Being a former member of EVE University I still find myself loitering around the halls of my alma mater helping out where I feel I can, in chat channels, on the forums, by continuing to teach classes, on Mumble (the voice comms program EVE University uses), on the wiki, and I still really enjoy helping out and nudging new players in the right direction (for them) so that they can get the most out of EVE Online for the experience they're looking for. I have learned that you can't push a rope. What that means is that no matter what, there are some players that when asking for advice and help are only looking for answers that they want to hear rather than accepting answers that are the better advice for the situations or circumstances they offer up in their queries. I hope that you have come here looking for a knowledge based on that better advice rather than just looking for what you want to hear. Finally, I am by no means an expert. I often consider myself as a newbie, still. And much of what I will offer here is my informed opinion, and can be taken as subjective over objective, although my goal is to keep it as objective as possible.
EVE Online is a very unique game in the world of MMOs. If you have any experience in other MMOs the first thing you should probably do is drop any preconceptions of how this game should be. Besides being a single shard, sandbox experience game, it is primarily player-driven for it's content, it's market (99% of items available are player produced or player supplied), and the PvE side of the game is probably best thought of as a means of background (some NPC-driven) content to support the player-driven content. It is a game of player conflict ranging from the most obvious PvP, "unfair" PvP, and suicide-ganking, to competition for resources, market "conflict" (or market PvP), in-game scamming, "stealing" or ninja-ganking of various exploration and combat sites, and using game mechanisms, such as war, to "grief" or deny an easy-go of things for even the most PvP adverse of player. I recommend you get over any notion that you should be able to be safe (in any variety of ways that could mean) or have a "right" to avoid any of this player conflict. Sometimes it can even go into the meta, and social aspects of the game. And the moment you undock in any sector of space, regardless of it's security status, you are flagging yourself as eligible for PvP. You can certainly learn things to mitigate the dangers of being in space, or even just in interacting with other pilots, and the more you apply the advice, wisdom, and your own lessons-learned, the more you'll be able to protect yourself. Chances are you're going to get burnt, or suffer what seems to be a major set-back. Don't worry, you can bounce back. Uniquely to EVE Online is the fact that you can't actually screw up your character. You may train a skill or skills you now think is/are unnecessary or unwanted for the direction you end up going in. Having any given skill won't prevent you from having any other given skill. You can't go back in time to "erase" that, and it simply takes time to train skills. Sure, you can learn to follow a skill plan that is focused towards your ultimate goals, but in the beginning, unless you really know and research everything, chances are you'll have skills that you no longer feel you wanted. Who cares. You haven't hurt yourself. The time has gone by, and you can't get it back. Biomassing (deleting) a character just to start over is the actual waste. I do recommend you use at least one of the other two character slots on your account to roll an alt (alternate character). You'll find it very useful, even if you never train that character (you can only train one character on your account at any given time, unless you pay for "Multi Character Training"). I'd only ever recommend biomassing a character if it's truly an unneeded alt.
Ships are simply items you will lose. Unlike in many other MMOs, ships are not akin to sets of armor or other similar "builds" and items (which only tend to get damaged at the worst when your character is defeated, not ever losing them as a result of the combat). Think of your ship simply as ammunition, something that you're prepared to expend in order to accomplish your mission. This leads rise to a phrase you'll often get told; "never undock in anything you can't afford to lose." More accurately, never undock in anything you're not prepared to lose and be able to replace several times over. By sticking to this basic "first rule of EVE Online" you shouldn't find yourself without being able to comfortably be able to replace your losses.
Patience is king. One of the biggest mistakes new players make is rushing into a larger class of ship believing that "bigger is better". Each class of ship will have it's strengths and weaknesses. I've been on a PvP action where three of us, two in faction frigates (an improved Tech I frigate) and a Tech 1 destroyer easily took out a Tech 1, with Tech II fittings, battleship of an enemy pilot. I've also been in an exciting 1 versus 2 situation in a Tech 1 frigate where I took out two other Tech 1 frigates. I've also warped into a mission site in an appropriate and decently fit ship only to lose it rather quickly to the mission NPCs (mission "rats"). As you are able to get into other classes of ships, it's not just being able to "sit" in that ship, but having your other skills trained up appropriately such as those needed for the weapons, the support skills for those weapons, tanking (defensive) skills, along with the more generic skills used by most or all ships. The one thing you can't escape is the time need to train your skills, unless you decide to purchase Skill Point Injectors off of Regional Markets, which are fairly expensive, and provide diminishing returns as you increase your skill point total. And "buying" up skills this way, or even purchasing a character, cannot make up for actual experience for yourself. Injectors not withstanding, skilling up will take a fairly linear amount of time, with only things like implants and attribute remaps having an effect to either shorten or extend the amount of time needed. If you are impatient, chances are you will only lose that nice shiny new ship simply because your character wasn't properly skilled (or you lack the game experience) to be able to use it effectively. That being said, you don't need to be timid, either. Don't wait for "perfect" skills before you move ahead. Just realize your limitations and find ways to mitigate them, such as teaming up (forming fleets) with other pilots, for example. You'll come to learn that bigger isn't better. It's understanding the roles, the limitations, the counters, and the capabilities of your ship compared to what you expect to be up against, versus other players or NPCs.
There is strength in numbers. EVE Online is a game that has a lot of strength for you through player co-operation. Players that want to solo "everything" and be, or become minimally reliant on other players can have a great time, given that it's what they want. And there is nothing "wrong" in wanting to have that as your playing experience. You just have to accept that much of the possible content you'll be essentially unable to do because there are many things in EVE Online that require the "multi" in multi-player. One way that some deal with this is by opening additional accounts so as to have the needed characters available to even enter some of the activities and content available. I feel that one of EVE Online's greatest strengths is that of the social and inter-player co-operation aspect. Take advantage of the many player corporations and groups that; a) will help you learn the game (such as EVE University, or one of many others that cater to new players and new player retention) , especially those aspects that interest you the most, and b) a corp or group that shares your play style(s) and interests. Many experienced players will recommend you move on from your starting NPC corporations in order to get the best game experience. Ultimately, that will be up to you, but there is something to be said for the experiences of being in a good corp that is active and allowing you to participate in those aspects of the game you enjoy. And always look to fleet-up with other pilots to do those things outside of the obvious that would require a fleet. It may not seem like it, but if you group to do missions, exploration, site running, mining, further industrial activities, marketing, worm hole "day tripping", just to name a few, you will have a much better experience and come out much further ahead in those things. Yes, there are times and conditions where doing some of these things solo will be rewarding, if just for the solitude, but even though you may think "if I have others join with me to do missions or sites, then I have to split and share the rewards" means that you lose out, I'd say you're wrong. By fleeting up with others you can complete missions and other sites much quicker, and this allows you to gain rewards quicker than you could achieve by yourself over the same time, plus you have the benefit of mutual support for these activities in more dangerous space or dangerous times. And by grouping with others you'll form some amazing relationships that will serve you well into your capsuleer career.
Be careful who you listen to. If you ask a question about plumbing and you get an answer from a surgeon, does that mean the answer you get is valid? You need to take in and qualify the advice you're given, solicited (asked for) or otherwise, and understand how it applies to you. For example, in help channels, new players will often have questions about mining, an activity that is readily available to do, and one that provides a steady income stream, and often they will get the response of "mining is terrible" or "don't mine". Is this true? Is mining really bad? Well, it is for the person who offered up that response. That doesn't mean it has to apply to you. If you get a response like that to something that you're interested in doing, set that response aside and get your advice from those that do the activity you're interested in and especially those that love to. And don't be surprised if you get responses to your questions that result in "it depends", especially those questions where you may ask "what is the best...." This is because in EVE Online there are so many variables that there really is no "best" and it's really all determinate on the specifics of a situation or activity, and what your character is capable of given their skills and other parameters. What's best for one player or pilot isn't necessarily the best for you. The more detail and specifics you can provide in any question you may have can help get you to a better answer. Don't worry if you don't what those details should be. Helpful pilots will ask you further questions first in order to get you an answer that will best help you.
It's your game, play it as you want. Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to play. Do what you want to do. As I said in the third paragraph, you want to avoid comparing how other games should be played and progress to that of how it can and does happen in EVE Online. Here you get to set your own course, chart your own way. You'll have access to any and all the information and resources you could possibly want. Don't take those for granted. If you're in a player corp, such as EVE University I strongly recommend you take advantage of everything that's offered. Get on the voice comms. I know that some people can be very shy of that, and it's okay. Take the time to do a little research, especially if you're given links or other media to review. This is just so that you have the information so that you can determine what is best for you. Some players advocate maximizing your "ISK per hour", whereas others will suggest not to worry about squeezing every last possible ISK out of what you do, but to relax and enjoy what you're doing. Neither view is right or wrong. It's your view that counts. Some say that the ore (and subsequent minerals if you refine it) you mine yourself isn't free. Some say that if you didn't spend ISK to get it, then it is free. Again, neither opinion is right or wrong. I, myself, am not interested in Incursions (a form of higher end PvE similar to "raids" in other games), but that doesn't mean they aren't something you shouldn't want to do. There isn't one play style that's invalid. You want to be a scammer? Scam away. You want to be a lowsec pirate? Pirate away. If you want to be a suicide ganker, gank away. You want to command an industrial empire? Then embark on that journey. It's your game, your reward.
New!! Alpha Clones, a.k.a. Free-to-Play. Check out my write-up and link here further in this thread: Alpha Clone state accounts.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with some links to various resources that are very helpful to new players. Check them out and enjoy. I hope you find them useful to your journey into EVE Online.
- EVE New Citizens Q&A - the official EVE Online forums meant for new players including those on trial accounts.
- EVE University's wiki - a well maintained and useful resource for many aspects of EVE Online. Often considered to be one of the best wikis available for the game. Don't be shy, go ahead and use the "search" feature.
- Opportunities and Career Agents - a briefing for new players and how the New Player Experience (NPE) works.
- EVE Online Flight Academy - CCP's video channel of quick tutorial videos that are also available in-game via the Help (F12) window, on the Tutorial Video tab. They are also shareable in-game from that window.
- Seamus Donohue's youtube channel - a video resource by the famous EVE University Professsor, covering various aspects, both beginner and advanced, of game play. Note that he has tagged some of these as requiring to be updated.
- Jonny Pew's youtube channel - another great video resource covering all aspects of game play, especially for the current (Vanguard) NPE.
- What to do in EVE Online - a nice visual on what you could get involved in, albeit somewhat dated.
I now place this thread at the mercy of my peers, enemies, and fans (if I have any), and most importantly, you. Feel free to ask questions or make comments. I know that our collective goal is to help you, the new player, get as good a possible start, and enjoy playing EVE Online no matter what we advise or how "bittervet" we may come across.