Whether prowling low security space hunting for targets or fighting in massive fleet engagements, EVE Online's elite pilots -- called capsuleers -- stride like gods across galactic battle zones, as seen from the perspective of normal ship captains and crews. In this setting of New Eden, a capsuleer's neural interface with the ship allows his thoughts to regulate the vessel's performance; the will to survive coupled with fast reflexes equates to greater fortitude and speed in combat. Against conventional fleets, even a single capsuleer reigns supreme... but when faced with others of his caliber, or many of them, a capsuleer seeks every possible edge he can get.
Some of EVE's pilots channel their resources into acquiring the most advanced technology, hoping to gain an advantage over their rivals. But others choose to invest in themselves through performance-enhancing drugs. These 'boosters' are outlawed in all secure regions of space, due to their powerful effects on a capsuleer's mind, and thus a magnified lethality of his ship. The demand for boosters is great, but so too are the costs. Boosters are contraband and risky to move in large quantities. Coupled with the arcane processes involved in creating these drugs, those in the know have formed cartels, whose booster production and smuggling operations form the underpinnings of New Eden's black market. The most pivotal figure in New Eden's booster trade is Masu'di, who heads the Hedonistic Imperative drug cartel through the corporate front of Es and Whizz. Their operations are largely hidden, as they dance around the power blocs of the largest capsuleer alliances, subtly influencing or corrupting those who hinder the narcotics trade. Their network operates between the cracks of New Eden's laws and systems, ensuring a steady flow of boosters into any corner of the galaxy where a capsuleer needs a fix.
Massively recently spoke with Masu'di about the life of a drug kingpin in New Eden, and the inner workings of the black market in EVE.
Being a smuggler and engaging in an underground trade strikes me as an interesting way to play the game. What drew you to these aspects of EVE ?
In the beginning, I had a romantic notion of traversing the galaxy in my beat up cargo ship, evading pirates, breaking blockades – an adventurer, explorer, and businessman. It wasn't so much about the narcotics and boosters, I would happily have tried my hand at any underground trade item, but it was these that proved to be the most profitable.
What are the risks involved with being a dealer or a smuggler?
The majority of our time is spent in the lawless areas of space. While normally a smart pilot with time on his hands can keep his ship in one piece, when you have a deadline and a customer waiting for you, you are forced to take more risks.
These risks have shifted over time, as the game mechanics have changed. In the early days, the runs would be much longer, up to a hundred jumps from one part of the Frontier (0.0 lawless space) to another, and plenty of trigger happy gate campers, eager to notch up another kill, to greet you. The technology and ship choices available were limited back then, so often with large orders, it would be just an industrial ship and a cloaking device. You had to keep your wits about you, take every precaution possible, and then some quick thinking thrown in too. The faster you moved the less attention you picked up, but sometimes it would be a case of going out of the pan and into the fire.
"In the beginning, I had a romantic notion of traversing the galaxy in my beat up cargo ship, evading pirates, breaking blockades – an adventurer, explorer and businessman."
To an outsider, the techniques surrounding booster production seem arcane. Did CCP explain how it's done, or how did you figure it out?
CCP gave nothing away in the beginning. It was a puzzle to be solved, and with some aspects not necessarily so intuitive. We knew they were in the Frontier but no one knew exactly where. There were a few other organisations and individuals on the case. Most of us worked one or two things out, but at least for us, and the people we were in contact with, it was a case of combining our pieces of the jigsaw together to see the overall picture.
There's a certain mystique about what Es and Whizz does, largely I'd assume to protect trade secrets. The flipside is that there are also misconceptions about your activities in EVE, which I've gathered even extends to the game's creators in some ways. What can you tell us about that?
I think the mystique started from our first main smuggling business, before combat boosters were introduced. We were running the recreational narcotics to pilots looking to exchange them with their agents, for pirate implants. We bought most of these narcotics straight off the market, dumped there by other agent runners who didn't know what to do with them. So it was important for us to keep our mouths tight about all the exact details.
"One of our pilots was a regular dealer to a famous wealthy pirate. He used to have to fly alongside his mothership, amongst a cloud of smart-bombed corpses, jettison the boosters in a can for him, and hope he was paid instead of smart-bombed."
Now you might think we were running a license to print money, as those kind of figures meant a lot more a few years ago. While the profit margins were very high -- buying the drugs somewhere between two and twenty thousand, pushing them on the market somewhere closer to a hundred -- the turnover was low. Most of our pilots, would only make one or two runs a month, as there was not enough demand for any more. But even if there was, most pilots would never want to do any more than this. As the runs themselves were often so long and dangerous, after completion the pilot would want to just put their feet up and relax for a week or two before thinking about doing another.
The other issue, and one that ultimately proved disastrous for us, was that unaware of this niche, CCP unwittingly made some game mechanic changes that ended it all over night, reducing assets that we had slowly built up over the years to nothing. Between us we probably lost somewhere over a billion on ISK spent acquiring these items, and then somewhere closer to another eight billion ISK on what we could have made selling them.
Thankfully, combat boosters were close on the horizon. While they needed quite a different approach, it forced us to change the characteristics of the corp somewhat, but in return gave us something to take up instead.
Could the word 'cartel' be used to describe Es and Whizz, or on a larger scale, the Hedonistic Imperative alliance? How is a drug cartel structured in EVE, and how does it operate?
I think the popular understanding of a cartel is an organisation that controls almost the entire production of a commodity and can then have the power to set the prices and conditions in their favour. While we do have the largest overall stake in the booster industry in EVE, we don't have a monopoly on the production of each individual booster type, which are produced on a regional basis.
"Some alliances in EVE develop because their leaders have good business sense, focus and strategy, they know what they want for the alliance, and know what they can offer in return. Other organisations build up from a pure quest for power."
However, internally we operate like a cartel of individual pilots and corporations, working as a kind of regulatory body, defining optimum ways of doing things, setting price guidelines, and being a clearing house for dealers and booster producers to share information and work together.
Our system we use tries to give the greatest amount of flexibility and freedom for our members, but without the expense of us working against each other. The corp and alliance uses its assets to pay biochemists and gas miners up front, stock pile the boosters, and then sell them on to the dealers and smugglers at below market price. This way we can guarantee the biochemists and gas miners get rewarded for their work straight away, and ensures that there is a large buffer of boosters available for the dealers and smugglers to sell onwards, more or less on their own terms.