One of more interesting ways to earn InterStellar Kredits (ISK), the currency in EVE, is to develop relationships with research and development (R&D) agents in non-player corporations. Once you have access to R&D agents, you can then ask them to conduct research for you on your behalf. They will produce Research Points (RPs), which you can then use to purchase datacores.
Datacores are a key part of the invention process in EVE, which produces advanced technology ("Tech II" or "T2") items. Datacores are a consumable item used in invention to create T2 Blueprint copies (also known as "BPCs"). Every invention process requires a certain amount of datacores, so datacores are always in demand.
Datacores are therefore very valuable, and can be sold on the market for ISK. This is a very good thing, as it means that "datacore farming", once established, can produce a passive income for EVE players. Without any further action required, an R&D agent will happily generate RPs, which you can periodically convert to income.
With the relevant science skill, and Negotiation and Connections, to V, and using the full 6 agents (assuming Research Project Management at V), one can expect a monthly income in the region of 25-35 million ISK. This is a large drop from old earnings of up to 100 million ISK per month. Still, it may be possible to train multiple characters on the same account to access R&D agents, with the main obstacle being reaching the required standings levels on characters not yet trained for combat missions.
Most players should expect to train all the required skills in one or two months (the estimated time to train Research Project Management to V and one science skill to IV is 44 days). Meanwhile, you can run missions to get to the required level of standings to unlock the higher-grade agents. So, in less than a couple of months in game time, you can establish a reliable semi-passive income stream that will last forever after in EVE.
Datacore farming used to be very lucrative
You may hear from some old timers about how datacore farming is no longer worth it. Datacore farming was changed several expansions ago but you may still hear information that it's now "bad".
|A long, long time ago...|
How do I start to farm datacores?
There are three steps involved in becoming an effective datacore farmer:
- Train the required skills
- Reach the required standings with R&D agent's corporations.
- Talk to the agent (in person - remote conversation will not work) to initiate research.
Training skills for datacore farming
The following skills are required to start using one R&D agent:
- Science V
- Mechanic V (or) Power Grid Management V (or) CPU Management V
Different R&D agents specialize in different types of research. They won't even speak to you unless you have the above skills trained and completed, and then they will only conduct research in their areas of expertise.
There are the following datacore types / agent expertises:
- Datacore - Amarrian Starship Engineering
- Datacore - Caldari Starship Engineering
- Datacore - Electromagnetic Physics
- Datacore - Electronic Engineering
- Datacore - Gallentean Starship Engineering
- Datacore - Graviton Physics
- Datacore - High Energy Physics
- Datacore - Hydromagnetic Physics
- Datacore - Laser Physics
- Datacore - Mechanical Engineering
- Datacore - Minmatar Starship Engineering
- Datacore - Molecular Engineering
- Datacore - Nanite Engineering
- Datacore - Nuclear Physics
- Datacore - Plasma Physics
- Datacore - Quantum Physics
- Datacore - Rocket Science
Each datacore type has a corresponding applied science skill. Training the skill wil greatly speed up the accumulation of research points. These applied science skillbooks cost 10 million ISK each - not a trivial investment. So, be sure to check the prices and market trends of various types of datacores before you choose the skills to train.
Note that the above skills give you access to one (and only one) R&D agent. To maximize your income, you will want multiple R&D agents working with you. The following skills are required to use more than one R&D agent:
- Research Project Management I - Each level gives you the ability to use another agent up to a maximum of six at level V. (Beware though, this one costs 40 million).
- Pre req: Laboratory Operation V
- Pre req: Research V
Developing R&D agent relationships
Not all non-player character (NPC) corporations offer R&D agents, so some pre-planning about which corporations you will select for your datacore farming plan is absolutely required for success.
Search in The Agency in-game for R&D agents. Set the 'Specify' pull-down to 'Agents', the 'Faction' pull-down to 'Any Faction' and the 'Type' pull-down to 'R&D'.
In order to maximize the production of RPs, and therefore to produce more datacores, you will want to work with the highest level R&D agents - level 4. (Note: there are no level 5 R&D agents - though some agent-finder sites may show them, this is an error.) The corporations with level 4 R&D agents, sorted by their associated factions, are:
- Gallente Federation: CreoDron, Roden Shipyards, Duvolle Laboratories (a mix of research corps is needed to access all level four agents, unfortunately)
- Caldari State: Kaalakiota Corporation, Ishukone Corporation, Lai Dai Corporation (note that Lai Dai is the only corp with 6 level IV R&D agents, so if you ever plan to train to Research Project Management V, this would be the ideal choice)
- Minmatar Republic: Core Complexion Inc. (best), Boundless Creation
- Amarr Empire: Carthum Conglomerate, Viziam
There are also some non-Empire faction corporations with a few R&D agents:
- Thukker Tribe: Thukker Mix
- Khanid Kingdom: Khanid Innovation
- Ammatar Mandate: Nefantar Miner Association
Only level 4 agents produce datacores in useful quantities. Because the good Gallente R&D agents are scattered between three corporations, they are not an optimal choice, unless you have already started grinding missions there, or are otherwise committed to their faction.
To access a research agent, you must fulfill both a normal standings requirement for an agent of their Level and Quality, as well as a requirement for Corporate or Personal standings at 2.0 less than the normal standings requirement. For example, to use a Level IV research agent, your effective personal standings must be 3.00 or higher toward that agent's corporation, and you must have an effective personal standing of 5.00 or higher toward this agent, the agent's faction, or the agent's corporation, in order to use that agent's services.
Note that attaining the required Corporate standing automatically fulfills the lower requirement. The extra requirement exists only to prevent those with high Faction standing from accessing top-level researchers without actually working for that corporation.
So, if you had perfect 10.0 standings with the agent's faction and 0.0 standing with his/her corp, you couldn't use that agent. However, if you had 10.0 faction standing and 3.0 corporation standing, or if you just had 5.0 corp standing, then you could.
To see what faction and corporation standings you need to speak with an R&D agent:
- Open your character sheet
- Click on Standings
- Click on the "Liked By" tab.
- Scroll down to the "Corporations" section
- Right-click the Corporation you wish to work with (if that Corporation isn't listed, then you have not yet spoken with one of their agents)
- Click "Show Info" in the menu
- Click on the "Agents" tab in the new window
- Scroll down to the "R&D" agent list (not all Corporations have R&D agents - if none are listed, they do not exist!)
- In the "Not Available to You" list, right click on a desired agent and select "Show Info" on him or her.
- Look under the "Agent Info" tab, and look at the "Compatibility" section at the bottom. (If there is no "Compatability" section, then you arleady have access to that agent!) It will say something like: "Your effective personal standings must be 3.00 or higher toward this agent's corporation in order to use this agent, as well as an effective personal standing of 5.00 or higher toward this agent, its faction, or its corporation in order to use this agent's services."
All of this means that a certain amount of mission grinding with an R&D agent's corporation is unavoidable. You can either grind for corporation standing or faction standing. If you want to gain access to only one corporation's agents it is faster to grind corporation standing. But if you wish to use multiple different corpoations from same faction it may be faster to grind faction standing to 5.00 and individual corporations to only 3.00.
To establish high faction standings:
- Run the tutorial agents for that faction
- Turn in tags from ratting or missions to that faction
- Train Social, Connections and Negotiating skills
- Run missions with one faction repeatedly - and with one corporation in that faction with whom you intend to use R&D agents, ideally
- Accept and complete storyline missions when offered by that faction
- Run COSMOS and Data Center missions for that faction
- Don't do anything in that faction's space that will endanger your standings with them - no transporting of illegal goods, or running missions for opposing factions
Start the research flow
Once you have the standing level needed to speak with an R&D agent, go to the station where the desired R&D agent is located, and begin a conversation with him or her. One of the options that they will provide to you is to start research - select this option. They will offer you their areas of applied science to research. Select the one(s) in which you have trained your skills. The agent will then start to produce research points (RPs) for you.
The formula for how many research points you'll get in a day is: (1 + (20 + Negotiation*5)/100) * (Agent Skill + Science Skill)^2
- Agent Skill: Determined by the Level of the agent. Level 3 agents will have Level III of the appropriate research skill.
- Science Skill: Determined by your training in the research skill (e.g. Quantum Physics).
- Negotiation Skill: Improves the effective quality of your agents.
There are only two skills that can improve the amount of RPs generated per day. These are:
- Negotiation: Directly improves the effective quality of your agent, and is the most efficient skill for raising the number of RPs you earn each day. Negotiation IV, for example, raises Effective Quality by nearly 20 points.
- Connections: Improves effective standing with the agent (The skill does not apply to "no standing" entities. You will need to do at least one mission for the agent for it to apply).
- Area Specific Skill (Mechanical Engineering, etc): Each level of your skill in this area increases the "Your Skill" part of the equation listed above. Train this skill to level 4 or higher.
http://hussars-online.ru/eve/datacore.php - This site lets you input your skills, standings, and such and it'll show you in order which agents/skill combinations are the most profitable. You can use your real skills/standings, or experiment with other possible combinations to help with your planning.
Once your R&D agent is working for you, that agent will offer you a special mission once per day. Each of these R&D agent missions will reward you with one day's worth or RP - effectively doubling your ISK potential. R&D agents offer relatively safe missions, half of which are short courier missions and the other half are trade-related. There is no penalty for ignoring or declining a mission from an R&D agent, despite the warnings they may give you - turning them down will not stop their research or the flow of RPs.
- Agent Quality was removed
- Field Multipliers were removed in May 2012 
Making ISK from datacores
You can track the amount of RPs being created each day by your R&D agents by clicking on the Journal button on your NeoCom, and selecting the Research tab. This will also tell you the amount of accumulated RPs you have amassed with each agent.
Periodically, go talk to your R&D agent again and tell them that you wish to purchase datacores. The agent will tell you how many you can afford, based on the number of RPs you have accumulated. All datacores now cost 100 RP each plus a 10k ISK per unit. 
After ordering your datacores, transport them to a trade hub, and sell them there. Voilà - you have made ISK from datacore farming!
To maximize your ISK from your datacore farm, you will have to give it some care and feeding every month or so. If you are not earning what you would like to see from your datacore farm, consider these improvements:
- Train Research Project Management skill, so that you can access larger number of R&D agents (up to six).
- Some corporations base their best Level IV R&D agents in low security space. Fly a cloaked ship or travelceptor, if you can, and take care in low-sec, as pirates like to hunt there!
- Use the Profitability of R&D Agents site to see what the current rankings are for your areas of science research focus. Try other sciences to see if you can make more ISK by training those and switch agents. See http://web.archive.org/web/20120423163839/http://evegeek.com/datacore.php as an additional resource.
- Train your Negotiation social skill to 5, to increase the payout of your R&D agents.
- Train your chosen applied science skills to 5, to improve the number of RPs generated by each agent researching in those skills.
- After increasing your Negotiation or applied science skill, you must open a conversation window with your agent to benefit from your new skill levels.
- Do the offered R&D missions, if you can - these will vastly increase your daily data-core production. The amount varies but can more than double your daily amount for that day. It will also increase your standing with the agent resulting in long term RP gain increase.
- The R&D missions vary in type: Not all are combat. Be aware some may take you into low-sec so pay close attention to the mission description.
Here is a concrete suggestion for pilots with Caldari affinity: Gain standing with Lai Dai corporation to get access to their six L4 research agents. A screenshot of a search result for their L4 agents is on the right. Also train up Caldari Ship Engineering, Graviton Physics, Electronic Engineering and Rocket science. Those have research points offered by four to six of those agents. As you can see on the market price history snapshot, the price for data cores fluctuates widely. So ideally you spread your research across multiple areas. However, initially you want to pick one and focus skill training on that. Once maxed you can add others. From the agency screenshot you can also see that five of those agents are within seven jumps of Jita, so quite convenient to get to.