Throughout the areas of the cluster known as empire space, there is an abundance of Starbase Charters that are available to capsuleers, and this begs the question; what exactly is the use for an empire based control tower and its associated assemblies?
An empire control tower can only be erected within a star system with a mid-level CONCORD rating. To even consider deployment of a tower, the prospective corporate entity must be held in high regard by the local political and / or controlling corporate body. No lucrative activity such as moon mining or refining is permitted, so why are capsuleers erecting them?
Two large alliances, solely devoted to research and development, have made great use of this opportunity. These two alliances are direct competitors, but maintain a friendly rivalry.
Interviews were conducted with Mr. Ricdic, CEO of Corporate Research & Production (C-R-A) and executor of the Zzz alliance, and also with Mr. Alvara, founder of Kuiper Belt Industries, executor of the Empire Research Alliance, and his right hand man within the alliance, Mr. Jesters Knight of Encoded Theory corporation.
The limited number of publicly available research slots is hurting the research and development of blueprints and inventions. Verbal and physical assaults are commonplace on the queues at many public research facilities. Empire Research, and C-R-A both saw a need to ease this issue and both determined that the best way to do so was to deploy control towers, attach mobile research labs to them, and invite others to use their facilities at a minimal cost.
Unfortunately, technological issues have limited the usefulness of mobile research laboratories. As a member of the alliance, member corporations can use any research centre owned by a fellow alliance corporation to conduct research on the properties of blueprints. However, security features built into the laboratory central computer system only allow blueprints to be copied if the researcher is a member of the corporation that owns the facility. This limitation also extends to enterprising researchers attempting to modify blueprints in order to create the next new ship or module for the capsuleer community. Regardless, both organizations have forged on and provide the best that they can for their customers.
Both alliances rely on their member corporations as customers. By sharing resources, customers benefit from vastly reduced queue times, jobs that take three quarters of the time to complete than in traditional station laboratories, and lower research costs. The owner corporations are able to pull in extra isk from fees on research slots that would normally lay dormant if not in full use by corporation members. While the goals of both alliances are similar, the origins of each couldn’t be more different.
C-R-A was founded by an initial investment of ten billion ISK, with one million shares spread among slightly more than 100 investors. In the first thirteen months of operation, C-R-A has grown to an 18.5 billion ISK corporation, and dividends have effectively repaid back almost sixty-eight percent of initial investment to date. Assets of the alliance as a whole include ten large control towers (seven owned by C-R-A directly, three by member corporations that pay a monthly operating fee) and more than 130 mobile research laboratories.
“Research profits aren’t superb. I think [the] customer base is the key here. I believe the customer base of Zzz alone would be worth a good five to ten billion ISK" comments Ricdic.
Zzz alliance has grown via aggressive advertising and reasonable fees. Without their hard won customer base, Zzz could have been just another failed research alliance.
Looking to the future, Riddic said: “The most crucial change that would benefit both me, and all research services… is the ability to offer researching services to the public. [This] reduces alliance fees considerably, doesn't need anywhere near the same level of advertising, resolves the current issue of public overcrowded labs, and provides a new level of competition within the public sector. I feel this is a crucial step that should be taken to remove some of the reliance on government run facilities, and put it into the hands of the public.”
This seems to be a common lament among the researchers at large.
Empire Research Alliance
Empire Research was founded by Alvara. Unlike Zzz, Empire Research was created not as a corporate behemoth, but as a social commune.
Jesters Knight informed us that: "Empire Research was originally formed to allow friends to access unused research spaces at our facilities. We then began adding in more tower owners and research corporations. However due to complications in the mobile research laboratory security, blueprint copying was disabled for everyone except the owning corporation. After that we saw a decrease in membership numbers and usage. Recently, we have been slowly climbing up towards... higher numbers. We would like to allow members to use the labs fully, including the copy functions, but the technology simply isn’t there yet”
While Empire Research does have final say on location of tower deployments, and collects a fee for doing so, Empire Research does not itself own any towers. The onus of maintaining the research centre falls squarely on the corporation that built it. Income is derived for the corporation from the fees imposed per slot and time.
Currently, Empire Research has eight deployed towers, run by eight different corporations, in what can best be described as a loose confederation of entities working together for the social good. Alvara declares at the closing of the interview that “We are more than just an alliance that provides a service. We are a community of friends who help each other.”