Two years ago, I was at an interesting point in my EVE career. At the time, I was in Sturmgrenadier, an EVE organization with one foot in null-sec and one foot in high-sec. The idea was the main body of SG was in null, but also kept a high-sec group whose goal it was to recruit newer EVE players, get them comfortable with fleets and fleet objectives, and then slowly introduce them to the idea of moving to null.(1) As someone who had made that transition myself, I let myself be recruited into being second-in-charge of the high-sec arm. That was my official title.
Unofficially, I was under constant pressure to guide people into the null-sec arm.
One of my tools in this was to run high-sec L4 mission groups. The idea was to get a dozen or so of the high-sec members together on a mutually agreeable night and run missions. The stated goal for those that joined was to build up ISK and standing for ultra-new EVE players so they could operate more independently. Unofficially, the goal was to get these newbies into fleets and condition them to things like fitting ships properly, following fleet movement orders, and shooting at targets called by an FC. Theoretically, it was practice for PvP.(2) In practice, this bore fruit. SG's high-sec arm was usually extremely successful in fighting off high-sec war-decs.
What this all means is that two years ago, the last time L4 missions were nerfed, I was doing them on a weekly basis and I was in a perfect position to track the impact of the nerf.
All through 2009 and 2010, I got into dozens and dozens of arguments with people on various EVE fora who were sure that L4 missions were destroying EVE. These people were convinced that you could make a hundred million ISK per hour easily running and salvaging missions. This was clearly wrecking the game's economy.... blah blah blah. This stuff sure sounds familiar, doesn't it? Just trust me when I say that two years ago, L4 mission-runners were wearing the demon suit that incursion-runners are wearing today.
In mid-2010, the nerf hammer came down. It primarily struck L4 mission loot and salvage. It was rather insidiously done. Not only were the loot tables adjusted such that most rats dropped less loot, but a number of meta 3 and meta 4 items had their drop rates significantly increased. As an example, two years ago meta MicoWarpdrives were horrifically expensive: on the order of five or six million ISK for the 10MN version and 12-15 million for the 100MN version. You'd think that more of these dropping would be good news, and for a couple of days, it was. Then of course, the bottom dropped out of the meta MWD market. Today, so many meta MicroWarpdrives drop that you're just being dumb if you fit a T2 MWD to a ship.
As someone who was running missions every single week with a large group on both sides of that nerf, I had well-documented proof of how hard the nerf hammer came down. In the end, mission loot was reduced in value by some 50%, resulting in an overall 35% decrease in L4 missioner income. Even if missioners were making 100 million ISK/hour before the nerf (hint: they weren't), they definitely weren't making it after the nerf.
And now, of course, mission-runners have been nerfed again because they've actually been mining and haven't realized it.
I still have a record of the last L4 mission group I ran two years ago, after the nerf had been in play for a while. There were ten of us that last time I ran it: six battleships (two of them faction), a Tengu, a newbie in a BC, and two ultra-newbies in salvage destroyers.(3) We ran L4s for about 3.5 hours. Not counting bounties or mission rewards, the group made about 89 million ISK that day. 57 million ISK of it was salvage. 22 million was meta 0-2 loot only good for reprocessing. 10 million was meta 3 or 4 loot worth selling. The biggest shares I paid that day were about 13 million ISK.
Needless to say, we weren't making a lot of money running missions after that nerf. A lot of people -- even rank newbies! -- stopped showing up to the weekly L4 mission fleets because it wasn't worth their time. Let me say that again: being in a group running L4 missions wasn't worth a newbie's time. They would have rather gone mining. And now missions have been nerfed again. People have been asking me for an update on part three of my L4 Solo Missioning guide. Are any L4 missions worth salvaging now?
I'm coming to the conclusion that the answer is "no".
For virtually all of them, it's now worth more ISK to you to skip looting and salvaging the mission entirely and just go on to the next one. Blitzing missions is becoming a way of life. Over time, perhaps, the value of salvage and some meta items will rise with scarcity and the answer to that question will change. But for now, I'm finding that there are only a tiny handful of missions that are still worth looting and salvaging.(4)
I haven't run the numbers yet to see what the overall impact on mission-runner income is going to be -- perhaps someone will share their estimates in the comments. But my gut feel is that every other income source in New Eden is going to be superior to missioning for a while. That's why Aiden Mourn thinking that incursion-runners are going to go back to missions is ridiculous. I've heard from more incursion runners that are just unsubbing rather than submit to that indignity.
The funny thing about all this is that it'll probably take a while for the impact of this to shake out. I've got a feeling that the hard-core mission-runners out there are stubborn. I think they're going to keep working this grind stone long past the point of insanity. We'll see if I'm right in the coming months. Can't wait to see what CCP Diagoras's stats make of it come June or July...
(1) They still operate this way today.
(2) Were I to do this today, I'd definitely trade L4 missions for Incursion Vanguards.
(3) Of these ten players, one is me, three are still in Sturmgrenadier, two seem to still be playing but are in new corps, and four do not have Incarna-level avatars.
(4) "Angel Extravaganza" leads the pack.