First things first: I wish to apologize for saying “botting is not as widespread or attractive” in my last article, because I was talking out of my proverbial rear. A closer look at the numbers I have and comments in previous articles indicate that is not the case. Fewer banned botters on Serenity does not indicate fewer botters. It likely means that Serenity GMs simply don't care much about botting. While Serenity may have a smaller absolute number of botters, it also has a smaller population and the percentage of botters is certainly higher. Mea culpa.
It shouldn't really surprise us that Jita became the highsec trading hub of Serenity. Jita is located at the junction of the three Caldari highsec regions, the most populated regions of the game (for good reason). It's near two excellent mining pockets and three ice belts, and is relatively close to the rich northwestern part of nullsec (Tribute, Fade, Deklein, et al). Virtually every item is traded in Jita, and the types and volume of items sold can tell us much about the galaxy.
Keep in mind, though, that Serenity Jita does not serve the role of "nullsec supply nexus" that it does on Tranquility. Mineral compression is not as much of a logistical headache, as legions of ratters provide enough Veldspar to make null industry viable, even with “gun-mining” nerfs. Also, ship production is often done in highsec and lowsec areas adjacent to 0.0, so Jita sale numbers are not the absolute trend indicators they are on TQ. This, however, does not mean Jita numbers are meaningless.
With extremely lucrative 0.0 ratting accessible to a large portion of the playerbase, and the apparently greater willingness of said players to grind PVE content, income on serenity is higher - and higher income means higher prices across the board.
That sound you just heard was Chribba having a nerdgasm.
Veldspar serves as an excellent economic index, as mining it has an extremely low entry barrier, it’s used in absolutely everything, and demand is large and stable. In EVE, Veldspar would be one of the factors in determining a Consumer Price Index, allowing us to compare the value of one Serenity ISK to one TQ ISK. However, actually calculating the CPI difference between TQ and Serenity is much more difficult, as there is no inter-realm trade, and the spending habits of our Chinese counterparts vary greatly.
Veldspar makes up the bulk of the minerals used in building ships, and with Veldspar being 50% more expensive, ships on Serenity should be 50% more pricey, right? Well, not quite.
Generally, T1 ships are only about 10-15% more expensive on Serenity Jita. Here’s another example.
(That Chinese name translates to Hell’s Angel.)
Despite Veldspar being more expensive, highend minerals are usually 25-40% less expensive on Serenity. The most likely explanations are that nullsec imports much more ore to Empire, or the increased refining of module drops, which produce a disproportionate amount of highends. As a result, the cost of building a T1 ship is not much higher than the cost on TQ. Move out of the Tech One domain, though, and the price situation becomes a bit more peculiar.
Both are faction ships, but after some quick math, it turns out that while Amarr LP is only worth 583 isk on the Napoc, Angels LP is worth a staggering 4075 isk on the Cynabal. (Not that Angels LP is worthless on TQ, it’s currently 2575 here.) The difference is that the Chinese mission runners are more risk-averse than ours (remember what I said about cultural differences, Risk vs. Reliability) and running missions in nullsec without the umbrella of an alliance is a dicey proposition. In addition, NPC null is under tight lockdown from the null blocs, who use those NPC stations to produce their ships.
Not suprisingly, T3 cruisers like the Tengu are extremely expensive, as wormholes are even less secure than NPC null. Still, volume is decent. (Remember that Serenity is less than half our size, and 80/day is about the same Tengu sale rate as TQ.) There seems to be a lack of WH kills on their KB, which suggests that WH corps have non-aggression pacts or are made of alts. However, Serenity is starting adoption of Tech 3 ships in their fleet doctrines, as we will see next week.
So: we’ve seen that T1 and navy ships are marginally more expensive. Pirate ships are a LOT more expensive. What about other things, like PLEX?
This should surprise nobody, but some explanation is needed here.
In the Chinese billing system, EVE is hosted by Tiancity.com, which also hosts many other games from foreign companies. Games are funded using a universal points system (imagine MS points on XBLA), with 1 yuan buying 10 points, or 61 points per dollar. One plex costs 600 points, or slightly less than $10 USD. If one chooses to buy points and EVE time in bulk, it costs about $6.25 a month to play on Serenity. Please wait a second before you spam CCP’s mailbox with Angry Words about fairness - $10 a month (if you choose to play by PLEX) is not a trivial sum for many Chinese netizens. Considering that the average college graduate can consider himself lucky if he earns $400 a month, the possibility of playing EVE for “free” is a tempting one indeed. Combined with the upward pressure from RMT operations who run their bots and farmers on PLEX, and it becomes very clear why PLEX costs as much as it does.
While “Pay to Win” or “Wallet Warrior” is very much frowned upon in the Western world, it is a fact of life in all Chinese MMOs, and the IRL wealthy have no qualms about throwing down wads of cash to annihilate their online competition. Many Chinese-made MMOs are nominally free to play; to reach the top requires absurd amounts of real money, spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars (yes dollars) to be the best on your server is practically required.* As such, there are plenty of IRL rich players on Serenity who spend stupid amounts of money on RMT/PLEX to fly around in "blinged out" ships or personal supercapital fleets. I would not be surprised if a good number of the supers in Serenity’s null alliances were funded by real money, or that the leaders of alliances were affluent.
Finally, there is one more item I would like to draw attention to.
Well played, OTEC, well played.
Technetium is probably the most valuable commodity in TQ, as it forms the infamous Tech 2 bottleneck. Ripard Teg of Jester’s Trek wrote an excellent article last year breaking down just how much of a Tech 2 ship’s price is in the Technetium that goes into making its various components. If you don’t feel like reading, it’s roughly 70% of the material cost. Technetium income is what funded the supercapital fleets of the old NC, of PL, of the CFC, and of NCdot. Technetium income is what allows the CFC to run massive ship reimbursement programs without relying on renters. Technetium income is what pays for all the sov costs in the northeast without the need for extensive ratting. On Serenity, however, tech is just another “R16 mineral," barely worth the cost of putting a tower up and certainly not worth fighting over.
The Curious Case of the Missing Tech 2
See, Technetium obtained its reputation on TQ as the most valuable resource in New Eden by being the bottleneck of Tech 2 production. The supply of Technetium is hard-capped by the number of Tech moons in the galaxy (though that bottleneck is now alleviated somewhat by alchemy), and there exists a voracious demand for Tech 2 modules and ships on TQ. When demand far outstrips a static supply, no matter what happens, someone is not getting that Tech 2 ship that they wanted. Thus, people compete with each other to not be the unlucky one flying an Osprey in a Basi fleet, thereby driving up the price of technetium far above its peers.
However, a bottleneck is just that: a bottleneck. If the demand falls below that limited supply, then the supply is no longer a bottleneck. A set amount of Tech comes out of moons no matter how many people actually want it, and moon-goo only gains value when used to produce things people use. Serenity is a much smaller server (150k subs vs. TQ’s 300k) that has much less emphasis on small gang PVP (where tech 2 traditionally shines). As a result, enough tech is used to build all the T2 ships that people need, such as logi, dictors, recons, and stealth bombers, and the rest is dumped on the market, because tech sitting in warehouses is not as useful as isk in hand.**
That brings us to the next question. Technetium is inexpensive because T2 ships are uncommon. Why are they, exactly? This is an issue I will discuss in my next installment, when we examine Chinese Killboards and Fleets.
*For those who wish to know more about Pay to Win in Chinese MMOs, there is an excellent article that demonstrates the absurdity of the situation.
** Mynnna of GSF speculates that with other parts of null (not just the north) also controlled by massive alliances, any attempt at rationing Technetium would be futile as multiple regional metals are needed to make Tech 2 components. With those supplies controlled by rival alliances, rationing tech would just cause you to have a lot of useless tech sitting in warehouses.
In addition, there is much that can be gained from the Tech VS Petroleum analogy beyond catchy cartel names; both resources are in high and regular demand; both resources are absolutely limited in output. In the 1990’s oil was dirt cheap, $10 a barrel. And 20 years later, it’s $100 a barrel. In those 20 years, consumption has grown by just 15%, but prices have skyrocketed because there is absolutely no more production to meet consumption. The moment that production falls below consumption, someone somewhere is not getting the resources they need to keep operating, and must turn to alternatives (be they biofuels or Alchemy or flying Tech 1). The Serenity server is like the 1990s, where demand for Tech has not yet reached the technetium cap, and it's sunshine and smiles all around, while we on TQ have already hit “peak Tech” and high prices have become the new norm. This has been alleviated by a magical process used to turn not-so-valuable resources into something we desperately need. The same cannot be done, unfortunately, for petroleum.