The Huddled Masses

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

At the site of the Statue of Liberty, this inspiring sonnet commemorates that iconic symbol's unveiling to the public.

As we approach the release of the Citadel expansion on April 27th, I wonder: will the first player-built trading hub be constructed with similarly idealized aspirations in mind? Will it symbolize a new era of hope and economic prosperity for pilots in New Eden?

Or will it be an unassailable monument to absolute power and intimidation - the exclusive domain of a relatively small group of privileged masters?

Behold, the Palatine

CCP Fozzie recently revealed details of a new Citadel structure, the Palatine Keepstar - the most massive Citadel designed, with an additional low slot, two more mid-slots, and double the hitpoints of an XL Citadel. Based on current market prices, the Palatine will cost about 200 trillion ISK to construct. And most interesting of all, this behemoth will be absolutely unique - as only one will be allowed to anchor in New Eden.

Clearly, CCP Games is daring the largest player alliances in the game to be bold. The massive rush to construct the sole Palatine structure will become EVE Online's most critical strategic challenge. Like racing to build an atomic bomb, or to land a man on the moon, the first to build a Palatine will lay claim to being the most dominant force in New Eden. As a result, I expect we'll see rival alliances and coalitions pour their energies into "Project Palatines".

It will literally be a monumental undertaking. CCP Fozzie estimates that it could take "over a year" to accomplish the task. But EVE Online players have proven to be extraordinarily resourceful, so no one really knows for sure how long it will be before the first Palatine is ready.

And where will this massive structure be anchored? Almost certainly, in New Eden's most important trade hub, Jita.

The Inevitable New Jita

With the coming higher taxes for use of NPC stations, most commerce and industry will migrate quickly to player-run citadels. And the biggest prize will be the replacement for Jita 4-4, the most significant trade hub in all of New Eden by far. The player alliance that succeeds in establishing the "New Jita" trade hub will reap enormous riches, thus making them an extremely powerful political force.

There are great shifts in power occurring in New Eden today. The war against the Imperium now in progress may see the end of that once dominant coalition. Almost certainly, their power will be greatly diminished, at least for quite a while.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If the Imperium topples and falls, the resulting power gap will be filled by someone, and quickly. Some believe this will be Pandemic Legion, but I am less sure. Their relative power will likely rise as a result of the current war, but it could be only temporary. The alliance or coalition that builds a Palatine and establishes an extraordinarily defensible New Jita, whomever that may be, could quickly rise to the top of the power structure - quite literally - in New Eden. I do not think PL has an absolute lock on doing this.

Casting Dark Shadows on High-Sec

Some pundits, like Gevlon Goblin, despair over these pending events. In fact, he is planning to leave the game, once Citadels are introduced. He believes the new structures will destroy the EVE Online sandbox and make the game "pay to win". He foretells only dark days ahead.

I am much less pessimistic than Gevlon, but I am cynical about the changes that Citadels will mean for our game. Certainly, the opportunity to be a successful high-sec industrialist as a solo player will be greatly diminished, if not eliminated altogether. Citadels, even small ones, will require groups of players to operate and defend adequately. Unless the rules for wardecs change (and I hope they do, someday soon), the option to be a moderately profitable manufacturer as a sole proprietor will evaporate for all but the most dedicated and risk-tolerant.

Over several years, I made a small fortune running small and medium POS towers and using them for invention and Tech II module manufacturing in high security space. But from what I have learned about Citadels so far, it will be impractical to do this as a casual independent, once POSes are replaced with the new structures.

Perhaps this is a good thing, as it will provide incentives for players to establish Citadels with a team of players. More social interaction is not a bad thing to encourage in EVE Online. But I will miss the days when I could slap up a POS and crank out some modules and make ISK, without a lot of complications and coordination.

For high-sec dwellers, Citadels will dramatically change how and where they play the game. I fully expect to see most, if not all, NPC stations eventually replaced by player-constructed and operated Citadel structures, though I am not sure how quickly CCP intends to make this happen.

My main worry is that the vast majority of players who reside in high-sec - more than 70% of them, according to CCP Quant - may become economically enslaved by rich and powerful null-sec powers who take over the major trade hubs - not only Jita, but Amarr, Dodixie, Rens and Hek as well. With a small number of null-sec alliances controlling prices in New Eden, it may become impossible to make a decent living or amass modest wealth in high sec space any more.

Nearly three-quarters of active characters operate in high-sec space - by far the majority. (From statistics provided by CCP Quant in 2015.)

If this happens, then the vast majority of players in EVE Online may truly become the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. A few will emigrate to more dangerous space, I am sure. But most will not.

And if they decide not to bend their collective knee to the few robber barons in power, they will most likely not rise up in loud revolt - instead, they will simply leave the game, quietly. And that could kill EVE Online, for everyone, forever.

Promises to Keep - or Forget?

I hope that my worries are unfounded, and that CCP's devs have considered this potential course of events. I trust they are making plans to ensure that there will be good gameplay options for everyone in New Eden, in every type of space, and for every kind of preferred playstyle. That is what CCP Seagull has promised, many times.

I hope she keeps her promises, especially to the quiet masses, and not just to the powerful few. The future of EVE Online depends on it.

Fly safe! o7

Welcome to the Machine

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It's alright we know where you've been

Over the last couple of months, I've found myself humming Pink Floyd's tune about becoming a minor cog lost inside a faceless corporate machine quite a lot when playing EVE Online. I've been working diligently to keep the laboratories and assembly lines of my modest high-sec based Tech II research and manufacturing infrastructure turning at maximum production levels. This involves keeping the various structures well supplied with raw materials, submitting industry jobs, and shuttling the completed products to various markets for sale. It's become somewhat repetitive and routine - almost mindless - and while it's not the most stimulating of gameplay, I'm generally pleased with the results, despite the settled monotony of it all.

Though I'm not nearly as fastidious as some serious EVE Online industrialists, I have learned a few lessons about how to succeed as a solo, casual manufacturer in high security space. Since the major overhaul of industrial processes unveiled in the Crius update last summer, I've been experimenting with operating a solitary medium player-owned starbase (POS) tower in high-sec. I wanted to verify whether it was possible to earn a decent profit as a solo manufacturer after the dramatic renovation of research and manufacturing mechanics. My initial results, reported previously in this blog, were encouraging, and now that the markets have fully adjusted to the new industry mechanics, I'm finding that I'm getting very consistent rewards for my efforts.

I Miss Dinsdale

Despite many gloomy prognostications and conspiratorial pronouncements of doom for high-sec industrialists after Crius (...has anyone seen Dinsdale Piranha ranting anywhere lately?...), my actual results continue to be positive, although significantly more modest than pre-Crius levels of profitability. Before the industry revamp, I was earning 40% margin or more on many Tech II items. In those "good old days", once you had a research POS set up, with the proper skills, and some patience with buy and sell orders in the market, your Tech II manufacturing venture was virtually guaranteed to be an ISK-printing machine.

However, after Crius, everything changed. Now, manufacturers need to pay attention to costs, in order to ensure that they make a profit. Hard-core industrialists do this with elaborate spreadsheets or third-party applications and tools in order to squeeze every decimal place of margin out of each transaction, but candidly, I am too lazy to do this. I was curious to see if I could make a good return on my efforts without drowning myself in economic analyses and production statistics every time I started my EVE Online client. And I'm delighted to report that one can do so, without a great deal of math involved. As a casual, solo, high-sec based industrialist, I find that I am earning a consistent profit in the range of 15% to 20% net margin on the invention, manufacturing and sale of most Tech II items.

The industry user interface becomes absurdly easy to master in a very short time. It tells you just about all you need to know about how much your production jobs will be profitable, in general.

This is less than half the profitability levels of the pre-Crius era, admittedly. But it was harder to get into serious manufacturing in those days. For example, good faction standings were a requirement to put up a POS tower in high-sec, and you could only do so in systems with security ratings no higher than 0.7. Today, there are no such restrictions, and you can put your POS up in any high-sec system, regardless of the security level. And certainly, the relatively complicated mechanics of invention and manufacturing, and learning to navigate through the peculiar click-fest of the old industrial user interface, were significant incentives for most capsuleers to leave the task of making things to others.

Today, it is easier to get into industry, and the interface and mechanics are much simpler to learn and use, which are generally good things - but it is also more challenging to make a profit than it used to be, at least in high-sec space. Still, after I identified the items that sold well in local markets, I now simply turn the crank as fast as I can, and let the positive cash flow into my wallet. Over the last five months, this has amounted to over 9 billion ISK - not a bad return, relative to the risks involved.

Industrialist Beware

Note well, however, that though I consider myself a "casual" industrialist, I admit that I am doing a few things that an individual player may not find entirely appealing. If you aspire to be a successful solo industrialist in high-sec space, I have a few words of advice for you.

It is easy to train nominal industrial skills and start making things using station-based facilities. This is a good way to practice the basics making Tech I items, but you will never make any significant income doing so. In fact, the profit margins on most Tech I items are so slim, you can easily operate at a net loss. In order to generate decent profits as an industrialist in high-sec, you need to train your character to do invention and optimize your operations for manufacturing Tech II items. This means you will need a POS (which provides bonuses for industry), and the skills and know-how for setting one up properly. My advice: treat high-sec industry like a marriage - do not go into it lightly. Do your homework, get the skills you need, and be well prepared before you make the leap.

I am using three characters for industrial activities. Since there are no longer any restrictions on the number of jobs one can submit in a particular facility, other than the increasing job costs for higher volumes of industrial activity in a system, I am maximizing throughput by keeping more than 30 manufacturing jobs and 30 research jobs running at all times. At lower profit margins, the key to industrial success is volume, volume, volume - and so, I use all three of my characters to keep the labs and assembly lines humming at the highest levels possible. My advice: if you can afford to maintain multiple accounts, train up your alts on research and industrial skills, so you can maximize the velocity of your solo industrial operations - or use the multiple-character training option for a few months to train a couple of alts on your main account. It's worth the investment.

I also did a lot of mining of ice and ore before Crius, knowing that I would need a large supply of both for POS fuel and minerals for production. I was able to stockpile a cache sufficient for more than a year of operations. I've factored the costs of these at current market rates in my calculations for profitability, but there's no doubt that not having to buy fuel or minerals in the market means that my cash flow is stronger than it otherwise would be. My advice: if you are thinking of becoming an industrialist in high-sec space, spend a couple months (or more) to gather a significant supply of all the raw materials you need before you ever anchor your POS tower.

Behold my massive industrial empire!

Behold my massive industrial empire!

I also researched all my blueprint originals (BPOs) to maximum levels before Crius, to maximize their efficiency. This makes a very significant difference when producing items at larger volumes, as it reduces material costs and gets your items to market for sale faster. Whenever I purchase a new BPO, I first research it to the maximum 10%/20% ME/TE limits before using them to produce anything. On some large items, this can take a long time indeed, but I've found that it is a virtual requirement to compete effectively in high-sec markets. My advice: purchase a selection of BPOs and take the time to research them to maximum levels before you set up your POS for high-sec industrial operations.

Where you base your high-sec industrial empire is important. After the Crius release, job costs for industrial jobs are a function of the total amount of industrial activity in the system in which they are run. Densely populated systems with lots of eager industrialists suffer from higher production costs, relative to less popular systems with little activity in them. I searched around and did some research before selecting my base of operations, and found a nice, quiet system - often, I'm the only one in Local, which is unusual for high-sec space - and this keeps my job costs low. It's also fairly close to a trade hub, which makes it easier to transport items to market for sale. My advice: reconnoiter different systems, and check useful system activity information on Dotlan, to find an optimal base of operations.

(A quick side note: teams were supposed to be the offsetting factor to balance high industrial costs in more active systems, but alas, they did not catch on to the degree that CCP Games desired, and they were dropped as a feature - at least for now. I bemoaned their loss in a previous post, and I hope that they are re-introduced back into the game someday.)

I have also trained other characters in my three accounts in trade skills, and have based them in all the major trade hubs: Jita, Amarr, Rens, Dodixie and Hek. This is supremely handy for two reasons. First, they enable me to manage sales of my manufactured items wherever they can command the highest prices, and thus maximize profits. They are also useful for buying the least expensive raw materials. I often consult the invaluable EVE-Central market database to see which trade hubs offer the best prices on items needed for Tech II production, and then set up standing buy orders for those items in the nearest trade hub. This helps to minimize my manufacturing costs. This approach requires a lot more patience and diligence than just dumping goods at market buy prices, but it is worth the time and effort. My advice: if you can, locate some suitable alts in trade hubs, and use them to buy and sell at better prices.

Is it worth it?

As I said at the start of this post, once you figure out what to make, you can easily settle into a routine, and just make money. I manufacture a diverse array of Tech II items - drones, ammo, frigates and cruisers, and modules of many different types - and I generally keep over a billion ISK of inventory for sale in the market at any given time. This means I have to log into each of my three industry characters a couple times a day, deliver completed jobs, start new ones, and check raw materials levels. A couple times a week, I check the markets and then transport finished goods to the best trade hub for sale, contracting over the items to my local trade alts. Then I have to check each of those trade characters to adjust prices, as required.

Catrollinginmoney.JPG

It's a lot of maintenance, but if you measure success by the growth of your cash balance in game, you will find this as enjoyable and rewarding as I do. If that isn't your metric for winning in EVE Online, my advice is to avoid industry like the plague. Becoming a happy industrialist requires a certain amount of attention to detail, to be sure, and it isn't for everyone. If you just want to fly around, blow things up, or get blown up in the process, I strongly encourage you to do so. Chances are that you are my customer, which is a wonderful thing.

Fly safe! o7

Testing Independence

On June 30th, I am stepping down from my post as Director of Education for EVE University, and will be leaving the corp to pursue the next phase of my career in New Eden.

This is the second time I have done this.

There and Back Again

In the summer of 2009, when I first started playing EVE Online, I flailed around for a couple of weeks until I heard about this great place for new players, EVE University. I joined immediately, thinking I'd be there for a few months to learn the basics and then move on. But that's not what happened. Instead, E-UNI taught me what EVE Online is really all about. It's not just about fittings and ships and modules and mining and building and fights - it's much more about finding your place in a community. The people in E-UNI are there to share knowledge and help each other succeed, and I enjoyed that so much that I ended up staying - eventually rising to the role of Director. E-UNI became my "home" in New Eden.

I wanted to try some new things, though, so in the summer of 2012, I joined the Griffin Capsuleers. My three years in E-UNI were a great experience, but being in a new corp gave me the opportunity to be more independent. I sampled low-sec and poked into a few wormholes. I dabbled in manufacturing and organized massive mining ops. It was a lower key, more laid back and relaxed way to play EVE Online, free from the responsibilities of being a director in a large corporation. I loved it.

But sixteen months ago, I got a message from Azmodeus Valar, CEO of E-UNI, asking me to rejoin the corp. The Education Department - essential to E-UNI's core mission - needed help. Flattered, I agreed - and soon found myself once again in the position of Director of Education.

I've written about being a director in a large corp before, and so I will not dwell on the positives and negatives here again. Suffice it to say that it is rewarding, but also very demanding. Unfortunately, Real Life sometimes gets in the way, and I've recently taken on some new responsibilities that will limit my time in EVE Online. After some introspection, I've come to the conclusion that I can't give the time to conduct my E-UNI director duties at the level that would satisfy me.

Fortunately, we have some very capable staff people in E-UNI ready to step up and carry on the mission, so I'm comfortable with pulling away now. And so, once again, I am leaving E-UNI to try some new things elsewhere in New Eden. One of those things is mastering the expected changes coming to research and manufacturing.

We Live in Interesting Times

With the imminent arrival of the Crius expansion on July 22nd, I have become fascinated with the extensive changes to industry that are forthcoming. Crius will transform everything about research, invention and manufacturing, and will radically alter how things get made, shipped and sold in EVE Online. I've been trying to read and absorb everything I can about the planned revamp, and I must admit, there is so much change coming that it is very difficult to absorb it all.

Other observers of EVE Online have done a far better job evaluating the potential impact of the Crius industry changes than I could, so I refer interested readers to these resources, with my hearty endorsement:

I can understand why the developers at CCP Games, especially CCP Greyscale, decided to delay the implementation of the industry changes, which were originally scheduled for the last expansion, Kronos. It was a wise decision, as they have used the time to continue to tweak and improve aspects of the industry overhaul.

Many EVE Online industrialists, including myself, have speculated about who will win and who will lose as a result of the coming industry changes. Certainly, null-sec will benefit the most, but perhaps not to the degree that some think. The pendulum of favor is definitely swinging towards 0.0 space, but it does not appear to me to be as dramatic a swing as I first thought.

My initial analysis also led me to the conclusion that industry in low-sec was getting slammed hard, but subsequent changes have addressed that concern. Now it appears that low-sec industry will not only maintain its viability, but will also enjoy some special advantages commensurate with the higher-risk environment.

One question that remains in my mind is: can high-sec industrialists still earn respectable returns, or will increased competition from null-sec and low-sec erode profits so much that it no longer makes sense? My initial analysis tells me that it will still be possible for high-sec manufacturers to earn ISK by building Tech II items, though the profits will likely be lower than they are now. What I don't know for certain is the degree that margins will drop - and I don't think anyone, including CCP Games, knows for sure either. I would not be surprised to see margins on many Tech II modules decrease by 80 percent or more - and in some cases, it may be impossible to compete at all with lower-cost manufacturers in 0.0 or low-sec.

High-sec industry will be protected somewhat by the significant expense of shipping goods, which should counter-balance the expected lower production costs in lower security space. In general, I expect to see items built in each region of space to be sold locally, and compete in local markets. However, the economy of New Eden is remarkably efficient, and I anticipate that after Crius, it will take only a short while for prices to adjust and find new equilibrium levels. What those levels will ultimately be is the key question, and no one really knows that answer with certainty.

Let the Experiment Begin

I have therefore decided to initiate an experiment - an attempt to be a successful independent industrialist in high-sec, under the new Crius infrastructure. This may prove to be a fruitless pursuit, but it should be interesting and informative to test the viability of manufacturing as a mostly solo pursuit in high sec space, after the introduction of the extensive revamp.

Under the new industry system, to be introduced with Crius on July 22nd, I suspect that I may need more than one POS tower to compete effectively as a high-sec independent manufacturer.

Under the new industry system, to be introduced with Crius on July 22nd, I suspect that I may need more than one POS tower to compete effectively as a high-sec independent manufacturer.

Currently, I make a reliable amount of ISK each month as a casual high sec inventor and manufacturer of Tech II modules. As a very low-effort, part-time activity, I earn profits of about 150-200 million per week, more or less, by making and selling Tech II modules. I use an alt to conduct invention in a Player-Owned Starbase (POS), and manufacture items in public station facilities. This is more than enough to fund my activities in EVE Online, though not enough to PLEX all my accounts. If I was especially diligent and invested sufficient time to maximize my operations, I calculate that I could earn more than enough to play all my accounts for free - but the effort involved is far more than casual, and I simply don't want to commit to the continuous attention required.

After Crius, in order to maintain the same level of earnings, I think I may have to operate multiple POS towers, in order to maximize the benefit of improved efficiency from using the same types of facilities in the same tower. I expect that I will want to move my manufacturing to a POS, instead of using NPC stations, as well, to reap lower cost advantages.

The potential impact of teams is a wild card, and I'll be very interested to see how they affect costs in actual practice. Clearly, the changes that Crius will bring will favor organized groups of players over individuals, and that will hold true especially in high-sec. I would not be surprised to see ad hoc groups of independent manufacturers come together to bid on teams for mutual operations in the same system, in order to share the benefit there.

In short, I am making preparations to test the viability of high-sec industry as an income source for independent, casual manufacturers. Starting July 22nd, I will report regularly on my findings in this blog. I may fail utterly, but it should be fun to find out if I will.

Fly safe! o7