There are 35 items in X-COM that can be manufactured, but if all costs are taken into account, only 14 of them can be manufactured for a profit.
You cannot manufacture an item until you have researched it, so you begin the game unable to manufacture any items at all. Depending on your research priorities, there are several early items that can be made for a profit: Motion Scanners, Medi-Kits, Laser Pistols and Laser Rifles. For more on research times and prerequisites, see Research.
Fusion Ball Launchers and Laser Cannons can be researched in the early-mid game, and are the two most profitable items that can be produced in all of X-COM. Refer to the profit tables for a detailed breakdown.
To calculate true (net) manufacturing profit, the following must be accounted for:
- Manufacturing cost -- the value shown on the manufacturing screen.
- Cost of Elerium-115 ($5k each) and Alien Alloys ($6.5k each), if required. Also, cost of UFO Power Source(s) ($500k each) and UFO Navigation ($80k each) for XCOM craft.
- Cost of Engineer salaries, at $25k per month per Engineer. Engineers work 24 hours a day, giving them an hourly wage of $35.
- Cost of Workshops ($35k/month) and Living Quarters ($10k/month) sufficient for the number of engineers employed.*
These costs are then compared against the Sell price, to determine profitability.
There is a startup cost associated with manufacturing: 50 Engineers cost $2.5 million to hire and require a Workshop ($800,000 to build) and a Living Quarters ($400,000), for a total of $3.7 million. Workshops also require a lead time of 32 days to build. Since you start the game with one Workshop and 10 Engineers, your first Workshop will only cost $2.4 million to fully ramp up (the cost of 40 Engineers and one Living Quarters).
There is also a time and cost factor associated with researching profitable items -- for instance, Heavy Lasers plus Laser Cannons require an average of 880 Scientist days to research (costing about $900,000 in salary). This is in addition to the 450 or so Scientist days required to research Laser Weapons, Laser Pistol, and Laser Rifle.
Workshop space overhead
Each manufacturing project takes up a fixed amount of workshop space, reducing the number of Engineers you can gainfully employ. With multiple workshops, the impact of this overhead is reduced: two workshops are proportionally 5%-7% more profitable than a single workshop would be (depending on the item being produced), and five workshops are as much as 11% more profitable.
The following is a list of selected items that are popular with players attempting to manufacture items for profit. Note that not all these items actually turn a profit, once all costs are factored in.
Monthly profits, based on a one-workshop operation. Figures in thousands (000's) where noted.
|Item||Hrs. per unit||Max Engrs.||Unit sell price
|Gross per unit
|Units per month||Labor cost
|Net monthly profit|
|Fusion Ball Launcher||400||44||281.1||242||6.5*||32.6||80.52||1,145||1,480|
- Hrs. per unit are the number of hours needed by one engineer to build a single unit
- Max Engrs. equals 50 minus the amount of workshop space taken up by the project
- Unit sell price is what the item will sell for on the Sell/Sack screen
- Unit cost is what each item costs to produce, on the Production screen
- Spec. costs is $6,500 for each Alien Alloy and $5,000 for each Elerium, if any
- Gross per unit is its sell price, minus production and special materials costs
- Units per month is how many units a fully-staffed workshop can turn out: 732 hours (30.5 days) divided by Engineer hours per unit, times Max Engineers employable
- Labor cost is Max Engineers times $25,000 (monthly salary) -- plus $35,000 for Workshop maintenance costs and $10,000 for Living Quarters
- Net monthly profit is Gross profit times Units per month minus Labor cost
* The table assumes you are using one Alloy per Fusion Ball Launcher; see below.
For a detailed listing of the profitability of all items in X-COM, with figures for 1 to 5 workshops, download MikeTheRed's XCOM_Profit_Tables.pdf. Or for an Excel (editable) spreadsheet, get XCOM_Profits.xls.
XComUtil manufacturing profitability
Under XcomUtil there is an option called (slightly misleadingly) "new laser weapons" that requires the use of extra alien materials in order to manufacture almost all energy beam weapons. It also makes the human manufacture of the alien plasma beam small arms impossible (research success merely allows X-COM to use captured weapons). The manufacture of craft Plasma Beams is still possible, but is made significantly more difficult (ten times the labour and workspace requirement as well as additional materials). This, as Scott Jones says, "seriously changes the economics of the game", as well as the balance of firepower in the air and (to a lesser extent) on the ground.
When this XComUtil option is active there are only 7 profitable items to manufacture instead of 14.
In order of decreasing profitability per month (indexed to 100) these are:
- Fusion Ball Launcher (100), Psi Amp (53), Motion Scanner (38), Medkit (19), Laser Pistol (10), Blaster Launcher (9), Small Launcher (9).
In fact the profitability of all these items is unchanged from the standard game; you still make 1,480,000 per month for the FBL with one workshop, etc. What changes is that 7 items, notably the Laser Cannon, disappear from the profitable list. But you can still get rich quick, even if the FBL is only 75% as profitable as the Laser Cannon in unmodified X-COM.
A spreadsheet containing the analysis is here: XComUtil Profits.
Laser Cannons vs. Fusion Ball Launchers
There is an oddity in XCOM which can make the Fusion Ball Launcher (FBL) appear to be the most profitable item. The oddity is that the first FBL you produce does not require an Alien Alloy (and thus, no Alloy requirement appears on the manufacturing screen), but subsequent FBLs do. If in doubt, watch your Alloy stores while manufacturing... the first FBL doesn't use one, but each additional FBL will use 1 Alloy. This bug is due to an oddity in the PRODUCT.DAT data at offsets 8-13.
This oddity has caused a fair bit of confusion; some folks (particularly in older docs) say Fusion Ball Launchers are the most profitable.
Without the alloy, the FBL is 1.77% more profitable than the Laser Cannon (LC). (This is regardless of the number of Workshops, because both FBL and LC have a Workspace requirement of 6.) However, when Alien Alloys are taken into account, FBLs are only 75.2% as profitable as LCs; LCs make 33.0% more profit. Due to the extreme micromanagement needed to repeatedly restart manufacturing versus the minuscule gain, probably few players will build one FBL at a time - so the Laser Cannon is the most profitable item "in real life". Still, you can play however you want!
Some have said that if you have a surplus of Alloys from missions, you might consider Alloys to be free, and make FBLs. Anyone can do what they want, but if the bottom line is profitability, it is clearly more profitable to make LCs (and sell excess Alloys). As stated, this is 33% more profitable than making FBLs with Alloys. Unless, of course, you want to make FBLs one at a time. Then, FBLs will be 1.77% more profitable - but only because you are not incorporating Alloys. Either way - whether you make LCs or you make FBLs one at a time - the most profitable ways do not involve using Alloys (which are simply sold, once in excess). So, anyone is welcome to make FBLs with Alloys if they want to consider Alloys as a freebie... but they will not be making the most money. (They'll make 75% as much as if they had made LCs, and sold excess Alloy.)
Some have also said that LCs are more profitable because you can make ~30% more LCs than FBLs in a month, with a given number of engineers. This is a misunderstanding. While you do make ~30% more LCs, the calculations take all factors into account - number per month, cost of parts, cost to sell, etc. Compare how the least profitable item (the Heavy Plasma clip; see Factoid 1, below) got that way because you can make a lot in a month - but the parts are very expensive, versus the resale value. You have to take all factors into consideration to be precise about profitability.
For more info on Manufacturing Profitability calculations, see the PDF or, better yet, the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet lets you do things like change the number of workshops, drop the cost of Alloys from the computations, etc.
It's also important to note that Laser Cannons are much more readily researched than Fusion Ball Launchers. First of all, to produce Fusion Ball Launchers, you must capture a Blaster Launcher and Bomb. These weapons usually don't appear until several months into the game. Secondly, the average time needed to research Laser Cannons is 1,330 hours (26.6 days for 50 Scientists), whereas Fusion Ball Launchers require 2,080 hours (41.6 days). Finally, about one third of the time needed for researching Laser Cannons is spent researching Laser Pistols and Rifles, which you are likely to research early on anyway.
In summary, Laser Cannons are available much sooner than Fusion Ball Launchers, and are clearly the most profitable item in XCOM - unless you want to micromanage FBLs and build them one at a time.
Simplified LC vs FBL profitability
Take an example where you start the month with $1,000,000 and 80 alloys, 44 engineers, 1 workshop. Manufacturing FBLs and selling them will end the month with $$3,000,000 and 0 alloys. Manufacturing LCs and selling them, keeping the alloys, will end the month with $ $2,968,000 and 80 alloys. Manufacturing LCs and selling them, also selling the alloys, will end the month with $3,488,000 and 0 alloys.
It's clear which is the winner.
Notes, Tips, Tricks, Etc.
- The maximum number of engineers you can assign to a project, equals the number of engineer hours it requires. In other words, the game "enforces" that you can only build one item per hour, at most. Example: You can only assign 60 engineers at most to work on a plasma pistol clip, which requires 60 engineer hours. The tables above don't take this into account, but then, small-fry products are usually not made by a large operation, anyway.
- You cannot have more than one project of the same type going at the same base. (This otherwise might have been a way "around" the limit of one per hour at most.) However, you can make that thing at some other base.
- Excess/wasted Workshop and Living Quarters are only a minuscule part of your costs. Example: A large operation (four workshops) might have 184 engineers instead of the optimal 194 for Laser Cannons (because of an occasional need to drop back and making flying suits, craft, etc. - it's a balance of constantly wasted space versus occasionally wasted engineers). The "wasted" 10 WS and LQ spaces only cost $9k/month ($45k*10/50), which is only 0.11% of the $8.3M/month that the 184 engineers make when producing LCs.
- Likewise, profits generally scale linearly according to number of workshops (two full workshops make only a little bit more than twice the profit of one full workshop, etc.). Many projects only require a handful of workspace requirements, and are almost totally linear. However, some projects have a large workspace requirement, such as the Laser Tank (25). With only one workshop, the Laser Tank only makes 39% of the profit that Laser Cannons would, whereas they make 64% of Laser Cannons with five workshops. The real reason they do so poorly with one workshop is much less due to the wasted overhead of workshop and living quarters; it is mainly because you can only assign 25 engineers with one workshop, versus 44 for Laser Cannons.
- Those who know XCOM, know that it suffers from integer truncation in a number of places. This could have hurt profitability badly if it occurred there; for example, if an item needs 100 engineer hours but you only assign 99, it might have taken twice as long, and halved your production and profit potential. Fortunately, this is not the case with manufacturing; it does not truncate production time this way.
- There is an exploit that lets the sneaky make items for free - but only one at a time.
- Another exploit involves transferring staff at the end of the month to avoid salaries. Eliminating salary costs makes Laser Cannons about 50% more profitable to produce.
- Factoid 1: The Heavy Plasma Clip is the biggest loss making item, due to the facts that it can be quickly made, but requires 3 Elerium. Be careful what you ask for!
- Factoid 2: Strange as it may seem, XCOM craft are not the biggest loss making items in the game, even though they are very expensive to make, and you can't sell them. (High cost, zero sales.) This is because craft take a long time to make, whereas other items can be made quickly, but incorporate expensive components. Their extreme production time overrides the fact that they can actually be sold. :P
- Factoid 3: 120 Alien Alloys, 30 Elerium, 2 UFO Power Sources, 1 UFO Navigation and 36 Free workspace, a Hangar plus $900,000 are the minimum raw resources needed at a base to begin manufacturing any item. If abusing the exploit that's all you will ever need to start production.
- In UFO: Enemy Unknown (and most likely all the other XCOM and TFTD versions) you can overflow the variable that holds the number of engineers. It is stored in a single byte, along with much of the data in the game, so if you get more than 255 engineers at one base, the number will wrap around. Instead of storing the correct number of engineers, it will divide the number by 256 and store the remainder.
If you get exactly 256 engineers your base will have 0. If you want to play the game fairly, make sure there is never more than 255 engineers at a base. If you don't mind exploiting the bug to make lots of money, then read on.
The easiest way to start this is to assign your engineers to build something. Wait until you have enough living quarters, and then buy enough engineers to have exactly 256 (costs $12.8 million for all the engineers, so save up to get them all in 1 month and not pay any salaries). Once the 256 engineers have all arrived, the game will call it 0. You won't need to house them any longer. You won't need to pay their salaries. You'll just need workshop space for them.
There is a second bug in UFO: Enemy Unknown where it only makes sure you don't allocate an engineer when you have 0 available engineers. It doesn't stop you if you have a negative number of available engineers. If you have 10 engineers building a Laser Cannon and 0 engineers at the base, you will have -10 engineers available for manufacturing items. THE GAME WILL NOT CARE HOW MANY ENGINEERS YOU ASSIGN AT THIS POINT. Your only limitation is how much workshop space you have. If you build 17 workshops at one base, it can produce a Laser Cannon, a Fusion Ball Launcher, and an Alien Alloy every single hour.
Personally, I recommend having most of your bases with the following: 1 Access Lift (needed), 1 Living Quarters (for soldiers), 1 Hangar (with Avenger), 1 General Stores, 1 Mind Shield, 1 Hyper-Wave Decoder, 1 Psionic Laboratory, and 26 Workshops. Then you can manufacture 1 Laser Cannon and almost 1 Tank/Laser Cannon every hour (skip the hangar for 1 every hour). These only require money to build (watch that, because if you run out and all production stops, you can't allocate any engineers) and produce large amounts of income.
There is also a known bug associated with display times.