All the Gear and No Idea (Week 3): Feeding the Beast

TL;DR - As I attempt to stabilise my newly-established industry venture, I come to realise that significant time and effort is required to keep all the plates spinning; everything depends on keeping my fuel-hungry starbase online.

Three weeks into my adventure as an EVE industrialist sees me hitting something approaching a plateau.

Week one was very much about setting things up and getting a feel for the process (The Industrial Odyssey of an Idiot). Last week saw me undertake a failed wild goose chase to find the artifacts which would have enabled the building of some unusual named modules (Raiders of the Lost Artifacts), So this week I returned to the more basic task of producing stock for which I already had the raw materials and keeping the machinery of my industrial efforts in good working order.

With my current skills (Retail 3 & Trade 4) allowing 45 market orders, I had been doing my best to make sure they were filled. My blueprint portfolio currently enables me to build frigates, destroyers, cruisers, a few modules and some rigs. After putting everything I'd built on the market, I filled the remaining orders with surplus mission loot modules from my stockpile. The ISK has continued to flow steadily into my corporation wallet, with in excess of 150m ISK of goods selling over the course of the week, making my gross income a shade under 400m ISK after 3 weeks.

Interspersed through my usual routine of managing my sell orders and gathering more materials (mining, exploring, etc.) I would occasionally fly out to my starbase to research some more blueprints to increase their efficiency, reprocess some more materials (the yield is better at a starbase reprocessor than in NPC station facilities), or get another batch of goods building at one of my assembly arrays.

However, it suddenly came to my attention that I'd not checked my starbase's fuel reserves for a while. When I'd set it up, I'd filled it to capacity, which would give it some 3+ weeks of life. That time was running out. Sure enough, I had a little under a week left and no significant fuel reserves back at station. If I let the fuel run out, the protective shield would drop and leave my entire enterprise exposed to looters.

Suddenly, acquiring more starbase fuel jumped to the top of my priority list.

Appetite for Construction

Being both a hoarder and someone who likes to dabble with every aspect of gameplay, for some time (years on and off) I had been maintaining by planetary interaction [PI] production chain in my local system and I had built quite a stockpile of the component materials required in POS fuel.

Well, most of them. Of the eight component materials, I had an adequate supply of the PI-sourced ones: mechanical parts, oxygen, enriched uranium, coolant and robotics. However, the remaining three materials; isotopes, liquid ozone and heavy water were all the product of ice mining, something of which I had done very little.

To make matters more inconvenient, my starbase control tower was of Minmatar design, meaning that the type of ice I needed to harvest was not available locally. All ice yields the generic liquid ozone and heavy water, but isotope type is linked to region-specific ice types and I was sitting on a hoard of the wrong kind, harvested from a local ice belt.

When the starbase fuel blocks had been introduced in 2011's Crucible expansion to reduce the complexity of trying to fit a balanced amount of the 8 required fuel components into the starbase's fuel bay (they were all consumed at different rates), I'd had the foresight to pick up a Minmatar Fuel Block blueprint, which I'd recently researched to maximum material efficiency.

After assessing where my stocks were short, it became clear I'd either have to eat into my profits to purchase some expensive ice products or go ice mining. Given that I wanted to sample every element of industry, I opted for the latter, hopped into my Mackinaw exhumer and headed for the Minmatar Republic.

Ice Chasers

In the past week, I'd already spent a bit of time cruising through Minmatar space trying in vain to locate the Data Interfaces required for my future plans to experiment with the Tech 2 manufacturing process and had noted the Glacial Mass cosmic anomalies which appeared on my scanner from time to time. These were apparently the sites I sought.

Little did I understand how transient they were.

What experience I'd previously had of ice mining involved looking on DOTLAN Evemaps for the nearest static ice belt and just having at it until I got bored. This apparently was no longer how it worked. Instead, ice belt sites would occasionally appear as anomalies anywhere within the region, so a certain amount of roaming was required to find one, something for which a sluggish mining vessel is ill-suited.

[Correction: After a bit more research, it turns out this is quite wrong - ice still only appears in designated systems as shown on DOTLAN. However when the site is exhausted, it despawns and a new site reappears elsewhere in the same system 4 hours later. Thanks to Mara Rinn for the steer.]

My first rookie mistake was to fly to my chosen mining region in an exploration frigate; in hindsight, As cosmic anomalies show up on the scanner automatically (unlike cosmic signatures which need to be scanned down with probes), I should have just purchased a shuttle or similar to conduct searches once I'd arrived in the area in my mining vessel. Or better, I should have loaded an exploration frigate and my mining ship into an Orca industrial command ship so I would have avoided my second rookie mistake - ice is massive and needs something a hell of a lot more roomy than a mining barge to ferry any substantial amount home.

Cold Rush

Most surprising for me was the change in player behaviours as a result of this new, dynamic ice belt location process. Whereas previously, any static belt with seemingly limitless supplies of ice would just be mined at a leisurely rate by folk, now there was something of a gold rush with every appearance of an ice belt.

Having been fortunate enough to stumble upon one not long after it had spawned, I warped into the collection of silently glistening blue-white chunks to find that my Mackinaw exhumer was the only ship present. Assuming this to be the norm, much like exploration sites, I casually went about settling in to consume as much ice as I could, safe in the knowledge that there would be more than enough for my needs.

However, within minutes my screen was filled with the criss-crossing of ice harvesting lasers of dozens of other mining vessels supported by Orcas, the odd combat vessel and even a freighter. These folks meant business.

In the time it took for me to fill my ore hold twice, departing briefly to deposit my gains at the local station for later transfer, the ice asteroids started to disappear as they were depleted by the horde. The mining activity became a slow-motion scramble for the last icy dregs. It was then I saw the benefit of using the more appropriate Skiff-class exhumers, their faster Ice Harvester cycle time, undoubtedly further boosted by their Orca fleet-mates, meant that the mining fleets sucked up the final asteroids whilst my slower harvesters invariably came away empty-handed. These guys were the pro miners. I was just an interloper on their patch as they presumably swarmed from site to site like locusts, with everything set to optimal.

Still, I'd managed to gather a little ice over a couple of sessions. Now to get it home for reprocessing to see how much longer I can keep my hungry starbase alive. I'll update here once I see how much more time I've bought my starbase. I'm hoping at least a month.

[Update: I got the ice home and refined it, enabling me to build enough fuel blocks for 19 days. Not too bad for roughly 5 hours of ice mining and a couple of hours of haulage. Interestingly, it's liquid ozone that I ran out of first.]

Can One Player 'Do Industry'?

In my mission to embrace the entirety of EVE's industry gameplay, I'm starting to see that cooperation among multiple players would pay dividends and is almost certainly a requirement if you're taking things seriously. Attempting to single-handedly take on every aspect of running a manufacturing operation (resource gathering, starbase maintenance, research, construction, sales, and so many more contributing elements) is probably folly, at least if you want to keep time spent in game to a reasonable level (or support PvP) which, for me is a few hours a week.

I certainly can't dedicate too much time to ice-chasing on a regular basis, so if it becomes too much of a chore or an expense to keep the starbase fuelled, that will likely spell the end of this venture. It's unlikely that my high-sec PI operation will be able to keep up with demand and my reserves won't last forever. Of course, I could always buy the fuel blocks or the components I'm lacking, but at over 20m ISK per week just to support a small starbase, that'd eat into my slim profits and make the whole project even more of an ISK sink than it may already turn out to be.

That's not necessarily a damning indictment of industry gameplay and I still hope to find low-maintenance way to enjoy it whilst making a profit. My knowledge of the behaviours and needs of industrialists is certainly increasing through the experience and perhaps I can use that to find a more casual gameplay niche, perhaps sourcing materials for sale rather than manufacturing myself. It would probably pay to specialise in a single aspect of the gameplay which makes up the many-headed beast which is EVE's industry and I certainly enjoy the variety and challenges of tracking down the bewildering array of items and materials required.

The last thing I'd want to do is end up getting stuck in an endless, time-consuming cycle where it starts to feel like the game is playing me.

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