I've discovered the real entry barrier to Eve, and this is the making of in game money (or isk). Just like the real world, everything revolves around having, spending, and most importantly, making isk. The focus on the in game currency is a major mental shift away from other MMOs. Sure you want gold in WoW to help you grind professions or by the new shiny, but when it comes down to it your game play does not absolutely DEPEND on your bank account. In traditional MMOs a player can always go "raiding" for the best items, in EVE you have to have and be able to sustain a currency balance capable of purchasing the ships, equipment or investment money needed.
Much like Real Life, making money is MUCH easier to do if you have it already. This is the dilemma that I, and other new players, will find themselves in. Unlike the way I've been trained by other MMOs, going out and killing NPCs is not the only way to make money. Let me list the ways I've seen, done or heard about making isk.
1. Mission Running: This is perhaps the method most familiar to all players of other MMOs. You find an agent, generally at Level 1 and start performing missions (i.e. quests) they ask you to do. Go to XXXX system and kill these pirates. Take this package from here to there. Eventually, you can reach a NPC corporation's highest level of mission agents (Level 4) and theoretically make 10-20 million isk in mission reward and NPC looting and salvaging. This may sound like a lot, but when you compare it to a 1.5 BILLION isk ship, the amount of money that merely mission running brings in will probably not be enough to fully fund your EVE experience...unless you spend A LOT of time playing. Which as this blog is named, I certainly do not. Of course, everyone will/should run missions for certain NPC corporations. They provide services at all Empire (or safer space) and the better the NPC corp likes you the cheaper their services are.
2. Mining: Also a method of making isk that is familiar to most. Like mission running, even a starting character has the ability to add a mining laser to their beginning frigate and mine ore from an asteroid. Ore and mineral prices vary across the EVE universe, but it can and does provide the beginning nest egg for beginning players to buy a better frigate or start a trading or industrial career. Halada's excellent guide at www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=305662 shows you a way to dedicate time and effort into becoming a dedicated (and profitable) miner.
3. Industrialist: Also a more familiar way for most players. Buy a blueprint and minerals...and then build the item...promptly sell to other players and rake in the isk. Unfortunately, for the beginning player there is a) a LOT of competition, b) a LOT of items you can make, c) you need money to buy the blueprints and materials, d) there are several skills needed to produce items cheaply...which a new player will not have right away. Industrialist can and do make money...it is VERY hard for a player on their own and most industrialist need the help and support of a corporation (to help with running the POS needed to speed up blueprint and manufacturing processing if for no other reason).
4. Trader: NOTHING like this is any other MMO. Basically, you can never fire a shot in anger and build your isk through the buying and selling of goods across the universe. Frankly, I haven't figured this part out, other than the inane advice of "Buy low and sell high." No kidding!! The richest individuals in the EVE (that I know of) trade in some fashion to continue making isk to fund their other ventures. Given the approximate 50,000 items in the game you would think it would be easy...and maybe it is, but I haven't cracked that code yet.
5. Pirating: Taking other people's stuff, threatening their ship and life for a ransom, killing other pirates for the bounty on their head. Piracy is a very viable option. There was just a story that pirates made almost 2 BILLION isk by destroying a single industrial ship that had precious blueprints worth a reported 14 BILLION before the ship blew up. One drawback to a new player is that you need good ships to destroy other ships...which requires isk to purchase the ships in the first place.
As you can see, making isk is a fundamental and required PLAYER skill to advance and survive in Eve. I personally am settling for mission running and mining right now, due to my limited playtime and knowledge level. There are two caveats to this entire conversation. One, everything is easier when you join an active corporation that helps its members. For beginning players I would suggest Eve University (www.eve-ivy.com), although I haven't joined their corporation, they have had too many newer players join and stay in EVE for their success in helping people be a fluke. Second, all of these methods will earn more money in lawless null sec versus the regulated High sec (or Empire state). The completion is less, the highest level asteroids and NPCs payouts are in null sec. CCP wants a reason for people to enter the universe spanning alliance warfare in null sec and makes the monetary incentive very lucrative to do so.