The basic questions I sought to answer were these:
1) Is feasible for a solo player to take a HS POCO? What I mean is, are all POCOs owned by active, large groups who will defend their holdings from a presumably easy target like a solo player?
2) What are the logistics of taking one? I.e., roughly how long does it take to tear down, solo?
3) Most importantly, how much isk do HS POCOs make and is it possible for a solo player to hold them for long enough that they turn a profit?
So, I started doing my research.
A Brief History of POCOs in HS
The introduction of player owned customs offices in HS in Oct. 2013 added one of the largest sources of player conflict in HS. It essentially created new content out of thin air, and it should go down as one of the best changes ever made to HS. Future changes to all space should follow the basic rule it demonstrates: giving players the ability to control--and then fight over--more parts of the game/space world creates content where none previously existed. The more you can build in a sandbox, the more you can tear down. (One of the most notable sources of conflict over HS POCOs was RVBs long history with taking and defending a large POCO empire, for instance.)
The week after Rubicon, player groups went on a mad rush to destroy InterBus customs offices and replace them with their own. Groups continue to fight over POCOs, but the initial mad rush left HS without any remaining InterBus customs offices left within just a few months.
I picked Verge Vendor as my region to study, if only because this is the area of HS space I was most familiar with. The first thing I did was a fairly laborious task: I went through each system and made a spreadsheet of the planets, documenting which groups owned the POCOs. (A little over 100 planets/POCOs.) On that spreadsheet I also documented whether that POCO had changed hands, so far as zkillboard indicated.
One of the first interesting things I discovered is that maybe 20-50% of the POCOs in the region have not changed hands since the first mad rush in 2013 to take InterBus POCOs. Even more interesting, a decent amount of those groups are small (less than 10 players) and are no longer active, or at least inactive for most months out of the year. If you research HS corporations, one thing that becomes apparent is that HS based corps come and go a lot more frequently than null sec or low sec empires who control the POCOs in their space. This means that a ton of POCOs in HS are held by inactive corporations, even when those corporations were at one point very active.
So a rough estimate indicated that around 20-50 POCOs in the region were potentially easy targets, owned by small corporations no longer, or not currently, active in game.
POCO profit from the taxes automatically appears in the corporation wallet. I do not know whether the tax still feeds into the corporation wallet even if the corporation does not have any active players (if it does, CCP should certainly consider changes this so that POCOs do not pay out their taxes to a corporation unless at least one player or player-with-roles in that corporation has an active account, otherwise it is making isk even when not active in game.) But nothing requires the owning group to be active, and it is not like POCOs "decay" if the owners are not around (though maybe--probably--they should have a decay mechanic).
|A completely boring SS of grinding down a POCO|
Taking and Owning POCOs - My Experience so far
People who have read this blog for a while may remember that the first POCO I tried to take was held by an active corp of roughly 15 people. I wanted to see if anyone would defend the POCO, but I also had kill rights on me at the time and it led to a near gank by 15+ people.
After that incident, I picked better targets. I took 5 POCOs in March/April of 2015. No one showed up to defend, presumably because the corporations were inactive. Using a max DPS rattlesnake puts a POCO into reinforce in around 2 hours. Using two with an alt (and putting some polarized torpedo launchers on them!) lowers the time to around 45 minutes. That's a lot quicker than taking down even small control towers in HS. Like all player structures, they exit reinforce during a narrow window later as set by the corporation. Once they become vulnerable, it is simply a matter of destroying them and putting up your own. How much does it cost? The base war dec fee is 50m, plus whatever customs offices and the necessary PI materials cost on the market at the time. Custom office gantries are running around 85m currently, and the PI materials around 25-30m total. So, expect to pay at least 150m per POCO. For five POCOs (from four different groups), I paid 750m isk.
After taking the POCOs, there was no incident. No one contacted me, no one tried to take them, nothing. I set the tax rate to 5%--better than other POCOs in the system. And within a few days the isk slowly started to come in.
So this brings us to the main question: How much isk do HS POCOs make, and how long does it take for them to turn a profit? The answer, of course, is "that all depends..." The isk they make depends on the current game activity levels, the type planet, the tax rate, and of course the location. Name a random planet in The Forge and I could not even begin to guess what it makes per month at a 5% tax rate.
I can only report what I've observed with the 5 POCOs I own. As mentioned, after around 6 months they paid for themselves. That's around 750m from 5 POCOs in a half a year. By 8 months the profit has reached around 1b isk--or, to put it another way, that means after 8 months I've now made a 250m profit on my initial investment. However, the POCOs are not equally profitable. One in particular has made almost half, making around 40-50m a month. The second most profitable has brought in about 300m total; and the other three are even slower, only making around 100m each. The three slowest POCOs will thus pay for themselves in roughly a year, while the most profitable paid for itself in 3 months.
I am sure there are far, far more profitable POCOs in HS, such as on planets near Jita; and I am also sure there are far worse POCOs in HS as well, such as those in the least visited HS system.
I would not be surprised if the most profitable POCOs in HS brought in 300m a month and the least profitable struggled to make 50m a year, and I would guess the average income from a HS POCO with a 5% tax rate is only going to be 100m-150m a year. That is complete guesswork though, and I could be utterly off-track! An interview with RVB indicates that when they had some 275 POCOs in HS, they were making roughly 10b isk a month.
Is that a good amount, or bad? I suppose for being an entirely passive form of income, it is good. But compared to many other activities in EVE, it is pretty terrible. Running anoms in null, farming wormholes, doing dara/relic sites, or trading--those will all potentially make more isk per effort (given the effort it would take many players or groups to acquire 275 POCOs!).
When HS POCOs were introduced, some players predicted that large null sec groups would take over many of the POCOs in HS. That prediction after 2 years has largely turned out false, if only because HS POCOs really don't make that much isk after all, and because getting to HS to take or defend them is pretty inconvenient. Instead, it is HS war dec groups that are probably the biggest owners of HS POCOs, and for good reason. They are the ones who have the muscle in HS to take and defend such holdings.
However, there's another wrinkle here. One of the best reasons for taking a HS POCO is if you or your corporation do PI on that planet. You can then set your own tax rate to 0%, and after a few months or weeks of PI (depending on how many alts or corporation members you have doing PI), you will have paid off the initial investment just from the tax break. In this, Ripard Teg at the old Jester's Trek blog was on track in his prediction that many POCOs outside of key areas like the Forge would end up being owned by the locals who lived in the system.
Defending POCOs in HS as a Solo Player
Well, what happens when someone tries to take your POCOs? If you get suspicious that a group might take your POCO holdings soon, you can always sell or simply transfer the POCOs to other groups so long as your corporation is not currently at war. Ultimately, the rule of the sandbox is: Any sufficiently motivated and powerful/numerous entity can knock over the sandcastles of any weaker, less motivated, or less numerous group. So, if a large group really wants your POCO, they'll probably get it. But, if war comes, you do have a few options.
First of all, look at the types of fleets that grind down HS POCOs. A look at zkillboard provides a lot of information. Groups of a few BCs and BSs are common fleets to bash POCOs in HS. This means you have a number of options in how to engage them.
1) The "brawl it out" option: If the group engaging the POCO is fairly small or new, you do have the option of simply brawling it out at zero at the POCO. In some cases, the group engaging your POCO is going to be extremely easy targets. For instance, some players use destroyers or afk laser boats to grind down POCOs. Just today (as of writing this post) a number of HS POCOs were brought down by a small group of destroyers. Groups of 1-4 BCs are pretty common in POCO bashes. For instance, let's say a group of 4 vexor navy issues are grinding down your POCO, and it is highly unlikely they will have any backup. If you can fly a ship like a Golem or Rattlesnake (especially if you have neutral off-grind links to buff you up) then you can easily take the field. Maybe they will reship and force you off the field, maybe not, but the more losses you can inflict, the longer it will take for the POCO to start earning a profit for the new owners.
2) The "kite it out" option: Probably, you won't be able to just brawl out control of the grid. And ultimately, in many cases your goal is not to win the grid (they can just come back later or in bigger ships) but to make grinding down your POCOs not worth it economically. A better option for defense is this: make a ton of tactical bookmarks around your POCO, and engage the enemy ships with long-range sniping boats, such as a sniping ferox or naga. POCO bashing ships are often glasscanons, such as attack BCs, like in this fleet, and would melt. Kill even just one attack BC and suddenly the POCO will take another few months to pay off that loss on top of the usual fees.
3) The "be a pain in the ass" option: Maybe the fleet has its own long range snipers, or maybe they bring in tackle, and so on. Your last option is to simply be a pain in the ass to the fleet. Bring in a cormorant and kill their drones. Bring in anti-tackle ships like an Orthrus, Dram, Daredevil, or RLML ship, and kill any tackle they send at you. Warp to zero in glass canon catalysts and try to melt any weak targets they have. If they have ships not using drones, come back in a griffin and repeatedly jam them. Get an alt in another corp and try to sneak in your own POCO in another corp when the space is open. Get an alt in a bumping Mach and try to bump the ships away from the POCO repeatedly. Ultimately, you will probably lose the POCO, but at least make it an annoying experience for the group taking it.
My only feedback for the POCO system is this:
I think any income that can be made in EVE without having to at least occasionally undock has proven over the years to be largely bad for the game--and income where you do not even have to log on has been a fortiori worse. While player owned customs offices are a great form of content in game, the payment system is not--in fact, it is the epitome of passive income, insofar as the player or corporation can be completely inactive and still get that slow trickle of isk from the taxes. My simple proposal to change this is, simply, this: taxes should accumulate in the POCO itself, not directly in the corp wallet, and should only be deposited in the corporation wallet when a player from that corp (with the right roles) undocks, flies to that POCO, and hits a button that says "collect taxes" or something equally as simple. This would at least require some living, breathing, logged in player from the corporation that owns the POCO to undock at least occasionally to get the isk. This would be trivially easy for local groups who own and use the POCOs to collect the isk, but would remove the income for a corporation who takes a POCO and goes inactive (at least until they return to game to collect the isk).