EVE Skills Part I: Ranks and Points

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War EVE… EVE never changes. At least not the forums where — now, as always — there is a constant trickle of threads bemoaning the unfair and newbie-crushing state of the EVE skill system. Specific problems are classics such as the unbeatable advantage of having more SP; the inability for new players to catch up with old ones; and that gear (unlocked by higher SP) wins over player skill. This series of posts will take a trip through the mechanics and effects of the EVE skill system to study how this all fits together and whether or not there's any truth to the rumours of the predetermined assured loss of the newbie.

Warning: maths and tables ahead!

The Skillpoint Formula

It's perhaps worth starting with the basics of skill levels, ranks, and training speeds.

  • Every skill has a rank, a primary, and a secondary attribute, and can be trained to a max level of 5 (usually listed using Roman numerals to distinguish them from lvl-1 through lvl-5 missions).
  • To reach a given skill level 22.5×[level -1]×Rank×250 SP are required in that one skill.
    • The total SP requirement for the level N+1 is 5.66× higher than the total SP requirement for level N (i.e. lvl IV has a total SP requirement that is 5.66 times higher than lvl III).
    • The SP required to increase a skill from level N to level N+1 is 4.66× higher than the SP required to train it from N-1 to N (i.e. training from lvl III to lvl IV takes 4.66 times longer than it took to train from lvl II to lvl III).
  • SP for a skill being trained are accumulated at a rate of [primary attribute]+[primary attribute]÷2 SP per minute, more commonly expressed as [primary]×60 + [secondary]×30 SP/hour.
  • The rank of a skill does not affect the training speed — it just acts as a multiplier on the amount of SP needed for a given level, and thus as a multiplier on the time required to reach that level.

To put it all into hard numbers, the SP and level progression for a Rank-1 skill looks like this:

SP/Level requirements for skills
Level Total SP SP to level up Proportion of max SP Proportion to level up
Level Total SP SP to level up Proportion of max SP Proportion to level up
I 250 250 0.1% 0.1%
II 1,414 1,164 0.6% 0.5%
III 8,000 6,586 3.1% 2.6%
IV 45,255 37,255 17.7% 14.6%
V 256,000 210,745 100% 82.3%

Again, the skill rank acts as a straight SP multiplier: a Rank-2 skill requires 90,510 SP to reach lvl-IV and 512,000 SP to reach lvl-V. Unsurprisingly, the SP accumulation needed to go from IV to V in such a skill is twice the number listed in the table: 421,490 SP

Counting ranks

An immediate observation that can be made regarding this system is that the easiest way to figure out the SP requirement for any kind of more complex set of skills is to simply count how many ranks are needed at a given level. For instance, training a Battleship skill post-Odyssey means training four skills to lvl III, with ranks 2, 2, 5, and 6, another rank-1 skill to IV, and a rank-8 skill to lvl I. That's a total of 15 ranks at lvl III, 1 rank at IV, and 8 ranks at I, which means 15×8,000 + 1×45,255 + 8×500 SP for a total of 169,255 SP.

What this means is also that we can draw easy comparisons between training one skill to a higher level and training a different skill to the same level as the first skill. Increasing the level of a skill by one step takes longer than training a second skill that has a 4.5× higher rank to the same level as the first skill. E.g. taking a Rank-2 skill from IV to V takes longer than taking a Rank-9 skill from 0–IV. In actual SP numbers, that Rank-2 skill increase requires 2×210,745=421,490 SP, whereas taking a Rank-9 skill all the way to IV requires 9×45,255=407,295 SP.

More generally, taking a Rank-R skill from lvl N to N+1 takes roughly as many SP as taking 4.5×R ranks worth of skills from nothing to lvl N. E.g. taking a Rank-2 skill from III to IV means accumulating enough SP to take 9 ranks worth of skills to lvl III, which could mean 9 Rank-1 skills or 4 Rank-2 and a Rank-1 skill, or one Rank-4 and one Rank-5 skill, or any other combination that comes to a total of 9 ranks.

Exponential costs and diminishing returns

So why does that mess of symbol manipulation matter? Because of a very critical quirk of the EVE skill system: that each skill level is worth just as much as every other skill level in terms of absolute bonuses.

So why does that matter? Because when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, it's not the absolute increase that matters, but the relative one, and this marginal increase will become smaller and smaller the higher the level you train. If your skill gives a 5% bonus per level, this means that going from 0 to I gives you a 1.05 multiplier rather than just 1.0 — a neat increase. Training it from I to II means going from a 1.05 multiplier to 1.1, which is only 4.76% increase. II to III means 1.15 instead of 1.1 — only 4.55% more. In other words, for each step, the marginal improvement becomes smaller, but as shown above, the training time becomes exponentially longer. To make matters worse, the higher and juicier the bonus, the larger the marginal loss with each level increase.

Marginal improvement of various bonuses
Bonus from training this specific level
Level 5%/level 7.5%/level 10%/level 15%/level 20%/level
Level 5%/level 7.5%/level 10%/level 15%/level 20%/level
I 5% 7.5% 10% 15% 20%
II 4.8% 7% 9.1% 13% 16.7%
III 4.5% 6.5% 8.3% 11.5% 14.3%
IV 4.3% 6.1% 7.7% 10.3% 12.5%
V 4.2% 5.8% 7.1% 9.4% 11.1%

…and just to hammer the point home, if we normalise the training times to have the entire voyage from lvl-0 to lvl-V count as “1 time unit”, we can combine these marginal increase values with the to-level training times above to see how much bonus-per-time-unit each level increase gives us:

Bonus per time unit of training
Level 5%/level 7.5%/level 10%/level 15%/level 20%/level
Level 5%/level 7.5%/level 10%/level 15%/level 20%/level
I 5,120% 7,680% 10,240% 15,360% 20,480%
II 1,047% 1,534% 1,999% 2,868% 3,665%
III 176.7% 253.5% 323.9% 448.5% 555.3%
IV 29.9% 42.1% 52.9% 71.1% 85.9%
V 5.1% 7% 8.7% 11.4% 13.5%

Ouch. It should come as no surprise at this point that the first level produce such high numbers: they give the highest marginal increase in bonus for an absolutely minute expenditure of SP, and conversely that the lvl V:s give the least for the longest training time. What this table shows is the massive difference in time efficiency between the levels for various skill bonuses.

Putting it all together

Where this matters is when we go back to the earlier discovery about the equivalence between ranks and higher levels. The question is simply this: what is the best use of your time? Instead of getting that 4.2% higher bonus by taking a skill to lvl V, you can train 4½ other skills of a similar rank to lvl IV. If those skills also give 5%/level, you now have five skills with a 20% bonus each rather than one skill with a 25% bonus. If those skills are complementary and the bonuses end up multiplying together, you have a 249% total bonus from those five skills rather than 25% from just one of them. Granted, you will quickly run out of skills that combine that way, but even when looking at the set of skills separately, it's not too difficult to imagine that five 20% bonuses offers more than a single 25% one.

It needs to be emphasised that this comparison is only looking at bang for the buck in the form of bonuses from a single skill or some imagined set of very closely matched skills. In the game, there are often more and better reasons to train a skill than to just chase that higher bonus: higher skill levels unlock better equipment or support skills that in and of themselves give you higher stats. Occasionally, this will be enough to compensate for the low added bonus you get from the skill itself.

What this little exercise illustrates is the core lesson about the EVE skill system that needs to be understood before we jump into the next part of this series: the double-whammy of increased time costs for higher levels that lead to increasingly smaller bonuses, and how this opens up a world of opportunities and opportunity costs. As we start to explore the supposed problems of time-based SP accumulation and the advantage this generates for older players, these opportunity costs are what will ultimately save the new or time-challenged player.