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

Landscape Architecture

Landscape architects use their technical and artistic talents to plan and design the built environment. They are, in essence, "architects of the land." They ... govern the allocation, arrangement and construction of ... resources.

American Society of Landscape Architects

I'll bet you didn't know that CCP Games was in the landscaping business. That is how CCP SoniClover starts the last of six dev blogs describing the coming changes to industry and research in the summer expansion of EVE Online: "Landscape means the interstellar topography of what is being built where."

Now we know all of what CCP Games is planning for industry in the upcoming summer expansion of EVE Online.

Now we know all of what CCP Games is planning for industry in the upcoming summer expansion of EVE Online.

After the first two dev blogs, I was hopeful about making industry the featured theme for the summer expansion. Now we can begin to understand the full scope of the coming industry changes, as a whole, and what they may mean to capsuleers looking to earn ISK through making things for sale to other pilots. The most significant theme is that industry in New Eden will differ, not only in how things are made and in what they will cost, but more importantly, by where they will be made and why.

The Macro Effects of Cost Scaling

First, as a general rule, items made in busy industrial systems will be more expensive to make than in systems with few industrialists. CCP Greyscale's dev blog on job cost scaling provides the general parameters of that new dynamic. The full formula for pricing industrial jobs is now:

full_pricing_formula_550.png

The net effect of this formula is that costs for running industrial jobs are going to be substantively higher, overall. The precise amounts to which costs are going to increase is subject to considerable speculation, as shown in the comments thread in the forums. With a change of this scope, all of the details are not yet fully known. Until we see the new formula implemented on the test server, and the experts can spreadsheet the effects to the ninth decimal place, all that is truly known for certain is that there is no more practically "free lunch" for running industry and research jobs. Industrialists are going to have to pay closer attention to production costs, if they want to remain profitable.

In fact, changes to jump drive consumption of isotopes, announced by CCP Fozzie, may have even more significant effect on the costs of production in regions that depend on jump freighters - specifically, null sec and low sec.

At a macro level, the effect of industrial job cost scaling is that there will be a natural incentive to spread research and manufacturing across a wider number of systems in New Eden, as manufacturers search for more cost-effective locations for their operations. This is a good thing, as it means a wider diversity of systems used, and more choices for savvy industrialists looking for incremental advantages over their rivals in the market. More choices equates almost always to better gameplay.

The Macro Effects of Teams

CCP SoniClover's dev blog is even more significant because it introduces a new game mechanic - the concept of teams. Essentially, these are dedicated workforces that can enhance the efficiency or effectiveness of industrial jobs.

Teams basically operate somewhat like decryptors do in invention jobs, enhancing the output of whatever jobs to which they are applied. Teams can enhance material or time efficiency, allowing cheaper production of items or faster throughput times. They can be narrowly specialized for higher bonuses, or broadly generalized for lower but more flexible bonus application.

Once engaged, a team provides persistent bonuses to facilities in a given system for 28 days. Teams will be seeded into the game and available at auction. A group of industrialists can bid for the services of a given team, pooling their bids for a specific system, and thus improve overall efficiency for a month in their station, starbase or outpost operations in that system.

At a macro level, the effect of teams will be to counter-balance against the diversifying incentives of job cost scaling. Teams deployed in a particular system will encourage specialization of industrial work there, encouraging concentrations of efforts. The tug-of-war between the effects of job cost scaling and of teams will be interesting to watch, once both dynamics are incorporated into EVE Online's industry design.

Welcome to EVE Online, people of New Eden!

I am delighted to see the team concept added to EVE Online. I argued for the introduction of population as a valued resource into the game last fall, and I'm thrilled to see it incorporated into gameplay decisions.

As CCP SoniClover describes in his dev blog, the potential for expanding the concept of teams beyond industry application opens a whole new array of interesting gameplay enhancements to EVE Online. Development of teams by players through planetary interaction, specialization of teams by different regions and racial backgrounds, and tweaking of the bonuses and length of persistence - all open new ways to link what capsuleers do to the native populations of New Eden. In so doing, CCP Games has created a new lever to affect gameplay dynamics, and provide more interesting choices to engage players.

It did not take long for EVE Online players to take note of the future potential of the teams idea, as shown in this Tweet:

I am a proponent of incorporating ship crews into EVE Online. Teams might provide a very interesting way to make those possible, someday.

Simplifying Industry

The dev blogs on the industry user interface (UI) and changes to research processes basically make the entire system of building things easier to understand, and more accessible to players looking to get into this aspect of the game. Both of these are good things, in general, though some past industry specialists will cringe a bit as they see these changes implemented.

The revised industry UI looks complex at first, but I think it is gorgeous. It provides everything an industrialist needs to know, at a glance, and can control aspects of the industrial process with a fewer clicks. I was hoping for simultaneous batch initiation of manufacturing and research jobs, which would make it easier to start multiple workstreams with fewer clicks, but even so, the new interface will be much easier to work with, so I am happy.

Even better, the new interface shows all the parameters and effects of possible jobs, even for blueprints that are not yet owned by a player. This makes the UI a wonderful introduction to industry for new players, and it provides for "what if" scenario experimentation without having to invest in blueprints or other resources. The new UI is going to be a great teaching mechanism for helping players understand industry better and faster.

The new UI makes everything available to an industrialist in one graphical view.

The new UI makes everything available to an industrialist in one graphical view.

The simplification of research into ten levels is both good and disappointing. It certainly makes material and time efficiency research easier to understand, but it also means that players who have invested in raising efficiency levels beyond 10 have basically wasted much of their time. I have a large inventory of module blueprints all researched to level 100 or better for both time and material efficiency. I don't lose anything under the new system, but I now feel rather foolish for investing that much in each blueprint.

Who wins?

There is a lot of conflicting speculation about who the winners and losers of the coming industry changes shall be. I was worried that the casual high-sec industrialist would cease to be a viable way to earn a decent income stream, and that null sec industrialists would become grossly overpaid for their efforts.

It now appears to me that, in general, high sec industry is going to be nerfed a bit, but probably still viable, while null sec industry gets a buff (offset somewhat by the jump drive fuel cost increase). Wormhole space industry also now appears to be significantly buffed, and made more viable.

Low-sec, however, gets the double whammy of having more exposure to risk from BPO's potential loss in attacked starbases, and from the higher costs from jump drive fuel increases. So far, they seem to be the biggest loser from the industry changes. Capital ship builders in low-sec, in particular, look like they will get badly hurt.

I'm very keen to learn more here at Fanfest over the next few days about all the details. But once again, I find myself somewhat hopeful that the changes will be pretty good, overall. Once we have more exact figures on job cost scaling, we can spreadsheet warrior all the effects and be able to provide more precise estimates of the full effects of industry changes. Stepping back from the numbers, and looking at the overall intent of the industry design, I have to give tentative kudos to the CCP Games devs and to whomever provided input from the CSM - if for nothing else than for giving us EVE Online players something new to play with. It should be fun.

Fly safe! o7