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EVE Evolved: Mining is broken, but it can be fixed

Brendan Drain
Brendan Drain|@nyphur|March 30, 2014 6:00 PM
EVE Evolved: Mining is broken, but it can be fixed
Mining has a reputation for being the most boring activity in EVE Online, but it's always filled a niche role as a low-effort way to make ISK and play with friends casually. When there's no PvP going on and you can't give your full attention to smashing NPCs in missions or anomalies, mining fills that downtime with something more lucrative and social than spinning your ship in a station. The problem is that mining has slowly become obsolete over the years; alternative mineral sources now supply much of the market's needs, and the risk of flying a defenseless barge just isn't worth the mediocre payout.

It's currently more efficient for an individual to buy minerals with ISK made via some other form of PvE, such as level 4 missions or incursions. And on the macroscopic level, such huge quantities of minerals hit the market from alternative sources such as reprocessing loot that the economy could potentially function with no miners at all. CCP has tried to make mining more appealing over the years with buffs and new ships, and the devs recently announced plans to nerf mineral compression as part of a campaign to make mining worthwhile, but I think it'll take a lot more than ISK to get people mining again.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at how mining and reprocessing are at odds and suggest some ideas for new mining features that could revitalise this long forgotten profession.

EVE Evolved side imageMining can't compete with reprocessing

A combination of alternative ways to generate minerals and industrialists with stockpiles waiting to hit the market have made mining all but obsolete in EVE's macroeconomic model. When mineral supply on the market increases enough to push prices down, people buy up the excess and build ships with it, safe in the knowledge that they can always melt them down into minerals again later. The ability to reprocess ships and modules into minerals with 100% efficiency means that the mineral stockpile on the market is interchangeable with the vast module and ship markets.

We saw this effect following the Bloodbath of B-5RB, when speculation on mineral demand following the death of 73 titans caused tritanium prices to spike. The market countered the change within days, replacing billions of units of tritanium that sure as hell didn't come from mining. The only source of that volume of minerals would be industrialists' stockpiles and the reprocessing of modules and ships for scrap. In a recent devblog, CCP announced a huge nerf coming to reprocessing that will effectively impose a new cap of 72.4% for ore and only 55% for ships and modules, severely limiting the interchangeability of the mineral and module/ship markets. While this has some industrialists up in arms, it's fantastic news for miners, who will have much less competition from manufacturers.

EVE Evolved side imageMining in lowsec: Keeping it interesting

When EVE was young and you could roam the stars for hours without seeing another player, mining in low-security space was a very realistic option. While lowsec ore does provide a better payout than you'll find in highsec, the added danger of pirates means you can't realistically stay in one place to mine for hours on end. You'll be lucky to last an hour hoovering up asteroids before you're spotted by an aggressor, and then it's time to close up shop for the night. Mining in lowsec should obviously be higher-risk, but the time you have to spend exposed and vulnerable when mining means the reward can never be worth it.

This problem could be solved by taking a few cues from the world of exploration, in which players spend the majority of their time searching for a big score hidden in the void and then spend a relatively small period of time actually completing the objective. CCP started down this road with its anomaly-based asteroid belts, but there's no reason we couldn't have even bigger scores sitting in the void. Why not have a Serpentis Mining Outpost complex with a smattering of NPCs protecting a gigantic enriched Hemorphite asteroid or enormous lump of Crokite that mines at an increased rate? If it takes an average of two hours to find a mining outpost and an hour to mine the asteroid solo, CCP could increase the ore yield to as much as three times the normal rate without disrupting the activity's ISK per hour balance.

EVE Evolved side imageMining in nullsec: Minerals for titans

Mining was originally intended to be the best way to get minerals for manufacturing, but that hasn't been the case for many years. Once EVE grew large enough for its markets to hit critical mass, the efficient trade of minerals completely removed the need for anyone to actually mine his own ore. Even on the scale of alliances building titans, it's more cost-effective to buy minerals and transport them into nullsec. To make this possible, players turn to an odd quirk of the EVE universe called Mineral Compression: Some modules are actually smaller than the total volume of minerals used to build them, so they can be built in highsec and then transported into nullsec for reprocessing.

This is the main way that alliances transport the minerals required for producing supercapital ships, as it's not economically viable to mine the low-end minerals like tritanium locally. One of the main complaints players have had over the recently announced reprocessing nerf is that it will severely harm mineral compression, but I think compression is a poor solution and just a symptom of the fact that mining needs a severe overhaul. Some of the best times I've had in nullsec have been mining casually with corpmates or participating in massive alliance mining operations, but low-end minerals like tritanium and pyerite will always be quicker and more cost-effective to ship into nullsec than to mine there, regardless of compression ratios.

EVE Evolved side imageMining in nullsec: Nuking veldspar?

Simply increasing the yields of low-end ores in nullsec would lead to people exporting minerals back to empire for sale and crashing the global market. What we need is a new mode of mining that's available only in nullsec and that can only produce minerals for local production. A new illegal form of blast-mining could be introduced that lets players blow apart rocky asteroids like Veldspar to reveal dense enriched skeletons of the valuable crystalline material with a significantly higher yield. To ensure it's used in local industry, CCP could flag the ore and minerals refined from it as radioactive and impossible to transport out of the system they're mined in.

Ships carrying radioactive ore or minerals would be unable to use stargates, jump drives, or jump bridges, and radioactive minerals could be limited to being used in a new set of capital ship component blueprints. This would let alliances produce obscene amounts of low-end minerals that can be used only in local production of capital ships. The finished products could always be shipped to empire for sale, but this shouldn't disrupt the mineral market much as the upcoming nerf to reprocessing would eat around 45% of the minerals if someone were to melt them down. The possibility of exporting minerals at a 45% loss would keep radioactive mineral prices at a minimum of around 55% of the price of standard minerals, potentially making low-end mining financially worthwhile in nullsec at the same time.

EVE Evolved title image
Over five years ago when the EVE Evolved column was just getting started, I penned an article called Mining: The Forgotten Profession that still gets an occasional burst of hits. Almost every single part of EVE has drastically changed in the five years since that article was written, but many of the problems described in it surprisingly still exist. The risks of mining have increased dramatically with the increased density of players in New Eden, and it's still more cost-effective to transport freighters full of tritanium or modules into nullsec than to get your alliance together once a week for a mining op.

Mining has been a broken and largely forgotten profession for years, but it's not beyond repair. CCP's plan to nerf reprocessing has big implications for the profitability of mining and deals a significant blow to mineral logistics. What we need now are enticing reasons to bring our barges into lowsec and the ability to cost-effectively mine all the minerals required to build supercapital ships in nullsec itself.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the bi-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 brendan@massively.com.
EVE Evolved: Mining is broken, but it can be fixed