Cocky fighter pilots, brilliant fleet tacticians, devious political overlords, and bloodthirsty pirates are all science fiction tropes associated with the players of EVE Online. While each of these types can be found traveling between the stars, all of them would be crippled without an often forgotten archetype: space truckers. The space truckers of EVE navigate the trade lines of New Eden, bringing fresh supplies of minerals, resources and ships from one end of the game’s world to the other.

Players interested in hauling and logistics have a wide range of ships available to ply their trade: lumbering behemoth freighters capable of ferrying massive amounts of goods, hardened deep space transport ships with enhanced defensive capabilities, and nimble blockade runners meant to slip in and out of contested territory. Choosing to pilot one of these ships is a risky endeavor in the dangerous world of EVE. Every day careless haulers are caught by pirates and marauders, often losing their vessel and cargo.

EVE veteran Darkhawk Santiago makes his in-game living as a space trucker. “As crazy as it may sound I still remember when a friend pitched EVE to me as this crazy sandbox game back in 2012. He gave me a list of possibilities of things you could do in the game, and at the end he sarcastically mentioned, ‘You could even be a space trucker,’” Darkhawk told Kotaku over Discord. Darkhawk was not new to MMORPGs, having played World of Warcraft for several years, but the concept of playing a game as a long-distance hauler was very intriguing to him, due to what he told Kotaku was a life-long fascination with eighteen-wheeler trucks. Fast forward six years, and that fascination would lead Darkhawk to the doors of the KarmaFleet corporation, where he serves in their logistics and transportation division, but the path to get there was not an easy one.

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The most unique thing about EVE Online is the combination of its single shard environment and its crafting and resource gathering systems. Every player plays on the same game server, and almost every item in the game is created from resources gathered by those players. These resources are not typically found around the shipyards and space stations where players refine and convert them into useable materials, and those shipyards can be far from the market hubs where players go to purchase goods and services.

Darkhawk saw this as an opportunity. “Much like in the real world market, things are not made where they are sold and must be transported from one place to another. I immediately saw this as my first niche to fill in EVE.” He told Kotaku that he began his career flying public courier contracts between trade hubs in small transport ships, before moving into the capital ship-sized freighters.

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When asked why he chose to go this route, he replied, “Being able to gate around a massive ship just seemed fun, more fun at least than statically sucking on rocks.” “Sucking on rocks,”’ in this case, refers to the often-pursued newbie activity of mining minerals from asteroids to sell on the market place.

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Getting started as a hauler didn’t go as quickly as Darkhawk had imagined it would. “I started out as ambitious and hungry as your average new player trying to understand why there was no demand for a service with a single character and a small Industrial ship,” Darkhawk explained. As a new player, the industrial haulers he had access to were small ships, with relatively light defenses, which left him unable to haul high volume contracts or move expensive goods from place to place. “I quickly set my sights to freighters, and on joining the Red Frog corporation.”

Over the years bands of like-minded players have come together to form shipping consortiums, like Red Frog Freight. Red Frog and groups like it provide a place where like-minded individuals can come together and use their organizational skills to make hauling things around easier on the individual. These groups provide information to each other about the location and activity of pirate squads. They can also use their collective power to set fair prices for hauling goods, and some even provide insurance to lend a helping hand when a job literally goes up in flames.

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“Back in 2012, it took something like three or four months to join Red Frog,” Darkhawk told Kotaku, “so I did some work for some other services while waiting. But Red Frog was my goal, and eventually I got in.” For a while everything went fine for Darkhawk: He hauled for Red Frog, and really enjoyed the gameplay experience, as it served to scratch the itch he’d had since he was a child. “As a kid, and even to this day, I still think that it could be fun to drive a big truck or RV across the country for a summer.”

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Eventually, though, he began to want more and started to look for the next big thing. “I became aware of the Goonswarm Federation. Their reputation made me want to find a way to join them, and I began to search for a way in.”

In 2012, Darkhawk admits, he was an “overzealous and blissfully unaware” player,traits that don’t always serve a player well in EVE Online. “I saw a player in the system I was in, who was in Goonswarm Federation, and in his in-game bio, it said to contact him for recruitment opportunities.” Darkhawk reached out to the player, and they seemed to become fast friends. They had a long conversation about what Darkhawk liked doing in the game and what his history was, and the recruiter told Darkhawk he sounded like a great addition to his corporation and to the Goonswarm Federation.

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“I filled out all of the forms on a website he gave me, which gave him access to see all of the assets I had. After he had this access, he gave me some great ‘market tips’ and told me some things to buy and then trade to him,” Darkhawk said. “He said he’d get my ship safely to Goonswarm territory, while I waited for the corporation to accept me, that way I could get a head start!” Minutes of waiting soon turned into hours of waiting. Darkhawk realized he had been scammed. “I gave him everything I had, including my freighter. I was ruined.”

This devastating blow led Darkhawk to quit EVE, for a while at least. After a few months of self-reflection Darkhawk came back to the game, and restarted his hauling career with Red Frog. “This event actually ended up helping me a lot outside of EVE, especially in regards to how much information I give individuals I don’t know, if we’re negotiating a deal.”

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Eventually, Darkhawk discovered KarmaFleet, a different corporation in the Goonswarm Federation. He joined their ranks in 2015, where he remains to this day. Even after becoming allies with the person who had robbed him, Darkhawk held no lasting resentment, instead choosing to chalk it up as a life lesson. Since joining Karmafleet, Darkhawk has continued to haul, moving materials in between Goonswarm’s player-controlled space and the game’s main market hubs.

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Most public trading and commerce in EVE flows in and out of the star system of Jita. It is the game’s central trade hub, and you can find almost every item in the game for sale there. This centralization of trade means that there is a constant flow of freighters, haulers and transports coming in and out of the system. Jita has also caused a virtual highway to form in the other star systems surrounding it, a predictable path where the vast majority of goods sold at the market must travel. This trade route is the domain of EVE’s highwaymen.

Players with a proclivity for piracy lay in wait all along EVE’s trade routes, using specialized scanning gear to identify freighters carrying valuable cargo. Once a worthy target is found, it is ruthlessly followed and harassed to delay its passage long enough to assemble a fleet to destroy it. Every day courier runs are interrupted by these pirates, causing massive financial hardship to the space trucker and lining the pirates’ pockets with stolen goods.

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Not only do the intrepid truckers lose their expensive and specialized hauling vessels, but most courier contracts in EVE are covered by collateral insurance. Collateral is the game’s way of providing a “guarantee” that goods that are surrendered by a player into a space trucker’s care are returned. When a player accepts a courier contract, a sum of money, determined by the issuer of the contract, is placed into escrow by the trucker accepting the job. This money is returned, alongside whatever fee was negotiated for the completion of the job, when the cargo is successfully delivered. If the cargo doesn’t make its way to its destination, the collateral is forfeited to reimburse the customer. This double financial hit of losing an expensive ship as well as the collateral on the cargo within has caused many space truckers to be driven out of business.

During his original tenure with Red Frog, Darkhawk managed to avoid any unfortunate run-ins with pirate groups and didn’t lose any ships. Recently, however, that changed. “I took some of my hauling characters out of Goonswarm, and moved them back into Red Frog Freight for a bit, thinking I’d do some more hauling for them and lost two freighters back to back.”

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To add insult to injury, the pirates who attacked one of his freighters were from his own alliance. “One of [the freighters] I lost to the Ministry of Love, Goonswarm’s very own freighter gank squad,” Darkhawk said. Fortunately for Darkhawk, Red Frog Freight’s insurance policy was able to reimburse him and help to mitigate the losses. “Red Frog keeps track of and taxes all contract earnings, to pay for this insurance, to help protect their pilots.”

Through all of these trials and tribulations, Darkhawk remains optimistic about his long-haul trucker-esque hobby. “I think the love of hauling is what kept me doing it for as long as I did. For the longest time, I never even really kept track of the money I was making, I just enjoyed doing it.“

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In the end, a space trucker’s best defense is awareness and anonymity. Darkhawk declined to disclose to Kotaku the name of his hauler-focused pilots, as doing so could put him on the radar of pirate groups and hurt his ability to navigate the trade lines of EVE. It’s a small percentage of EVE players who make their way through the game by choosing to ply their trade as space truckers, and their playstyle is tough enough without publicly announcing themselves to the world.