Monday, June 01, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a trader?

For the love of custard creams, why? WHY? The only thing more boring than trading is mining! What do you mean, it's a low risk, low stress way of making vast amounts of money that you can invest in cooler, more exciting ships? Okay... well, you... BE LIKE THAT, with your fancy logic and reason... Must I? Really? Well, I suppose I did promise. Even if it was against my better judgment. FINE. I'll write your bloody traders guide. I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY.
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Trading is a profession that appeals to the Commander with a certain type of personality. That is, the type of Commander whose fancy is tickled more by spreadsheets than torpedo spreads. The type of Commander that would prefer the slow, steady accumulation of wealth at regular intervals to the high octane thrills of RES hunting, or the deadly struggle for the meagre returns from the collection of combat bonds in conflict zones. The kind of Commander where numbers are king. Specifically, the numbers of your balance with the Bank of Zaonce... There isn't really that much of a secret as to how to be successful as a commodities trader: buy low and sell high. There are plenty of online tools out there - the best of which is probably Thrudd's - that can help you find those fabled 2.5kCr+ profit trade routes, so I'm not going to go into the details of where to trade here. I'm just going to suggest which ships you should be doing it in. And as career paths go, this one is probably the most straightforward in terms of ship progression. I'm probably insulting your intelligence by making these suggestions, so please forgive me in advance. For the most part, as a trader, you're going to want to find two systems as close together as possible to trade between, so that you're spending as much of your time as possible trading and making profits, rather than pootling about in transit. Maximising your credit income per hour is what it's all about in the trader role. Your trade route needs to be of three jumps (or less), so that you don't have to give over one of your internal compartments to a fuel scoop. For the hardcore trader, niceties like weapons and shields are also dead mass, but you don't want to skimp on your power distributor, frame shift drive or your thrusters - because if you do get interdicted by a pirate after your cargo, you're going to want be able to engage the GTFM* as soon as possible and minimise any potential damage to your ship. Recent advances in the AI of the docking computer (if you've not seen them in the 1.3 update yet, you're in for a pleasant surprise) means that they're no longer a complete waste of cargo space, particularly for big ships - but unless you're really terrible at docking, you're probably going to want to save the internal compartment space for another cargo rack.
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Hauler - 253,806Cr
With a meagre 22 tonnes of cargo space, the Hauler isn't really that great a trading vessel, but everyone has to start somewhere. You can fully kit out a Hauler as a trading vessel for less than the hull cost of a Cobra (and it should be noted that this spec makes a great taxi vessel to get you between activity hubs where you have ships parked, too). It won't make you money as quickly as a Sidewinder in a decent RES, but if your priority is to progress in the Trader rankings at the beginning of the game, this is the ship you'll become Mostly Penniless in.
Sucker Squadron Leader at Jameson Memorial
Cobra Mark III - 9,228,913Cr
Once you've made a bit of money, your next port of call on the Trader ladder is Rare Commodity trading. Of course, you're much more likely to start Rares trading in a ship like this (2.45MCr), but everyone should really aim to have an A-spec Cobra in their hangar at some point, if only for nostaglia value for that Cobra Mark III you had in the original Elite with the four Military Lasers, ECM Jammer, Cloaking Device, Energy Bomb and Galactic Hyperdrive... Ah, those were the days...
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An alternative to the Cobra would be the venerable Lakon Type 6 - 3,054,711Cr
The Type 6 Transporter is a deeply unexciting ship I've felt utterly uncompelled to fly since Beta 1.03 (as you can tell from the screenshot). But it is capable of hauling more than double the cargo of the Cobra and has a longer FSD range when fully laden, giving it a lot of earning power in the early/mid game. It's also considerably cheaper than the only other ship able to haul comparable amounts of cargo for under 10MCr (the Asp), so most pilots on the Trader path will fly one of these at some point. Just don't expect it to be fun. And never, ever, try taking it into combat. You have been warned...
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Space Cow Junior - 23,684,489Cr
By the time you get up to the Type 6 and the Type 7, while you might still want to forgo shields for extra cargo space, a docking computer is a good investment, because by this stage you're going to be running around with cargoes that are worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions of credits. Once you buy a Type 7 (or as I call them, a Space Cow Junior), the extra mass of running weapons doesn't seriously detract from your FSD range, so it's worth stacking on a few turrets to deal with any pirates that get too close to comfort. With something like the Type 7, turrets are your only viable combat option - the ship is far too sluggish for even gimballed weapons to be effective. Your shields will be gone before you can haul the mass of the ship around to bring the weapons to bear on a smaller, more nimble assailant. Pulse turrets, however, will give potential enemies something to think about as you Sir Robin off into the distance.
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Space Cow - 184,662,362Cr
The Type 9 Heavy, the fabled Space Cow, is the ultimate trading machine in all but one respect. It's just so freaking SLOW. The only thing that can rival a Space Cow for hauling space is a fully stripped down Anaconda, but the hull of that alone would almost set you back as much as buying the spec I've linked to above. You could eke out a bit more cargo capacity by dumping the shield generator, and a bit more FSD range by getting rid of the weapons and the docking computer, but when you're hauling around 460+ tonnes of palladium, it's really not worth the extra risk. The Type 9 is actually a little bit better in a fight than the Type 7, but you're not going to want to push your luck too much, especially now that NPC pirates tend to come in wings of 3 or more. Just boost like heck, and hope that your shields and life support hold out if you do start to take a few hits. If you find a good trade route for your Space Cow, you'll be earning millions of credits every hour. A Type 9 is a necessary evil, unless you want to spend a couple of years earning your way into an Anaconda. It'll all be worth it when you make your billionth credit, earn your Elite trader ranking and you have enough money to buy that Iron Ass Anaconda that you always wanted...

*For the uninitiated, the GTFM is the Get To Fuck Maneouvre...