Level 4 missions:
For many empire-dwelling players, level 4 combat missions are their bread and butter. Missions bring in a steady flow of ISK that can go toward replacing future ship losses or upgrading to more expensive faction and deadspace modules. Combat missions are a great way to spend a while just shooting at high-bounty NPCs in the safety of high security space.
As missions don't usually take several hours to complete and they can be postponed for days if needed, casual mission-runners will find themselves with a refreshing lack of responsibility. Some players get bored with level 1 and 2 missions and consequently don't make their way up to the more interesting level 3 and 4 versions. My advice would be to blitz level 1 and 2 missions as quickly as possible, ignoring any loot, so that you can get your standings up quickly. With the basic social skills trained up a few levels, you'll be onto the more challenging missions in no time at all.
Planning and design:
The EVE community is a diverse collection of people, among them programmers and web-developers. With CCP providing access to important data through an API system, a whole range of useful player-made tools are available. There are tools to plan your character's skill training, organise your assets, plan industrial tasks and more. When not playing EVE, one of my favourite things to do is to fire up EVE Fitting Tool and design fantasy ships.
EVE Fitting Tool, or EFT for short, lets you design virtual ship setups and test them with your character's skills or a theoretical maximum-skill character. It gives important stats such as damage per second, how long the capacitor will last, resistances, effective hitpoints and how much damage the tank can absorb. Prior to the tool's release, I often spent hours in a trade hub wasting ISK on modules to tweak a single setup. These days I occasionally find myself spending the better part of an evening on EFT tweaking strategic cruiser setups or trying to get a little more out of the Dominix.
The exploration system uses probes to find cosmic anomalies, pirate complexes and profession sites that you can complete for some good ISK. Finding a 3/10 or 4/10 DED complex in high security space is particularly good news as the end boss drops rare deadspace gear that can be worth over a hundred million ISK. When probing down sites, you're likely to also find a lot of wormholes, which can be equally lucrative.
When I talk about wormholes, I usually recommend organised, long-term expeditions with starbases. Those can be lucrative and fun but the truth is that you don't really need to live in a wormhole system to take advantage of its resources. One in every two or three systems in highsec should have a wormhole leading to a class 1, 2 or 3 Sleeper system. If you can find a relatively empty patch of high security space to scan, you're also a bit less likely to be accosted inside the wormhole by an exploring pirate. Wormhole systems are particularly well known for their massive asteroid belts with ore you'd normally only find deep in alliance-owned nullsec systems.
It's said that EVE is partly a social networking tool and as a social gamer, I'd have to agree. In EVE, who you know is often much more important than what you know. Having a group of friends to rely on and play with can be the difference between getting bored of the game or getting hooked on it. EVE provides a variety of social tools, from chat channels and EVE Voice to corporations and forums. Players make use of these tools to form small, close communities that can be great to be a part of.
EVE Radio is a perfect example of such a community, having been actively involved in EVE since as far back as I can remember. They run a professional-sounding web-radio channel with EVE players featuring as DJs, talk show hosts and guests. DJs occasionally run competitions and events from the "EVE Radio" chat channel that can be really fun.
In days gone by, getting into a PvP gang meant being part of a PvP-oriented corporation or alliance. PvP operations were usually planned well in advance and could take more time to get started than the action itself would last. For those interested in small gang PvP with minimal planning, piracy and corporate warfare were the only real options.
With the Empyrean Age expansion, the release of Faction Warfare added another choice for those looking for instant-action PvP. Players may enlist their corp in one faction's militia or join an NPC militia corp to enter the war. It takes up to 24 hours to enter but from that point on, you can shoot at militia members in the opposing faction and have access to your faction's militia chat channel. Small PvP gangs constantly form up throughout the day and go looking for trouble in various contested areas of low security space. With a little preparation in the form of pre-fitting some replacement ships, this is PvP that you can hop into for an hour or two whenever you like.
Whether you're a casual empire-dwelling player or an EVE junkie looking for something to do on his off-hours, everyone finds themselves with a few hours to burn in EVE. There are plenty of gameplay options that can be picked up for few hours whenever you feel like it without requiring long-term commitments or forcing you to log in and play regularly. The above things are five ways I've enjoyed using my casual play time. What's your favourite way to spend a few hours?
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.