[TL;DR: This is actually a discussion about income in low sec. Let me step onto my soapbox again...]
The night that CCP announced they will be bringing low level DED exploration complexes to low sec (to replace the static complexes that they removed) I got into an argument about ISK in low sec. Since then, I have been thinking about this post and what I wanted to write about it. Rhavas wrote a little article where he looks at low sec through the rose tinted glasses of the past. This got me into a discussion with him about those in low sec who are not poor but are still true aspects of low sec.
I don't believe that low sec residents have to be poor. It is not the automatic, default state. I was not raised with the concept of a poor pirate. My boys did PvE. It was a split between exploration and level 5 missions. Having a steady, stable income was expected. I was first allowed to salvage to their amusement I made my first billions off of it. My boys always had what they want and earned what they need. It defined the early part of my game.
Consumption is one of my favorite words to define how Eve interacts with its players. It consumes what we create and that drives us forward to do more things. It causes a steady loss of ISK and a steady need to gain it even if there is no desire to gain it. The separation of desire and need when it comes to ISK is a particularly interesting hallmark of Eve. Often, in games, you reach a point where you no longer need income. While some may achieve this in Eve it is rare.
What is ISK per hour? ISK per hour is the simple formula (that I will not try to write) where a player, on average, in a particular part of space or doing a particular task will generate a certain sum of ISK once everything that player does is converted to ISK within a sixty minute window.
It is a somewhat suspect numbers. Vov likes to throw around hundreds of millions of ISK per hour doing Faction Warfare for instance. It drives me crazy because to make those numbers several accounts are involved, standings are involved, loyalty points are gained, loyalty points have to be cashed out, and items have to be sold, to reach ISK per hour.
In a more pure and common form we have level 4 missions. That often includes blitzing while other numbers may include looting and salvaging the entire field. If there is any almost truly pure form it is Incursions where you finish a site and receive liquid ISK injected into your wallet. Even that has loyalty points attached to the incursions end. And while one person may have the formula calculated someone will always stand up and say, "not everyone makes that."
Outside of high sec the avenues of ISK generation are very good. However, each one is spanned by a web of risk. This is where the concept of risk vs reward starts to stand on its feet. Out in that world ISK per hour is still calculated but I find it to be a flawed mechanic. As I look over my time in this game I cannot say that I have ever calculated my income in ISK per hour. Nor do I think I truly can calculate my income in that manner.
A simple fact of Eve is that ISK becomes easier to make the longer you play. You may never be super rich but the abject poverty of the first few weeks and months will quickly slip behind you. Most players can, if they put the time and energy into it, make a solid ans sustainable income. The nature of Eve is such that we do not have to make that income and many decide against it due to simple distaste and disinterest in the player vs environment options provided to them.
That is where Eve evolves into its own beauty. A player is not limited by the environment. That is why we have people who make income from anything from artwork to corporation creation services. We're not limited to the basics of the game mechanics. But, that takes time. Time to gain skills and time to learn the game. For a new player entering the game they tend to have two choices. They can learn to live off of the environment or they can buy PLEX. I've never been one to suggest that a player start by spending their IRL money for ISK. After all, most of us come to Eve to play and making ISK is just part of learning to play. Those tools can be used later.
Eve retains traces of the original theme part rails that it was created upon. Although the general linear nature of games has been there is still a particular focus of high sec -> low sec -> null sec/wormholes when it comes to making money. The bounties are larger the further out you go. The item drops are better. The rewards are greater. In theory, it can be accepted that low sec is still empire. I can accept that to a certain extent.
Where it loses its grip is the dangers of low sec. If the original creators of Eve expected low sec to be the bridge between high and null it didn't work out. Jumping out of high sec is a form of cliff diving. The low sec resident has developed into more then a middle ground player who has not yet struck out to null sec. The environment of low attracts its own residents to live, grow, and thrive in that environment. But it is not null sec light or high sec heavy. It is low sec. Its own defined section of space with its own flora and its own fauna.
Low sec is an environment that contains risk. People can shoot you. People will shoot you. The idea of station guns and security status as detriments works only to those that they deter. To the rest of us that enjoy life in this area they are simply a part of our environment. Null sec has bubbles. Wormholes have mass limitations. High Sec has Concord. We have sentry guns.
A new player entering low sec to live, is probably going to die a good bit trying to learn how to live. I have no problem with that. Where my initial argument started was how good should living off the land in low sec be? How much inherent risk was there? How much reward should there be? And what mitigation of risk was a reasonable assumption to make when one considered options for a new player.
Low sec is split into two environments that provide very different landscapes. The first option is to join Faction Warfare. I don't encourage people to get into faction warfare for ISK making. It may be good, if they learn how to cash out loyalty points, but it holds no interest for me. I don't want to fight for NPC faction agendas. I also dislike how easy it is for someone to tank their NPC standings. NPC standings are painful to recover. A new player, full of enthusiasm, may easily lock 1/4 to 1/2 of high security space away from themselves before they even know what they are doing. It is a mechanic I happen to hate that some others think doesn't matter. I personally believe that standings and their repercussions are something that should be understood before a new player is in the position to sink them into the toilet through nothing but innocent enthusiasm to play the game.
The other side of low sec is non faction warfare low sec. This is open low sec where corporations roam the stars and everyone is or is not a target depending on their personal agenda. The assumption is made that everyone that enters local wants to kill you. There are pirates and anti-pirates and role players and weekend visitors. In general it is a place where lots and lots of people will die and not knowing what you are doing will kill you before it teaches you.
Low sec is a destructive place to be. It means that a player needs to have the ability to replace what they lost with a reasonable alternative to survive in space. This means the replacement of a frigate or cruiser with a fit. You can't get away with half assed ship fits.
"Faction warfare is the best income for a new player," I have been told. If Faction Warfare is taken to be the absolute peak of income for a new player in low sec it seems that there should be reasonable alternatives in the other things a player can do. If Faction Warfare is the answer of reasonable ISK per hour then it seems that other basic income forms that do not even scratch at the base of its pyramid of money may need to be reconsidered. It shouldn't be the only income for a new player in low sec.
High sec missions send people into low sec all of the time. Hunting mission runners is a pastime for many residents that would be considered pirates. The mission runner now not only has their mission to deal with but the other people in space to deal with. People that want to kill them because that is how they play Eve. This means the mission runner has to be aware of his surroundings. He has to watch local, dscan, stay aligned, and in general be prepared or they will die.
Mission rewards are better in low sec. They are just not significantly better. If one steps all the way back to the start of their game, mission rewards were terrible. 20k and 50 loyalty points or whatever low level missions gave out. My argument was that the risk a new player takes to do missions in low sec is not worth the reward that they get. My other argument was that the only activities a new player had to do were missions. Everything else was still on the graded scale of the theme part where low sec anomalies and exploration sites (minus the new professional ones) were to hard for the newbie in his first frigate. The professional sites were also harder to do with low skills, and harder to find with low skills. All activities also came with the added bonuses of people trying to kill you whenever they could find you.
In high security space a player has low level exploration content with gate restrictions to do. These have potential rewards that would replace entire ship loses. They did not have to grind their way through missions for income to depend on their corporation to feed them scraps and handouts just for basic ship replacement and daily survival. A player who becomes a pirate early, because they engage in PvP which is encouraged, can't even get back into high sec to do this content.
Now, an alert and aware mission runner can avoid being killed. I know this. I've spent most of my time in low sec in level 5 hubs. Mission runners are good at avoiding dying when they are used to low sec. Indeed, I do not think it is impossible to do. But, when one compares it to the exact same activity in high sec the activity in high sec is more appealing because they don't have to run out of their site constantly.
How can ISK per hour even be calculated in an environment where you may not get to do your site for the entire evening. If the locals are out hunting that night may be gone. Night after night may follow the same path. Then a clear night of some activities. Then a new group moves in. Now everything has to be moved because no site can be accomplished. The senior I just detailed is not bad. What is bad is trying to define an ISK per hour for someone living in that scenario.
I may be stupid and I will admit this. How can someone who cannot tell if they can even complete their mission objectives to make ISK calculate what is a reasonable ISK per hour. It is not guarantied. Low Sec lacks all of the deep dark pockets of null, the limitations of wormholes, and the comforts of high sec. For an older player I don't have any pity. Adaptation is part of survival. I've gone through several different career paths in Eve to make my ISK.
But for the new player whos only option is missions and handouts for ISK? This is where my argument for adding low level DED complexes to low sec came from. And for my argument over defining ISK per hour I ask: How do you define ISK per hour in an environment where an hour is not guarantied? I've been chased out of my sites, my complexes, my missions. I've had to let salvage go from level 5s because a group warped in. I've had the pleasure of being on the opposite side of that coin more often. We've taken peoples missions, popped their objectives, finished their complexes, and in general tried to ruin their day. While we all accept that risk is part of the game we also look for the reward. Is the reward of the current system enough to warrant the effort and risk a new player will have to go through to scratch an income from the game?
I never focused on this topic for the PvP. Not everyone wants to PvP. Not everyone should have to. I think that viability for low sec lies beyond the violance that players do to each other. It all goes back to tending the environment. We, who live in low sec, see what low sec does and does not need. It may not always be what we need. I, after all, didn't need a market. I supplied myself with anything I needed. That does not mean the environment itself does not improve for having the market there. The same, applies, for PvE options. Options that are obtainable for someone who doesn't know how to play the game.
There is a fine line between judging the game from the eyes of a new player and the jaded eyes of old. While I support a look at ISK in low sec I don't ask for a blind, blanket buff. It wouldn't help those that needed to help. Those that need the help need accessibility to things. in Faction Warfare it is loyalty points and in non-faction warfare low sec it is living off the land.
Can a dead space module drop from a DED complex be defined by ISK per hour? Is it even a reasonable mesurment outside of certain things? Instead of discussing the reasons behind the evaluation of income I should say something like, "A newbie should be able to make 20 million ISK per hour in low sec." And walk away saying that it shall be done and if one person is able to do this then obviously everyone else is to.
I hate that. Of course, I may not be a focused enough player. I don't min/max. I don't blitz or optimize. I buzz around the game doing whatever happens to interest me. The game is too big for there to be only one way to do things. It is to large for there to be only one way to define things.
I do not define my game by ISK per hour. Nor will I. I refuse to shut down every other avenue of ISK making because 'faction warfare is that good'. I don't care how good faction warfare is it is not the only answer. It should never be the only answer.