region have a revealed an opportunity for trade there, and that will require a jump-capable ship. I'm looking forward to learning the techniques and tricks of jump piloting soon.
Tools of the Trade
My hauler alt's collection of ships is extensive: three freighters, twelve industrials, two blockade runners, two DSTs, two Orcas, and a gaggle of frigates fitted for speed and stealth - the essential tools of her trade. She provides transport services throughout all of Empire space in New Eden, with occasional dips into more dangerous regions, if required.
I updated my character's biography to advertise her services. Whenever I saw someone who might be a potential client, I asked them to read it. Over time, I began to attract a regular group of customers, mostly from small industrial corps. I now get about a couple dozen private courier contracts each week for simple high-sec trade runs. It's low effort and low risk, and brings in between 50 and 100 million ISK a week.
That may not sound like a lot of money, but I easily earn several times that by also picking up other contracts in the market to fill up any available space, or by hauling my own manufactured goods to market - basically, I'm getting paid for trucking runs I would otherwise be doing for free anyway. The secret to making money as a space trucker is to always keep your cargo hold filled, if you can.
I occasionally get an interested customer who says that my rates are too expensive. I then refer them to Red Frog or Push-X to compare prices, which are much higher. In fact, I could certainly make more ISK if I joined one of those dedicated hauling corps, but I have chosen to remain independent. I prefer the flexibility that it affords me.
I've invested in specialized clones for hauling, and it does make a difference when you are flying freighters, which are painfully slow. A low-grade set of Ascendancy implants make a huge difference in warp speed, increasing it from 1.37 AU/second to 1.86 - it doesn't sound like much but it does shave off significant travel time on longer runs. I also use an EM-705 implant for 5 percent better align times. And an MC-805 implant adds another five percent to structure hit points. The only defense of a freighter is its bulk, so every HP helps.
(UPDATE: Structure hit points on freighters are being nerfed in the Kronos expansion, which will reduce the Charon's to 87,500 HP - which means that my MC-805 implant will now add 4,375 HP. See the comments below for further discussion.)
Finishing a Run
I approach Jita IV-4 for the thousandth time, ignoring the continuous babble of scammers and wannabe con artists on Local chat. Traffic is heavy as usual, and I await my turn for docking permission. After a few seconds, I hear the relaxed bored tones of Aura's voice, "Docking request accepted."
Once in station, I unload the courier crates and deliver them. My wallet blinks, and I check the balance. My collateral has been restored, and my wealth is a little greater than it was at the beginning of this run. I smile at yet another small victory for free trade and commerce achieved for New Eden.
I check my mail. A client wants me to run a small load to Hek. It's only 1 cubic meter, but it pays well, and the collateral amount is large. Must be something valuable. I check courier contracts, and there are six other contracts to Hek. I accept them all, and quadruple my earnings for the run. This is turning out to be a pretty good day.
Just another typical day in a space trucker's life.
Fly safe! o7