My Experiment Ends - What Next?

My experiment in high-sec industry is about to come to a satisfactory end, one year after I began it in earnest. When the Crius update was introduced last July, the entire system for research and manufacturing in EVE Online changed dramatically. I wanted to know if it was possible for independent, casual manufacturers in high-sec to make a profitable living after the Crius changes. And so, I have devoted most of my time over the last year playing with industrial mechanics in the game.

Though there were some predictions of disaster for high-sec industrialists in advance of Crius, my results have been generally positive. It has proven to be a fun experience, although also one that has grown very routine. I am certain that I could have earned higher profits if I was extremely fastidious about tracking my expenses to the tenth decimal place, as many serious industrialists do, but I deliberately kept my involvement at a casual level. I simply bought raw materials at the cheapest available price in the major trade hubs - Jita, mostly - and glanced at market prices for produced items to ensure that I wasn't making things that couldn't be sold at a profit. I never kept a spreadsheet to track individual item margins, on purpose. I only made sure that my expenses and income were all kept in the same wallet, and watched the level of my ISK balance rise and fall over time.

After starting with a medium player-owned starbase (POS) tower, a few assembly arrays, about 600 million in ISK and nine months of stockpiled fuel blocks, I now end after a year with more than 5 billion in cash, five PLEX (after giving a couple away to the PLEX for Good campaign), and another 11 billion in inventory of Tech II modules and ammo ready to sell in the market.

I've been hoarding my inventory in anticipation of an increase in demand after FozzieSov kicks in fully. I may be wrong about that, but I can be patient and wait the market out before liquidating my stockpiles at a decent profit. There's no rush - I now have plenty of cash to cover whatever other expenses I may incur in New Eden for quite a while.

So, is it worth being a casual, solo, high-sec industrialist in New Eden these days? I would say that my results indicate it does. However, I do have some advice for those who are eager to try replicating my success.

Proper preparation produces positive profits.

Don't jump into high-sec industry expecting to make oodles of money immediately - you will be disappointed. Tech I manufacturing is generally a no-profit game, or very nearly so, depending on what you make and sell. The margins on these items are razor-thin, and there is so much competition that a neophyte won't earn enough to make it worthwhile.

To make serious profits as a high-sec manufacturer, you must become a proficient Tech II inventor, and research the efficiencies of your blueprint originals (BPOs) to the maximum, generally. You should become very familiar with industrial planning tools, such as those from Fuzzwork Enterprises (especially the super-handy Blueprint Calculator).

You will also need to be aware of production costs, and be able to operate a POS in order to reap the bonuses they provide. You should also stockpile all the resources you will need to make a solid start on your production operation - minerals, fuel, datacores, blueprint copies (BPCs), and whatever items you need to make the stuff you want to sell. Also, scout around for a nice, quiet system to base your operations in - one with little activity, so that your job costs will be kept low.

You will obviously need to build up some cash reserves, in order to buy your initial materials stockpiles. I did this by doing a lot of Level 4 mission running.

If your character isn't skilled up to do all of this yet, spend the time training first. While you are whittling down the required skill queue, you should be doing anything you can do to reduce the cash outflows of your pending industrial empire. This includes establishing R&D agents to make datacores for you, mining your own minerals and ice, and researching your BPOs. This all takes time.

In the southern United States, where I live, we call this "fixin' to get ready". You can easily spend many months - even a year - in this stage, before you are really prepared to set up shop as a serious Tech II manufacturer in high-sec. It takes patience. Do the math, and make your plans. Otherwise, you'll have less than good results.

This does not mean you have to become super anal-retentive and keep elaborate spreadsheets of everything you do - though if that is your natural orientation, you will find much in industry to keep you joyfully occupied. Quite frankly, I am a very lazy manufacturer, and I have little patience for trying to squeeze out every penny of profits. I simply made items that had good profit margins, and was prudent about where I bought and sold things. As a result, I ended up with decent returns for my efforts, though I admit that I could have made more money if I had scrutinized every transaction with extreme precision.

Turn the crank quickly and frequently.

With the current mechanics, it pays to use your production facilities as much and as often as you can. Candidly, I think it is difficult to make decent money as a high-sec industrialist unless you have multiple characters with very high manufacturing and research skills.

I have three characters, all trained to run the maximum number of industry and research jobs. Most of the time, I ran more than thirty manufacturing jobs and more than thirty invention jobs concurrently. This enabled me to produce a large inventory and increase my profits.

Yes, you can make a profit as an individual character, but you will always be limited to 11 manufacturing and research jobs each, at maximum skills. If you can run more jobs in your POS assembly arrays with multiple characters, you can spread the cost of fuel over a larger number of items produced, and thereby increase your margins. It's simply more efficient.

If you can't afford to use multiple characters in your high-sec industry operations, then going solo makes little sense, in my opinion. Find some friends, form a corp, and leverage your production resources more efficiently - you'll all come out the better for it.

So, what's next?

Hopefully, I haven't scared you off, if you were thinking about becoming rich as a solo, high-sec manufacturer. It's possible to do it, but it's not a trivial investment in time and effort. Just be aware of what you're getting into before you jump in.

As for me, I will run out of POS fuel in the next month, and I'm going to close up my industry operation at that time. It's been an interesting year, and I'm pleased with the results. But it's time to try something new.

I contributed to a recent article on the EVE Online news site, Crossing Zebras, entitled "Stones Left Unturned", about aspects of the game that I have yet to try. As I mentioned there, I have yet to participate fully in a null-sec sovereignty-holding alliance. I've also only briefly flirted with Factional Warfare, and as a by-product, I have limited experience in low-sec space. I have dipped occasionally into wormhole space, and enjoyed it, but I've never tried to actually live there for any extended period. All of these options have their appeal, but I'm not yet certain which I will choose to follow.

I've been reading on Noizygamer's blog about his good experiences with the Signal Cartel, which is based in Thera and focuses on exploration, and that sounds like a fun alternative. I like their style - especially how they deploy "hug fleets", which sound like a blast.

I'm not yet certain which route I will pursue. One thing I do know: EVE Online never lacks a variety of new things to try.

It's time to start a new chapter in my career in New Eden.

Fly safe! o7

What High-Sec Could Be

As is my usual daily routine, I was browsing the latest news and blog posts about EVE Online on the ultra-handy (and highly recommended ) Total Eve! index site, when I saw an item on Lauresh's new blog about "Highsec Living". As one who lives mostly in high security space, I was intrigued, so I read it.

In summary, Lauresh doesn't like high-sec. I hear this kind of sentiment often from pilots who are used to living in null-sec, low-sec or wormhole space. High-sec is boring, they say. You can't make any ISK, they say. There aren't any good fights in high-sec, they say.

These kinds of comments always make me roll my eyes a bit. The truth is, some people just don't get high-sec, or why about seventy percent of capsuleers (including a lot of alts of characters based in other kinds of space) choose to spend most, if not all, of their time there.

Personally, I keep trying different kinds of space, but find myself moving back to high-sec. I played in a wormhole for a while, did some gas mining and exploration in low-sec, and even dabbled in a bit of null-sec life on an alt. They were all fun in their own ways, but I keep returning to Empire space. I admit I feel the most comfortable there.

Life in the Big Easy

First, high-sec requires less of a social commitment than other types of space. With my crazy Real Life schedule (I'm away from home about 75 percent of the time), I can't make myself persistently available for unpredictable calls to arms, which are all too common in corps that operate in more volatile spaces. I have enjoyed participating in these kinds of fleet ops, when I could, but it's hard to do them consistently when you have planes to catch and clients to serve.

In high-sec, I don't have to worry about letting my corpmates down. My only time-bound obligation is whenever we get a wardec and I have to rush to disassemble a POS or two, but that's easily managed. We do weekend mining fleets from time to time, which are lazy and more about chatting than production, or we'll get some folks together to do a little small gang wormhole diving, every once in while. In high-sec, I never fret about getting any sudden alerts that require immediate action, and that suits me just fine.

In this regard, high-sec life is like living on a Caribbean island. Things just move a bit slower there, and the locals generally like it that way. No worries, mon!

Decent Risk, Fair Reward

In high-sec, I mission a little, mine a little, haul a little, explore a little, and build a lot. There are a lot of ways to earn ISK in Empire space, and they can all be done solo, which is very convenient. Admittedly, the returns are not as vast as what is possible in null-sec or w-space, but that just means I have to be more disciplined. High-sec has forced me to become a better industrialist, and pay attention to my thinner margins.

Every space has its own kinds of challenges. In high-sec, I have to keep an eye on Local for possible gankers, and I need to monitor my industrial supply chain very closely. I play with the margins in trade hubs, and do all right there. I could make more ISK per hour in other types of space, surely, but the risk-reward ratio feels about right for me in Empire. I find the returns on my nominal levels of investment are adequate for my efforts.

More NPC interaction, please

Still, I yearn for more in high-sec. I find I have to vary my ship selection and fits, just to spice up my engagement with the missioning system, which I mastered years ago. Level 4s are a nice way to make decent ISK, but good God almighty, they are so predictable. The new burner missions are a welcome relief, and I do run them from time to time, just to make things interesting.

The most fun I've had in PvE lately has been while hunting Circadian Seekers, which use improved artificial intelligence routines and are far more variable in their responses - you never quite know what they are going to do. They warp away, warp back, re-engage, follow you to stations and camp you there. And while wrestling with Seekers, one has to keep an watchful eye on the overview for any Drifter Battleships, lest they drop on top of you and blat you to smithereens. More people should know how much fun the Seeker/Drifter AI can be - why CCP Games hasn't publicized this more prominently mystifies me.

In my opinion, they can't port this new non-player character (NPC) AI system to regular mission rats fast enough. It would make mission running much more fun.

How I interact with NPCs should make a difference in high-sec. For example, if I clear out all the anomalies in a system, I should be able to mine there for a while without rats showing up. Or, if I kill all the pirate frigates in an asteroid belt, they might come back in a couple of cruisers. How NPCs react to what I do should make a high-sec system more interesting and engaging - they are far too easily defeated now. If I undock my mining barge from a station and see a dozen pirate anomalies on scan, it should give me pause, and make me think I should dock up and re-ship into something that can clean out the anoms first.

The recent increase in the likelihood of an escalation from high-sec anomalies was a good move by CCP. That change made clearing high-sec anoms much more entertaining. I'd like to see more of this, and more opportunities for high-sec ratters to discover threads they can follow.

Citadel structures could change everything in New Eden, especially in high-sec space.

Citadel structures could change everything in New Eden, especially in high-sec space.

CCP Ytterbium has suggested a couple of new ways that players could interact with NPCs. First, during his Fanfest presentation, he suggested that small cargo runs could be arranged with the Interbus courier service. I'm all for this, as long as the shipments are restricted to small loads (less than 1K cubic meters, perhaps?), and if these courier ships could be intercepted and destroyed by players. That would protect the value of player haulers, and also create new content for pirates.

In addition, in responding to questions in the forum about the proposed new structures, he proposes the opportunity for players to arrange for NPCs to help protect a player-owned structure. I love this idea. Why shouldn't players be allowed to contract with local factions for protective services, especially if structure defenses are no longer going to be automatic? It would provide for a way to deter solo or small gang attackers until you could get online and blast away with your structure defenses. Make the contracting for these kinds of NPC defense services on a logarithmic sliding scale - not much for just a few frigates, to a huge amount for substantive forces - and it adds a whole new dimension to managing costs and risk for structures. More often than not, more player choices mean more variety and better gameplay.

In Sugar Kyle's recent post, she explores the idea of contracting with NPC services for courier run protection. Turamarth Elrandir supports this idea in his blog, and I do, too. It would be a fun option for solo freighter pilots. Why shouldn't we have the opportunity to "rent" NPCs to fly with us? The high-sec ganking community might hate this idea, but it would certainly make their engagements a hell of a lot more interesting, for both their ganking squads and for their targets, and that sounds like content enhancement to me. (Besides, I think there would still be a lot of solo haulers who would forgo NPC protection to save costs, thus leaving plenty of easier ganking targets available.)

There's so much unexplored territory in NPC interaction that CCP Games could experiment with, adding a lot of new depth and variety to high-sec - and in other types of space as well.

Eliminating Empire as a High-Sec Requirement

I recently wrote a speculative piece for Crossing Zebras that explores the possibility of reducing the sizes of each Empire's space, and turning over the setting of security status (in non-Empire systems) to players. I think this will happen eventually, though I can't yet be certain about the timeframe. It would be a wonderful thing for high-sec dwellers, as it would reduce Jita's influence as the one primary trade hub for all of New Eden, and promote the development of local trade in each Empire.

Some people have misconstrued my article to mean that I want to force players out of high security space. Actually, I suggest that fragmenting the four Empires opens up new options for high-sec players. For example, by changing factional warfare into a four-way conflict, and by expanding the battlezone between the Empires, getting into this form of semi-controlled PvP becomes more attractive to more players. This would result in more demand for manufactured goods, which opens up more opportunities for industrialists in high-sec, even for simple Tech I production.

Allowing players to collectively determine the security status of systems - through the use of structure administration hubs - would provide for the development of isolated high-sec freeports and mission hubs, patrolled by CONCORD (or perhaps pirate factions), in low-sec or even null-sec systems. This would be an exciting option for entrepreneurial high-sec traders, who may be looking for a better risk-reward ratio, outside of Empire space. Being a system in Empire space does not always need to be a prerequisite to developing a high-sec status system - that decision can be left to players.

The Relative Value of High-Sec Investment

There is no reason that high security space can't be as exciting and as interesting as any other type of space in New Eden. Enhancing the level and variety of engagement with NPCs, providing more player control over how they define and use high-sec status, improving the quality of PvE options, and expanding the scope of factional warfare would all make high-sec a more interesting and fun place to play EVE Online.

For CCP Games, the value of these kinds of developments would be higher player retention amongst their largest player base: the high-sec dwellers. For CCP, this is where the real money lives. For those players like me who don't have the time for more than casual social interaction, such a redefinition of high-sec would be a boon, and we'd be much more likely to stick around longer. Encouraging people to join a corporation and engage more socially is not a bad thing, but it should not be the only thing that CCP does to retain more players. Making all types of space - especially high-sec - more interesting and more fun is the key to more subscribers, and more content for everyone.

Fly safe! o7