Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Taking and Owning POCOs Solo

Some things I do in EVE are attempts at seeing what a solo player can accomplish. Earlier this year, I wondered what it would take for a solo player to take, and own, a POCO in HS. I researched the topic and found virtually nothing about a single player accomplishing this, so I set out to give it a try. For science. 

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.

POCO Profit

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).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

EVE Online IS a Solo Game

There are a lot of myths about EVE Online. People say it is only full of rude, mean, psychopathic cheaters out to steal your money, for instance, but the community is full of genuinely nice people who party together in person many times a year in Iceland and Vegas. (Without bloodshed or fisticuffs.) We even do our best to help those who suffer from depression and other real mental illnesses in online chat channels like Broadcastforreps.

Probably the top myth about EVE, though, is that it is not a solo game. And sure, most new players do benefit from joining a corporation or alliance. CCP has shown statistically many times to the effect that players who join corporations early in their career in EVE stay in the game longer, and my advice to new players is always to join a good new player group like EVE University or one of the many great new player null sec alliances like Pandemic Horde. But, EVE remains a game that is extremely well suited to solo play, just as much as, or even more so than any other MMO on the market. The simple reason for this is: you can do virtually everything solo in EVE that you can also do in a group!

You can do level 1 to level 5 missions solo. You can run the hardest, most dangerous exploration content in EVE solo (and keep all the isk for yourself!). You can run a high sec industrial empire, solo, and even take and own POCOs and set up (or knock down) starbases containing billions of isk, solo. You can become a feared PVP pilot solo, in ANY ship, from a rifter to a battleship to a titan to an alliance tournament ship that costs ten times the average titan hull. You can trade or invest your isk solo, and become one of the richest players in EVE, solo. And the best part is? You can be completely solo in EVE Online while also being an active member of the EVE community! You can make videos, stream on twich, post on reddit or the forums, write in a blog, travel to Iceland, join NPSI fleets that do PVP or missions or mine or run incursions, or donate thousands of dollars to CCP's charity events, all SOLO. Stay in a newbie corp like CAS for all it matters, you can do everything in EVE solo that you can do with 5000 other players. 

Solo just makes it all the harder....but it also makes it all the more rewarding when you finally succeed. And you will succeed at whatever you aim to do, if you only put in the effort.

My Favorite Blog Post of 2015 - Suitonia on Ship Balance

There's no player I've learned more from in EVE than Suitonia, also known by the youtube account EVE is Easy (or, for those who know "the Terror of Querious," SharkPrince2001). His youtube videos introducing solo PVP are the best introductions I know of to PVP in the game. His video "20 Day Old Amarr Character Executioner PvP" is the first thing I recommend to any player, old or new, looking to get into PVP. Watching his videos about soloing in null sec is how I first learned to PVP there.

More recently, Suitonia has been blogging at Suitonia.wordpress with some of the most well-argued, researched, and careful balance discussion I've seen in EVE or any game community I've been involved in, and his most recent post "The Top 5 Most Oppressive things in the solo/small gang meta right now" is far and away my pick for the best blog post of 2015. I was thinking about posting something very similar, but he argues for these changes far better than I ever could.

It's not that I 100% agree with him on all of his suggestions, but that I cannot refute any balance arguments he has made because of how well reasoned they are. This recent blog post, though, really captures the main problems in balance in EVE currently, and his blog as a whole is in my opinion the highest quality EVE feedback available currently. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tons of New PVP Options with the December Release

The Dec 8th release brings new ships, but also a host of small looking balance changes to ships and modules that open up some interesting new fits for solo PVP. I'm not going to talk about the new navy ewar frigates or command destroyers until I get more experience in both, and because I tend to avoid the flavor of the month ships (e.g., I only just started flying the worm last week). People who only fly the OP or FOTM ships won't be interested in anything that follows, except possibly unhappy at the first change.

In total, I have a good 20-30 ships/fittings I want to try even excluding the new ships. 

-Tech 3 Destroyers are now forbidden to enter Small Factional Warfare sites.

This change has a lot of potential for changing the meta in FW LS. Of course, the number one change I am eagerly awaiting is the removal of off-grid links that CCP has suggested is coming this winter. In my first 2 years as a solo PVPer, I flew almost exclusively in LS space. Not only was there a lot of solo activity there, but a diversity of ships being flown. The proliferation of link alts, the introduction of T3Ds, as well as simply having statistically OP ships for each plex (linked garmurs and the worm for novice plexes, T3Ds for smalls) has slowly pushed me--and other solo PVPers--into null. Removing T3Ds from small plexes is a step in the right direction toward revitalizing solo PVP in FW LS, although it is a sign that the ship class is completely out of balance--and the svipul in particular, a ship that since its introduction is involved in PVP kills almost 150% more than the next most popular ship, and usually over 200% more often than the third most popular.

Other similar changes many players have been asking for would likewise revitalize solo PVP in faction war space. Removing security status penalties for PVP into plexes would especially help newer players get into PVP. Adding another plex class under the current novice, where only T1 frigates would be allowed to enter, would also help new players find more even fights. Hopefully CCP is heading in this direction or somewhere similar.

-Breacher:-0.08 inertia, +5 m/s
-Tormentor: +10m3 Dronebay
-Tristan: -10 m/s, -100 Hull hitpoints

Neither of the first two changes affect current fittings on these ships, but they are small buffs to two of the most powerful tech 1 frigates currently, and my two favorites. I plan to fly a few of each just to revisit the ships. The tristan change might be a little too extreme--it didn't really need less hull, just less speed. However, it remains a powerful ship, but more even compared to the tech 1 playing field.

-Rifter: +5 CPU, +3 PWG, 
-Slasher: +5 CPU, +2 PWG

These two are actually big and do change current fitting options. I've not had much luck in the slasher, but I've had a lot of luck in the rifter over the past two years. People love to engage it, assuming it will be an easy kill, and as a result I've bagged over-confident garmurs, firetails, slicers, and interceptors. In the current risk-averse meta in EVE, looking like an easy target is more important to finding fights than anything else. However, both ships lack the dps and the tank to fully compete in the current small ship meta. The boost to power and cpu allows both ships to easily fit a nos or neut with 200mm autocannons, which both ships need in order to power an active tank or, more often, to fit the neut offensively. In the past both ships would have to downgrade guns or tank in order to use the utility high. I am looking forward to flying both ships in null, hunting interceptors in particular. I will try shield fits (MSE) for the speed and buffer but I will probably more often run an ancillary armor rep plus 200mm autocannons, web, scram, MWD, and small energy neut. Well-fit PVP maledictions and claws will likely win, but cap-hungry interceptors like the crusader will be easy targets in a 1-on-1.

-Punisher: +1 Turret, +1 Lowslot, +10 PWG, +13 CPU, Replaced the 5% damage bonus with -10% laser cap use per level

CCP does not seem to know what to do with the punisher, besides refusing to ever give it a third mid slot. This change opens up some weird fittings, none of which will likely be all that good in solo PVP but will be fun to fly. First, you can, of course, super-tank the ship and put beams on it so that you can project past scram range (or autocannons so that you cannot be neuted out). You can put two 400mm plates on the punisher and get more buffer than some cruisers, and you can probably get kills here and there from players forgetting that they can simply walk away from the punisher.

Two weird fits I am also looking forward to trying are a bit different. The first is to fly the punisher like a fat slicer, which the added low slot helps with. The problem with the fit is DPS and projection. You can use beams and project well into disruption range, but at sub-100 DPS; or you can use pulse lasers with scorch but struggle to project past 20km. The final fit involves beams with a 10mn AB, which puts you at over 2.4k m/s cold. It lacks the agility to effectively kite, but ships with over-sized afterburners are fun to fly primarily because of how hard they are to pin down and kill. They are less of a traditional kiting platform and more of a "run away while shooting" ship.

-Republic Fleet Firetail: Increased tracking bonus to 10% per level
-Caldari Navy Hookbill: Changed damage bonus to 25% Kin, 20% Em/Therm/Exp

Pretty simple changes that help both ships quite a bit. The comet is the undisputed OP ship in the line, and the slicer the undisputed king of scorch kiting at the moment and one of the funnest ships to fly again and again. The firetail's added tracking does not affect autocannon fits too much, but it does help arty fits which are particularly strong in FW space. The hookbill's change finally allows it to use something besides scourge missiles at a dps higher than the kestrel, which means its engagement profile expands quite a bit after the change.

-Osprey Navy Issue: -1 Launcher (second utility high), +100 pwg, +15 dronebay and bandwidth, Changed damage bonus to 25% Kinetic, 20% EM/Therm/Exp

It does somewhat suck that so much development time for this release went into into "small ships," with 3 new small ship lines. The Oni change is a nice break, though the last thing the "big ship" meta needs is yet another RLML kiting ship. But this change is nuts. Basically, anything will fit on the Oni now with RLMLs and, now, a full 5 light drones to help the damage. Ample fitting room and two utility high slots, in exchange for relatively low DPS and speed compared to similar types of ships.

RLMLs with two medium neuts? Easy fit, and with a small cap booster and the MWD off it is cap stable. Great for completely draining small targets that get into range, or engaging active tanked cruisers or BCs.

RLML dual prop? Check, just downgrade a medium neut to a small and it fits easily.

XLASB fit? Check, also easy to fit if you downgrade the neuts to smalls.

HAM fit brawler? Check, and surprisingly well-rounded:

100mn AB fit? Check. 2.7k m/s if you run a fed navy 100mn AB cold with no implants or links.

500mn ludicrous speed Oni? Sure why not! It's not even too terrible to try:

Add mid-grade snakes and links and you get 9k m/s cold, and with RLMLs which will apply to any target and past 60k. Silly, but fun to try for laughs.

-The brand new Expedition Frigate known as the Endurance has been released.

This one is even more for laughs. Since it can fit drones it is more viable for PVP than its counterpart, the Prospect. 120 DPS is easy to achieve with a decent tank and small neut, which is more than enough for killing interceptors that think you are an easy target. Also works well against covert ops ships or anti-covert ops rocket bombers, but will struggle to kill a PVP Astero. If the Astero lacks a small cap booster you have a shot at shutting down its tank, but its drone DPS will likely still make it a close fight.

-Frostline Sites

I had a lot of fun with the blood raider gauntlet event in October. It led to a nice pile of isk but also a lot of fun kills and strange fights everywhere from HS to LS and wormholes for me. This time around the event will be longer and there looks to be even better loot (this page on reddit has a list of available loot). Apparently, PLEX and multiple pilot training certificates have a chance of dropping. After 7 sites I've only gotten quafe and clothes. These sites will be a hotspot for finding PVP activity everywhere in space.

Besides the new ships added, did I miss any changes that make new fits or ships viable? 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Making Billions is Easier than Solo PVP

I don't really like shooting things that shoot back, but when they are pinatas sitting in space it is hard not to. These days when scanning systems I only scan down clusters of 5-10+ structure sigs, making scanning a few dozen systems in under an hour pretty easy on an alt while doing other more interesting things. Another POS down, another 3.5b in BPOs, and since they are all fully researched it will likely amount to 5b+
These days, players in EVE seem to be more risk averse when it comes to their Svipuls than other players are with their POSes full of BPOs. Making a lot of isk in EVE is a lot easier than other forms of gameplay, especially, it seems, in 2015 compared to previous years. Finding a few good solo fights is like pulling teeth, but finding billions of isk while mostly afk is inanely easily.

Fortunately, there continues to be a good supply of solo players making EVE content these days, even, when such content in game can be hard to find. Streams doing solo PVP are in good supply, including some of my favorites: Mr Hyde, Zarvox, Suitonia, Prometheus Exenthal, and a lot of others are making awesome content at the moment--including none other than Big Miker continuing to make videos. Though player numbers might be low these days and content harder to find, there are a ton of players who continue to to play EVE the hard way, and share it with others. I hope it lasts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Market Milestones - Reaching 300b

Well, I seem to recall first starting trading in EVE recently, but apparently it has been almost 2 and a half years now... I have no idea where the time went, but my markets keep plugging along, and when I add my income from my main trader plus my other side projects (Simela, Thera) I am well over 300b in profit now. Nothing to brag about considering the earnings of many traders.

Since May, I have been on "casual mode," and have only updated orders and restocked markets one to two times a month. Yet I still bring in decent profit considering that I only put a few hours into the market a month now, with most of that time spend hauling goods. My isk efficiency now is better than it has ever been, even in the record month of November 2014 when I made over 20b on one character. I am happier now to simply spend a few hours a month to pull in 6-10b.

Here are some major changes I've made in trading over the past 6 months:

- Sadly in some ways, I no longer trade in Simela. It was too time consuming to maintain the market there, and was originally just a side project. In total over the course of a year or so, I think I made roughly 40b isk from simply putting common items on the market and leaving them for a month or two at a time.

- I continue to change what I sell (and where) based on market and gameplay trends, but nothing more sophisticated than looking at Dotlan's PVP / NPCs killed numbers and saying "this region seems active, let's go there." I feel I have reached the maximal balance of time relative to potential profit.

- I've become a little more lazy, shall we say, when it comes to hauling my goods. I will probably be a bit more careful now that I am activity playing EVE and so on, but when I was playing casually I would sometimes haul 5-10b isk in one trip. In fact, here's a rather funny screenshot of a rare occasion where I had to venture through Uedama with 4b in my cargo, thankfully not in a freighter and flying away unnoticed:

- What about the profit? Over the past year, I have switched to making long term investments, so most of my liquid isk goes into market speculation that may or may not result in big payouts later on. For instance, one investment I made--like many players--was to buy a ton of Geckos. I sold most of them when the prices hit 120-130m a piece. Whether I will have similar luck with other investments remains to be seen.

- Finally, I did "cash out" recently. During the last PLEX for Good I donated 60+ PLEX to win books signed by CCP, which was most of my liquid isk at the time. I am now back to where I was a year ago in terms of liquid isk. Ready, I guess, for another PLEX for Good to donate to...assuming it is too optimistic to think there will never again be another such crisis. If only.

Trading definitely remains one of the best possible ways of making isk with little time. All you need is a decent starting capital (or some aggressive day trading at Jita to get there) and knowledge of the market in some--any--aspect of the game. If you know what is a "low" price for some item X,Y,Z and you know what a "high" price is, you're in business.