R&D agents are a special kind of NPC agent that will perform research for players that meet their requirements. This research is represented by the steady accumulation of research points, which you can intermittently cash in for various kinds of Datacores. Datacores are special items that are used for inventing tech two modules, and enjoy a brisk trade at market hubs, like Jita.
The neat thing about these agents is that, once spoken to, they will continue to produce research points on their own, without any interaction from the player. That means that they are what we call a "passive income source." Passive income sources are ideal because they mean that you can spend less time grinding for ISK, and more time doing whatever it is you enjoy. Each character may only have a certain number of research agents working for him, at a time, though, so there is a hard limit to the amount of datacores that you can have pouring in, at any given time.
Because of the way missions work, if you're going for level four missions in general, you may as well also get R&D agents going at the same time. That way you get datacores to sell, while running your level four agents, in perpetuity.
Let's say that I decide to do R&D agents for the Amarr faction, since I live in Amarr space and having high standings with them will generally come in handy. I search on an agent-finder web site to see what level four R&D agents are available for Amarr, and notice that they all belong to the Carthum Conglomerate corporation. Obviously, these is the best Amarr research corporation.
In order to get access to level four Carthum agents, I would run the Amarr newbie missions, turn in tags at the faction data centers, and run level two and three missions until I had great Amarr faction standing. Then I would run level four Carthum agents until my Carthum standing was high enough to access the R&D agents.
After visiting each of the highest-level Carthum agents and getting them to research datacores for me, I would check in every few months in order to pick up the datacores so produced. Then I would either sell the datacores in Jita or use them for invention, depending on what projects I had going at that point in time.
Accessing An R&D Agent
Unlike most agents, R&D agents require a corporate standing rather than a good corporate standing or good faction standing. That is, even if you have faction standings high enough to use a normal level four agent, it won't do you any good with the R&D agents. Getting high Amarr standings is faster than getting high Carthum standings, though, so you want to run the tutorial agents, turn in tags, and do all the other stuff mentioned in my previous two articles. Once you've gone as far as you care to, with faction standings, you should check to see what level Carthum agents you can access. Ideally, it should be level 3, though perhaps 2 is more likely if you are stingy with turning in tags.
Find Carthum agents of the highest level that you can, of whatever type you prefer. I prefer agents that give me mostly combat missions. Run those Carthum agents, moving up the ladder to higher level agents, until you finally have access to level four Carthum agents.
Skills For R&D Agents
Each character may use a single R&D agent, plus an additional agent per level of the Research Project Management skill that they have trained. I recommend training it to level four. The pre-requisites for this skill are pretty intense (as is the ISK cost) if you don't already have them, but well worth it, as I explain later. In order to train Research Project Management, you need to train Laboratory Operation V, Research V, and Science III.
Additionally, the kinds of datacores that your agent can produce are limited by your skills, and also by their own particular areas of research. Some agents may be able to research Mechanical Engineering datacores, which are possibly the most lucrative at the time of this writing. The higher your Mechanical Engineering skill, the more datacores your agent will produce, each day.
The amount of research points produced by each agent varies according to your skills, and according to which datacore you are researching. Deceptively enough, even though some fields of research (like any of the Starship Engineering skills) will accumulate research points at a faster rate, the cost of purchasing datacores in that field is increased by that same amount. This is a relic of the old tech two lottery, an old game mechanic that hasn't been used in years.
You will need to look at datacore prices in Jita and do math, in order to figure out which kinds of datacores will make you the most ISK, per day.
The datacore varieties and their research point multipliers are as follows, sorted by requisite skills:
- Electromagnetic Physics
- Electronic Engineering
- Nanite Engineering
- Graviton Physics (x2 research rate)
- High Energy Physics
- Hydromagnetic Physics
- Laser Physics
- Nuclear Physics
- Plasma Physics (x2 research rate)
- Quantum Physics
- Amarrian Starship Engineering (x3 research rate)
- Astronautic Engineering
- Caldari Starship Engineering (x3 research rate)
- Gallentean Starship Engineering (x3 research rate)
- Mechanical Engineering
- Minmatar Starship Engineering (x3 research rate)
- Molecular Engineering
- Rocket Science
The Economics Of It
If you are balking at the skill requirements and the 40mil ISK price tag on Research Project Management, keep in mind that by ensuring a passive, constant income source, you are effectively lowering the price that you pay, to play EVE Online.
My best agent gives me about 2.5 Mechanical Engineering datacores, each day, while the worst level 4 R&D agent that I have still gives about one, each day. In total, I'm getting about 7.8 datacores a day. Assuming that they sell for about 380,000 ISK per unit, that's 2.98mil ISK, per day.
To put that in perspective, buying a 60-day timecard usually costs about 550mil apiece, or 9.16 mil a day. In effect, it's paying for a third of my subscription. If I were to do this with all three characters on my account, it would more or less pay for that account's subscription. That would mean anything that you made over that is pure profit, to be invested or spent on PvP. In tandem with other passive income sources like copying and selling blueprints, moon mining, or alchemy, you can easily pay for your EVE Online account without spending real money, which is damn cool in my books.
Note that you can check your journal to see what agents you are currently researching with, as well as what field you told them to study, how many research points they have accumulated to date, and how many they produce, each day.
A Final Note
The process described above can be repeated for any of the major high-sec factions. There are no level 5 R&D agents (thought some agent-finder sites may show them, this is in error). The corporations with level four R&D agents (and their associated factions) are:
- Amarr: Carthum Conglomerate.
- Caldari: Ishukone Corporation, Lai Dai Corporation (best), Kaalakiota Corporation.
- Gallente: CreoDron, Duvolle Laboratories, Roden Shipyards (a mix of research corps is needed to have all level four agents, unfortunately).
- Minmatar: Boundless Creation, Core Complexion Inc. (best).
There is also a single non-Empire faction that has a solitary level 4 R&D agent, located in null-sec space, as well as various agents of lower levels:
- Thukker: Thukker Mix.
There are various other R&D agents scattered between some of the other factions, but only level 4 agents produce datacores in meaningful quantities. Because the good Gallente R&D agents are scattered between three corporations, I don't recommend grinding for them, unless you have already started grinding their missions or are otherwise committed to their faction.
I hope this guide helps keep you folks solvent. Until next time!