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.

Fingerbob's guide to Elite Dangerous Trading, Part One

Hi! Welcome to my first post (hopefully of a small series) on how to trade in Elite Dangerous. I'm going to start at the beginning and detail the simplest, fastest, ways to trade goods in E:D, up to the point where you're making so much money you will have to decide for yourself what to do next.

Here's some links to the other entries in this beginner's guide. If you want to skip ahead, scroll down and find the relevant post. I'll be covering next steps, rare trading, fuel and scooping, working with the larger ships and how to find the best trade routes. If all of that sounds like random gibberish - read on!

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

If you're interested in exploring, check out my introduction guide here.

Starting Out - buying and selling goods

Your first trade

Let's begin at the beginning! You've got a Sidewinder with four tons of cargo space. You've got a few credits in the bank. How do you make money?

You'll be sitting in a space station. If you select "Starport Services" you'll see the Commodities market pop up. Select that option and you'll see a list of goods (or Commodities) for sale and purchase.

The price and availability of goods depends on various factors. Firstly, and most importantly, is the type of economy of the system - Industrial, Agricultural, High Tech, Refinery, etc.

Here's a list of the various types of economic system and the goods that are in supply (being sold) or in demand (being bought) in those types of economy.

And here's a more detailed list of each type of commodity available in the game.

So, how do you make money? Simples! Buy low, sell high.

But what should you buy? and how do you know what's low and what's high? Well, that really depends on lots of factors (time of day, how many people are trading and more) but the simplest thing is to learn some of the basics.

Agricultural economies produce things like food and drink, so they tend to be in supply (and cheap to buy). They like to buy things that help them produce food (like crop harvesters or atmospheric processors) and things that keep their farmers happy (domestic appliances, consumer tech, clothes).

Go to an Industrial economy, and you'll find them producing things like domestic appliances and consumer tech, and in need of things like food! So if you buy food in an Agricultural system, fly it to an Industrial system and sell it, you'll make a profit! Even better, if you then buy some consumer goods or clothes and fly them back to the starting Agricultural system, you'll make a profit on the return leg, and you've got yourself a trade route.

You may be thinking "that's awesome, Einstein, thanks for the economic theory - now just tell me what to buy and where to take it". Because the answer to that question is based on where you are, how much money you've got and how much cargo space you've got free, you'll need to do a little bit of work yourself to figure out the best answer. The hard way to do this is to go into the galactic map, look at the trade routes, narrow down a commodity that's leaving your system and flowing to a target, and finding a return commodity to help make profit.

The easy way is to use one of the many tools to go look up the best answer. This steps outside the fiction of the game and you might consider it bending the rules - but if you're looking for the fastest way to get cash, it's a great way to start. I've used Thrudd's trading tool a lot to begin with - this tool tracks prices in various stations and helps you to pick the best goods to buy and where to take them.

Go to the trade calculator, pop in your details (cargo hold size, available cash, your current system) and it'll tell you the best profit trade you can make. Fill in the destination details and reverse the route, and it'll tell you what to bring back on your return.

As an example, if you're starting in Agri and aiming for Indi, you'll probably buy grain or fruit and veg for your first purchase. Once you sell at the other end, you'll likely buy clothing and domestic appliances or even biowaste to make a buck on the return journey.

Now all you have to do is fill up on as much cargo as you can afford, fly to your target system, head to the right space station, dock, and sell it! Ker-ching! Do the same on a return leg and you'll have made some moolah, seen some sights and be ready to repeat the process. Don't forget to buy fuel!

Now you're probably thinking "holy moly, I made a couple K in profit, it's going to take me forever to get that Anaconda". True - but you're on your way.

Your first hour trading

You've made a few credits and you're on a roll. If you repeat what you've just done a few times, you'll have even more credits (probably a few thousand) and you'll be getting the hang of navigating the commodities market, docking and jumping between systems. Don't worry about getting rich until you're comfortable with the basics. Repeat that run you just made five times and then take stock.

Once you've got the basics down, what next? Well, mo money makes mo money. You can hopefully afford some of the more expensive commodities on future runs - you might have started out buying and selling food carts or grain or clothing - they were the only items you could afford 3 or 4 tons of. Now, you should be able to afford a ton or two of tea or coffee, maybe some domestic appliances. You were making 1K a run, with a couple of hundred credits per ton. Now you spend 5K and you make 2K a run, with a profit in the region of 300-400 credits per ton. You don't need to buy all the same items - you can always purchase a ton of expensive stuff and fill the rest of your space with cheap goods to round out your profit.

The simplest thing to do is to repeat this process until you are filling your hold with the most expensive goods at each station and you've still got money in the bank. You'll probably have 25-30K at this point, and you'll be buying consumer technology, tobacco, progenitor cells or superconductors at 4-7K per ton, with a profit of 1K per ton when you sell.

Working for the man

You've got the basics down and a small pile of credits - wouldn't it be awesome if you could break the monotony and pull in 20K profit once in a while? Well, you can! every time you dock at a station, even before you sell your goods, take a quick look on the bulletin board. If you're lucky, you'll see someone who wants what you're carrying and is willing to pay a premium for it. Quids in!

Even if they don't want what you've got, you'll occasionally see missions where you can carry someone else's cargo for a decent reward. You'll also see missions asking for certain goods at a decent premium and it's often worth your while going out of your way to find what they are asking for. If you spot a mission asking for 4 tons of silver or gold, take a quick look on Thrudd's trading tool and see if you can make a quick turnaround on the purchase - you might even be able to make a profit on the run out to the station that sells the silver, and make a nice 15-20K on the return. Just be sure you can afford the goods before you promise to deliver them!

This is probably the fastest way to get big chunks of starting cash, so don't forget to check every time you dock.

Onward and upward

Once you maximise your profit potential, you've got a few options. The first is probably to look for a more lucrative trade route - if you're not making 3K+ a run (round trip) then you should look to find a better pair of stations to trade between.

You should also factor in how efficient the run is - hyperspace jumps take time. Supercruise and docking take even more time. You should be able to find a route that takes less than 15 minutes round trip for a single jump and once you're practiced at navigating and flying, you can probably get a two or three jump route round trip in under 15 minutes and a single jump trip round trip in 10 minutes. Time taken is time wasted, so be mindful and practice docking fast (hopefully without blowing up!) and navigating the commodities pages.

There will be a point where you've found a good route, you're doing it as fast as you can, and you're now limited by cargo space rather than money. This is the point to decide your upgrade path.

The first, mostly obvious, upgrade is to take out your discovery scanner and replace it with a class 1 cargo bay, which gives you another two tons of cargo capacity. If you're trading, then you're likely not discovering much and you've just increased your profit potential by 50%. You might not be able to buy this in an Agricultural system but you'll likely be able to find a new cargo hold in an Industrial or High Tech system. Just browse to Outfitting, pick your discovery scanner slot and see if they have a 1C cargo bay replacement.

The second thing you should consider is upgrading your Frame Shift Drive. If you upgrade your FSD, you'll be able to jump further - that might make more lucrative routes open up to you (or reduce the amount of time it takes to run the route by reducing the number of jumps you need to take). You'll see various stats that change with this upgrade, but basically each increase in the rating of the drive will allow you to jump further. picking up a 2D drive will give you an instant boost for not much outlay. I'd not recommend going as far as a 2A drive, because (if you're trading focussed) there's better things to spend your money on coming to you very shortly!

Different rated items are better in different ways. You'd expect that as you progressed from rating E to rating A everything would improve, and that's often the case - but D rated items are nearly always much lighter than A, C and E rated items (which are normally the same mass). conversely, B rated items are nearly always much heavier than the rest. Why does this matter? Because the mass of your ship affects your maximum jump range. Because of this, you're often best getting D rated items as the first and only upgrade for any particular system unless you really need that system to be best in class - in which case the A is often the best and only choice because the B rating item ruins your jump range. You might find that you can survive with a lower class system, and the 3A is better for you than a 4D and doesn't cost much more.

If you're feeling dangerous, you can swap your shield generator for another class 2 cargo bay with 4 ton capacity. If you're a careful pilot and don't tend to crash into things, this can really help maximize your profitability. Be aware that any small scrapes and bumps will damage (or potentially destroy) your ship, leaving you back in space dock with a nasty repair bill - or even worse, giving your 10 tons of cargo to a pirate and dropping you back into a new loaner Sidewinder!

If you've maxed your ship cargo space as much as you can and you're still at your profit cap, the next step is to get a bigger ship. Congratulations, commander - you're on your way!

See part two of my guide for the next steps in trading.
See part three of my guide for details of rare trading.
See part four of my guide for information about trading in the bigger ships.
See part five of my guide for details of commodities, economies and route planning.