Hunting NPC pirates is one of the most consistent ISK-generating activities in EVE Online. It is the common man's activity in null-sec, where missions are unavailable and other methods of earning ISK (like mining moons) are too complex or effort-intensive.
The basis of the activity is that NPC "spawns" are constantly appearing in different asteroid belts, and that killing them will generate ISK bounties, salvageable wrecks, and modules. By flying through a system with sufficient belts, a well-located player can earn about as much ISK per hour as if he were running level missions in high security space.
This guide deals with some basic concepts of NPC-hunting, especially in outlaw space. It is intended to familiarize newer players with the best general practices involved in the activity, and steer them away from some bad ones.
The Art of Killing NPCs
The goal of the process is to earn as much ISK as possible within the time you allot to hunting. This means that you need to find and kill the good NPCs as quickly as possible, with minimal interruptions. When hunting the NPCs of your particular area, it is important to have your ship be able to fulfill the same criteria as it does when fighting that enemy in missions. Specifically:
- Is your ship capable of resisting the damage types dealt by those NPCs?
- Can you kill the NPC ships in a timely fashion?
- If there is a risk of getting drawn into a PvP battle, can you reliably escape from large threats or survive small threats long enough for help to arrive?
If your ship fulfills these requirements then you are probably in good shape, though some ships are better than others for specific types of NPCs and particular situations. For example, heavy assault cruisers can make good NPC hunters because they can tank, pack a major wallop, and when a threat appears in the local channel they can warp out before an enemy gets on top of you. On the other hand, a heavy assault cruiser might not kill ships or absorb damage as well as the right battleship, and certainly will not do the job as well as a marauder or strategic cruiser.
Killing NPCs in belts can be anything from a diversion to an entire career in EVE Online.
- If you have battleships that you could be shooting, that is probably a better use of your time than looting or salvaging wrecks. Even if you use all that stuff, it is probably going not going to sell for as much as you could get by shooting just a few more NPCs.
- If you are hunting in a dead end system and have a spare second account, you can keep yourself much safer by having a second EVE client open, with that character watching the gate leading into your system.
- A staging POS makes a good place to store loot or spare ammo, and is an excellent place to hide from casual gankers.
- If you have other players in a fleet with you and at the same asteroid belt or gate as you, any NPC bounties will be split evenly between you. This is handy if you want to work with friends.
Where To Hunt NPCs
The most important decision when hunting NPCs is figuring out where to do it. The lower the security status of a solar system, the more dangerous the NPC spawns in that system will be. Thus, the pirates in low-sec are more dangerous than those in high-sec, and in null-sec they are the most dangerous of all. Since the bounty offered on a given NPC correlates with how dangerous that NPC is, it's usually better to seek out more dangerous space for hunting.
Also, something that may not be obvious is that systems with 0.0 security status listed in-game actually have a negative security status, going all the way down to -1. The exact security status of a null-sec system is not readily apparent in-game, but rather has been extracted from CCP database dumps and then added to maps (like the ones over on Dotlan EVE Maps). This accurate negative security status is often referred to as "true-sec".
Of course, null-sec is outlaw space, full of tricky pirates and alliance shills just thrilled at the idea of blowing up your NPC-killing ship. If you are not careful about where you hunt, you will end up spending more on new ships than you're bringing in via bounties.
While hunting in dangerous space, it is best to avoid solar systems that are along heavily traveled routes. That's where pirate fleets will be most likely to find and catch you, turning your hard-earned ISK and loot into a smoldering wreck. Systems that are off of main travel routes, especially dead end systems, can provide the most safety, at least from incidental contact with potential enemies.
Another problem in outlaw space, especially with prime hunting real estate, is that it tends to be claimed by an alliance (or even several alliances), who will resent your use of that space. These guys are going to try to kill you way harder than wandering pirate players, because their claim to that space is only as real as they make it. The best way to get access to good places to hunt NPCs is to join a corporation that is a member of such an alliance, with a well-established claim to systems with low true-sec ratings.
There are three kinds of special NPCs that can spawn in asteroid belts. They are:
- Hauler Spawns: These special NPCs are industrials or carriers, and drop a ton of refined minerals in their cargo holds. These often take up quite a bit of space, so it may be best to ignore them rather than waste time scrounging up a hauler and so forth. Then again, if you have a ship than can loot it fairly quickly, it can be a nice bonus.
- Faction Spawns: Faction spawns are slightly tougher than normal spawns, but their wrecks drop moderately priced faction tags much of the time, and have a small chance of dropping more serious loot like a faction module, implant, or faction ship blueprint copy.
- Officer Spawns: Officer spawns are dangerous, but they drop the best modules in all of EVE Online. These modules are so rare and effective that they can often cost billions or even tens of billions of ISK, each, and are usually the sole provenance of supercapitals or ultra-rare ships. Nobody has any real idea of what governs where officer spawns appear, but it seems to be more likely in systems with -1 truesec.
Unlike normal NPCs, none of these spawns will regenerate. Not even if you leave some of the ships alive.
Hunting NPCs in the so-called drone regions is completely different, because the NPCs there drop minerals rather than give bounties. Likewise, in wormholes, the sleeper NPCs are not worth bounties, but rather drop tags that can be sold to CONCORD in high-security space.
Over time, it seems like CCP is shifting players away from belt hunting, and more toward cosmic anomalies. Cosmic anomalies are essentially exploration sites that do not require any special modules to find. Players favor them because the anomalies of any null-sec system can be boosted though long occupancy, independent of that system's security status. That said, belt hunting isn't dead yet, and is usually about as profitable as running anomalies for any ship smaller than a carrier and cheaper than a strategic cruiser. The old girl has some life in her yet, as you will quickly see if you begin. Best of luck!