All the Gear and No Idea (Week 1): The Industrial Odyssey of an Idiot Begins

TL;DR - I'm dabbling with EVE's revised industry gameplay. The result will likely be a glorious failure due to my spreadsheet allergy, but as Henry Ford never said, "It's always worth taking the time to point and laugh at the clueless."

I enjoy repetitive tasks and fondling spreadsheets.
EVE's complex economy is undoubtedly one of the shining achievements of modern game design. Daily, New Eden sees tens of thousands of players routinely harvesting, manufacturing, buying, selling, and consuming as they contribute to an (almost) entirely self-governing simulcrum of meatspace's capitalist markets.  In gameplay terms, industry has always been the less glamorous side of CCP's internet spaceship MMO and as a result tends to play second fiddle to the more popular spaceship combat experience.

However, in the recent Crius release, the whole system has been given an unprecedented overhaul. The archaic interface of nested windows and endless clicking was reborn as a new shiny sci-fi looking thing, and significant changes were made to the underlying mechanics which look to shake up industry gameplay in its entirety.

I watched with interest during the deployment of the Kronos and Crius releases as the changes were announced, tested, implemented and fixed. I read through assorted discussions as players were variously impressed or frustrated with EVE industry redux. To be perfectly honest, I found most of it baffling, with the frequent discussion of impenetrable algorithms and the kind of mathematical jiu-jitsu that wears out my mouse scroll wheel. But the UI screenshots were certainly pretty (an example can be found below).

In any case, I like the idea that CCP is attempting to make industry more accessible and its appeal more broad, so I thought I'd give it a go. I don't expect to be particularly successful; my brain can spot a spelling mistake from across a room but anything more than basic arithmetic tends to induce a form a glassy-eyed catatonia. I hoped to find some engaging gameplay that is no longer the sole domain of spreadsheet egg-heads. I figure I'm the perfect test subject: if I can get into industry, anyone can.

Where the Hell Do I Begin?

It begins with rocks. And patience.
Luckily for me, I've been knocking around in EVE for long enough to have collected sufficient stuff to speed up my entry into industry, so this is unlikely to be an accurate account of a rookie starting from scratch. But fear not, whatever advantage would be gained from my veteran status will undoubtedly be squandered by my lack of attention to detail and my slapdash, casual approach.

Over the years I've variously tinkered with running a low-sec arms depot on the doorstep of the Providence (I single-handedly ruined this operation by losing all our blueprints due to a poorly-managed overview), operating a corp starbase in null-sec to provide members with a source of ships and equipment (we were eventually pushed out of null by a then rampant Russian alliance [in truth, our landlords sent us home to high-sec like naughty schoolchildren who hadn't done their homework] ) and I've been a contributing, if junior, member of an ultra-organised high-sec industry corp (which I wrote about in my GameSkinny column).

Since then, I'd consolidated whatever assets remained from my adventures into one high-sec location from where I would occasionally pop out to roam, explore, mine or whatever took my fancy. Most of my kit has gathered dust for years. I'm a bit of a hoarder, so I already had a number of blueprints - both unresearched originals and highly researched copies (I can't remember how I got these). I also had a stockpile of minerals and station containers full of mission loot which I could probably melt down if I needed to.

I just needed to decide what to manufacture and start building stock to sell.

Coming Up With a Strategy

After sifting through stuff and admiring my blueprints in the new industry interface, one thing became apparent - in most cases, there was bugger all profit to be made. For example, if I was understanding the numbers helpfully presented by the interface, the estimated cost of production of a Stabber was roughly 9.9m ISK and a quick look at the local market showed they were on sale for just over 10m ISK. So I'd be going to all the effort of mining and building for the sake of a few hundred thousand ISK. Even more depressingly, a quick look at EVE Central showed me that Stabber hulls were available in trade hubs for over a million ISK less than I'd be apparently making them for. If I sold them there, it would be at a price lower than I could sell the raw materials locally for.

A hundred ways of saying, 'you can't afford to do this.'

Clearly I needed to find a way to optimise my production process to improve margins. Most of my manufacturing skills were pretty high as a legacy of my time with Aideron Robotics, so the only other fat to trim was improving my material acquisition and reprocessing and to set up a starbase (POS) which apparently provides a more efficient production process. Of course, any savings made would be offset by the cost of buying and running the POS, but my hoard included most of the POS assets I'd need and I'd been idly running my planetary interaction setup to produce POS fuel for months, so this would cushion the blow to an extent.

At this point, I found myself slipping into maths coma mode and decided I'd just build an assortment of stuff to see what I could shift - I could speculate and procrastinate for days and I just wanted to get on with actually doing something.

I wanted to experience every aspect of the industry process, so my strategy was to acquire raw resources by traditional means (mining etc.), whilst researching my blueprint originals and building from my more efficient blueprint copies. Any sales income would go into my corp account, but I'd float the venture with my private assets to see how quickly I could generate a respectable revenue.

Despite my asset hoard, I managed to burn through nearly 200m ISK buying a small starbase control tower (the large one I already owned would be expensive to run and was overkill for my needs), a reprocessing array (I'd been mining throughout my planning and wanted to get the best return on my ore), and an assortment of skills to improve my mining, reprocessing and sales.

My First Week in Industry: Bankruptcy in a Thousand Tiny Slices

Bloody capitalism!
I actually started this process a week ago and although I enjoyed the process of setting everything up and turning space-rocks into spaceships, I was finding it to be a bottomless pit of hidden charges. Everything I did, from recovering POS fuel from planetary colonies to improving my blueprints in my POS-based research array incurred tax charges, which meant I had to pump some cash into the corp wallet to keep things moving along.

After a few days, this all seemed to suggest that I was putting in a lot of effort only to be spending a lot more than I was making. I built an assortment of frigates and destroyers in batches of 10, despite the likelihood that, in order to be competitive, my low prices would make replenishing depleted coffers a glacially slow process.

That said, I got a genuine buzz when I logged on one day to find that I'd sold a couple of Catalysts and an assortment of frigates. The idea that somewhere out there, players were zipping around in ships of my creation gave me a genuine dopamine hit. To hell with profit, there was reward to be had in other ways.

I looked again at my resources to see what else I could throw out into the local market. Rigs seemed to fetch a fairly high price and I already had a stockpile of salvage. After some confusion over which POS module produces these (it's the equipment assembly array if you were wondering), I found I had one gathering dust in the hangar and some appropriate blueprint originals too. After a bit of material efficiency research, I produced a few and they sold quickly for a sum which far outstripped my hull sales. Lovely.

Now, after a week, I've sold roughly 20m ISK in hulls and rigs, so I've got a long way to go before I break even. Although I've cheated a bit by building some Gnosis battlecruisers from my 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition blueprint at 1 tritanium apiece, so when they sell for ~80m ISK each, that should address the shortfall.

In Conclusion: Effort Versus Engagement

Stuff in space making stuff for space.

This entire venture may be folly, as I'm probably being far too haphazard to properly analyse profit and opportunity and be a proper EVE industrialist. But is that - or should that be - a barrier? After all the effort of setting my operation up, I certainly won't be moving systems if things get even more expensive, as seems to be the thinking behind the System cost index mechanic. But can I just trundle on regardless without running out of resources or content?

I am enjoying the experiment so far, it's been relatively painless and the industry window is very helpful for the most part. There are a few pain points, largely relating to UI inconsistencies, especially when it comes to POS use. But I appreciate that the POS UI is a different and far larger challenge for CCP to address, with the tendrils of convoluted starbase legacy code entangling various other gameplay aspects. Despite this, the setup and use of a POS is certainly far smoother than it used to be. No longer are there pointlessly long waiting times for module deployment and onlining/offlining, making the juggling act of running multiple modules from the inadequate power plant of a small POS more of a sliding block management mini-game than an act of self-harm, especially with the removal of (most of) the irritatingly restrictive interaction ranges.

If nothing else, industry has given purpose to my gameplay. Prior to setting up my operation, I'd log on, ship spin and maybe undock with no real goals in mind. Now I am constantly on the lookout for potential local anomalies to exploit for resources through mining, hacking or archaeology. I'm starting to see trends in what sells and how much effort is involved in acquiring the resources for that product and how I should action that.

For instance, the rig market seems quite lively. However, I'd sooner avoid having to grind missions, but to my knowledge level 4 missions are probably the most accessible source of raw salvage materials. I foresee the need for me to branch out to find more valuable resources, perhaps using an expedition frigate to go wormhole spelunking or trawling in low-sec for rare minerals like megacyte.

It's early days, but I think something just clicked.

Check back next week for a progress report.

Labels: , ,