A couple of days ago, I talked about one of EVE Online's mid-game problems and said that I'd be bringing up a second.
That problem, in a single word, is money.
Let's suppose you're a brand new EVE player. Let's further suppose that you're smart enough off the bat to get yourself a full set of +3 implants and broadly set up your attributes so that you can train both offensive and support skills equally during your first year without worrying about remaps too much. You find a blog from some dude named Jester who says that a good PvE target for a new to mid-level player is a Drake, and you train yourself into this ship. At the end of 100 days, you can fly it.
At this point in the game, you've spent about 25 million ISK on skillbooks, about 25 million on a Drake hull, another 25 million fitting it, and a final 25 million ISK buying the various ships and mods that were needed to get you this far. That's 100 million ISK total in your first hundred days playing EVE. You have just short of five million SP. Still, you're at the point where you can run L3 missions successfully and you can pull down between five and ten million ISK per hour doing so. You plop down 3.6 million ISK for a Caldari Battleship skill book and set your eyes on a Raven, then decide you want to join a PvP corp.
You chat with the recruiters of various PvP corps and find out to your dismay that while they occasionally fly Drakes in combat, you're going to need a variety of other ships. Over time, you decide that you're going to train Minmatar ships; that's what seems to be mentioned a lot. One 0.0 corp you have your eye on says you'll need an Interceptor, a shield HAC, shield BCs, an alpha battleship, and it will be handy to have a Tengu for ratting. After the corp learns you're nowhere near close to any of this, they suggest getting into L4 missions and someone points you at a Raven Navy Issue as a good ship to do these in. It's then mentioned that sooner or later, you're going to need a carrier.
You do some reading, and decide you want to fly Stilettos, Vagabonds, Hurricanes, and Maelstroms. Medium term, you'd like to get a Tengu, and initially not knowing their bad reputation, you set a longer term goal of getting into a Nidhoggur. You bring up EVEMon and start adding skills to the queue. You do a lot of research and load all the skills you're going to need to properly fly Interceptors, Heavy Assault Ships, and Minmatar Battlecruisers and Battleships, plus all of the relevant gunnery and support skills.
EVEMon lets you know that over the next 200 days, your SP total will rise from five million to 13 million. But it also helpfully lets you know that you're going to have to raise another 75 million ISK for skill books. One skill book, Heavy Assault Ships, is going to cost you almost 30 million ISK alone! And you haven't even bought any of these ships yet... A single fit Vagabond is going to cost you almost 200 million. A single Maelstrom is going to cost you at least 250. Fitted Hurricanes cost about 65 each and you're told you should have two or three of them. Then it's explained to you that none of these ships count unless they're carrying expensive faction ammo.
In short, the PvP corp you want to join is letting you know that to join them, you're going to have to come up with nearly a billion ISK. That's ten times the amount of money you've raised in your EVE career to date! In your first hundred days, you needed to raise 100 million ISK. But if you want to join a PvP corp on the modern EVE battlefield, in your second and third hundred days, you need to raise ten times as much.
Those instructions to look into L4 are seeming suddenly very relevant, but Ravens aren't exactly cheap: fitted, one of those will cost you 175 million ISK or so. You hope the guy that told you that you should be a Raven Navy Issue was joking, because fitting one of those would cost you another half a billion...
God help you if you take the suggestions to get a Tengu or a carrier seriously at this stage in your career (hint: the skill-books alone to get into a carrier cost one billion ISK). And all of this is for a single race. Sooner or later, it's going to be explained to you that you should probably train for and buy some Amarr ships as well... That's another whole set of skill books, because those Amarr ships use different guns, different mods, and different support skills.
This isn't a problem that EVE used to have. A couple of years back, PvP corps would have been happy to accept a five or ten million SP pilot with a small stack of cruisers, a few BCs, and maybe a single expensive ship. But over the last few years, there is one area that inflation has struck: the expectations of corps of their members, particularly their new members. Where it used to be common to see corps recruiting for five or ten million SP pilots, these days the expectation is double or triple that. And the new member had better have a good hangar full of ships right from day one. The "single expensive ship" expectation these days in most PvP corps is a capital ship or a faction-fit strat cruiser.
Is it any surprise that so many EVE players are space-poor? Is it any surprise that the most-asked question about EVE is "how do I make ISK?" Is it any surprise that virtually every serious EVE player starts a second account? Given the amounts of ISK that have to be raised so early in an EVE player's career, a second account is nearly a necessity. All PvE in EVE happens more than twice as fast with two accounts working on it. Ratting and missions go faster because two ships breaks the repairs of rats much more efficiently than one. Mining goes faster when you have a hauler along. But the second account needs skill books and ships, too, which means that while -- overall -- you come out ahead, you don't come out twice as far ahead.
And none of this takes into account a thousand incidental expenses that newer EVE players face: buying ammunition for missioning and implants and corp taxes and replacements for ships destroyed by early mistakes and ships purchased because they seemed cool but really weren't. It goes on and on. But at the center of it all are those skill books. Skill books are the monkey on the back of the early EVE player. The first few are cheap, costing only a few thousand ISK. But the later ones cost more and more and more. Two years down the line, you'll be spending hundreds of millions for a single book. And while you can put off the purchase of a new ship for a while to grind up ISK, those skill books won't wait. If you want to keep training, you have to come up with the ISK, and you have to come up with it on schedule.
And all of this assumes that you're paying for your one or two accounts with cash. If you want to try paying for your accounts with PLEXes early in your career, the amount of ISK you'll need will feel overwhelming.
This would be bad enough if EVE PvE was fun. But it's not. Put into this context, it's not surprising that so many brand new EVE players try to get into incursion fleets right off.
Veteran EVE players forget this -- after all, when was the last time they had to buy a skill book? Those most able to afford all those skill books don't need them. Those most able to afford expensive ships rarely lose them. Early EVE play does its level best to strangle new players in their crib.