If someone asked you where all the minerals come from to build the thousands of ships destroyed in EVE on a daily basis, you might say that you assume most of it comes from mined ore. Mining was originally the biggest source of minerals in the game and one of the most profitable professions, but over the years, that's changed. When level 4 missions added an infinite source of battleship-sized NPCs to high-security space, mission-running quickly overtook mining as the most profitable profession, and bizarrely, as a very good source of minerals. When the drone regions were later released, ratting there also became a huge mineral faucet far in excess of that produced through mining.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at the problems faced by mining as a source of minerals and speculate on what will happen to mining as a profession when the Inferno expansion hits.
Meta level 0 loot changes
When level 4 missions introduced battleship-sized NPCs to high-security space, there was a sudden influx of battleship-sized modules from loot. Players with good refining skills found that they could extract almost 100% of the minerals from this loot and supplement their mission-running income. There are players who make a killing by buying up loot in mission hubs and melting it down for scrap or hauling it to Jita for resale. Refining loot is the only reliable source of high-end minerals like Zydrine, Megacyte, and Nocxium accessible to players in high-security space. You can't reliably mine those minerals in highsec as they're found only in ores that are native to lowsec and nullsec.
Improved named versions of modules also drop as loot, but these often refine into fewer minerals than standard meta level 0 versions. With the standard versions removed from the drop tables, I think there will be a noticeable drop in mineral supply from mission hubs when the patch hits. Since every module with a blueprint is being removed from the drop tables, it may also become profitable to produce tech 1 items again. Even with an abundance of named items on the market, meta 0 modules will sell because they're needed to build tech 2 modules.
Rogue Drone loot changes
Rogue Drones are often cited as the main culprit of mineral inflation in EVE, significantly pushing down the price of high-end minerals. They don't have any ISK bounties; instead, they drop alloys that can be refined into minerals. Rogue Drones were originally introduced in a few combat missions and had a negligible impact on mineral supply, but when static Rogue Drone complexes appeared, players quickly worked out how to farm them to produce a steady supply of Zydrine without mining.
When CCP opened the drone regions several years later, it was expected that players would use the huge volumes of minerals from ratting to produce ships for war. Instead, players worked out efficient ways to get the minerals back to empire and crashed the mineral markets across the game. Drone loot has been nerfed several times since then, but exports from the region still act as a massive downward pressure on mineral prices.
Inferno and mineral prices
With alloys removed from Rogue Drone loot tables, the drone regions will become just another area of nullsec to fight over. We can expect mineral supply in the market hubs to drop significantly across the board following Tuesday's patch, and mineral prices are guaranteed to spike. The removal of meta 0 modules from all loot tables will similarly reduce mineral supply to the markets, causing the prices to rise. Although there's a minimum price that the mineral basket can reach due to the insurance floor, there's no maximum price. If prices rise enough, mining will become one of the most profitable professions again, particularly in lowsec and nullsec.
Mineral prices have been on a steady increase since news of the change became public, as market speculators have been buying up minerals in anticipation of the post-patch price hike. If the drop in supply is high enough, mineral prices will increase and those speculators will act to slow the price rise by selling back stock over time. On the other hand, speculators may have overestimated the size of the drop in mineral supply, and prices could fall back to normal levels as all the short-term speculators compete to sell back their stock.
Mining issues left to tackle
Mining as a profession has fallen out of favour in EVE primarily because there are always more efficient ways to get the minerals you need for production. The market is always fully stocked with minerals, so if you can make more ISK running level 4 missions or incursions than you can by mining, it just makes sense to buy the minerals from the market. Mining in nullsec is more profitable if you have access to Arkonor, Bistot or Crokite, but it's still more cost-effective to buy most of your minerals in Jita and ship them out to nullsec. This is especially true of low-end minerals, which are available in high-security space and so are in abundant supply on the market.
Players used to compress minerals for transport by a factor of 25-50 by building them into modules like large guns. This was eventually nerfed, but the advent of jump bridges and the fact that carriers can fit several industrial ships packed with extra large dreadnought ammo means mineral logistics is still cost-effective. Players have even been known to build capital ships in empire, jump them into nullsec, and then refine them for capital parts and minerals. If you consider how inherently dangerous mining ops are in nullsec, it's easy to see why people go to such lengths to avoid it.
the Escalation to Inferno patch launches on Tuesday, but the changes to drone and mission loot are long overdue. Mineral prices have already begun to spike due to speculation and are sure to go up further, but whether prices will come back to normal levels and where they'll stabilise is anyone's guess. Highsec mining is already on the rise, with new mining corps popping up every day to take advantage of the all-time high 6 per unit tritanium prices.
If CCP wants players to get mining again in nullsec and lowsec, mining minerals locally needs to safer and more cost-effective than transporting them from Jita. The Rorqual was a good first step in that direction, with bonuses to shield transporters and the ability to compress ore and jump it back to a nearby station. Unfortunately, even the Hulk won't survive more than a few seconds under attack, making nullsec mining too risky even if the operation is protected by a military defense fleet.
What we need now is either some kind of new deployable shield bubble for miners or mining ships that have enough shield hitpoints to withstand attack long enough to actually be saved by a Rorqual. Hulks are already defenseless and slow, there's no reason they need to have low enough hitpoints to be killed in a single volley. Hopefully the changes coming in Tuesday's patch are part of a larger plan to reinvigorate EVE's lost mining profession and bring back the glory days of nullsec industry.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.