In this succinct article, I examine the hidden forces pushing and pulling EVE's markets and show that EVE's economic sandbox comes complete with quicksand and land mines.
If there's a limited supply of something in EVE, you can bet that someone somewhere has set his sights on forming a cartel on it. When Tech 2 modules began making an appearance in EVE, original blueprints were given out in a research point lottery. Many of each blueprint were released, sparking healthy market competition from the winners of most blueprints. A few notable exceptions were the Covert Ops Cloaking Device II, Cap Recharger II and Expanded Cargohold II blueprints. Winners of these sold their blueprints to an existing cartel or agreed to uphold the cartel's prices. The prices of these tech 2 modules were artificially inflated for a long time, only being reduced to realistic competitive levels when the invention system was released.
Another industry which has seen its fair share of cartels is unsurprisingly the market for performance-enhancing drugs. As the materials used in booster production are gathered in relatively small areas of 0.0 space, alliances have claimed control of the resources and use force to deter anyone from competing. There are violent cartels on a number of high quality boosters, keeping the prices up and providing mountains of isk for the alliance war machines.
Cartels require that there be a limited supply of something on the market, but what about items with plentiful supply or those that anyone can make? If you've got a lot of isk to play around with, market manipulation can be a very lucrative business. Say you want the price of covert ops ships to increase, all you'd need to do is buy every covert ops ship on the market and re-list it for a higher price. By repeating this over the course of several weeks, the price can be slowly increased. Players may not even notice the manipulation and may assume some other factor has made market prices increase. Once the price is sufficiently high, a stockpile of the ships purchased at the previous low price can be sold to buy orders or pawned in bulk to gullible resellers.
There are other kinds of market manipulation that aren't quite so subtle. Dark Shikari used a very aggressive market manipulation campaign to try and ruin the marketplace of his alliance's neighbouring enemies and make a profit and in the process. He would buy essential equipment at his enemy's outpost and re-list it all on the market at ten times the price. Even if only a few sold, he was immediately in profit and had successfully deprived his enemy of a fair price on their goods for a short time. In addition to annoying rival alliance IAC and collecting a handful of hilarious hate-mail messages, Dark Shikari more than doubled his initial starting capital of 1.5 billion isk.
While the laws of supply and demand are important influences on EVE Online's free market economy, there is a ruthless economic underworld at work. Unspoken players pull the market's strings from behind the scenes, turning their piles of isk into mountains and funding vast alliance war machines.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you want to message him, send him an e-mail at brendan.drain AT weblogsinc DOT com.