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EVE Online Column: Cloudy with a Chance of Veldspar

By Ross McDermott on April 17, 2012

I'm going to take a step away from reporting the action on the shifting battlefields of null-sec or elsewhere this evening, and sit down with you in what I'd like to imagine is a finely upholstered room and discuss some of the more civil elements of EVE Online. Of course, naturally I use the term civil with some degree of liberty - as very little is ever civil in EVE. One area of the game where men and women gather in finely cut suits to exchange cloak-and-dagger deals is, of course, EVE's monstrous juggernaut economy.

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But don't let me fool you into thinking I'm some sort of EVE economist, or have any economic background at all. For the most part, like everything in EVE when it comes to me, I have a passing interest in the clockwork operation of an element of the game. EVE's economy functions based on the creation, sale, and destruction of goods. Most if not ALL of EVE's actual ISK is generated by handouts from CONCORD. CONCORD pays bounties, mission rewards, incursion payouts, and so on regardless of the space you're in. CONCORD is effectively 'The Bank' (but not really).

This ISK once generated flows in and around the economy. The ISK you have in your wallet at the moment is likely pooled from various corners of New Eden. A ratter killed a belt-spawn deep in Curse, an Incursion runner in Aridia got his bounty tick, a Sanctum runner in Delve completed the site. All of this ISK has eventually made its way into your wallet, assuming your primary means of making ISK is via market trading.

The ebb and flow of prices for modules, hulls and other things is based primarily on the available of the resources and their rate of acquisition. But there are other, much more hilarious and ultimately 'fun' ways in which the prices of things in EVE Online shift. One of them is the complex and temperamental science of, well, Economics. Speculation drives certain prices in EVE, activities in faraway lands can alter the price of modules. A wonderful example of this was The Clusterf*ck's Invasion of Cloud Ring and then Fountain a good while back. The notorious 'Alphafleet' was in its infancy, and few could truly claim to have the skills to make use of Tech II Large Artillery modules, thusly the meta-modules would have to suffice for the time being.

As the great invasion wore on, and fleets were lost and replaced, slowly but surely Hi-sec was being emptied out of Meta 4 Large Artillery. Clusterf*ck logistics were scouring sources of Meta 4 Modules in hi-sec and shipping them en-mass to the front lines where they would be used and sometimes destroyed for the purpose of the war. Eventually, once hi-sec players caught wind of this, the price of Meta 4 Modules began to spike, in order for players to take some benefit from the ongoing conflict, basically: War Profiteering. With this the logistics teams moved on to Meta 3, Meta 2, and so on until the resource adjusted.

This is a fairly textbook example of supply adjusting its value to deal with the increase in demand. But speculative trading in EVE Online is often based on incoming changes to the way resources are handled, or a set of specific resources. One of the core resources in EVE are mined minerals. Extracted from asteroid belts and currently extracted from the corpses of dead Rogue Drones which populate the Drone Regions of null-sec. In fact a significant, non-trivial quantity of the mineral resources currently in circulation come from said Drone Regions, and CCP plans to remove these minerals from the Corpses, and instead replace them with Bounty Ticks - Which is how most of EVE's ISK comes into circulation.

This was something I and my fellow CSM members on CSM6 had discussed with CCP. The idea was knocked around quite a bit, but I can't say with great accuracy that it was CSM6 that pushed the idea of the Drones being changed from mineral drops to ISK rewards. Sometimes happy coincidences happen, and our musings have translated into real change in EVE Online.

But this is no small, ordinary change. Not since roughly 2007 have minerals and their distribution through null-sec particularly mattered. On last count, a player can make roughly 40 or so MILLION ISK per hour mining a relatively profitable null-sec asteroid, there may be a chance this could easily double once the mineral source in the Drone Regions dries up. But while this change has, at present, not altered the actual influx of mineral resources into the economy, speculative trading has seen some of the rarer minerals increase in price.

The problem with this sort of speculative trading is that when the change does come, the demand may not necessarily equal what it’s predicted to equal. I can't say I have the numbers for you, but the reality is that there's really a binary outcome for the people who are currently buying and hoarding the rarer resources: Win or Lose. Assuming the demand does not strip the stockpiles relatively quickly, the price of the resource in question will begin to tumble, which will result in a sudden dip in the price of the final product that the resources are used for. In the event that this actually happens, then the sudden increase in the price of goods that we're currently observing will be entirely artificial. Fuelled by no genuine shortage of goods, but as mentioned before - speculative actions on behalf of the economic players.

But there is also the swing in the opposite direction. After the mineral resources from the Drone Regions dry up and are removed from the economy, genuine necessity will begin to notably increase the demand to meet the vacuum. As such: players in null-sec Alliances throughout EVE Online will likely return to the now profitable asteroid belts in their droves to begin filling the void that the removal of Drone Compounds from the game will inevitably create.

Generally, the smart money does appear to be on the second scenario. I'm not aware of how many mineral resources that circulate around EVE Online - be it in module or hull form - are actually from the Drone Regions. However: I have been assured that the percentage is so significant, and so remarkable that when it comes to the choice between hopping in a Tengu and warping to a Sanctum, or hopping in a Hulk and warping to an Asteroid belt: You may need to take a moment to consider your options, where as beforehand the winner was clearly the Sanctum.

But what of the Drone Regions themselves? Is this a nerf to the Drone Regions? I think for boots-on-ground Alliance members it most likely isn't. I once lived in Cobalt Edge under the bootheel of Tritanium Oligarch 'Oldma', and his Alliance of mostly reactionary space clowns who always seem to Red-Letter CTA absolutely everything from the smallest roaming gang in their space to one lonely ratter-killer in a Stealth Bomber.

Life there was profitable, albeit a lot of work. Once you've cleared out your Drone Combat Site of its respective NPCs, you're obliged to loot the field in order to make your money - Where as in other areas of EVE Online, this is an unnecessary and tiring task as CONCORD is willing to pay you a pre-packaged bounty for the subsequent vanquishing of an enemy NPC.

As far as the Alliances themselves are concerned? I believe this may be a hit to their wallets. Most Alliances in the Drone Regions are based on the 'Renter Model', which is a polite way of saying 'Soul-Crushing Fiefdoms', or 'Idiot Farms'. But ultimately they'll likely simply recover by altering the system by which their taxation of the peasantry works. For the most part, Drone space is virtually devoid of profitable moons or resources that aren't simply 'Mineral Taxes' in some form or another.

In the long run, these changes are going to dramatically alter the way business is done in EVE Online. A buff to mineral mining which had to take its pound of flesh in the form of a nerf to the Drone regions. Interesting, if not expensive times are ahead of us in EVE.

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