Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fingerbob's guide to Elite Dangerous Trading, Part Two

Hi! this is the second part of my trading guide, where I'll discuss ship upgrades, flight strategies, more complex trade routes and take a brief diversion into some basic economic theory.

If you'd like to read the rest of the guide, here's some links.

Part one - the basics
Part two - I think we're going to need a bigger boat
Part three - Rare trading for the win
Part four - Ahab and the whales (bigger ships, mo money)
Part five - Commodities, economies and route planning

Upgrading your ship and buying new ships

If you're reading this after finishing the first part of my guide, you're probably sitting in a Sidewinder with upgraded cargo bays and you're thinking "where next?".

The simple answer is, a bigger ship. I'm not going to go into details about where to purchase new ships, but Industrial and High Tech systems tend to sell the best and biggest ships. You'll probably want to buy a new ship as soon as you're maximizing your profit potential in your sidewinder (once you're making 5K+ round trips).

First new ship - Hauler or Adder

I went for an Adder, you might prefer a Hauler, as they are cheaper - the choice is yours. I'll give a brief rundown of both and you can decide which sounds best. I'd recommend trading in your sidewinder to get a return on any upgrades you've already made - you'll be able to buy another one pretty darned quickly once you're raking in the money.

Both ships are okay from shipyard spec but you're better served by getting at least an FSD upgrade and full cargo bays. You're also going to need enough cash to fill your hold - and that'll be three times your previous cargo cost. Do the math and figure out your break even point, or play it safe and wait until you've got at least 100K stashed. Don't forget insurance costs (5% of your total ship cost including upgrades). You don't want to buy a shiny new ship, crash it into a wall and be left with nothing but your loaner Sidewinder.

The Hauler

The hauler is basically just what the name describes - it's a cargo carrying freighter that's cheap as chips. You can pick one up for 52K and it comes with 8 tons of cargo space from the shipyard. It's not fast and it's not pretty but it's dead cheap.

The first thing you should do is upgrade the cargo space and FSD. Swap out your class 2 cargo bays for two class 3s. Each of these hold 8 tons, giving you 16 tons of space. Swap out your discovery scanner for another 2 tons of space. Again, if you like to live on the edge, you can get another 4 tons of cargo space by trading in your shields (I'm not recommending this, by the way, but it's an option).

Assuming you've got 18 tons of space and a shield, drop in a D2 FSD and you're off and running. you should be able to make around 2-3 times the profit you were making in your Sidewinder for the same investment of time.

The Adder

The Adder is, to my mind, the better upgrade - it's a classier ship and it's basically better all round, apart from the horrific cockpit view. you're looking at 88k for the shipyard spec version which comes with 6 tons of cargo space but you can upgrade to 22 tons and still carry a shield. Maxed out the jump range is well over 20LY which can really help shorten a long trade route. This means you're probably looking at 3-4 times the profit you were making on your Sidewinder runs.

Both of these ships are capable of making a decent profit from rare trading (see part three of my guide!) but as an upgrade to your Sidewinder you'll easily see the benefit just from sticking with your comfort runs.

Working for the man

I found that you'd occasionally spot a mission that was still profitable, and if you're working more complex routes or have a great grasp of what's available in your local space, you may well benefit from looking on the mission board. Honestly though, if you're cranking the credits you'll mostly see equivalent returns just doing your normal haul.

In my Adder, I found a route making me 1.5K per ton one way and .5K back on a single jump. 40K for a 10-15 minute run puts you into the 200K per hour range.

Let's talk about money

Here's where we take a brief aside, and discuss money. Moolah. Dough.

You're trading to get rich, right? I hope you're not doing it to see the sights, because if you're in this for the pretty view you're better off kitting yourself out with a set of disco scanners and heading for the hills. Nope, we're here to print green.

Once you're in your new ship, you should be able to start figuring out your K/hr rates and your K/t rates - that's KiloCredits per hour, and KiloCredits per ton.

Regardless of how big your ship is, you ideally want to maximize your profit per ton. if you've got a 1K/t route and a 2K/t route, all other things being equal you're going to make twice as much money on the 2K/t route.

Of course, all things are never equal - you need to take into account jumps, station distance, system politics, supply and demand rates, competition and a host of other factors. Still, you should at least do the math and work out your basic K/t rate.

Once you know that, you can time your run (for instance you're normally looking at 10-15 minutes for a one hop loop, but you could be looking at a 30 minute triangle or an hour long haul cycle). This, in conjunction with your cargo bay size, will let you figure out your K/hr. Once you're in an Adder or a Hauler, you should be able to comfortably bring home 200-250K/hr. You might find the tedium sets in, but that's okay - you're making bank and you're heading onward and upward to your next goal.

As an example, if you're doing a round trip that's netting 2K/t and you're running 20 tons of space on a 15 minute loop, you're making 160K/hr. Not too shabby!

Flight strategies

Let's look at the details behind flight strategies. Often people will stick with a single jump round trip - it's easy and fairly safe. However you're often going to make much better money by pushing further out - jumping two or three times in between stations. Basically, you're expanding the radius of the sphere of systems you can reach which gives you much more choice of goods and a wider range of profit margins.

You have to offset that against your fuel costs, the time it takes to repeatedly jump and the potential for violent interference the longer you're out in deep space.

You also need to take into account the amount of time it takes to get from the jump arrival point to your destination station or outpost - in fact, this is often the largest portion of the route and the easiest to effectively improve.

I highly recommend timing (at least once!) your route, and figuring out how long each section takes, but as a rough ballpark, you're looking at:

1.5 minutes from launch to jumping (take off, navigate the docking slot, clear mass lock distance, charging)
.5 minutes jumping (countdown, hyperspace, exit)
2 minutes super-cruising to target (at 500ls average - 3 minutes at 1000ls, 5 minutes at 10Kls)
2 minutes docking
1 minute navigating menus, restocking and launching.

that's 7 minutes right there. Add another 45 seconds to 1 minute for every extra jump.

You can see that it's actually a better trade-off to make more jumps than it is to go hiking all the way to a far-out station. If you can find a trade route where the stations are under 200ls from their suns, that will shave a couple of minutes off your average 15 minute run.

You can improve your launch to jump time by flying faster - if you thrust up to the station axis, straighten out, disengage landing gear and boost, you can be out of the station and clear of mass lock in under a minute. If you charge while you're aligning to your target, you're also saving yourself valuable seconds.

When you arrive at your destination system, point yourself at the ecliptic (the mass of planetary orbital curves, or more accurately the plane of the system where most bodies orbit), get some speed up and then quickly navigate and lock on your target station. use your pitch axis rather than yaw as that's always the faster axis (so you want to be moving up and down, not side to side).

Once you're pointing in the right direction, max out your throttle and watch the countdown. When there's 8 seconds left, bring your throttle to the midpoint of the blue supercruise region. If you do this right it should sit at 6 or 7 seconds and you shouldn't overshoot (no slow down warning). Once you're within 0.10ls, wait for 15Mkm and then max your throttle again - and be prepared to drop out in the safe region - you should slow to just under 1Mkm/s just as you hit safe distance.

This approach can save you 20-30% of the time taken if you use safe supercruise speeds, shaving up to a minute off typical system travel.

Finally, when you arrive at the station, boost towards the entry lane, request docking permission, boost again and then get in the slot as fast as you can - I like to approach at max speed, drop my landing gear and hit 50% throttle, just as I arrive at the slot. This way I rarely ding the shields but it's a pretty fast approach. Just be careful not to accidentally boost in the station or fire your weapons. Once you start to learn the landing pad numbers you'll know which ones are right beside the entry slot.

Complex trade routes

Jumping back and forth between two stars is rarely the best way to maximize profit in the largest ships. It also becomes incredibly tedious. Round trips between two stars with high profits are sought after by all trading commanders and if they are being regularly run, the available profits drop fast (for the reasons why, read on). Often you can find a much better route by using three or four systems. This takes into account the fact that different economies have different needs, and it's not a simple mirror - it's more like a complex game of rock, paper, scissors.

Once you've figured out a three or four station route, you'll often find you can make 2.5K per ton without affecting the economy or competing with other traders - most other traders don't bother putting in the effort!

You can also fit in a little wanderlust if the grind of a back-n-forth gets too much. Once you know what kinds of systems you should head to next, you'll begin to get a feel for where to jump, and you can start filling up with confidence, pick a destination based on economy and make a jump.

The value of your goods is pretty much fixed based on station settings (apart from the influence of other traders). Your gold or semiconductors won't be worth 20 times more elsewhere, which is a shame - fortunately there are some commodities that do become more valuable as you trade them at distance. These are called Rare Commodities - They are sold at a single location, and if you sell them over 100 LY away from where you bought them you'll make a substantial profit (6-8K) rising to over 17K per ton when you hit 200 LY.

Rare trading in E:D is a fairly rich topic (both in detail and profit!) - it's possible to make 500K in an hour in a 22 ton Adder (and 1.5 million an hour in an Asp) - but you'll be following some pretty complicated routes and you'll need your wits about you (and most likely a fuel scoop!). I'll be going into rare trading in detail in the next part of this series.

If you have no idea how to pick systems to fly between, then watch Mitsurugi Jones' tutorial about trading using the commodities market and the galaxy map. This will teach you the basics of finding systems with the goods you want to buy and sell.

Basic economic theory - supply and demand

In the smaller ships, you'll be making most of your trading choices based on the profit you calculate on your goods. However, you're not alone in the universe - plenty of other commanders are flying the stars and often they will be running the same trade routes you're running. Even if you play in Solo mode (which is a much safer way to trade!) the prices at stations are affected by the actions of other traders. People who are hauling thousands of tons an hour between two stations can affect the price of goods - buying huge amounts of an item that's in massive supply can raise the price if the supply drops, and selling huge amounts of an item that's in massive demand can drop the price at the other end if demand drops.

You can see the amount of goods and the supply/demand status in the commodities window. If you happen to hit on a lucrative route, you're best off keeping it to yourself if you want it to remain profitable. A post on Reddit can drop profit on a route by 20-30% in a single day if enough commanders turn up in their Type 9 and begin hammering away at the supply and demand curves.

However, there's thousands of viable stars to trade between and there will always be somewhere that has a need you can fill. If you find the profit on your route dropping, simply head somewhere else and find a new route. This is much more fun if you go find it for yourself, rather than looking for someone else's routes online.

If you're in a Hauler, Adder, Cobra or Type 6, then it's likely that the fastest (and for me, the most interesting) way to make money is rare trading. This isn't affected by supply and demand, instead it's based on personal allocation caps and a few other rules. You won't be competing with other commanders for these goods.

Once you get into the big haulers (Type 7, Type 9, Asp, Python, Anaconda) then it's likely that the most lucrative trading approach is normal commodity trading, so you'll need to find somewhere out of the way that's not being thrashed by everyone else. Find your 3K/t route and strike it rich!

See part three of this series for more on Rare trading.
Part four goes into more details of trading with the big ships.
Part five covers the most lucrative commodities, economies and planning your routes.

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