Life As A Pirate Merchant (EVE Online Guide)
One of the most lucrative ways to earn ISK in EVE Online is to capitalize on the price differences between Jita and null-sec. It will surprise you how easy it is for even very new players to get set up markets out there.
Selling in null-sec can be a lucrative business, but there are three big problems: finding and getting to a spot with customers, supplying yourself with stuff to sell, and staying safe. Each of these has a simple set of solutions that players can easily use, even within their first few months of playing EVE Online.
The idea here is that you can set up one of your characters in a station located in a high-traffic area of NPC-owned null-sec. You can -without risk- run an entire production business there with no greater risk than when you list items for sale in high-sec. You do this by outsourcing the transportation aspect of your operation to Black Frog Freight Service, a division of the incredible Red Frog guys that have been pretty much driving the wheels of EVE Online's industry for at least a year or two now. Let me walk you through the plan.
First, you choose a likely location. Next, you move out there and establish a jump clone there so you can build things there and update your market orders without difficulty. Next, you put together a giant package of all the things you want to sell, and have the player-run Black Frog Freight Service move it out to your destination (in exchange for a fee, of course). From there you can sell your goods, assemble whatever ingredients and parts you included, and generally be a good merchant.
- Choosing A System
- Train Some Helpful Skills
- Get There
- Pick A Market Strategy
- Drop Yourself Onto The Market Like A Cluster Bomb
Choosing A System
First, the key is to settle on where you will be settling. The ideal spot should have the following:
- A high number of people using the system.
- A large number of NPCs should be killed in and around that system each day (visible in the in-game browser or on DOTLAN), to indicate that missions are being run there.
- The system should already be a local market hub, likely because it is near a null-sec mission hub for an NPC faction.
- The station that you base in needs to have a lot of manufacturing slots. If it has research and invention slots, it's a bonus.
A word about regional hubs in null-sec: there are usually a couple "natural hubs" in each region. These places tend to have the highest concentrations of players, goods on the market, and usually have a bunch of level four agents.
Here are some suggestions for potential spots in relatively active regions with NPC-controlled space:
- Curse: HLW-HP
- Delve: KFIE-Z
- Fountain: A-1CON
- Geminate: FDZ4-A (not ideal because it is so close to high-sec)
- Great Wildlands: E02-IK
- Pure Blind: X-7OMU
- Stain: HM-UVD
- Syndicate: FD-MLJ
- Venal: H-PA29
Whether or not that system is the hub or not usually depends on what organizations are squatting in a given region, that month. In the case of Curse, for example, large alliances routinely dispatch contingents down there in search of Good Fights, sometimes settling in good ol' HLW, but just as often picking somewhere else.
Meanwhile, last time I was in Delve there were at least three NPC systems that were simultaneously being used as bases for different alliances. The point being that this is just advice, and some current research on your target region should take place before you commit.
For the purposes of this example, let's assume you decide to settle in Curse, in the HLW-HP solar system. Curse is a good region because a lot of players like running Angel missions, because pirates like to screw around there, and because large-scale attempts at conquering space in the south often base out off there. HLW-HP is a good system because not only is it in the central area of the region through which most traffic passes, but also because it has an excellent selection of agents up to and including level five.
There are several factory stations there, meaning that there will be no shortage of free production slots. It's anybody's guess which station is the market hub at any given point, so we'll leave that up in the air for now. Note also that HLW-HP has a sort of special difficulty: there are no cloning stations there. This is by no means insurmountable since you will ideally never be undocking once you have established yourself in the region.
Train Some Helpful Skills
Infomorph Psychology is absolutely necessary so that you can bounce back and forth between your null-sec outpost and high-sec without risk or travel time. You need this to at least level one, but I recommend everybody to train it to four just as a general matter of course.
Production Efficiency should be maxed out at five. This is a production-based business plan and you need to be competitive. Production Efficiency five is unfortunately the entry-level for projects of this sort, and any less is a waste of ISK.
Training Retail to level three or four is necessary for selling stuff, and Contracts is handy as well.
Otherwise, you will need fly out there. If you are adept at flying in dangerous space, great. Use a cloaking ship or fast frigate and zoom your way out there. If that is not in your skill set, I recommend brute-forcing it by trying until you succeed. Update your clone, make sure you don't have any implants, and fly out there during an odd time of day. Perhaps stay up a bit late or wake up a bit early, depending on what time zone you live in, and try making a break for it in a shuttle. Do not under any circumstances autopilot. Expect to get blown up a few times. If you slip by the "choke point" system be sure to stop in a station with a cloning bay and move your clone there, so if you get blown up you are not back to square one. With a bit of persistence you should be fine.
A key point here are that you are just getting your boots on the ground, not bringing anything of value out there. You just want to get to your chosen station, look at the market (are you in the right station and system?), look at the production slots (do they seem to have a long backlog?), and jump clone back to high-sec. Having done that, you can jump clone back any time without worry.
In order to leave a jump clone in an NPC station, you need to either have high standings with the NPC organization that runs the station (unlikely) or to have another clone to jump to. Getting the first clone is the hardest part, and will likely involve you joining Estel Arador or somehow getting into a player-owned outpost.
Pick A Market Strategy
This is the most important step of the plan. You need to decide what to sell in your null-sec system, what to build on-site, what ingredients to bring around, and you need to do so within several constraints.
Consider the deal offered by Black Frog: They will take up to 350,000m3 of goods and move them to any NPC station for 95mil ISK. They will accept collateral of up to 1.5bil ISK without charge, and can accept higher collaterals if you pay extra for the inconvenience. Consider also that this means you are paying ~271.43 ISK per m3 of cargo shipped. A bit expensive, but not so much so that you can't make a ton of ISK. This is a great price for things that are high-value but not so much for things like tritanium since the export price ends up being +2.71 per unit of tritanium. Blech.
With this in mind, you should limit your low-end minerals to the absolute minimum, and compress minerals into modules like the Tachyon Beam Laser I, then to refine it locally. The NPCs will take their cut, but it will be cheaper than paying nearly double cost for all you tritanium and pyerite. Be aware of whether or not your destination system has a refinery in it, since any time you leave the station at all you are putting yourself at risk.
Some likely items to export and sell in NPC null-sec:
Ammunition: Especially of the sort that local mission-runners and ratters use. This depends on what ships you expect people to use, but because Drakes and Tengus are always popular you can safely stock heavy missiles, including Scourge missiles and whatever kind does best against the local NPCs. Definitely bring some tech two and faction versions as well. For our hypothetical example of moving to I would recommend bringing along a stack of Havoc Heavy Missiles, along with some Caldari Navy and Fury versions. It isn't what people will necessarily be using in missions, but it should sell regardless.
Modules: Modules have excellent resale value and take up relatively little space in your export package. Cast a wide net. Some modules that generally sell well:
- Cynosural Field Generator I
- Interdiction Sphere Launcher I
- Damage Control II
- Heavy Missile Launcher II
- Salvager I (and II)
- Invulnerability Field II
- Warp Core Stabilizer I
Because Curse is Angel space, in our hypothetical business venture we would likely export some Explosion Dampening Field II and Ballistic Deflection Field II modules.
Skills: Some skills will sell out in 0.0 space. Be aware that many NPC stations seed some related to mission-running and criminal activity (like Drug Manufacturing), but as long as you steer clear of that you should be fine. Some skills that might sell include Contracts, Informorph Psychology, most social skills, and any planet-related skills that are not already for sale locally.
Odds And Ends: Learning and PvP implants, nanite repair paste, Zor's Custom Navigation Hyper-Links, faction versions of popular shield and armor modules, and even synth combat boosters can sell well.
The toughest part of this plan is figuring out how to fill up 350,000m3 of cargo with sellable goods without over-indulging in a single product. Too much of one thing and you risk being undercut or losing money if the price for that item crashes. So what do I do? I use packing peanuts. Items that I know will eventually sell, and at a higher price than it costs to get from Jita. The isogen fuels all work for this, as they are needed both for starbases and for capital vessels. Oxygen isotopes seem to sell especially well.
Drop Yourself Onto The Market Like A Cluster Bomb
Put up as many sell orders as you can on things that will sell well. Throw up contracts for blueprint copies and implants that you want people to notice. Buy orders for goods that can be resold are a good idea, especially for ammunition and cap boosters.
If there is competition for selling something, you can buy them out, update your orders, or wait. When you are done, clone jump back to empire. Jump back every so often to update your sell and buy orders, glance at your transaction log to see how well stuff is selling, and see how things are going.
One shipment is enough to sell at a station for weeks or months, depending on how many natives are living there. If the area is used as a base by a big alliance, you could sell out overnight. If the area is not used much, it could take a long time.
If nothing else, I hope this is inspiration for your own business ideas. Outsourcing the difficult and laborious parts of your supply chain is always a good idea, especially in areas of EVE Online where people are genuinely happy to do so. So long as your cargo package does not exceed your collateral, the only risk is that the market is not as active as you hoped. Even so, you cannot help but add value to the goods by moving them. Best of luck, and be sure to do your research first.