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The idea of an economy is a joke in most MMOs. Items drop off from monsters like candy, and there is an endless amount of gold to be earned and spent. Player’s can buy gold from farmers in China if they don’t feel like spending the time to earn their money. In EVE the economy is very real, living entity that is highly effected by the players.
The spaceship that I’m flying around in was made by another player. I have never met this person, and I don’t even know what his name is, but he made it. He made money selling it to me, and it took him time to gather the materials and to produce it. He probably bought some of the materials from another guy, maybe a miner or a salvager. Then he had to get it to the station that I bought it at. Maybe he just happened to be making them there, or maybe he paid some other guy to haul it over here.
This might sound like he hand-crafted this ship just for me, and that other players toiled away to help him make it. In reality my ship is probably one of hundreds, or thousands, that these guys put together. I guess I’m just not that special after all.
Mining, the major way of getting components, can be a large scale operation. Players form fleets of giant mining barges that other players guard to ensure pirates don’t ruin the day. These folks will spend dozens of boring hours a week clicking a single button to start their mining lasers, and then they wait until their ships are full, and then they return to a station. They go back out to rinse, wash, and repeat. You can get very rich from mining, but make sure you have a full queue on Netflix before you start.
All of this ore now need to be refined before you can do anything with it. If you have a high faction standing with the owners of a station, you can get a bonus to how many minerals you can get from ore. So, you might be able to get a 10% bonus if you haul all of this stuff 10 jumps away. A pilot with a huge freighter can bring it there in one run, and this can save valuable time. You can put out contracts to have things moved for you too. I can pay 20 million ISK as a collateral, to insure I don’t keep the stuff for myself, to make a 1 million ISK profit on hauling what could be 15 million ISK worth of ore. Of course, I've payed collateral thinking that I would soon be rich, and then I would be blown up as soon as my ship got anywhere near my destination. Once you loose the cargo, you’re collateral is gone, and you lose money instead of making it.
Now once all of this stuff is refined, someone needs to make it into something. Blueprints will let you make things at stations. All you have to do is have all of the right items there, and the production line will start. Most people who do this for a living don’t queue up one or two ships at a time. They will mass produce frigates by the hundreds to make a fortune.
How do I get this frigate? Well, this guy who made them creates a sell order at a station. He’ll say that he has 2,000 Merlins for sale at a certain price, and this sell order will go into a public listing. If I’m in the same region of space looking for a Merlin, I’ll see what he has to sell. I can buy it, and fly over to pick it up. Alternatively, I could place a buy order saying how much I want to pay for a Merlin. This way if nothing is available around me at the time, I can always check back later to see if anyone sold me one.
Buy orders and sell orders also open up the ability to trade across space. If you don’t mind taking long flights through sometimes dangerous space, you can make a pretty decent income. Buy something for cheap, fly it 30 jumps away, and sell it for a profit.
If all that sounds completely boring to you, which I’m sure half of you are asleep by now, you can always just blow up another player and salvage parts from their ship. These salvaged parts can be used to make rigs, which are a great way to improve a ship you own.
Maybe you just want to hand over some of your hard-earned cash to get yourself some ISK. Well, you’re in luck! CCP have made it easy to do this. You don’t have to turn to gold farmers who might steal your account info and sell it to the highest bidder. You can buy PLEX, or a Pilot’s License EXtension if you want to be technical, which is an in-game item worth 30 days of game time. This will cost you $14.99, which is the same as a one month subscription fee. You can than trade the PLEX in game to another player, which will get you ISK (around 370 million last I checked). This unique system let’s people spend real world money to buy in-game money, without just dropping extra ISK into the game and ruining the economy’s balance. Another player is paying you their ISK, which they took time to earn, for something you spent dollars for. This is good for people with more money than time, so they can just get some ISK and pimp out their badass spaceship. This is also good for people (like me and all of the other writers in the world) who have more time than money. You can just mine for awhile to get another month’s worth of EVE play time. That’s a pretty sweet deal all around.
Even if you could care less about contributing to this complex economic structure, it shapes the world of EVE. If it didn’t have all of these options to make money, everyone would just do missions or blow each other up, and that’s no fun. Mining is where the party is at… all alone in space… it’s just so much fun.