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Let’s Play: EVE

So, I started logging into EVE:Online again.  I’m not actually ‘playing’, per say.  I’m just getting some enjoyment from the game.  For me, ‘playing’ would involve exploding internet spaceships, and right now I don’t have the time that exploding internet spaceships demand.  Instead I have decided to play with a small facet of the game in order to build my wallet. Given EVE’s uniqueness as a game, I felt it would be interesting to describe how I am accomplishing that.

If you’ve never played EVE, or even if you have but haven’t gotten really involved, it can be difficult to appreciate the freedom that the sandbox gives you.  CCP’s famous “Butterfly Effect” trailer (opens in a separate window) highlights the potential of emergent behavior in the sandbox. Massively’s Nyphur wrote an article about the many things people have done to earn isk in New Eden.  But what these articles don’t really show is the complete depth of experience you can find in New Eden.  The galaxy is laid out before you; with anything yours for the taking for the simple price of your time, devotion, love, hard work, misery, and emotional devastation. You only have to imagine it, figure out how to make it work, and drive every detail and every stray bit.  Hard work and perseverance can pay off, or they can all be destroyed in a moment by another players malice, an unexpected situation, or an unresearched detail.  In New Eden your destiny is your own, success is a product of what you put into it, and defeat is threatened and promised by everyone else you meet.

However, I am not here to explore the endless possibilities; I’m here to play with Planetary Interaction.  I want to see if I can make a little in game money without having to log in a lot.

Day 1

I log in, for the first time in months.  Except instead of logging in I get to play the great “Downloading a patch” game. While that happens I update EveMon and EveHQ; 3rd party tools that I use to track my skill training and assets.  Eve is such a complex game that 3rd party tools are invaluable.  These two both retrieve information about your characters, and allow you to browse through them and plan based on that information.  I also spent time digging out my old Eve bookmarks as information is a treasure without value.

Day 2

Patch installed. Log In. Start the status check.  Where am I? Empire, a place called Solitude. Am I still in a corp? Nope; as expected. How much liquid isk do I have? About 90M, which is pocket change. How much isk tied up in assets do I have? 1Bil isk, but most of it is tied up in 0.0 so I won’t be able to access it. The rest is spread across Empire and will be an effort to access.  What do I have with me, right here and right now? 1 cargo ship, a pocket full of change, and a 6 pack of Quafe. I feel like the drunk space trucker version of the Blues Brothers.

Quick diagram representative of a production flow for PI. BTW, this works in real life too. Eat enough candy and you can call in sick.

Ok, I am here to learn about the Planetary Interaction mechanics.  I have assessed my situation and my resources.  Now it is time to do research.  So I minimize the Eve window and start doing research on the Internets.  I quickly end up downloading another 3rd party tool; this one is designed to help manage PI, and between it and the collective knowledge of the interaether I am soon armed with the most dangerous of things; just enough information.  20minutes with Dotlan (an amazing 3rd party online map of New Eden) gets me a chart of interesting planets in my area.  Finally, I go back to the client and undock.  As my hauler jumps the void between the stars, I find myself in conversation with an old friend.  A T2 industrialist, he’s a good source of information and advice on the production of things. I pick his brain on PI for a bit to get some good advice and tips. Techniques to maximize production; tricks to maximize hauling. However his primary interest in PI is supplying his T2 production, which means he get’s his profit further down the production tree than I’m interested in going. I’ll have to make my own way in using this to get rich.

I park in orbit around a seemingly random planet in a seemingly random system.  I play with the planetary scan of all the juicy resources waiting to be mined as Doctor Who plays in the background.  After another 20min, I am satisfied that I understand how things work in the game client.  Clicking this causes that.  Storage can’t be linked back to itself, gathering facilities can only gather one item type at a time, production can only produce one item type at a time.  All the little brick-a-brack details that no tutorial or reference will explain, yet expect you to know.

Armed with a little practical knowledge, a lot of research, and a smidgen of theory; I start to organize my thoughts and understandings into the most glorious of devices, A Spreadsheet. Through the art of crafting my spreadsheet, I organize my thoughts.  I focus first on one planet, the planet I’m in orbit over now.  I include local pricing information, and start to see patterns.  Then I expand to a hypothetical 2nd planet, and see the potential interactions between the two.  I play with the data for a while, attempting the tease the secrets from the system, seeking the maximum profit with the minimal work.

Day 3

Day 3 isn’t actually a day, it’s a few minutes here and there spread out over a couple of days.  Regardless, in Day 3 I continue to play with the spreadsheet.  I’ve found a minor problem in my calculations, and it takes me a while to find the source of the issue.  I’m not very strong in my math skills, so it takes me longer than it should.  But finding the problem forces me to go over what I already know, strengthening my understanding.  I also make a pretty chart showing the typical flow of materials.  I log into EVE briefly, to verify that nothing unexpected has happened with my test planet.

Ranom factoid: there are 67253 planets in New Eden.  10 of them are Shattered Planets; most of which were Terrestrial Planets that were destroyed in the Seyllin Incident.  That is 0.014% of all planets in New Eden.  Yet they are not valuable at all; not in the slightest.  Rarity does not mean valuable. The Dodo was rare, and all that got him is famous and dead. You need to be useful to be valuable.

Day 4

Remember, my final goal is to get PI running and making me isk without me having to log into the game very often. I’ve got a basic idea how to turn PI into material, now I need to find the best way to turn material into Isk efficiently.  Thankfully, there appear to be no incentives to produce in one location and sell in another.  This means I need to find the best region to sell in. That decision will involve comparing the prices for all PI material across every region in Empire.  There are 83 line items involved with PI, and 23 Empire regions to look at.  Researching the prices for every item in every region and entering them into a spreadsheet is way too much effort.

So we turn to Eve-Central, and their wonderful API. Eve-Central is a 3rd party website for aggregating market information across New Eden.  Outside of Empire it’s data can be suspect. As I’ve never been one for market warfare, or even for living in Empire, I’ve never had chance to use it for more than just the occasional price check.  They have recently released a wonderful API tool that allows you to request market data, and then returns it in XML format. This is my first time working with this tool, but I can already tell that it and I are going become very good friends indeed.

I’m going to want to request these XML files dynamically (so I can request different regions), parse them for the juicy bits, and export those bits to a CSV.  I choose to do this with PHP; not because PHP is the best tool, but because it’s the tool I have at hand.  And by ‘at hand’ I mean that I’ve poked it before. Every forum I’ve run has be based on PHP, and WordPress is built on it.  Every web based tool that I’ve mucked with has used PHP. I’ve seen it used before, I’ve fiddled with other peoples PHP code before; so I know what it looks like. It looks like a bunch of fake English words strung together with a bunch of random punctuation. How hard can it be?

Four hours later, and I’ve got a PHP script that does most of what I need. Thankfully I’m doing something very basic that PHP is designed to do, thus ensuring a large number of tutorials and example code that behave similarly to what I need.  I am able to cobble together something that generates the request for the XML based on a list of items in a file, parses it, and dumps the results into a CSV.  I spent an hour figuring out why it would error out if I used a variable as an array key.  Turns out the variable was loosely cast as a type that was illegal to use as an array key, forcing me to cast it as something that was legal.  If you don’t understand what I just said, don’t worry. Someone familiar with PHP probably could have completed this in 30minutes.

While I was working on this, I was also chatting with a member of my old alliance via Steam. His alliance had a problem similar to one we had faced over a year ago, and he had wanted my input on how to solve it. My solution then (crush the souls of the financial backers while denying the mercenaries good fights) was inapplicable to his situation (no financial backers to attack, and his alliance members were undisciplined and dramarific). He and his corp ended up leaving the alliance, and we discussed future endeavors.

Day 5

Spent about an hour changing the PHP script to pull market data for all Empire regions, and output them into a single CSV.  I had put it together with some foresight, so making the script repeat itself without tripping over itself was a simple matter.  I probably spent more time typing out the list of regions that I was interested in than I did poking the code.

I then went through all of the market data to choose the region I would be doing this in. Several regions were quickly dropped from the list of possibles; which including my current home, Solitude. Solitude wasn’t the worse place I could be, but it was pretty damn close. In the end, it looks like I’ll be moving to the location I knew I’d be moving too. Crunching the numbers was just an exercise to ensure I was making the correct choice. It also allowed me to find some interesting irregularities in the market. I will have to investigate them further, and see if I can exploit them to turn a profit.

I also logged in for 5min to check on things. Nothing strange has happened.

Next Steps

My next step is to set up shop for production.  This will involve me deciding upon an end item to focus on, figuring out what I’ll need to produce it, finding a location that has those resources and is close to the point of sale, and finally setting everything up. The part where I have to turn research into application has always been a weakness of mine, so it will be interesting to see how I accomplish this.

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