Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rambling: Vertical Linear Progress

[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.


  1. Faction Warfare is a good place to start in Low-sec. It gives you a goal, and a reason to go hunting other capsuleers. Some people do need that reason to fight. And yes, it is relatively easy money. By orbiting a plex you can get yourself a fight or LP to convert to cash. Win-win really.

    I'll never say that my time in the Crusade has been a waste. But these days I do find it restricting. And what with the recent Empire Navy debacle, I'm struggling justify the Imperial Navy's incompetence.

    1. The point she makes is that if some bright eyed new player joins FW to make some money and get into some pew. Then hears he should head to Jita to get his ships and modules cheaper and discovers "Newbie is an enemy of the caldari state. get wrecked"

    2. I feel that FW has a lot of subtle complexity that someone finds themselves drowned in before they realize they slipped under the water. It is not a bad tbingnin general but when encouraging new players I have to wonder if it was made for new platers or as an alternative narrative for people who want reasons to fight. It may be rather corrupted from its original intent.

  2. I tend to not believe any ISK per hour stated by any player. As you said, it oftenly includes having multiple characters working together, and I seriously doubt that all the time for planning and organizing a venture has been factured into that ratio.

    Yesterday, I bought an Arbitrator, because I always wanted to, and scouted some high-sec anomalies. After three hours, I came out with 400.000 ISK in bounties from frigates which popped at the first volley, and then I quit one site because those frigates turned out to be eight enhanced frigates whose shields would need plinging away at them for about half an hour at least while kiting. Neither fun nor any sensible ISK/hours gained, but it kind of satisfied my curiosity since I ever first saw those sites pop-up automatically in the scanner.

    Same with those missions: Either they are quite simple or you lack dps/rep to make it. No tactics, no sensible in-game choices for different approaches; lokk up EVE survival to avoid guesswork as to which ship to shoot first. Very, very, boring, apart from figuring out how to get through them as fast as possible.

    I don't even dare to think about low-sec conditions: In my impression, there is a huge mismatch between difficulty and outcome and time invested, which can be only overcome with extensive study of the game mechanics and/or corporation activity. IMO, "sandbox" defined the wrong way.

    I hope Rubicon will change this, by enabling more wide-eyed naive new players to roam low and nullsec for higher rewards, with less harsh time investment needed. I.e. no station or POS or Multibox-Orca needed anymore for refit and storage of stuff: Jay!!! IMO, anything that makes more independent from multi-boxing, but keeps to be a challenge, is a good thing.

  3. Maybe it is due to playing themepark MMO's before Eve, but I see lowsec as a progression, not a starting point. I think for the vast majority of players, they should learn the game in highsec for a few months before trying out low or null or wormholes. You can do piracy in highsec like ninja looting/salvaging or suicide kills if you are so inclined. It is probably more profitable there anyway. The openess of Eve does allow you to jump straight into low/null/wh if you have friends and support there, but I don't think that it should be encouraged for the average player starting Eve.

    I 100% agree with your point on FW. It seems like there should be a "FW lite" that a new player could try out where the consequences are not quite so harsh.

    1. CCP promotes the do whatever from day one sandbox. One has to assume that is their wish.

      People need to be drawn in. Eve loses players because of a lack of direction. Early piracy is fine. They just need to be able to live off the land some.

      The last thing I want to say to someone is stay in high sec for four months and then come visit.

    2. New players often get taken under wing and taught the ropes of whatever space they decide to play in.

      In high-sec they may be taught how to grind standings, mine optimally, complete missions, helped with Epic Arcs, or how to grief, ninja salvage, duel PVP, wardec, etc.

      In low, once upon a time, I always made a point to teach newer players how to run static 2/10 plexes, warned them that most of the pilots living in those systems were looking for frigate fights, and preached that there is no better way to gain experience in low-sec survival than to grab your favorite assault frig, and do the Molden Heath 2/10 patrol route and either run the plexes or fight whoever you find. With those removed, and no low-end combat exploration content, the low-sp options become missioning, mining, or relic/data sites. It will be very nice to see lower level combat exploration content back in low-sec. 2/10s were the perfect fusion of PVP/PVE content outside of FW, and it may very well be the case once again.

      And in null, everyone knows the story of the CFC/TEST showering newbies in ISK, setting up channels for dedicated anom salvage, and plastering posters everywhere preaching how every Rifter counts.

      Any class of space, as long as a player joins up with a supportive group, can be new player friendly. In non-FW lowsec this was barely true at all. It looks like Rubicon will change that.

  4. "NPC standings are painful to recover."

    Amen to that.

  5. Your point that a particular method of ISK-earning may not be available is a good one. Still, I think one can sensibly use ISK per hour so long as you account for that. Some activities really do earn ISK per hour. Say, highsec missioning. With most though (including pretty much everything in lowsec) you really mean "ISK per uninterrupted hour", which is implied. Since interruption often just means "someone non-blue in local", all activities are interrupted equally. So you can still compare them with ISK per hour. It tells you what the highest value thing to do is, not necessarily how much you will earn.

    I also think it is reasonable for some activities to give estimates for (true) ISK per hour, where you try to account for interruptions. For example, exploring means roaming over large areas; it is inherently resistant to local effects. So, even though there are still wide fluctuations in how you do, you can sensibly say that you can earn 20m/hour on average. Or whatever it is. (To really do the estimate right would take a few days of dedicated exploring.)

    Is this sort of number helpful? I think it is. If I tell a newb I am getting 20m per hour exploring on average, and he tries it for a week and earns 10m per hour, then there is something we're doing differently that maybe I can teach him. If I cannot give him any parameters at all to work with, he'll never know.

    It might also be helpful in refining one's own game, comparing different strategies for how to do something. In the case of exploration, one big question is whether to try hacking when non-blues are in system. Much higher risk, higher reward. Is it worth it? Without trying it for a while and getting a number to compare, you won't know.

    About exploring, although it is true that it is sensitive to skills, the amount of skill needed is still low. So I think it is a good option to make income for starting players. (Here is my guide on exploration for newbies.)

    Congrats again on getting a good change into the game.

    1. Thanks, I needed an article like the ones you link to in order to figure out what and how to do next for finding out about my potential personal exploration ISK/hour rate!

      What about those combat sites? From my experience yesterday I conclude that it is not good to just go in like the Enterprise ("to boldly go where nowhere has gone before").

    2. Combat sites are arail thing again. In know easy ones need assault drugs and hard need battlecruusers and tank and maybe reps.

      Null just heads up and it becomes a DPs grind.

    3. I wouldn't even call it "uninterrupted hour". Mainly I would define it as limited activity. For example, ISK/h for Planetary Interaction is quite good, but it's static how much you can do. Similar for wormhole anomalies: when they are done, you're done. Now talking about PvP interruptions, I would only disregard those which are not recurring or long lasting, i.e. only if you are blocked and have to stop your activity completely for the evening.

      And like Keigai said, it's interesting to look at activities from several perspectives. One is the pure ISK/h mentioned above (unblocked, as long as it lasts, but still including vendoring off stuff, etc.). It tells you which activity to do first, if you have limited time that evening and if they are the same to you.

      A similar, albeit different metric is, how much *player* time do you spent for it. For many activities ISK/h is the same as above. But for example, before Odyssey I did ice mining on 10 accounts for some time, just because I was curious about how to approach and optimize that. Very poor ISK/h/account realtime (about 6mil), reasonable ISK/h for all accounts (about 60mil), quite good ISK for my play time spent in those windows (about 500mil/h).

      Another useful metric, is how much ISK can you earn, if you push it. E.g. if you want one billion, how long do you need using that activity. PI has a good ISK/playtime, but you will need weeks to reach that, because it's hard limited how much you can earn per char per day.

      Btw, since you mention it, your market's are "easily" measurable in ISK/h playtime. Just note down when you spent time for them, and at the end of the month calculate your winnings by that hours.

      Oh, and I agree, ISK/h thrown around by other people are quite useless most of the time (but mainly because you don't know how they measured, what they counted in), but I still think it's quite useful for yourself.

      All that said, of course, I wouldn't do something I don't like either, just because it pays better than something else. But on the other hand, I usually measure at least once what my ISK/h is for a certain activity, because sometimes the result is quite unintuitive, especially ISK/h playtime, which is the most interesting to me (aka how can I finance my playstyle with least effort spent "farming" outside those things I do for fun anyhow).

  6. The reason ISK/hr is such a prevalent term is that it gives people a common denominator to work with. If I stick to T1 cruisers and smaller, I usually do well enough from loot drops to break even isk-wise. For the more expensive stuff, my income comes from running relic/data sites in low-sec, combat sigs in low-sec, solo low-class (C1-C3) WH farming, and relic/data sites in null (when I find a convenient wormhole connection).

    When my primary goal for the day is to get out and earn some isk for a fancy new ship or two, I need some way of comparing options. As all other concerns are secondary, ISK/hr is the perfect measurement. If I'm safe and efficient, running C1 anoms tends to net me around 50 mil isk per hour of effort. Null sec relic sites tend to give 100-200 mil isk/hr, depending on scarcity. Low-sec combat sites are a lot more work for a much more variable payout. I'd put the isk/hr though around 100 mil, depending on the sites you find.

    I use these measurements to determine what will be most profitable for me to spend my time doing. They don't translate well to other people. Someone trying to run 5/10s in a cyclone isn't going to be nearly as efficient as someone running them in a tengu. I've got a cov ops alt I use to scan for both ship targets and PvE sites while roaming low-sec. So the opportunity cost is low to find PvE content, as I'm doing it while engaged in PvP. For someone else, the time they spend scanning might be worth more had they been doing something more easily accessible such as missions. Then you have to determine how many associated costs you include in your calculations. How much of the preparation and cleanup (purchasing and fitting ships, locating content, travelling, taking precautions to stay safe, salvaging, sale etc) do you include in your figures? How much initial investment have you put into your chosen activity? How often do you suffer a loss (from suicide ganked miners to tackled missioning carriers)? What is your opportunity cost for each of those activities?

    It's a complicated and muddled equation to be sure. But if your goal is to maximize your income, it's necessary -- at least on a personal basis.

  7. Let's say I just started. I know now that I'd do "ninja gas runs". I just read a noob's account of his first trys. It was painful. For both of us.

    Forgive me for paraphrasing but I feel like you are saying, "I'd like new people to come play with me in Lowsec, and they need an income, but right now the risk vs Isk vs skills is worse than highsec."

    Assuming I've understood you, I feel like you are not including a players knowledge of the game. If a starting player has a Lowsec corp then I think the way you were raise is perfect. If they do not have a corp, and ask me how to make more isk, I would never suggest to them to try a low level DED complex because they lack the basic knowledge that would keep them from being slaughtered.

    Recently someone in NPC chat said they were looking forward to getting a bigger faction ship from a mission after getting a frigate from a mission. We explained he needed LP for those and someone suggested FW and then tried to talk him out of trying to do it in a Vexor. Maybe we should have mentioned standings. I don't think not being allowed in part of highaec is the end of the world though. To me FW seems to be a good way for people who don't want to join a corp or read to learn while earning.

    1. Sorry that you were not posted immediately. Google decided you were spam.

      I am also speaking of people raised in low sec, yes. One of the biggest barriers besides the massive skill point gulfs is their being able to survive. We will tank their security status in days and then where are they? They need to be able to fend for themselves because that is the nature of low sec and they will need those skills for later.

      Also, they learn the basic survival skills for a low level ded complex their first few days. I would never suggest that to a random. I'd send them to a new player friendly corp to get their basics under them.

      I don't think FW is bad. I think that it should not be the only choice. I think that people should not say, "low sec is fine because FW is there". I dont think FW should be the only solution to a reasonable income. I am fine if FW is considered the height of 'isk per hour' for a newbie in low sec. I am not fine is FW is considered the only way to earn ISK per hour as a newbie.

      Currently, you need to have reasonable skills in low sec to do complexes. 4/10 are doable with poor skills and some time for a newbie. 5/10 are not. THere is such a huge jump between 4/10 and 5/10 it boggles the mind. Those are the only two DED complexes available in low sec and there is an unrated 6/10. None of that is reasonable content for a newbie.

      We used to pull them into level 5 missions. The 'more fun NPC AI' killed that. New players burn in a fire where once they learned a lot of basic mechanics and how to watch dscan and local and all the little daily tasks to live in low sec.

      Please do not think I believe this is a one size fits all concept. It is a start. Low sec used to have 1/10 and 2/10 static complexes and those were removed last year and nothing was ever put to replace them. Bringing the exploration content helps to give low sec what it had for years.