EVE Online is a unique MMO in that it allows players to pay for their subscriptions with in-game items. This guide explains how people can play EVE Online for free, or as close to free as it gets.
The system is simple enough: a player can turn paid-for subscription time into in-game items. These Pilot License Extensions or "PLEX" are then able to be sold or bought in-game, allowing the seller to gain big stacks of ISK. It is in essence an indirect form of RMT. Though controversial and the reason a lot of purists avoid the game, there are a lot of good reasons for this.
PLEX allow players whose local currency is weak against the dollar or euro to pay with their proceeds from in-game work, rather than pay what would be for them exorbitant amounts of local currency. This allows EVE Online to have a much larger international audience than it otherwise would. PLEX also out-competes many RMT companies. Rather than attempt to generate and sell "EVE gold" at sub-optimal prices, they direct their attentions toward other games that will be more lucrative. This is particularly important because EVE Online is un-sharded, and it is therefore far more important that the economy remain stable and un-compromised by large-scale RMT.
Note that this is really, really not "pay to win" or legalized RMT. It's an elegant solution to a simple problem: if in-game currency has value, people will buy it with real money. This way, it happens in a way that does not skew the economy of the game, because the money gained in exchange for PLEX is not created out of nowhere. Rather, it is created by players in the game and then exchanged for PLEX. Nor are the prices fixed: players pay what they think PLEX are worth, an amount that is constantly changing. It's a nuance that some people prefer to ignore, but the fact is that it works.
Note that all of this is in addition to not charging for the initial game, nor charging for their bi-yearly game expansions. Free EVE for all!
Using EVE PLEX
The Plex Market
Practically all PLEX trade occurs in Jita. The centralized market allows players easy access to the best prices. Conversely, the price often fluctuates very quickly. Notably, the PLEX is one of the most actively traded items in the game, and buy orders are usually filled within a few hours. That is, unless the price is currently undergoing some kind of manipulation attempt.
Any time there is dip in PLEX price, it is a good idea to stock up. Even if you don't need that many, you can sell them when the market inflates. This is the one commodity that a good portion of the user base must buy, rather than wait until the price sinks down. I guess you might say that it is one of EVE's most in-elastic commodities.
The Price Of PLEX
The price of PLEX is particularly important as an indicator of EVE Online's economy. It indicates the value of EVE's currency against the dollar, and also how many players are pouring into the game. When there is an influx of new players, there will often be a surplus of PLEX due to those players needing more ISK than they can produce. When EVE is having something of a drought, it seems like the price of PLEX trend upwards.
CCP will periodically have sales on PLEX cards, giving out big deals, often with free EVE items thrown in to sweeten the pot. Whenever this occurs, the price of PLEX will trend downwards a bit. I would even suggest that CCP sometimes does this deliberately whenever the price of PLEX gets too high, in an attempt to manipulate their own markets. Exorbitant prices will hedge out players in places like Russia, where the cost of a subscription might take a day of wages, and they earn more per hour playing Second Life than working an average job. Those players can't be expected to use their local currency to stay subscribed, so this is a nearly ideal solution that allows them to play.
Earning Enough ISK To Buy PLEX
First off, let me say that if you are a new player in a first-world country and are not yet wise to the ways of earning ISK in EVE Online, then you are better off paying for your subscription. Even getting paid minimum wage, you are better off working for a few hours and using the resulting money to subscribe, compared to grinding for a much longer period of time to afford PLEX.
On the other hand, if you live in a country with a relatively weak economy, are unemployed, or are able to earn a lot of ISK without spending too much time on it, PLEX are a much better idea.
Some activities that are good for helping earn enough ISK to pay for PLEX:
- Planetary interaction.
- Using research agents.
- Researching and selling blueprints.
- Asteroid mining.
It is important to remember that the goal of playing EVE Online is to have fun and either relax or get excited, depending on your current activity of choice. If you are constantly sweating the cost of the next PLEX to the point where you cannot actually enjoy yourself doing the things that you enjoy, then you would probably be better off just shelling out money. But if you find making ISK reasonably easy, there is no reason you should not be playing a free EVE Online.