Boosting Boosters

Drugs are amazing things, few products on the planet have a built in duality of being able to cure, enhance or debilitate depending on circumstances way out of control of so called medical professionals.  The legitimate drug industry is an estimated 1.3 Trillion (yes “T”) global market which has conquered diseases that deemed to be incurable a generation ago but has been entirely helpless against the common cold.  Oh, and name one more industry of this scale where even the experts publicly state that the products simply don’t work in the majority of the cases.  Honestly, the medical drug industry is fascinating.

But of course its not just the legitimate, medically sanctioned drug industry.  The illegal drug industry is a behemoth that funds entire countries, armies and mercenaries at the same time. The economic collateral damage of these drugs is staggering and impossible to fully tabulate.  The US Dept. of Justice for example estimates that illegal drugs resulted a direct and indirect cost of US$ 192 billion in 2007 alone.

In my real life, I am close enough to the (legitimate!!) drug industry in to assess the enormity to bring a new drug to the market.  Recently, Tufts Institute estimated it to cost US$ 2.5bn.  A long time ago, I made the decision that this industry is not for me.  I value my sanity and can calculate odds of success.

My last two loyal readers who tolerate my rambling style will anticipate the transition into EVE any minute now.  And I shall not disappoint.

New Eden has  a “Booster” Industry which is modeled closely to the drug industry on the current planet earth.  Booster manufacturing is complicated, expensive and left to few expert and specialized corporations.  Some boosters are legal while others are illegal and of course, the illegal ones are higher in potency and price – and they can have fairly serious side effects. Unlike in real life, capsuleers must train four different skills to be able use them and to ward off these side effects as much as possible.  Truly, CCP designers did an amazing job replicating an entire industry into the game while keeping game lore and mechanics consistent.  An amazing feat.

About 2 years ago, I read up on EVE Boosters and was fascinated by them, I wanted to be a drug manufacturer, corner the market, make this “my thing”.  Of course, as long-time wormholer, legality of my action is irrelevant.  Wormholes are New Eden’s West Virginia mountains – where setting a meth lab is easy (as TV makes me believe).  So, why not set up a Wormhole-based drug manufacturing empire?

As I read more about Boosters and the scale of investment needed to get it off the ground, I was getting less and less enthusiastic.  First of all, raw materials come from extremely narrow and tightly controlled regions.  The gas clouds required are nearly all in Nullsec space and allegedly tightly guarded by the locals. I have some experience in slipping in/out of nullsec with smaller ships but thats quite different from bringing in a harvesting boat and enough cargo space to make the trip worthwhile.

The volume of gas to be exported unseen from these regions would be very large.  Forget clandestine runs with the odd covert Viator.  It has doesn’t have nearly enough cargo space to make the risk worth while. And thats just half the story, I would need to bring it into my hole, acquire Megacyte and water before I online a Hazardous Chemical Silo, General storage array, Biochemical Reactor Array and finally of course a Drug Lab.  In other words, I would have to either offline our defensive mods or our highly-used industrial arrays.  The first option will surely get me kicked, the second option is possible but it would annoy my corp mates who actually use them to make my hulls and ammunition.

Well, I would have to put up my own POS, I guess, with all the cost and overhead that it entails in a Wormhole.

Ok, assume I have solved supply chain for raw material, set up and run my POS and manufactured enough drugs to make a profit.  Now address the famous “channel to market”. Sugar Kyle wrote about her experiences that made her give up the drug trade despite being a dedicated and experienced industrialist and highly knowledgeable of supply chain and market mechanics.  The main issue she found is that the market volume simply isn’t there.  For example, Standard Blue Pill is comparable in volume with the Ocular Filter in volume but the unit price is much higher (Ocular Filter ISK 104 mil v. ISK 2.7). But, Boosters expire, to get rid of an Implant one needs to get podded.  The volume should be many hundred times what it is!

Ocular Filter

Standard Blue Pill

That nailed it for me, Booster Manufacturing is not for me solo, the math doesn’t work out.  On the supply chain side and manufacturing side, its something that only a dedicated null or low sec corporation can do.  On the market side, the volume is just pitiful, Boosters are just not used enough in New Eden.

How to fix it?  All topics about business and industry come down to the basic principles of supply and demand.  When I look at the supply chain for Boosters, I don’t see much to be improved, considering CCP is re-vamping the entire POS system anyway, Booster production will simply follow suit.  Drug manufacturing should be complicated, risky and expensive.  Maybe we can de-centralize the clouds from a few specific systems and add them to “nullsec” in general, maybe have some clouds occur even in Wormhole space (different ones for different hole classes for example) but overall, the system is sound.  I also like the split between illegal and legal drugs and the element of clandestine transportation – its unlike anything else in EVE.

Most of the changes, I would make on the demand side.  Boosters are simply too little used to matter in the overall economy, newbros often have no idea what they do and having to train 4 (!) skills in order to use the better ones reasonably safely doesn’t make for a compelling offer.  Further deterrents are the random nature of the side effects and the pretty clear focus on PvP rather than PvE.  And of course, Booster effects similar to those of implants but with much shorter duration and with possible side effects.

But what if Boosters didn’t effect the pilot but his interaction with his environment?  For example, a line of Boosters could amplify or attenuate a Wormhole Effect.  Take a C1 Pulsar hole for example – it has 30% increased Shield but -15 % Armor resists.  If I happen to hunt in such a hole, I could take a pill, offset the effect with a cheap, legal Booster or even reverse it and boost my armor ship.  It would surely catch the defenders on the wrong foot and make fights a lot less predictable.

Boosters could also be the answer to the discussed system-wide effects in Nullsec.  For example, turn local channel off in Nullsec but with boosters (30 min), the effect is restored. With strong, illegal Boosters, the effect is immediate whereas the lower ones show another pilot only after 1 minute or so.  A good fleet will set aside a single pilot on this drug and make sure that he is the “intel guy” for example.  Of course, another Booster could offset that – delay the pilot’s appearance in the local channel by a corresponding time.  Is this complicated to code?  Maybe, I think it may not be, its similar to the current mechanic of Command Ships where a link changes my stats but only while in the same system.

Take this one step further, Boosters could extend D-scan, allow scanning of cloaked ships, or increase the speed of mining and gas harvesting modules.  Or the reverse, cloaky campers can consume drugs every hour or so and even when motionless can not be scanned by someone with the opposing drug effect.  Consider these and many uses of Boosters and they are surely consumed in greater quantity and hence will drive the demand up.  And of course both the legal and the illegal pharma industry lives off addiction. Give a miner a 20% boost in laser cycle speed and they would be hooked on it like junkie on crack.

Lastly, nobody likes random and the all/nothing mechanics of the side effects is a deterrent.  Do I really risk loosing 20% shield capacity irrecoverably before a fight in order to gain 20% shield boost bonus?  I’d much prefer if the effects were predictable.  Why not mimic real drug interaction and bake the negative effect into the manufacturing process?  Make a batch of Standard Blue Pill and it comes out with 20% shield bonus but -10% Turret Optimal Range.  The degree of side effects may depend on the skill of the manufacturer or – my preference – the environment where it was made.  For example, if a drug was made in a C6 hole, it has no side effects, from a C1 it has 10%.  I know this creates a mess on the market but it is maybe similar to BPCs that have different degrees of research in them and hence go through contracts.

Bottom line, drugs are awesome and CCP should take the opportunity to improve them.  They would offer a fairly easy-to-implement way to increase the “good” complexity of the game and generate new professions, industries and markets.

Better Living Through Pharmacology.

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