How to earn ISK

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Welcome to EVE: Now get a job!

So, you've joined the wonderful world of EVE Online - congratulations! It doesn't take long for new players to realize that EVE does not present you with the keys to survival on a silver platter. After giving them a noob ship, a short tutorial, and some helpful starter missions, EVE kicks players into the harsh environment of space to fend for themselves. This is one of the aspects of the EVE sandbox that is both thrilling and frightening, at the same time.

One of the first lessons that every EVE pilot learns is: InterStellar Kredits (ISK) run the universe. Without money, you cannot buy ships, equipment, trade goods, and just about everything else one needs to thrive - or survive. In EVE, perhaps more than any other online multiplayer game, TANSTAAFL [1] ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch").

So, one of the first questions that every new EVE player asks is: how do I make ISK? After some experience and education, that question generally becomes: how do I make the most ISK with the least effort in the shortest time?

Fortunately, there are many ways to earn ISK in EVE. This brief guide intends to describe some of the typical options that many EVE players pursue, and to provide some helpful guidance about which ISK-earning careers might be the best fit for your personality and playing style.

PLEX - a reason to earn ISK, or a quick way to get it

It is possible, through hard work and perseverance as described below, to earn enough ISK to remove the burden of purchasing your EVE subscription.

How can I do that, you ask? - PLEX.

PLEX can be purchased using ISK obtained in-game, and used to pay for 30 days of game time. How cool is that?

Be warned, however - The path to self-sustained gaming nirvana is not for everyone. As of the time of this writing, the market value of a PLEX was right around 600 million ISK. You may think that sounds like a huge number, and you would be right for thinking it. But it is by no means an unattainable sum. Once you've learned some of the techniques described below, you too could be one of the many players who let their EVE pay for itself.

Conversely, you can also purchase PLEX using real-world money, and sell it on the market for ISK. If that sounds like the ideal solution for you, congratulations, you can stop reading right here. The choice, as with everything in the sandbox, is entirely in your hands.

Starting Character Skills and Attributes

Few new EVE players consider the potential career implications of their racial, bloodline and ancestry selections when establishing their first character. Generally, they select what sounds like the most interesting or fun character background to play. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, as no in-game career choice is blocked to any racial faction (Amarr, Gallente, Minmatar or Caldari) or bloodline. Any character can learn any skill in the game.

Starting Skills

All new characters start with the same skill set.

Starting Attributes

All characters start with 20 points in each attribute except Charisma, which starts with 19.

(Note: In prior versions, starting attributes were dependent on the Race, Bloodline and Ancestry of the character.)

Attributes can be remapped, so this does not present a significant obstacle to optimizing your character for different careers.

Optimizing Skill and Attribute Development

After playing EVE for a while, many players establish an alternative character (generally known as an "alt" in game parlance), either as one of the three available characters for any account, or as a new account. There are many advantages to having an alt character, or several alts, which we will explore further later.

A great utility for experimenting with different starting character races and bloodlines is EVEHQ [2], which contains a very useful Character Creation Tool. With EVEHQ, you can model your starting character, and then develop optimal skill training and/or attribute remapping plans, thus enabling your character to use the equipment or perform the tasks needed for your desired ISK-making activities in the shortest time.

Developing a career plan: What will you be when you grow up?

Do the starter career mission tracks

Once you've established your character or alt, you should play all five of the starter career mission tracks offered: industry, military, exploration, business, and advanced military. These career introduction missions dish out numerous additional skills for free, and each is nicely explained in practice - sometimes with special "civilian" versions of the necessary module so you can try out the mechanic before training the skill needed for the real version of the module in question.

To access these career mission tracks, press the F12 key, then select "Show Career Agents". These introductory missions are entirely optional, but highly recommended because they provide essential skillbooks, ships, and some initial capital, with a relatively minor investment in time. The starter missions also teach you the basics of the principal career options for making money in EVE.

  • Industry missions cover the basics of mining, refining and manufacturing of goods. Industrial tycoons can create enormous wealth in the EVE universe, but not without a lot of strong competition. Mining is a popular way to make money, too. But manufacturing tends not to generate any real profits until you have learned some highly advanced skills and invested heavily in blueprints. Planetary interaction requires a substantial initial investment, but can provide a steady stream of income to supplement your industial income.
  • Business missions introduce players to EVE's open and comprehensive market system. With good trading skills, EVE players can earn substantial ISK without ever undocking from a station. You can also earn a good income from hauling goods between trade hubs, buying low in one location and then selling high in another. The business missions reward you with a basic industrial ship for free, and the starter systems offer a potential market opportunity for many goods that are in demand for new characters.
  • Military missions cover the most obvious way of playing EVE - shooting stuff for loot and salvage. Initially, you have the skills to fly a frigate of your race.
  • Exploration missions cover the discovery of valuable sites in EVE space - wormholes, deadspace pockets, and undiscovered archeology sites, among others. These missions show you how to use the scanner and probes, and how to identify and exploit the sites you discover.
  • Advanced Military missions will introduce you to the finer details of EVE combat. These missions are more difficult than those of in the Military career track, and as a result, these should be taken after the other track is completed. This more advanced track will teach you how to assist others in order to overcome a threat, as well as the effects of the various weapon damage types. Once finished, you will have all the basic knowledge required to dive head first into the ever raging war between the factions of EVE Online.

After the five career introductions, each consisting of ten missions, you will be pointed towards the first epic mission arc of EVE, "The Blood-Stained Stars". While a definite challenge for a new player, this 50-mission arc provides some substantial rewards, and is worth finishing. The arc takes you all over the safe empire space and you can freely branch off to do other things, returning to the arc later as you choose. If you decide to pursue this arc, you should read the handy mission guide on our wiki: The Blood-Stained Stars.

Develop a career plan

Once you've been introduced to some of the basics of EVE, and have sampled the starter career mission tracks, you now know enough to begin optimizing your character for one or more ISK-making specialties. It's generally best, at least initially, to get very good at one kind of ISK-generating activity, rather than be not-so-great at a lot of different money-earning ventures. The essential steps for developing your ISK-earning career plan are as follows:

1. Create a concept in your mind of what you want to do in EVE. Don't limit yourself. Make this anything you can imagine, no matter how unlikely or outlandish.

2. Do some Level 1 (and later, more advanced level) missions until you have enough resources to begin doing what you thought of in Step 1.

3. Begin to execute your idea from Step 1.

4. If the idea isn't profitable enough by itself to sustain itself initially, supplement with occasional mission running.

5. Keep developing your idea, evolve it, and figure out ways to make it self-sustaining.

6. If your idea is ultimately not self-sustaining, think of a different concept, and go to Step 2.

Though this approach seems obvious, very few EVE players actually plan their character's career development in this way. Instead, they try everything that comes by, as it becomes available to them, which provides a lot of variety but not any development of expertise (except in a very long run). Or, they get in a rut and start doing the same thing over and over, and eventually lose interest. If mining isn't your thing, don't do it just to earn ISK - try something else. But first, think, develop a plan, start executing the plan, refine the plan as necessary, and then either build on the plan or start over. This approach will produce the best results - in EVE, or in real life!

Picking an ISK-earning specialty (or a few)

So, what are some ideas for making ISK in EVE? The huge sandbox of EVE provides many, many options, which you can see illustrated here: eve-wtd.jpg

In summary, some of the most common career options include:

Industrial Careers

Industrialists are people that specialize in making things, and moving them around, and earning ISK for their labors:

  • Miner/Refiner – Perhaps the easiest and lowest risk way to make an honest wage in EVE, mining is simply extracting and selling ore or refined minerals. To be a miner, you only need some basic ship piloting skills, mining skills, refining skills, a suitable ship, and some mining lasers. Travel to one of the many asteroid belts in a system, point your lasers at a 'roid, gather ore, bring it to a station, refine it, sell it - then repeat. The upside to mining is that it produces a fairly predictable income stream, with little (but not zero) risk, especially in high security (0.5 and above) space. The main disadvantage is that mining can be highly repetitive and boring, as asteroids generally do not fight back! You also have to be on guard for can flippers and gankers - players that prey on miners, especially those that have gone "AFK" (away from keyboard). The career path for a mining specialist is long - highly advanced miners using Tech 2 ships can easily generate 5-10 million in ISK with an hour or two of effort (depending on market prices and what is being mined). Well organized mining teams, with Orca support and skilled mining foremen, can produce even higher returns. Two absolutely essential guides for miners are Halada's Mining Guide[3][4], and the EVE University Co-Operative Mining manual[5].
  • Planetary Industrialist - Added to EVE with the Tyrannis expansion, capsuleers can now extract planetary resources and produce commodities on all the worlds of New Eden. Pilots can run several planets at once, and with the right combination of planets, PI can be quite lucrative. The university has a utility that tracks PI commodity prices here[6].
  • Hauler – Also a relatively low-risk way to earn ISK, haulers buy low in one location, and sell high in another. To become a hauler, you only need an industrial ship and suitable command skills. Moving goods around in high security space is fairly safe, but hauling in low sec or 0.0 can be extremely risky - and also extremely rewarding. Haulers can also execute player courier contracts on the open market. A low-risk hauler moving non-player corporation goods can earn about 3-5 million in ISK per hour [7] - executing courier contracts or moving goods in low-sec or null sec are potentially an order of magnitude more lucrative, if you don't lose your ship. The career for a hauler can be fairly long, starting with simple industrial ships, then eventually moving to blockade runners and huge freighters. A useful introductory guide for aspiring haulers can be found here:[8]. By the way, a miner/hauler combination can be an extremely powerful duo, and as a result, it's one of the most common main/alt character combos for players who can afford multiple in-game accounts.
  • Manufacturer – Almost everything in the EVE universe - ships, modules, ammo, etc. - is created by players, for their own use, or more frequently, for sale to other players. Building items and charging for the value-add can be a very lucrative way to generate ISK. Unfortunately, this career option is one of the hardest to generate large amounts of ISK from, as it is extremely competitive. In addition, many miner/manufacturers undercharge because they do not include the value of the minerals they collected - they tend to think of ore they mined as "free" - so, many common items have very low profit margins, if any at all. However, for those who develop a high degree of manufacturing skills, and who can amass sufficient capital to purchase blueprint originals (BPOs) for high-demand items, this can be a lucrative second career.[9]
  • Researcher/Inventor – All advanced items in EVE, of the Tech 2 variety, are made possible by the efforts of players who conduct invention[10] on lower-tech items. The capabilities of Tech 2 items keep them in high demand, so invention can be a rewarding source of ISK. Through research, players can also improve the efficiency of blueprints. Because they improve production time and reduce manufacturing time, blueprints with higher efficiency are valuable to manufacturers - and therefore are another potential source of income.[11] Players can also work with dedicated research agents to "farm" valuable datacores, used in invention - a form of passive income that can produce a reasonable stream of ISK over time.[12] To become a scientist/researcher/inventor, players must invest in science and related skills, and have access to a research facility.

Business Careers

While Industrialists specialize in making and moving things, Businesspeople earn ISK by investing capital, liquidity and talents in corporations, markets and infrastructure, and earning returns from their investment.

  • Trader – The dynamic and comprehensive player-driven market in EVE provides multiple opportunities for players to earn ISK, without even owning a ship or leaving a station! By investing in trade skills, building up your standings with a owner of the station you plan to trade in, and with a bit of starting capital, players can purchase goods on the market, and then sell them at higher prices. By providing liquidity to the markets, traders can make a good return, although this requires some investigation of market opportunities and vigilance in monitoring your market orders. If you've ever fantasized about making it big as a Wall Street speculator, becoming an EVE trader might be for you. There are several good recorded classes on this topic in the UNI library.[13]
  • Contractor - Many goods in New Eden can only be sold by contracts, and you can profit off these. People also put items in contracts to quickly sell them off, at a very cheap price. With some starting capital, and some investing in trade skills, you can look for great deals in contracts, and with careful monitoring of bids, you can flip those items you got for cheap on the open market.
  • Corporate Executive – Become your own CEO! By developing Corporate Management skills, players can found their own corporations, recruit other players, and earn ISK from a salary drawn from taxes and fees. At a more advanced level, you can also create a player owned structure (POS) to host valuable research facilities, or you could join an alliance and negotiate to build a lucrative moon mining POS. Being a corporate CEO requires some very advanced skills, and a great amount of capital - either yours or someone else's - and so, this career option usually comes later in most players' EVE experience, if ever. But the entry requirements for starting an EVE corporation are quite low, and since non-player corporations (NPCs) now charge an 11% tax on bounties and mission rewards, starting a small corp of your own might be an attractive option.
  • Recruiter - The lifeblood of corporations is literally in the people who join, but many corporations do a poor job of finding the kinds of players they need to thrive as a group. For this reason, you can rent yourself out as a recruiting agency, to search for and pre-qualify potential candidates for your client corporation. To do this requires no in-game skills at all, but you do need to know where to look and how to approach possible candidates. If you routinely peruse the various EVE online forums, or have developed a large network of in-game relationships, becoming a corporate recruiter might become a good source of ISK for you.
  • Standings Pusher - Do you have high standings with a faction corporation? Those standings are valuable to player corporations, many of which will pay you for access to them. Mining corporations need high NPC standings for tax-free "perfect" refining, for example. All corporations need some high standings for access to jump clone manufacturing. By focusing your mission-running on selected corporations and developing your social skills, you can then market your standings to the highest bidder.

Exploration Careers

Explorers are people that find things, and then make money on what they find. They come in a couple of varieties:

  • Explorer/Hacker– Searching wormhole and hidden space for valuable sites, then selling the relics and information you discover, can be a very productive way to generate ISK - and a lot of fun, too. To become an explorer, players must invest in several specialty skills (Astrometrics, Archeology and Hacking), some dedicated equipment (probe launcher, codebreaker modules) and a suitable ship with bonuses for astrometric modules. You must also become an expert at probing[14].
  • Salvager – EVE is a place of constant combat, and as a result, there are a lot of wrecked ships left behind after every battle. Finding, collecting and selling items from wrecks can be a great way for players to earn ISK.[15] Many items collected from wrecks are used to produce specialized rigs for ships, and so there is always a strong demand for these items. To become a successful salvager, players must develop salvaging skills (of course), and also sufficient command, electronics and engineering skills to use tractor beams and the salvager module. It is also useful to acquire a destroyer ship and convert it into a dedicated salvage vessel - with their large number of high slots and fairly large cargo bay, destroyers are perfect for this task. You can peruse asteroid belts for wrecks, of course, but the best way to earn a salvage income is to join a mission team and clean up any resulting wrecks, then split the resulting revenue with your teammates.

Military Careers

Military specialists earn their income from becoming very, very good at one thing: blowing stuff up. Since EVE is a universe populated by players interested in developing their power and influence, there is always a demand for military might.

  • Mission Runner – One of the first ways that every player makes ISK in EVE is by executing assigned missions assigned by agents in non-player corporations, or by running through deadspace complexes[16]. Mission running is worthy of an extensive guide all by itself, so we won't belabor all aspects of this career option here. Suffice it to say that to earn real ISK as a mission-runner, players must invest in larger ships and develop the skills to fly them, so that they can earn access to higher level agents, higher level missions and the much higher levels of rewards that come with them. Invaluable resources for finding agents and missions include Grismar's Guide[17]. The UNI library also includes several very useful recorded classes on successful mission running.[18] There are also non-repeatable COSMOS missions, that give you modules worth hundreds of millions of ISK, but beware, they are harder than your average missions!
  • Ratter – Hunting and killing NPC pirates (a.k.a. "rats") can earn some ISK. But frankly, this is not the most lucrative way to earn money in EVE. Still, as a supplemental source of income, ratting can be fun, and a great way to refine some combat skills. To be a ratter, players only need to develop some combat skills and have a suitably outfitted fighting ship. High-sec rats are relatively easy to kill, and they spawn most frequently in asteroid belts - low-sec rats are a little tougher, but ratting in low-sec space is riskier because real-player pirates, who are infinitely more dangerous, also lurk there. Player beware!
  • Mercenary – If you can develop very high levels of combat skills, you can make a decent living by hiring your guns out to corporations that can use you for fighting pirates or war targets. Mercenaries are typically hired by large corporations who want something done without their name being all over it. A mercenary could also be a hired guard for miners, an extra hand in a full scale war, or an escort through low sec areas, among other duties. If you are serious about being a mercenary, joining a dedicated mercenary corporation is a good idea, as the one thing you need more than anything else as a "merc" is contacts. Be wary of courier assignments ending in low sec areas - they may actually be an ambush set up by a crafty pirate.
  • Bounty Hunter – Many players that pursue outlaw careers (more on this later) have bounties assigned to them. Players can hunt down these characters using locator agents[19] and intelligence gathered from other players, and collect the bounties. While this sounds like an exciting career, it is really very difficult to execute. You must have extremely high combat skills, a powerful ship, and a lot of luck - you must also have the element of surprise. For this reason, bounty hunting, when it occurs, is usually a venture of opportunity, rather than of planning.

Outlaw Careers

In the EVE sandbox, there are people who play nice and pursue honorable careers - and then there are those who do not. Both styles of play are allowed. In fact, EVE is one place where crime does indeed pay - and pretty well, too.

  • Can Flipper - perhaps the easiest entry-level way to get into a life of crime in EVE is to simply steal from miners who are "jetcanning", where miners jettison their collected ore into unsecured cargo containers for later retrieval. Can flippers only have to get within 2,500 meters of a jetcan, then grab the contents. Miners are generally in weaker ships, with poor defenses and few weapons, and there is usually little they can do to stop this theft. Further, if the miner fights back, then the can flipper may simply destroy the miner, and then loot the poor victim.
  • Pirate – Do you like the idea of combat for personal profit? Then the life of a pirate might be for you. Pirates specialize in player-versus-player (PvP) skills, so that they can attack and pillage players (mostly haulers) in low security space, or capture them and ransom their ship or pod for money.[20] Successful pirates must also have good scanning and probing skills, and the best ones hunt in packs. Joining a piracy corporation is therefore an attractive option for the aspiring space buccaneer.
  • Scammer/Thief – If you have ever fantasized about being a high-stakes confidence man, EVE provides you with lots of options for becoming a professional scammer - tricking players into giving you ISK or luring them into traps for profit. Some of these scams are simple - mislabeling contracts on the market and selling items for far more then they are worth, for example. But some are far more elaborate and dangerous - issuing an attractive courier contract into low-sec or null-sec space, for example, for the sole purpose of tricking a hauler into an ambush. Another form of scam is the corporate raider, who gains entry into a corporation, earns a director level position, and then uses that position to steal everything - including the corporation itself!
  • Assassin/Suicide Ganker - If you initiate an unprovoked attack on a ship in high-security space (0.5 or higher), then CONCORD will destroy your ship. But losing a ship might be a small price to pay if you pick the right target - a nice fat freighter or a faction ship laden with high priced modules, for example. By working with teammates, who can loot the victim after your suicide attack, you can earn enormous rewards. This comes at a cost to your security status and grants kill rights though, which may severely impact your ability to operate in highsec. A judicious ganker should be able to easily afford security tags, while an indiscriminate one may have to rat or live with the consequences. An excellent explanation of the dynamics of suicide ganking can be found in a recorded class in the UNI library, called "The Dark Side of EVE".[21]
  • Drug Dealer - There are illegal substance abusers in the EVE universe - and this includes many pilots. Booster drugs can temporarily increase certain capabilities, and though illegal in Empire space, they are in demand. And where there are buyers, there is a market - one that a disreputable drug dealer can fill, and for decent profit, at moderate risk.

Metagame Careers

Most MMOs frown on providing out-of-game services for in-game payment. Allowing any exceptions is seen as a slippery slope that ends with real money trading of in-game currency. EVE Online broke this convention by allowing players to exchange a very specific list of things for ISK. These include forum signature art, graphic and website design, website hosting and teamspeak/Mumble server rental. If you have graphic artist talent, or technical support ability, you can earn ISK for your EVE characters by providing these services to other EVE players.

What are you waiting for?

This guide represents only some of the potential career options in EVE. To earn ISK, you don't have to be that smart - you only have to have a good imagination, and the will to use it. With more ISK, you can afford to do more things in the game, get those bigger ships and stronger modules, and have more fun! So, don't hesitate - finish your starter career missions, gather some initial capital, develop a career plan, and dive in!

Fly safe! o7

Additional resources

Recording of "Intro to EVE Careers" class in the UNI recorded class library.

A very useful chart illustrating most of the EVE career options: EVE career chart.