Broadly defined, the "Tritanium Problem" is the fundamental fact that sourcing large quantities of low end minerals and especially Tritanium is not feasible in nullsec. When coupled with the mediocre facilities as discussed in Weaselior's excellent "Destroying The Shipyards" article, large scale production based in nullsec is simply not worth the effort. Smaller scale production (such as modules) is possible, but is so trivial to import anyway as to be irrelevant to the discussion.
The solution to this problem is obvious: simply add more low end minerals! Any discussion of the problem rarely moves beyond that, though. I'd like to first clearly define the problem, and then offer an example of what a solution might actually look like if implemented.
Before moving further, for a variety of reasons, some people disagree that the problem is a problem. CCP's own stance is unknown. Obviously, I consider it to be a problem, else I wouldn't be writing this. I'm sure many will loudly disagree in the comments below.
It's the ratios, stupid!
To solve a problem you must first define the problem, and so to begin we must first peek back into the early days of the game. Long before I (or most of you) were playing, minerals were NPC seeded, with the base prices increasing by a factor of four up through the minerals. So, Tritanium cost 2 isk/unit, Pyerite cost 8, Mexallon 32 and so on, up to Megacyte at 8192.
This ratio is approximated throughout Eve's Tech I production system, although in reverse, if one normalizes the mineral requirements for a given item to its Megacyte requirement. For example, here is what battleships look like, averaged together and broken down to their ratio.
Many items deviate significantly more than battleships do, but ships tend to be "close" and they represent the lion's share of mineral consumption in Eve, so even the ratios for that are in the ballpark.
Where am I going with this? Simple. Here are the ratios of minerals found within the Large, Extra Large and Giant gravimetric sites.
As they say, "welp". High ends are hysterically over-represented, and in some cases a notionally rarer mineral is actually more abundant than a more common one. And this isn't just a matter of "use what you can and export the excess", either. By absolute values contained within a site, neither a Large nor Giant site (which require approximately 41 and 96 man-hours to completely mine) is capable of building even a single Maelstrom. The Extra Large site is a little better balanced, yielding enough Tritanium for a handful of battleships... but the surplus is enough for anywhere from two to nearly eight hundred ships.
Dozens of man-hours to work and all we can do is build a few battleships. No wonder we have a problem!
The Design Goals
Now that the problem is defined, the goals for solving the problem should be readily apparent.
- Nullsec must be able to provide low end minerals through local mining in ratios and absolute quantities sufficient to facilitate local production.
- Nullsec (and wormholes) will continue to be the only source for high-end minerals, specifically Zydrine and Megacyte, As a result, they must continue to overproduce these minerals for export to highsec.
- A miner in nullsec should want to mine any and all of the ores. While maintaining perfectly even isk/hour values is not possible (short of replacing all ores with a single mineral nougat that provides all minerals), even the 'worst' of ores should represent a considerable boost in income over those found in highsec.
Suggestions abound for how, exactly, to meet these goals. "Just add more asteroids" is probably the most common, but it fails to meet the third requirement on its own. Some of the suggestions I've seen to address that are Capital mining lasers and "bomb mining" (which is exactly what it sounds like). They're both interesting ideas and are worth looking at as an addition, but do not solve the problem on their own. For those techniques to serve as a fix, CCP would still have to add vast swathes of low ends, and then restrict those techniques to low-ends only.
Restrictions are boring.
A more insightful suggestion is "super ores". The concept exists ingame already in the form of named ores (ie Dense Veldspar), but the new ores would have on the order of 200% higher yield instead of 5% or 10%.
Super ores. I like that. But instead of simply taking existing ores up to 11, I favor taking a page from CCP Fozzie's book. Let's do some Oreicide.
Remove highsec and lowsec ores from gravimetric sites entirely. Veldspar, Scordite, Plagioclase, Kernite, Omber, Pyroxeres, Hemorphite, Hedbergite and Jaspet, all gone. Or heck, leave them for flavor and to annoy people for all I care... no one will want to mine them by the time we're done here anyway. Left are Spodumain, Gneiss, Dark Ochre, Crokite, Bistot and Arkonor. Mercoxit remains as well but is not a concern as it only produces Morphite, for Tech II production.
Currently, Gneiss and Spodumain are terrible. They manage to beat ice mining in highsec, but that's about it, so even highsec miners look down their noses at them. They're that bad. It's incredible. Anyway... moving on. Ochre and Crokite both produce Nocxium and Zydrine in varying ratios, while Bistot and Arkonor produce Zydrine and Megacyte. All also produce practically inconsequential amounts of various low ends.
In this example, let's change that. Gneiss, Spodumain and Ochre lose their high end content, but get significantly more low ends, while the reverse happens with Crokite, Bistot and Arkonor. The ratio of minerals found in an entire site is then changed by toying around with the number and size of asteroids inside.
Numbers on Paper
Now that I've laid out the concept, it's time for some numbers, to give an idea of what this example would look like in practice. I'd like to stress "examples" as the key word there. These are numbers banged out by a bored 20-something over a weekend, and I'm sure that CCP's team of professional game designers could do a better, more refined job.
Start with the ores. To make this work, a rough target price for the minerals is necessary. I've gone with prices that make historical sense. Before the drone regions, before the addition of gravimetric sites to begin with, high ends were rare and valuable, low ends were less rare and less valuable. Most of this was thanks to the bottleneck effect. One desired effect of this sort of change would be to return some rarity (or at least relative rarity, the kind that matters) to high ends, and this is reflected in my price choices.
Using these prices, I set Arkonor as the baseline. Its content is unchanged. Everything else gets adjusted. Bistot gains a little more Zydrine, Crokite becomes a Nocxium bearing ore to rival anything found in lowsec, and of course Ochre, Spodumain and Gneiss are the real winners. A massive injection of low-ends means they're all grown up. Now they're a real ore!
It goes without saying that the mineral values I've used here are contrived (though historically justified), as is the expectation that each ore would have exactly the same value. That's okay though. The objective, the thing to take away from a design perspective, is that each ore be worth mining on its own. A difference between "best" and "worst" of 10% or so is fine. Right now that difference starts at about 20% between "best" and "second best", and gets worse from there.
The other part of this revamp is to give the gravimetric sites themselves a makeover. The removal of various ores would otherwise make for some bizarre sites. As discussed earlier, the objective is for the complete harvesting of a site to yield a supply of minerals suitable for production, but maintain a relative over-abundance of high ends with which to supply highsec. By adjusting the amount of each ore available, a roughly acceptable target is achieved. A site who's value roughly mirrors the existing Small gravimetric site might look like the following.
This site provides minerals sufficient to build seven Maelstrom, with plenty of excess high ends to spare... proportionally, a larger excess of Megacyte than Zydrine, in fact, which goes to show how CCP's team of professionals could do a better job. The entire site is a fair bit smaller than the existing Small site is by volume as well, which could necessitate changes to the industry index system.
There is another consideration to sites built from these new ores, somewhat less tangible than simply deciding how many of each asteroid to place. If, as we intend, all ores offer roughly the same isk per hour, then how do the sites differ from each other? To put it another way, what incentive is there for a mining team to push to push the system's industry index to level 4 or 5, instead of sitting at the easier to maintain level 3 and collecting the same income? A couple of possible solutions present themselves. The first is Mercoxit. Currently this ore can be found in every gravimetric site except for the Small. CCP could increase its value by limiting it only to the top end sites, giving miners a reason to aim high. Another factor is the size and distribution of the asteroids themselves. A belt comprised of dozens of small asteroids spread across a hundred kilometers will be provide a much lower income than one containing a few large and closely spaced asteroids, even if they contain the exact same volume of ore.
Yet another factor CCP can account for is risk. The first step is moving gravimetric sites to the system scanner. As it is, the requirement of probes makes them far too safe. After that, though, belt "value" can be adjusted by position relative to the warp-in point of the site. To make things especially tricky, run it in reverse. A smaller site has the large asteroids, spaced close to each other, but close to the warpin as well. Meanwhile, the higher tier sites provide safety, at the cost of constant movement.
Taxes and the Big Picture
Right now, mining cannot be taxed. Set the rate to anything above approximately 1%, and any pilot with the means (a Rorqual and any Jump Freighter) finds it more worthwhile to head to Empire with his ore instead. A corp seeking to tax him is left relying on the honor system.
Yeah, honor in Eve. Funny, right?
The exact form of any adjustment to collecting mining taxes doesn't really matter. It could be as simple as automatically deducting the estimated value of the ore from the miner's wallet as it's mined, or something more complex. The only real requirement is that it be involuntary and unavoidable, such as with ratting or planetary interaction taxes.
Why? These changes would not occur in a vacuum. In fact, on their own they'd do very little beyond make miners happy. They're part of a bigger goal, to make nullsec production possible. That, in turn, is part of a larger goal still: bottom-up income in nullsec, as I've written about in the past. With these and other changes, perhaps someday that vision will become a reality.