A Farewell to Hauling

For several years now, I have earned a modest amount of InterStellar Kredits (ISK) by running private courier jobs for other players in EVE Online. I have enjoyed being a part-time space trucker. I even wrote a popular guide about it.

Alas, I've now realized that hauling no longer holds much appeal for me. I've decided that it's time to sell my freighters, and give up trucking as an income-producing career - for a while, at least.

Why have I given up on hauling? My decision arose from two factors:

  • The risk-reward ratio for being an independent trucker no longer makes sense
  • There are better hauling alternatives available - and perhaps more coming soon

Risk-Reward in Trucking

I got ganked in Jita last week. Though I've been ganked before, having it happen in Jita was a first for me. It has made me re-evaluate the utility of independent hauling.

As any reader of my hauling guide knows, getting blown up by enterprising gankers is just part of the cost of doing business as a hauler in New Eden. It goes with the territory, and every serious trucker has to accept that they are going to lose ships and cargo from time to time. For me, flying around with a big target on my ship made hauling interesting. Eluding people who want to see your industrial pop was one of the things that can make hauling fun.

I've lost a couple freighters in Niarja (the main choke point between the Jita and Amarr trade hubs) over the years, and each time, impatience or poor planning on my part ("I can forget using my webbing alt on this run - it will all be just fine this one time...") were the most significant factors. I didn't lose much sleep over those losses, as they were largely due to my own fault. I considered them valuable lessons learned.

But with the rise of well-organized corporations dedicated almost entirely to ganking haulers in high-security space, flying through choke points between trade hubs has become significantly more hazardous for solo haulers, especially in freighters. Earlier this year, I put my Charons in mothballs, and started using Deep Space Transports for inter-hub courier jobs instead.

DSTs are less vulnerable to bumping, as you can simply use a Micro Jump Drive to get 100 km distance, align and warp off, and they also provide a formidable tank. My experience using DSTs for high-sec hauling runs has been very good, though their cargo bays are much smaller than the massive freighter capacities, of course - but for most moderate-sized courier runs, DSTs work just fine.

I also began using the well-established hauling services, Red Frog Freight and Push-X, for very large volume moving jobs. For a long time, I avoided using these services, as their fees are not cheap. But when I weighed the increased potential of losing my own freighter and cargo, suddenly those fees did not seem so exorbitant. I've since had excellent experiences with both services, though one needs to be a little patient when waiting for your contracts to complete. There is always a small backlog of jobs in the queue and it can take a while to get your goods shipped, though with both services I have found that it generally takes just a day or two.

Both Red Frog and Push-X provide generous ship insurance supplements to their affiliated pilots, allowing full coverage of haulers who suffer the occasional inevitable loss. If I was going to continue to be a freighter pilot in New Eden, I would join one of these services. In fact, that's what I now recommend to pilots interested in becoming a serious hauler - train up a suitable alt, join one of the established hauling services, and never worry about ship losses again.

The Price of Impatience

As I mentioned, I got ganked in Jita last week. It was a costly loss - more than 2 billion ISK in expensive Tech II items, which I was trying to get to the trade hub station at Jita 4-4 to sell.

I had considered using Red Frog or Push-X. I could have broken the shipment up into a couple of courier contracts, paid the service fees, waited an extra day or two, and would have been fully covered.  But no, I wanted to get these items to market right away, so once again, my impatience got the best of me.

It was a small volume run, and fit easily into my trusty blockade runner, a Prorator - one of my all-time favorite ships. It's super-speedy, quick aligning and cloaky. I always feel near invulnerable in my Prorator. I've escaped so many bubbles in null-sec in my blockade runner, it's almost become routine. In low-sec, I've easily evaded gate camps so large that the red bars on my overview covered the entire right side of my screen.

I've been everywhere in New Eden in my Prorator. As I said in a previous post:

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... 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.

So, I was feeling ultra-confident when I decided to save some ISK, and do a quick run to Jita myself. I loaded my items into my Prorator, set the course, and undocked.

Every jump on the way to Jita was uneventful. There were a few CODE pilots hanging out on the Uedama gate, as usual, but they didn't try to catch me - there were much easier targets to take out, no doubt. I jumped into Jita, and started the warp to the station at 4-4.

The traffic around the Jita trade hub is always thick, and there is typically a second or two delay between coming out of warp and getting docking permission accepted. I routinely kick on my prop mod just as I come out of warp, to accelerate towards the station and speed up the docking process, and I did so this time.

But then, before I docked, my ship exploded.

"Oh, damn," I muttered to myself. I warped off my pod to a planet, and docked at the nearest station. I took a quick look at the kill mail - a pilot in an NPC corp flying a Tornado had one-shotted me. A classic gank.

The only consolation was that none of my Tech II items had dropped, so at least they didn't profit from my loss.

Still, I was curious. Blockade runners are immune to cargo scans, so my ganker had no idea what I was carrying - he was taking a random chance that I had something valuable in my hold. I hopped into my noob ship, undocked, and warped back to the scene of the crime, but at 100 km off. I wanted to see what corp his friends belonged to, if I could. Professional gankers always operate in teams, with a buddy in a hauling ship standing by to scoop whatever loot and cargo gets dropped.

As I arrived, there was the expected plethora of CONCORD ships on my overview, and the Tornado wreck, and also the wreck of my Prorator - unlooted.

This wasn't a professional gank. It was just some guy in a Tornado getting his jollies from picking off haulers. I was a little disappointed. I have more respect for the ganking entrepreneurs who take a risk and try to make a profit. Instead, this just felt random.

I do have to congratulate him for the quick shot, though. He only had a second or two, at most, to get it off. Maybe he just wanted to see if he could kill a fast blockade runner - they are more challenging targets than the usual run-of-the-mill industrial.

I kicked myself for not using a hauling service.

The Future of Hauling

At Fanfest earlier this year, CCP Ytterbium talked about the possibility of enabling InterBus, the in-game non-player corporation, to haul small volumes of goods for players between stations (with the risk that the convoy might be shot on the way).

As I sit back and reflect on my recent loss in Jita, and look at the current and potentially emerging options for hauling goods in New Eden, I come to the following conclusions:

  • Being an independent solo hauler makes little sense, given the increasing risk of loss, especially in high-sec space
  • The relative cost of using established hauling services, compared to the cost of potentially lost ships, cargo and collateral, make them the logical choice for large-volume and high-value shipping, even with the small additional delays that entails
  • For low-value and small-volume shipments, an in-game service like the proposed InterBus network will compete for a substantial portion of currently player-run courier contract work, reducing the rewards of hauling in what is already a low-reward business

The indicators are clear. The future of being a independent hauler looks bleak. It makes little sense, other than saving a bit of time, to carry on as an solo space trucker in New Eden. That work should go to the large and well-run hauling services corporations, who can manage risk more effectively. And with the anticipated changes in the hauling dynamic, should the InterBus option come to fruition with the new structures, the opportunities for small-scale haulers to ply their trade will be significantly reduced.

Frankly, I think I can make more profits by selling my hauling ships, and investing the proceeds in PLEX. Oddly, that seems like a much less riskier place to put my money these days.

So it goes in New Eden. Nothing ever stays the same. Usually, I like that, but in this case, I feel a little sad.

Fly safe! o7

 

A Space Trucker's Life

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:

  1. Industrial pilot
  2. Blockade runner
  3. Orca booster
  4. Freighter pilot
  5. 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.

The incredible Prorator blockade runner - one of my all-time favorite ships in EVE Online.

The incredible Prorator blockade runner - one of my all-time favorite ships in EVE Online.

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.

(UPDATE: CCP Fozzie has published two forum posts announcing updates to DSTs and to blockade runners. See the comments below for reactions and further discussion.)

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.

My space trucker's biography, which has attracted a regular clientele who now keeps her busy and productive throughout all of New Eden.

My space trucker's biography, which has attracted a regular clientele who now keeps her busy and productive throughout all of New Eden.

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