This guide examines the different ways used by most players to earn ISK in EVE Online and explains the pros and cons of each ISK-earning method. This guide focuses on methods that are available to all players.
It has been said many times: in EVE, ISK is more important than skill points. Having enough skill points to use basic equipment and attempt basic tasks is important, but once you are past that point it is your wallet that limits your effectiveness, not your skill points. Even in a worst case scenario where you have a lot of ISK and a really green character, you can use that ISK to buy a new character. Doing so is a CCP-approved option that really lets market geniuses shine, since even new players can make enough ISK to buy a character years old, if they have enough good ideas about how to earn ISK.
Most players in EVE use ISK to buy neat new ships, skill books, PLEX to stay subscribed, and/or reinvest it into business projects so that they can get even more ISK. The methods below are the most common professions used by EVE players to get ISK. They should be accessible to most players, or to most players living in a readily accessible area of EVE Online.
Missions In EVE Online
Running missions is kind of the default activity in EVE Online, especially for players that are used to other MMOs and spending all day questing. They start slow and easy, and steadily become more difficult until level four missions, which are a steady and profitable way to keep yourself rolling in ISK and PLEX. Level four missions earn enough ISK to pay for pretty much anything short of supercapital ships like titans, though I do know some people that have managed to survive that grind.
Missions are eminently accessible for casual players that just want to sit down for an hour or two, here and there. It helps familiarize players with the rules of combat, and allows them to collect piles of loot as well. Not just modules, either! There are plenty of little bonuses to be found in missions, especially of level 3 and 4. Stuff like implants and faction modules, for example. And then there is the loyalty point store, which players can use to improve their mission running ship or get eminently sellable gear and faction ammo.
All in all, missions are fine way to earn ISK, especially for high-sec players.
Planetary Interaction In EVE Online
Planetary interaction is a fantastic way to keep yourself roll in ISK. Arguably, it may be the very best, since it requires very little effort from players once they understand the area of the game and have gotten their colonies set up. Just check in every day or two, and pick up the goods perhaps a couple times a week. Despite being such little effort, a well-designed setup can produce tens of millions of ISK, each day. Additionally, it can easily be combined with whatever else you enjoy doing as a player, whether it be running missions, trading, or what have you. Slow and steady is good when it comes to making ISK. With planetary interaction, a single account can easily pay for itself to stay subscribed via PLEX.
All in all, planetary interaction is probably the best way to earn ISK in EVE Online. It has perhaps the highest payoff for the lowest effort, is simple enough for even the newest players, and can be done simultaneously with most other ISK-earning activities.
Ratting In EVE Online
Killing NPCs for loot has always been a tried-and-true way to earn ISK. Most players that live in null-sec earn their bread and butter this way, whether it be via belt ratting or by running cosmic anomalies. This can certainly earn an EVE player enough ISK to keep him well supplied with anything he desires, though it is less suitable for casual players. Living in null-sec can bring with it a number of complicating factors that many players will find off-putting. Unless you are pretty darn good at EVE, you will probably want to be in an alliance, which brings with it a lot of baggage in the form of corporate requirements. Sometimes these are pretty laid back and simple, like "hey, log in once in a while and be social." Other times they can involve monthly ISK fees, minimum amounts of killboard activity, or mandatory attendance at big fleet operations. Even if you find yourself well situated, there is a decent amount of risk associated with spending time in null-sec. Sometimes, one loses ratting ships. Other times, a cloaked stealth bomber will sit in your favorite solar system for hours or days, just to inconvenience you.
All told, ratting is a fine way to make ISK if you like the null-sec lifestyle, but it is probably not for the more relaxed EVE players.
Running Incursions In EVE Online
Incursions are essentially EVE's form of raiding. In them, technologically sophisticated Sansha's Nation NPCs will shut down an entire constellation. Players must band together to fight off the Sansha... or they can just farm the most lucrative sites. Running the right incursion sites can net an incredible amount of ISK, often estimated at around 50mil ISK per hour. The down side is that Incursions are fairly player-skill-intensive: it takes well-designed ship fittings, cooperative fleets with good leadership, and a fair amount of player familiarity. In high-sec Incursions, there can also some problems involving finding good people to form a fleet with. Do it with your buddies and you're set, though. Sometimes there can be competition for farming the sites, as well, though not as much as one might think.
All in all, Incursions are one of the most lucrative activities available to all players in EVE Online, making them a good way to get ISK for players willing to learn how it is done. It is likely that there will eventually be a nerf to the amount of ISK gained from the sites, but for now this is pretty much the best way.
Mining In EVE Online
Mining is a reliable, steady means of earning small amounts of ISK. Mining has generally seen better days, and is not a really lucrative activity as things stand. There are some signs that this may be changing, but time will tell. Though I would not recommend full-time mining in high-sec as a good way to earn ISK in EVE, there are some options that make sense in the current game environment.
The first way to mine is to mine without actually being at a computer. Grab a Mammoth industrial vessel, use a Survey Scanner module to find a nice, big veldspar asteroid, and turn on your mining article. Then go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you will probably have a cargo hold full of loot to sell. It's not going to make you a billionaire by itself, but it's decently good and low-risk considering that you are asleep the entire time.
A second way to earn decent ISK from EVE mining is to learn how to hop into wormholes. Wormhole space is brimming with valuable asteroids at gravimetric sites, and you can hop back and forth from high-sec to there with reasonable ease. It may sound dangerous and impractical, but it works surprisingly well, at least according to the guys posting in Science & Industry.
The third way that mining seems to make sense is to set up in some out of the way null-sec system that has decent belts. You can store ore at a starbase or a station, and just churn away. The key here is that the space needs to be relatively undisturbed. This probably means mining in belts rather than at gravimetric sites, since increasing the industrial index of a system tends to garner unwanted attention. There really and truly are these mining mecca solar systems scattered around New Eden. The question is: can you get access to one?
What Is Best For You?
There are tons of other ways to earn ISK, including exploring, trading, manufacturing, copying blueprints, mining or reaction moon minerals, and so forth. These are all fine and dandy, but the five methods above seem to be the main ways that most players earn ISK in today's EVE Online. Got another way that you make bank? Tell us about it on our forums!