There's increasing focus on the "imbalance" of Incursion income versus L4 security mission income. People see Incursion runners making a hundred million ISK an hour and feel that this is imbalanced compared to L4 security missions. I'd like to contribute my experiences to the community, in the hope that people can actually add some evidence to their arguments instead of just winding themselves up into foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic ranting based on second- or third-hand information.
To start with, let's have a look at how Incursions work: you form a fleet, warp to a beacon, shoot up some stuff, and get paid.
The fleet will typically be a group of 10 pilots. Of those 10, 2 or 3 will be logistics ships, the rest will be DPS, with various members of the fleet carrying EWAR & tackle of some kind. As an example, your fleet might have 2 5/1-fitted Basilisks, a Bhaalgorn, 3 Nightmares and 4 Machariels. If those ships are T2 fitted, you will be completing Override Transfer Arrays (OTAs) in about 10 minutes, earning about 60M ISK/hr. If those ships are officer-fitted and using faction or T2 ammo to improve their DPS, you'll be completing OTAs in about 4 minutes, earning about 150M ISK/hr.
So you want a fleet. That fleet needs to be as shiny as possible in order to secure the highest ISK/hr possible.
Each site consists of a bunch of stuff that you need to blow up. As an example of the Vanguard sites, you have the OTA. The site starts with 2 x Auga Hypophysis cruisers (roughly equivalent to a capsuleer Force Recon such as a Curse or Lachesis) and 1 Deltole Tegmentum battleship. As you kill the first group, a second group of 2 x Auga and 1 x Deltole will spawn. As you kill that group, a third group of the same will spawn. Killing the third Deltole marks the site as complete, and all remaining Sanshas Nation ships will warp away.
A non-shiny fleet will have to blow up 2-6 Augas and 3 Deltoles. How many Augas you kill is determined by how quickly you can kill the Deltoles. If you can kill the last Deltole before you lose a ship from your fleet, you've killed enough Augas. If you are never at risk of losing a ship, you have killed too many Augas. A shiny fleet will only need to kill 1 Auga (if any) in order to spawn the second group.
So you shoot some stuff up. Then you have to get paid.
The way Incursions reward participants is to figure out who contributed the most to the site completion. I am not sure of the details, but I think the basic figure is the number of HP damage dealt.
In a quiet system, you will realise your expected ISK/hr income. You warp to sites, blow stuff up, get paid. In a busy system, there are more people looking to run the sites that you're running. In a particularly busy system you'll find other fleets at every site that you warp to. Entering that site means you start a competition between the fleets in that site, as to who will get the most HP damage dealt on their scorecard.
Now what happens if a shiny fleet that can complete a site in 3 minutes drops in on top of a T2 fleet that completes sites in 10 minutes? If the T2 fleet has less than about 5 minutes headstart, the shiny fleet will complete the site faster than they normally do (because there's another fleet helping them blow stuff up), and get the reward for that site.
Thus if you are a shiny fleet, you optimise your income by specifically choosing to contest the sites that you are best at running, after another fleet has started that site. You will have a scout monitoring each OTA, and you will warp to the OTAs only when someone else has started them. After all, you don't want to waste your time doing all the work yourself!
Assuming you have a scout or two (alt accounts that you can't fly anyway, since you're entirely focussed on one client), you just watch the other OTAs in this system or nearby systems, and warp to that site once the other fleet has one Deltole wreck on the field. You will approximately double your income since you have other fleets doing half your work for you, and you will be walking away with about 300M ISK/hr.
The best bit is you then get to laugh at people putting stats together who see 10 people getting paid 300M ISK/hr and assuming that Incursion income is 300M ISK/hr, and getting all frothy at the mouth as they panic-rant about the extreme amount of ISK awarded through Incursions.
But what about mission income? I'm glad you asked!
Let's take a T2-fit strategic cruiser such as a Tengu and go run missions. All agents have a different pool of missions to choose from based on their faction, their corporation, and the space where their station is located. If you pick the right agent, you will get a large proportion of pirate, mercenary and drone missions, with very few faction missions. If you pick the right system, you'll have a bunch of agents to get missions from. So you take your Tengu, and you go running missions.
Based purely on bounties and mission rewards (i.e: ignoring LP, loot and salvage), you will be making about 30M ISK/hr.
So you upgrade your Tengu and get implants. With your faction-fit Tengu (Caldari Navy BCS, RF AB, Fed Navy Web) and HML-specific implants you will be applying more effective DPS and pulling in about 50M ISK/hr. Use faction and T2 missiles, and count your salvos — i.e.: stop firing when there are enough missiles in flight to kill the target — and you're pulling in about 60M ISK/hr.
If you factor in LP and contract out your salvaging to a third party, you will be making in the order of 80M ISK/hr.
If you upgrade all your fittings even further, you can switch to HAMs and you will end up pulling in over 100M ISK/hr including LP and contracted salvage.
So for the same investment in hardware, you'll be playing solo and not contending sites with anyone, and still be pulling in 100M ISK/hr. You don't have to worry about joining the Caravan of the Heavens every time an Incursion is shut down. You don't have to worry about a shinier fleet contesting yours. You don't have to worry about someone else's disconnect causing your ship to be destroyed.
So what do you choose?
Fly a shiny ship in Incursions, making up to 300M ISK/hr by flying in the shiniest fleet and being a total arsehole? Or fly a shiny mission boat solo, making up to 100M ISK/hr with no hassles, no worries, and not having to stop your missions because someone else had to go to bed/work/garden?
Whether Incursions pay "too much" is not part of this argument.