The entry costs to the nullsec sovereignty game are quite high. Taking and holding of space requires skills, ships, infrastructure and money that most highsec and lowsec corporations and alliances with nullsec ambitions don't have. Further, as I mentioned last month in The Initiative at Bay, sovereignty warfare is an acquired taste. Taking and holding space is the stuff of classic space opera in concept, but in reality it can be hard, frustrating work and is not for everybody.
Nonetheless, nullsec's siren song of adventure and untold riches calls to many high and lowsec corporations who are not, as yet, the stuff of which galactic overlords are made. Fortunately for them, conquest is not the only road to nullsec. With the coming of Dominion sovereignty rules, holding nullsec space became a cash intensive business. Alliances must pay a sovereignty fee for each system over which they claim ownership. The more upgrades a system has in place, the higher the monthly sovereignty fee. This means in order to hold space, a nullsec alliance must have a cash flow.
This need for cash has created a robust nullsec rental market. For most alliances, renting some of their sovereign systems is an important source of income. For the aspiring nullsec denizen, renting space allows their corporation to get their foot in the door and build a network of nullsec contacts without as much up-front commitment. This is a particularly attractive option for industrial corporations who want to work in nullsec, but are not steely-eyed PvPers.
Many nullsec alliances operate separate alliances to facilitate the renting of their space. This allows the sov holding alliance (or landlord alliance) to manage their renters using Eve's alliance construct while keeping their renters outside of the sov holding alliance's organization proper.
There are two major reasons for segregating renters like this. First of all, as the purpose of renting is income generation, the bar for adding a corporation to the renter alliance is usually lower than it is for entering the alliance proper. Keeping renters in a separate alliance lowers the chance of a spy getting access to the sov-holding alliance's communication channels. Further, many sov holding alliances want to avoid "carebear rot". This is a phenomenon much dreaded by nullsec alliances in which too many industrial players, whose needs and concerns are often in conflict with their PvP-oriented brethren, are admitted directly to the sov-holding alliance, causing a softening of the alliance's PvP orientation and focus.
There are some nullsec alliances that will admit renting alliances independent of their own renters alliance but most first-time renters end up joining a renters alliance.
Know Your Needs and Shop Around:
Do your homework. Do not jump into bed with the first renter's alliance that crooks a finger at you. As I said, this is a rental market and should be approached as one. This means you should be doing some comparison shopping. You'll find that there's a lot of variation in the market both in terms of rents, how rents are calculated, service fees and activity restrictions.
If you are a corporation with industrial interests you'll want to rent in a less trafficked part of nullsec where you can ply your trade without being constantly interrupted by raiding parties and roaming gangs with ganking on their minds. On the other hand, if you're an aspiring PvP corporation you'll want to be near the action. A quiet backwater system is going to be a poor fit for you. If ratting will be your primary means of earning income, you'll want to avoid regions with low-value pirates and anomalies. However, if mining or industry is your primary aim, you might be able to get a deal on such a system which will have less appeal for ratters and PvPers.
Rents from one renter alliance to the next can vary wildly. Landlord alliances are typically run by PvPers with limited time or patience for business. They tend to base rents and fees on what they want or need to earn off systems rather than what the market will bear. As a rule, they don't keep tabs on market prices. Consequently, rents from one nullsec alliance to the next can seem almost arbitrary at times.
For example, when I wrote Galactic Landlords back in October, one alliance's rent scheme for drone region systems ran something like this:
- Base rental for all systems is 300 million ISK per week
- For each level of sovereignty a system holds, add an additional 100 million ISK per week "sovereignty tax'
This translated to a monthly rent of 1.6 billion for the least profitable Sov 1 system in the drone regions. A Sov 5 system there would have run you 3.2 billion per month.
On the other hand, I have encountered much more reasonable rents, running in the 500 million to a billion ISK per month for systems in relatively quiet parts of nullsec. I've seen rents as low as 200 million per month.
The point is that there is a lot of range in nullsec rents and you have to approach your nullsec enterprise as an entrepreneur. As many rental alliance reps will tell you when your eyes pop out at their monthly rates, there's no reason a good corporation can't make enough ISK in a good system to cover that rent.
The question is, however, not how much rent you can afford to pay, but what rent will optimize your profit margin. Your goal is to move as quickly as possible past the break even point and transition from making ISK to pay your landlord to making ISK to pay yourselves.
Service Fees and Activity Restrictions:
In addition to rents, many rental alliances charge for services like ore refining, manufacturing and research/copy slots well over and above what you're accustomed to in high and lowsec NPC stations. Taxes on Jump Bridge use, monthly fees for POS anchoring and docking fees are less usual, but not unheard of. Ask about them up front, and be sure to keep them in mind when estimating your costs.
In addition to higher costs, a rental alliance may impose restrictions on what activities you may do. They may restrict the deployment of POS refineries, labs and manufacturing facilities in order to ensure traffic for their own fee generating station facilities. They may forbid the export of high-value minerals or refined ores in order to promote local refining and manufacture. The bottom line is that you want to know this before you've ponied up your rent and gone to the expense and trouble of moving your corporation out into in the lawless deep.
Understand What You're Getting:
Get a clear understanding of what resources you have exclusive access to in systems you're renting. If you're paying a premium for a high-end system, you'll want to be sure that it's not open season for all the neighbors on your rich ores and anomalies.
Likewise, understand how system improvements are handled. If you go to the cost and trouble of installing and iHub, building a station or otherwise improving the value of the landlord's real estate, you'll want to know how that affects your rental agreement and what your rights are viz the aforementioned improvements.
Understand your home defense obligations. Most sov-holding alliances provide protection only in the event of a serious sovereignty challenge or a sovereignty dispute among renting corporations. Occasionally renters participate in landlord calls-to-arms, pick-up gate camps or fleet operations. However, it is rarely required for renters and, due to the aforementioned security risks coupled with landlord contempt for the quality of renter PvP, some alliances actively discourage the practice.
You may be required to participate in rental alliance home defense operations, or organize a posse with the neighbors to trap some pesky roamers looking for easy ganks. But, unless you're an aspiring PvP corporation, hunkering down and avoiding giving up easy kills is the common response to random incursions.
Above all, don't be afraid to negotiate, particularly if you bring skills or assets of value to the table. The worst thing the landlord can do is say 'no'. OK, technically that's not true. The worst thing they can due usually involves your corpse floating in the vacuum of space. On the bright side, in that case you wake up in your clone vat knowing said landlord is not someone with whom you care to do business.
Seriously though, some rental alliance reps may get impatient or start yawning, or lack the power to cut you a special deal. However, this is business and you have to look out for your best interests. It's not out of line to ask the representative if he can match a deal offered by another rental alliance. Again, do your homework. The more you know about going rates and agreements among rental alliances, the better armed you'll be for this discussion. Don't whine, get snotty or try to strong arm the rental alliance's rep. Be polite. Be professional.
As you narrow down your options, make a point of contacting corporations in the renter alliances you're considering and getting their take on the landlord and life in the alliance space. If a landlord treats his tenants badly, reneges on agreements, has misrepresented his policies, or is outright hiding something, this is a good way to find out up front. Likewise, if you find everybody's raving about the landlord and the renter alliance is one big happy family, you might consider paying higher rents in order to to get in on that situation.
Data, Data, Data:
Alas, to my knowledge, no one maintains a table of renter alliances rents and terms, or ratings of landlords. So there's no central clearing house of information to guide renters new to nullsec, or existing renters looking to improve their circumstances. It would be an interesting project and the nullsec rent market is one that would benefit from the competition that sort of information sharing and transparency would generate. If one of you are inclined to take up that challenge, it's an effort that would likely get a lot of attention and appreciation from the Eve community. Do let me know if you take that project on or know someone who already has.
Until such a database comes along, doing the research will be up to the individual renter. It's a lot of work, but it'll go a long way toward saving you money, pain and sorrow in the long run. It's the sort of due diligence you owe your corporate buddies if you're going to lead them down the road to nullsec.