Monday, October 27, 2014

TCS: Selfishness and Adaptation

I was told that I could whine and throw myself a little pity party for a TCS post if just I'd write one. Armed with permissions I gleefully looked to write a long saga about the trials and tribulations of the CSM balancing with my market attempts.

That post didn't quite happen. I find that writing about how bad I feel for myself makes me feel a bit stupid. However, there was truth in the fact that the negatives and hardships that are part of running TCS should be shared. Not everyone who picks up markets in a vein similar to mine will join the CSM and find their time consumed. However, other types of game time consumption do and will happen to most of us.

I often bemoan that I don't feel as if I fit in with a lot of market bloggers. They make ISK by the billions, per month. Some months TCS makes a billion ISK in pure profit after everything else but that is not common. However, that is no ones fault but my own. I don't run TCS like a proper business so it should be no surprise that it does not respond like one.

One admission that I had to make over the summer is that I would not be able to continue TCS at my previous levels. It simply took to much time to maintain and groom a market of that size. Even with my tools and familiarity, nothing removes the simple time factor of entering market orders. When I gave up my Bosena office (150 mil ISK a month anyone?) that increased the speed that my market handling degraded.

Ever since I picked up the market as a part of my game play in Eve I have much lamented the unfulfilled potential of running a store in Eve. It is right there, out of my grasp. My perception is skewed towards what I do and what I discovered I enjoyed doing, but having a truly functional storefront ability seems like it would be interesting and immersive for those who want to ply their trade and wares.

But beyond that, one of my larger problems is simply the fact that I created TCS as a project to help other people. I did not create it as a way to fund my own gameplay. It is something that it can do. TCS does not lose ISK. But I still work around the idea of using that money to grow and expand TCS and to fund projects and other people. For a while, I would buy ship hulls for people who where low on ISK and high on PvP. I'd fund Rawrcat fleets and ship peoples items mixed into my own shipments.  I also used that ISK to expand TCS and to invest in the POCOpore. The POCOs give a low but steady return and the expansions into Battleships are somewhat paying off in the fact that the store has liquid ISK again.

This sounds great and wonderful. It is a problem however because I created TCS around the goal of giving the locals everything they'd want and need at reasonable prices. That means that instead of focusing on what sells and makes a good return I have instead focused on what needs to be available for the whims of the low sec PvPer.

It turns out that is a very hard goal to keep up with. As players improve their skills they broaden the selection of items available to them. It leads to flavor of the week or month habits among those I am used to flying with. Someone works up a fit and flies that for a while. Others often fly complimentary ships to it. For months shield rigs may not move as kiting armor is in vogue. Or missiles will stay stagnant for months until someone feels like blowing the dust off of their launchers.

An example of my most recent Eve Mentat update.

I am a bit sad. I also now realize how much time and energy I was throwing into keeping Bosena afloat. It was a lot. And because it was a personal project it was not considered to be anything other then my own personal project. Lacking the time, that project has also diminished. It is not dead. It is far from dead. But I don't have the time to put into it that I had to keep it at seven hundred orders. I'm a bit ashamed and a bit embarrassed of that fact but it is a reality that I have to accept.

Things have changed. I no longer live in Molden Heath. Shipping is harder then it was back in the spring. Between surcharges for ganking and my attempts to move items through other means and hte delays that they impose my entire market structure has changed.

To my amusement, I noticed a lack of boosters on the market. For months, while I kept them stocked, others pushed me out of that market. Now, months after I have stopped making them, the others have left. The greatest weakness of a low sec market, for I cannot speak for null or high, is that someone must be dedicated to it. Someone must love it and shape it and keep it maintained. There are to many factors fighting against he market for it to just grow and thrive as a living thing tended by dozens of people with various goals.

Perhaps, my biggest mistake was that I refused to raise prices. If I had raised prices I could have just forced the increased shipping costs onto others. I could have eaten the office bill and pushed that onto my customers. But they are also not mistakes. I was very interested in running the market as I wanted to run it. That meant doing things under the terms of how I wanted to. I do know that I have been extreme but I wanted to see what would happen.

That is why I've documented what I do. Sometimes it works out well. My entire concept of a low sec market works. Reasonable prices work. But some extremes stop working at a point. I've perhaps reached that point.

Bosena's diminishing, for I will not call it death for it is not dead and shall not die just yet, started when someone said to me that they were going to spend their money in another system where someone had everything they needed, unlike me. It was a bit after the elections and things where just kicking into full swing. I was hurt. It still stings. But, that was the moment when I learned that unless I gave everything I'd probably not be able to maintain Bosena as one person and do anything else in the game. I learned that what I had done did not matter for some peoples now.  And I also realized that I was not selfless enough to give up the rest of Eve to provide a market of often obscure needs so that I could watch other's go and have fun while I moved freighters and frantically compiled last minute shopping lists for fleets that I couldn't go on because I'd used my time shipping and stocking and my game time was done for the day. Sometimes, I to, just wanted to play.

I believe that I can continue to give the low sec community a valuable asset with creating markets while being a bit more selfish. A solidly stocked market is still valuable. I regret that I may not be able to keep it to the levels that make me preen with pride. But I have other duties. As long as I do the CSM thing my game time will always be divided. It is not something that I regret. It is a choice that I made and I will have to accept that it is not a good enough excuse for some.

I do not know if I will raise prices to compensate for shipping or just work with a smaller market that I can work into my time, easier. I suspect that it will be some hybrid of the two. It will be a new chapter into what I do as I take what I have learned and adapt them to what my game life is now. I've been clinging to what I had and that was my greatest mistake.

Lessons have been learned. Mistakes have been made. Eve is not static. I cannot be static nor can TCS always be the same. Eve environment has changed and TCS shall adapt to change with it.


  1. Thank you for sharing this aspect of your game. I have been supplying some items to the station where I live, and may spread my efforts to nearby system once I can set aside 9 days to get Retail V and a few Wholesale levels under my belt.

    The way I'd approach "market creation" is to see if I attract other sellers. Otherwise it's just me pumping modules into a gaping maw that will never be satiated. And for other sellers to come, the prices have to be worth the effort. I was told to avoid "white knighting" by volunteering to bring stuff in at cost, because that would crowd out other profit-seeking manufacturers, people we *wanted* to come.

    Please do try again, when time allows. Aim to not be the sole supplier, but the person who seeded and grew the market.

    1. I'm not stopping, i just have to adapt more. It is easy to take more and more and more stuff under your wing until suddenly its to much.

      I like, to an extent, doing the white knight thing. I wanted to see how it would go and if it would be sustainable. But yeah, without the higher profit margins it isn't unless I continue to hold up the entire market because the bottom line could be better elsewhere.

      And, I have to find more reason to do it then making people happy. I'll never be able to make them happy enough.

    2. Sugar,

      Perhaps you’ve covered this somewhere before and I’m unaware of it but I’m not all together clear on how you’re defining “reasonable prices.” Seems to me a reasonable price needs to cover *all* the expenses incurred bringing an item to store. That includes the expense of the item itself, shipping charges (all of them), taxes and fees (all of them), overhead costs like equipment (blockade runners) and store front (space office in this case) *and* reasonable compensation for the merchant’s time (White Knights deserve to make a living too).

      There’s really only one of these expenses to be argued about and that’s “reasonable compensation” as all other expenses are determined by other people/NPCs meaning the merchant in question has no choice but to pay the expense. Once reasonable compensation is pegged there’s room to calculate interesting specifics like what works out cheaper for the customer, space office overhead or the increased labor costs incurred to stock the store without an office. Another interesting possibility to explore might be distant but cheaper supply market hubs counterbalanced by higher shipping and merchant labor expenses.

      ***Terribly Important Elaboration***
      If the merchant isn’t to be compensated via profit for their labor then every time the store clears a profit that fact by itself is indisputable sign that the merchant is overcharging meaning the merchant would be expected to 1) reduce prices to prevent future profits and 2) refund the unacceptable profit to customers.

      ***2nd Terribly Important Elaboration***
      An entirely different approach to “reasonable price” could be a set percentage markup from average market hub price. In this case the merchant is allowed to cost cut their way to as much profit as they can all the while remaining “reasonable.”

      “Price” is a money question from the get go. “Exorbitant” or “Reasonable” are money based arguments to be adjudicated with money based math. Sans such hardnosed calculation, “reasonable prices” has, at best, a vague and shifting meaning.

    3. It is a good question Dire and one I should probably expand upon. A reasonable price was a mark up from the trade hub that covered time/effort. Everyone was marking up until the players stopped buying and leveling off there. People often had a 'its low sec' surcharge. Corpmates put items on the market at 50% markup and called it a lazy tax. Even corp contracts were often marked up at least 20%. I hated that environment and wanted a market where the markup was 'reasonable' based off of the price the item was obtained for.

    4. Helpful response Sugar and apologies for hopping in on Brian Smith's thread - I'd intended to place my comment/question out on its own but hit the wrong "reply."

      As it turns out, however, Brian's original comment ends up getting at the conundrum you find yourself in extraordinarily well. He suggests “market creation” as goal rather than “reasonable prices.”

      It leads me to wonder whether there’s room to create a reasonably priced market in Bosena. Specifically, if your reasonable prices drive out other merchants than Bosena is well nigh destined to grow no larger than you can handle. From your customer’s point of view this generates price/availability decisions that could often settle on availability over price.

    5. "It is a good question Dire and one I should probably expand upon. A reasonable price was a mark up from the trade hub that covered time/effort."

      And, following on from Dire's exposition, that mark-up seems to miss a thing -- expenses incurred. Courier costs, gank premiums, office costs, fuel if using your own JF... IMO you should be adding all these to your Jita price and then marking up, rather than eating those costs yourself.

      "Reasonable price" lies somewhere between "cutting your own throat" and "gouging the punters". Either extreme will result in the death of the market, and only you can determine your happy place between the two. But I'm willing to bet that a large proportion of you regular customers would gleefully accept your being a little more selfish and raising prices if such just compensation kept you and your market -- their *convenience* store -- healthy.

    6. Good thread, everyone :) I like the phrase "lazy tax" and I can talk a bit about a change in my own attitude towards making "too much" profit.

      At first, I too didn't want to charge too much...I actually felt bad about making the potential profit on some modules*. Then I realized that setting a price that was in line with neighbouring systems was perfectly fine, and my prices increased. I was saving local pilots a risky trip to other systems by having the goods for them in station.

      I have since graduated to "how much can I charge for this and STILL have people buy them?!". It's stunningly easy to create modules such as small overclockers, small transverse bulkhead (for hull-tank ships),small hybrid collision accelerators and make 500+% markups. I've never received an email saying "you're making too much, lower your prices!", but I've frequently been undercut. Good! That means someone else noticed how much money was on the table and started shipping in their modules. This makes the market more healthy.

      The system I call home doesn't even have a factory, so I have to do a little transportation too. The risk of doing that, plus my time in managing the production (instead of being out in space, having fun) means I charge whatever the market will bear. If I'm the only seller, I no longer feel bad about setting a very high price. I'll either not sell any, or I'll attract another seller who will undercut me. Good!

      I also sell modules, directly to corpmates via corporate contracts, and there I keep the prices very low, close to cost. Our corp fitted ship contracts include a 15% markup; the "push button; receive bacon" fee.

      Bottom line: don't feel bad about accepting whatever amount others are willing to pay. Don't price other sellers out of the market, then feel bad that you're carrying the whole market by yourself.

      * Small Processor Overclockers cost about 2-3K ISK to make. You can sell them for 100K+ and nobody blinks an eye.

      This clip from Blackadder, where he meets Robin Hood, came to mind:

  2. Why are you still trying to do it all alone Sugar? Can you find a small coterie of trusted associates to help you run TCS and divide the labor?

    1. Because such people do not fall from the sky. Mix that with the simple fact that trust is so hard to give in this game and I'm in a situation where I'd have to give someone access to everything that I had to get anywhere with it.

    2. I don't know Sugar. It ought to be possible to work out an appropriate buy in arrangement, assign responsibilities for various market segments, etc. Yeah, it would take some work, but even one or two would greatly reduce the workload. Perhaps some of the upcoming corporation changes will assist in some of the trust issues, but it will always come down to the people anyway.

    3. I don't think there's any need for trust. You don't have to be in the same corp or share anything substantial. You just agree between you (assuming such a person could be found) which market segments which person is doing. Then he does his thing and you do yours, and so long as the market is stocked everyone wins. I suppose you might want to check his prices every so often to make sure he's not deviating from "reasonable prices".

    4. Splitting things up in that manner comes with its own problems. If we have an agreement where I supply minm/gal ships and complimentary items and you supply amarr/cal ships and compliments as an example, then both of our profits are tied to the flavor of the month. If missile based ships/items don't sell then most of your profit is going to disappear until missiles become popular again.

      I don't believe a fully stocked market is going to be sustainable unless you have several merchants operating out of the market that are free to compete on prices for all items. Having agreements on what items each person is able to sell means I either don't make a profit when my assigned items fall out of style or I have to jack up the prices of my assigned items that do sell to cover the loss from my items not selling.

  3. Would You work with People if You had bether ingame tools/options/ways for it?