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(Updated June 25, 2012. I've run a bunch of hours with a Nightmare/Noctis combination again (after the loot nerf) to collect data comparing the two.)
What I Did
I ran a bunch of missions for agents in high-security space in Eve Online. Yes, I know, quite novel. The difference is that I kept careful track of things like time spent, loot value, salvage value, loyalty points (LPs), and bounties. With this data, I was able to produce a reasonably accurate calculation of the income in ISK/hour.
I was very realistic about this. I ran the missions the way I really do, not just including the good ones. For example, one time when running The Anomaly (3 of 3), I forgot to bring the scientist along until I was in the final room. That meant I had to go back to station and get him, and that added to the time and reduced the ISK/hour for that session. This is included in the calculation because stuff like that really happens. To skip that one would be unrealistic.
I also broke it down by different ship types and mission levels. I haven’t spent as much time on levels 1-3 yet as I would like, but I’ll get around to it eventually.
Data by Ship Type and Mission Level
L1 Missions; Imperial Navy Slicer: 1.18 hours, 10 missions, 2.16 million ISK, 1,173 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), so 3.33 million ISK or 2.82 million ISK/hour.
L2 Missions; Omen Navy Issue: 0.85 hours (yes, I know), 4 missions, 2.91 million isk, 1,756 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), so 4.67 million ISK or 5.49 million ISK/hour.
L3 Missions (none done yet)
L4 Missions; Apocalypse Navy Issue: 25.43 hours, 37 missions, 440.66 million ISK, 126,566 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), 30.88 million ISK in bonus/loot items (only collected when convenient and expensive), so 594.33 million ISK total or 23.37 million ISK/hour. Note that this is slightly less than I could make running high-sec anomalies in the Omen Navy Issue listed above.
L4 Missions; Nightmare: 39.32 hours, 68 missions, 738.05 million ISK in bounties/rewards, 235,121 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), 212.41 million ISK in loot (Tech 2 tractor beam FTW!), 40.15 million ISK in drone alloys, 164.17 million ISK in salvage (I could probably increase this subtotal by training salvaging skills higher. It sometimes takes a lot of cycles to finish.), for a total of 1389.91 million ISK or 35.35 million ISK/hour.
L4 Missions; Nightmare with an alt in a Noctis following (before loot nerf): 26.94 hours, 69 missions, 632.43 million ISK in bounties/rewards, 294,820 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), 250.54 million ISK worth of loot (it's easy to loot everything on the field with a Noctis), 72.96 million ISK in drone alloys, 223.02 million ISK from salvage, for a total of 1473.78 million ISK. This works out to 54.70 million ISK/hour.
L4 Missions; Nightmare with an alt in a Noctis following (after loot nerf): 15.28 hours, 48 missions, 349.85 million ISK in bounties/rewards, 197,467 LP (counted as 1000 ISK/LP), 236.92 million ISK worth of loot, NO drone alloys (they've been removed, mostly), 136.18 million ISK from salvage, for a total of 920.39 million ISK. This works out to 60.22 million ISK/hour.
(Note: I only looted/salvaged when flying ships that can do it while I’m running the mission without sacrificing DPS too much. Currently this is just the Nightmare, though once I get a Paladin I’ll try it with that too.)
What I Got Out of It
Well, ISK (the currency of Eve Online) essentially, but much of it comes in different forms.
ISK: Bounties from shooting pirates and the ISK part of the rewards for finishing missions. This is the most straightforward part of the income. Keep in mind that part of the official reward is based on completing the mission quickly. I don’t think I turned in any missions too late during this recording period. Direct ISK made up 53.1% of the income in the Nightmare sample.
Loyalty Points (LP): These are points for trading for limited-availability items from the corporation you worked for. If you’re smart about it you can often get 1000 ISK per LP for the empire corporations (often much more for pirate corps, BTW). LPs made up 16.9% oof the income in the Nightmare sample.
Loot: Things you pick up out of the wrecks of your NPC enemies can often be valuable. I’ve particularly noticed that large Blood Raiders and Sansha’s wrecks tend to have things like large smartbombs, 1600mm armor plates and large lasers, each of which are worth many hundreds of thousands of ISK. The new Tech 2 tractor beams (24km range and 600m/s tractoring speed vs 20km range and 500m/s tractoring speed for the Tech 1 version) is very helpful here. Yes, I also invent Tech 2 tractor beams. What? Conflicts of interest are legit in Eve. Loot made up 15.3% of the income in the Nightmare sample.
Drone Alloys: Technically these are loot, but they’re the only kind of loot from rogue drones (aside from Sentient Drone faction spawns, but those are just broken, in a bad way, IMHO). Drone alloys made up 2.9% of the income in the Nightmare sample, but that obviously will vary wildly depending on how many Rogue Drone missions you get. In general, I avoid drone missions if I’m not flying a ship with a tractor beam.
Salvage: Running a salvager module on the wreck you just tractored in eventually results in salvage. These are strange 0.01 m3 items that can be used to manufacture rigs. Most of the different items are worth very little but if you salvage all the time (particularly large wrecks) they average out to be worth it. Salvage makes up 11.8% of the income in the Nightmare sample.
Standings: You also gain standings with a corp for running their missions. This is the only non-ISK-convertible thing you get out of mission-running. If you do the faction missions they improve your standing with the faction and the corp and make your standing with the faction’s enemies worse. I usually do faction missions, depending on how the faction’s enemies feel about me. It’s possible to get good standings with every faction if you work for both sides of a particular enmity. (I do both Amarr and Minmatar missions, myself.)
Mostly I risked my ship. You can’t lose a ship you don’t undock, but you can’t run missions in it either. Unfortunately the best ships for mission running also tend to be the most expensive. This creates an inherent tradeoff between running missions quickly and risking more ISK.
Based on my past performance, the most likely way to lose my ship is by flying stupid against the NPC pirates. I’ve done pretty well in the last 60+ hours of level 4s, but I will screw up again eventually. At best some day my internet connection will glitch at exactly the wrong time and I’ll log back in to a pod.
I mostly minimize this risk by making sure that my ship has relatively little value to a suicide ganker. Yes the Nightmare will show up as 1 billion ISK plus on someone’s killboard if shey shoot it, but it won’t drop much. The only faction+ equipment is the 3 Imperial Navy Heat Sinks (worth about 120 million ISK total). Everything else is Tech 2 or high-meta tech 1 (I’m working on the large beams. Less than a week left.) so the drops from the wreck won’t be worth much.
I also minimize risk by being very careful of mission invaders. If someone shows up and it’s clear they’re just interested in salvaging, I finish the mission. The moment they turn flashy (usually by shooting a wreck), I leave. No it doesn’t mean they’re dangerous to me yet, but it does mean they’re trying to trick me into shooting them so they can kill me without getting Concordokkened. Flying an expensive ship makes me wary of that. Maybe they could trick me.
Well, obviously you need to be able to do level 4 combat missions. This requires standings with an appropriate corporation. If you’re all about the missions, I recommend looking at their LP store before you start. There seem to be 2 tiers of corp LP stores for each faction; one has about half of the stuff (mostly lower value offers) and the other tier has everything available. Look for the weapon specialization skillbooks. If they’re available, then the corp probably has a good LP store. I’ll write up an post about converting LP to ISK later. I have a couple of spreadsheets on the topic already, but I’m not quite happy with them.
Also, you need a ship that can handle level 4 combat missions. The standard advice is a battleship of your chosen type (Ravens seem to be popular, though I prefer to shoot lasers) with a completely Tech 2 tank. This means that your armor/shield repairer, resistance modules, and capacitor recharge modules should all be tech 2 before you undock the thing. Of course, I was running level 4 missions (and losing battleships) before I had a completely tech 2 tank, so it all depends on how risk-averse you are. Fly whatever way is fun for you!
Variation by Security Level
The security level of the space your agent is in makes a difference for the payouts of the mission. The LP and ISK the agent offers are the only part that changes here. Everything else (bounties, loot, salvage, etc.) is exactly the same whether you do it in 1.0 sec or deep nullsec.
Of course, the security hit and the response time of Concord if you get suicide ganked is worse at lower security levels of highsec too. Obviously if you take a mission in < 0.4 space there’s no concord at all. Whether the space is safe for you or not depends on a lot of things. If your corp is based in NPC nullsec then missions might be your best income source. Pirate faction implants sell for a high markup if you can get ‘em to Jita.
Why Keeping Track Matters
If your objective is to maximize your ISK/hour, then you need to keep track at some point. Otherwise you're just guessing that a Nightmare is better than a Paladin, or a Golem is better than a Rattlesnake. Guessing may be good enough for most people but I wanted hard numbers, so I'm working on it.
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