What is "rich" in EVE? Is it simply having more ISK than most everyone else, is it measured in raw numbers of some other ethereal quality? Can you actually be poor? Have you ever lost nearly everything and had to claw your way back? If you are rich, how do you know and how did you get rich?"Rich" -- like "simple" -- is by its very definition a relative term. In both life and EVE, people are going to tend to look at it relative to their own circumstances. By this definition, when viewing income or more often net worth, people are "rich" is their income or net worth is an order of magnitude or higher than yours. People are "poor" when their income or net worth is an order of magnitude lower than yours.
About a year after I started my career in EVE and after I had been mining with a couple of alts for a while and had worked up to a Hulk, the Orca was introduced to the game. It did not take long at all for them to appear in my local asteroid belts and they were hugely expensive. I considered anyone who could own one of these useful ships rich. That was, until I could afford one myself. I had to plan for the purchase for a while and had to buy it for slightly above build cost from a builder in my alliance at the time. But once I had it, I no longer considered ownership of one to automatically indicate being "rich." In the time between seeing my first one and owning my first one, my income and my net worth increased.
But by that time, the first tech 3 ships were being introduced and were even more hugely expensive. I considered anyone who owned a Tengu to be rich. I again planned and saved for a good long while before I could afford my first tech 3 ship and again I purchased it from an alliance-mate that was building them. And again, once I owned it I no longer considered it an automatic entry into "richness."
This is more or less how humans think.
In the U.S. a couple of years ago, during an on-going debate about tax structures, there were arguments regarding whether a $250,000 per year salary was enough to be considered "rich." By a huge majority, those making $250,000 per year didn't consider themselves rich, and many considered themselves "middle class". The fact that this level of income is wildly over the median for most of the world wasn't even considered.
And that's where the real line partially lies: it's relative to others. If your income or net worth is greater than that of 85% or so of the rest of the population, you're rich. But it's also defined by the level of planning you have to do to gain the goods and services you want. This is easily measurable in EVE because there are upper limits to how much things cost. After a certain point -- unlike the real world -- there is simply nothing in the game you cannot afford.
If you have one trillion ISK in your wallet, then you're definitely rich. You can afford any ship or object in the game. You can buy a titan, a Revenant, an Etana, a 100 million SP character, a good T2 BPO, ten years worth of PLEXes, and still have plenty of ISK left over to buy and fit a dozen capital ships and hundreds of sub-caps. If you have an in-game profit of 200 billion ISK per year, you're definitely rich and for the same reason: there's little or nothing in the game that you cannot easily afford and even outrageous purchases are within your reach with some planning.
By this scale, I am definitely not rich. I will probably never be able to afford a titan, a tournament prize ship, a T2 BPO, or similar purchases. But I'm not poor, either. With some planning, I could buy the new navy mind-links or a pirate battleship. An EVE player who cannot afford a navy mind-link or a pirate battleship probably thinks of me as rich.
The flip-side question, "can you actually be poor?" is an easy one to answer: most definitely! There are players in this game that cannot afford the most basic needs in this game. The problems that I brought up 18 months ago, about EVE trying to strangle new players in their crib, definitely still exist. The amount of ISK needed by new players for skill books in their first year of the game continues to consume a major fraction of their income. With additional skills being added every expansion and major patch lately, this is a problem that is only getting bigger.
Except for very early career problems involving small amounts of ISK, I've never had to claw back from a devastating loss. Finally, as for the "how did you get rich?" question, I can't answer that one because I'm not. I don't think. But I got the vast majority of the ISK I do have from three means: T1/T2 manufacturing, incursions, and wormholes, in that order. And the vast bulk of it came a few hundred thousand ISK at a time, building and selling module after module after module after module... My in-game manufacturing business has slowed to nearly a crawl since I joined the CSM (no time), but I recently sold my 350,000th ship module.
Interesting question, Kirith! And that's the simple part of the question. The harder part of the question, like I said, I've been spending some time thinking about. Maybe I'll blog about it soonish.