If I wind up creating an Alpha clone account in EVE, the first decision I need to make is which of New Eden's four factions to choose. When I began playing EVE in 2009, a player's faction and bloodline mattered due to the starting attributes each gained. As time went on, CCP decided New Eden had too many Caldari Achura running around and standardized the learning attributes across all factions. With that one move, a player's choice of starting faction really didn't matter, at least mechanically.
Alpha clones are different, as they may only learn the skills of one faction, and a limited set of skills at that. I'm going to give a quick run-through of the four factions and how I rank them in desirability. For those who rate the lore and role-playing possibilities highly, I'll provide a link to CCP's description of each faction. For those who want a deeper dive into the lore, I recommend reading Mark726's Lore Survival Guide as well as his travel blog, Eve Travel. I also recommend reading the backstory of EVE, which is filled with a surprising amount of fiction written by CCP. For those without time to sit down and read, The EVE Reader Podcast recorded many of the Chronicles in a downloadable format.
4. Minmatar - Some may think I would shy away from the Minmatar because my two main characters are both from the Vherokior tribe. But I'm not sure just how suitable the Minmatar are for an Alpha clone. First, Minmatar ships often have a choice of fielding either a shield or armor tank. That choice is basically taken away from Alpha clones as their skills will lead them to shield tanking. In fact, my favorite tech 1 Minmatar cruiser, the Rupture, has a slot layout that calls out for an armor tank. I guess Alpha clones will use a high DPS fit when running missions.
One other quirk I find strange about the Minmatar Alpha clone skill set. The Minmatar electronic warfare specialty is target painting. Minmatar Alpha clones may only learn their racial EW skill to level 1.
I should add that the Minmatar Republic is the smallest of the empires, so the space could become rather crowded depending on the influx of new players. Some may find that desirable, others not. The Minmatar Republic does have the smallest major market hubs, however, so mercantile activity currently is low.
3. Caldari - Honestly, I am not picking on the factions that shield tank. But I do think the Caldari fall behind both the Amarr and Gallente in utility, although I think a Caldari character is a fine choice.
First off, the shield tanking skills of a Caldari Alpha clone matches up with the faction's ships. In PvP especially, the racial electronic warfare specialty, electronic counter-measures, is trainable to 4, the best of any of the types of Alpha clones. Also, the Caldari tech 1 exploration frigate, the Heron, has 5 mid-slots. Mid-slots are important in exploration frigates as they allow for the use of more exploration modules. Explorers may want to choose a Caldari character.
The geography of the Caldari State is also better than the Minmatar Republic. For those inclined to mine, the ore selection is much better. The Caldari are also better located for business, as New Eden's premier trade hub, Jita, is located in the Caldari region of The Forge.
Of course, every faction has a downside. The biggest one I see to starting a Caldari Alpha clone is the limited training available in the drone area. The Caldari use missiles and, like the Minmatar, can only train Drones to 3. That limits the amount of drones a Caldari Alpha clone can deploy to three instead of the five both the Amarr and Gallente can utilize at any one time. That could hinder development of the character if a player wants to upgrade the account to Omega status.
I did find a quirk in the skill selection for the Caldari. No target painting skill. Target painters are useful for missile ships, of which the Caldari have quite a few. I count that as a downside due to the limit on Caldari practical DPS.
2. Amarr - I had a tough time deciding to choose the Amarr over the Caldari on this list. The Amarr basically get the nod due to the reduced ammunition requirements of Amarr ships over their Caldari counterparts. The Amarr prefer armor-tanking ships armed with lasers and drones, both of which can last for a very long time. Amarrian ships do rely heavily on capacitor for both weapons and tank and may run through large amounts of cap booster charges. But in the main, the profits may stay with the player longer.
On the lore front, the NPC story has run through the Amarr Empire over the last few years. Yesterday saw the installation of Catiz I on the throne and more intrigue appears set for the near future. As for role play, Amarrian players have a long history of role playing, including their role in making Providence a Not Red, Don't Shoot region for a very long time.
Geographically, the Amarr Empire is the largest of the four NPC empires, with control over eight regions. Some areas of the Empire are crowded and others sparsely populated. The Empire even hosts two of the pirate factions, the Blood Raiders and the Sansha. The Amarr also have a favorable mix of ore, with kernite found in 0.7 security systems. The ore, which is required to complete the level 4 Materials for War storyline missions that give out +4 implants, are only found in low sec in Minmatar and Gallente space. Filling up a Venture gets enough ore to complete the storyline mission. Throw in that the capital system of Amarr is the second biggest trade hub in the game and the Empire seems like a good place to start.
The big complaint I've heard in the past is the lack of mid-slots for tackle, especially for the Punisher. The Magnate, the Amarr tech 1 exploration frigate, only has three mid-slots, which is worst-in-class. I perhaps don't know enough about the Amarr, but that doesn't sound like such a big handicap, unless exploration is an interest, then choose the Caldari or Gallente.
1. Gallente - The Gallente get my nod as the top faction to play as an Alpha player. The big reason is drones. The Gallente have a clear path of drone boats in Tristan > Algos > Vexor > Vexor Navy Issue. In addition, the Gallente Alpha clone can fly one of the most popular ganking ships, the Catalyst.
Perhaps the class of ships that set the Gallente apart are the industrials. The iconic Iteron Mark V still is the mainstay, but the other four ships really make the Gallente versatile. The Nereus is a small, tough hauler that can launch 3 light drones. The Epithal is a specialized planetary interaction ship while the Kryos and Miasmos have dedicated bays for hauling minerals and ore, respectively.
On the mining front, the Thorax is the ship with the highest mining yield, outside the Gnosis, that an Alpha clone can fly. The Society of Conscious Thought battlecruiser gets the nod over the Thorax due to the Gnosis' larger cargohold.
The Gallente Federation is the second largest empire faction, controlling six regions. I don't see much of an advantage geographically except that the region of Sinq Laison, home of the main Gallente trade hub of Dodixie, is very centrally located. If one doesn't mind hopping through low sec, the region is adjacent to every other empire trade hub in the game. Of course, Alpha clones can't fit cloaks on their ships, so that is an inhibiting factor. The fact that I don't really see a geographic advantage to starting as a Gallente pilot is perhaps the biggest weakness of all.
That's my quick rundown of my rankings for each playable faction in EVE for Alpha clones. Some may rank them differently based on playstyle or whether they PvP more. In general, I think the Minmatar are the worst, with valid arguments for choosing one of the other three factions. I personally like factions with less ammo requirements and more variety. Then again, I did choose to create not one, but two Minmatar characters. I did so because when I started I heard the Minmatar were the biggest challenge to play. So perhaps that will provide an incentive for new players to choose the Minmatar in November as well.