One of the strongest threads running through all the Star Wars movies is the continuous bustle of commerce. Even while great events take place, people are still trying to live their lives and make a credit or two. Whether moisture farmers, junk dealers, smugglers, bounty hunters, clone breeders, droid manufacturers, or members of a cantina band, there's a whole world of commercial activity constantly operating behind the scenes (and sometimes right up front!).
This great variety in what people do -- from the little guy to the hero -- is part of the richness of Star Wars. SWG does a good job of reflecting this part of the saga by offering lots of professions that aren't just about swashbuckling, and by making these more commercial activities an integral part of the game.
Obviously a lot of folks are looking forward to the Space Expansion in terms of its similarity to Star Wars: X-wing vs. TIE Fighter. That's fine; this opens up the Space Expansion to the heroic aspect of Star Wars, and that's important... but what about the opportunities for commercial activity? How can the Space Expansion support the regular folks over whom the GCW is being fought but who aren't directly involved in that conflict because they're out making a living?
The simplest option will be to add new NPC missions that take players into space. As with ground-based missions, purely commercial missions will probably come in three forms:
- skills-based missions
- "open" missions
- space-based factional missions (as these aren't primarily commercial I don't discuss them here)
Some missions are given based on a player's skills. For example, a player with crafting skills might be offered a mission to build replacement hull plating for an orbiting ISD, or a mining droid for an NPC on a space station in an asteroid belt.
A variant of this could be a Repair mission. In this mission type, you could (for example) be asked to travel to some NPC starship to fix some broken system. "Captain Znarxes doesn't have anyone aboard who can repair his hyperspace motivator. Take your repair kit and get out there now." (Of course crafters will need to have a Repair skill for this to work. Ahem.)
Other types of skills-related missions could be Survey missions ("I need a good source of Zagallik Crystalline Gemstone in the Tharpid Nebula -- find me one over 64% and I'll make it worth your while"), Destroy missions ("Those cursed mynock are destroying the power cables of this station! Get rid of them for me and you'll be well rewarded."), and Entertain missions ("That's it! You're exactly what I need for my new act! Get over to the Rassid Space Colony -- I'll put the waypoint in your datapad -- and play one of your songs for my old friend Hessalian. You'll be great!")
B. "Open" Missions
These are missions that anyone can take. The most common type of open mission is the Delivery mission, where you're asked to carry some object to an NPC at some distant location. The Space Expansion may include some new planets, but the really interesting new missions will be the ones whose endpoint is somewhere in space.
Maybe the target NPC is on a space station. Even more interesting, suppose the target is on board a starship? "Captain Teekul is expecting delivery of these maps. You can find her on board her ship, the Nasturtium, currently in orbit over Mos Eisley on Tatooine. Get going."
Other types of open missions include the usual Escort and Recon missions. The Space Expansion variants of these could mean leading a crippled ship through a pirate-infested area, or visiting the heart of a dense asteroid field to see who's hiding there.
Finally, if the Space Expansion implements multi-person ships, a new type of mission could be possible: the Transport Mission. This would allow NPCs to pay you to take them to other places. If the NPC automatically exits (and pays you) the moment you land, then I don't see much room for griefing this feature.
"Freight" is the name for goods that someone else owns but which you carry. A freighter is thus a ship whose primary purpose is carrying someone else's stuff from one place to another -- sort of like UPS or FedEx in space.
This is a standard kind of space commerce in science fiction, and it wouldn't hurt to have it as a form of economic activity in SWG since it's easy money. But to be perfectly honest... it's sort of boring. I wouldn't holler if it wasn't part of the initial launch of the Space Expansion.
(Note: Item delivery doesn't really need to be part of the Space Expansion, anyway. This would be better implemented using a Player Contracts system.)
"Cargo" is the name for goods that you actually own that you buy in one place and ship to another place in the speculative hope of turning a profit on the deal.
This is where the Space Expansion could really shine in terms of commercial activity. Space trading games have been seen in all kinds of games, from tabletop RPGs like MegaTraveller to computer games like Freelancer, but they all have several features in common:
- multiple types of goods that have different costs and storage requirements
- multiple locations that offer some goods and want other goods
- dynamic pricing (some items are more in demand than others, and this changes)
- allow some ships to have large cargo spaces
- products should have specific handling requirements based on their attributes
- NPCs in cities should occasionally offer missions to address "shortages"
The most important part of a commercial game is a dynamic player economy that springs up to address an excess demand in one place by transferring an excess supply from some other place, and to make a profit in the exchange. In SWG, any crafter anywhere can build anything locally. So dynamic markets in SWG mostly amount to moving good resources from one planet where they're spawning to another planet where they aren't.
When Naboo or Tatooine isn't producing a non-ferrous metal with a decent Shock Resistance rating, Master Artisans on those planets who run out of stockpiled resources can't craft high-quality vehicles. But if Corellia or Dantooine does have such resources, it might be cost-effective to buy them from someone who's importing them.
Right now that import business is a tough one to be in. Not only do you have to have enough sales to recover the money you spend traveling from one planet to another, not only will you spend a lot of time traveling and sampling, but the 10-lot limit places a serious restriction on whether you can harvest a broad enough spectrum of resources to be sure of always having something worth selling. (The more gregarious players will "borrow" lots from other players, but not every player is comfortable with making such arrangements.)
The final difficulty is only being able to carry around 120 or so items (and that's if you carry droids with storage compartments). That may seem like a lot, but consider that you can have possibly 30 or 40 different types of resources per planet. Since you need to keep track of these somehow to avoid re-sampling, your choices are either to write down all the attribute values of every resource from every planet to keep track of what's current everywhere (not an attractive proposition), or keep a small sample of every current resource in your inventory. The latter chews up inventory space like crazy, but even so it's easier than writing the relevant information down. But it can only be done for one (or possibly two) planets before you run out of inventory slots.
The Space Expansion really becomes useful if some ships are able to carry many more items -- say, 250 or so. At that point, the Space Expansion starts to really mean something for commercial activity because it will support what people actually want to do -- keep track of current resources.
Note: Even better would be to have a good in-game way to store samples of current resources and their attributes (a more specific way than just a general notebook). In this case, fewer ship cargo spaces would be necessary for simply storing samples; they could instead be used for actually hauling meaningful quantities of materials.
B. Materials Handling Characteristics
Different types of objects should have different characteristics that require different transport mechanisms. This is an extra bit of "realism" that has a big payoff in making the cargo game more interesting.
If all materials have the same handling characteristics, then the cargo game is little more than freight hauling with a little more profit. But when different types of materials have different transport costs due to handling requirements, that adds an interesting wrinkle to the calculations of what will make a good profit from what won't... and that's exactly what makes a commercial game fun.
Transporting inert Inorganics (Metals, Inert Gases) should be simple and cheap. But moving reactive Inorganics (Reactive Gases, Radioactives) might call for special handling, such as Lead Containers or Magnetic Containment Vessels. These would be available from Artisans -- at a price, of course. To make it even more fun, materials might be classified as Low Risk, Medium Risk, and High Risk, and the appropriate containers for that type of material might require a container capable of mitigating that risk level. For example, a Radioactive with a Potential Energy value above 667 might be classified as a High Risk material, and would require a container crafted to include a Lead Shielding Level 3 component.
Some Organics (Flora, Hides, Meats, animal DNA) should break down and be slowly lost unless stored in pressurized and temperature-controlled containers (again, these could simply be optional components of a new Cargo Container object). Other Organics (firearms, grenades, mines, pharmaceuticals) might be hazardous in various additional ways. (And of course transporting live NPCs or PCs should require passenger berths, but more on that below.)
Other kinds of designations for items (items should be classifiable into multiple categories) could be Contraband (spices, some weapons, factional plans/orders), Valuables (artwork, cut gems, currency), and Information (bulk mail [from NPC missions], schematics, waypoints).
One of the biggest draws to playing a commercial game is the belief that one day you'll strike oil. What makes the daily grind endurable is feeling that one day you'll get rich by being in the right place at the right time with the right product. (The real secret, of course, is just hard work over a long time and investing smartly, but it's the belief in "get-rich-quick" schemes that keeps many people playing the commercial game.)
SWG's dynamic resource generation system one of the necessary pieces for encouraging this belief in players. (This feature is actually one of the unsung heroes of SWG -- it's crucial for the existing commercial game and for the SWG economy generally, but it hasn't anywhere near the praise it deserves for what it contributes to the game.) What would improve this system for commerce in the era of the Space Expansion would be occasional "disasters" based around NPC cities.
You wouldn't want to impose negative events (even notionally) on player cities, since some players would feel picked on if their city appeared to suffer in any way compared to other cities. But suppose one day some number of the NPCs standing around in Kor Vella started complaining of a disease infecting the local farms which only Rorian Wild Wheat had the right nutrients to cure. If these NPCs for one day offered missions to bring back 1000 units of this resource, paying 10,000 credits and +50 "Townspeople" faction on delivery would spur a burst of commercial space traffic to import this resource to meet the brief local demand. Similar stories could be generated to explain needs for various other kinds of resources in different places.
There could be interesting variations on this. One modification would be to more closely tie such events in with other aspects of the Space Expansion. Since we know virtually nothing about the Space Expansion at this date (*cough*hint*cough*), it's hard to speculate on exact mechanisms. But perhaps at the same time as some resource becomes in demand in certain cities, Hutt- or other criminally-factioned ships appear in the skies above that planet offering higher prices (and perhaps appropriate faction points) for that resource. Players would have to decide whether to make a fast buck, or whether helping out farmers was more ethically satisfying. (This decision might even be worth a few Dark Side or Light Side points if you're a Jedi.) Or maybe the resources are interdicted in some way, and only a player with good Piloting or Smuggling skills can successfully move the resources through Customs.
Another potential improvement would be to tie temporary demands in with the GCW. Maybe several Rebel bases spawn outside Moenia, each with a Captain asking for 1000 units of Seafah Crystalline Gemstone with an Entanglement Resistance above 700 (which has been chosen in part because none is currently available on Naboo). In return for 1000 resources, she'll pay 15,000 credits and +50 Rebel faction. At the same time, the Imperial presence above Naboo is intensified somewhat, and (assuming the Space Expansion allows this) random searches of ships above Naboo are conducted more frequently for the presence of this material.
And this just assumes the existence in the Space Expansion of the current planets/moons. What if there are new planets with unique resources? What if we can mine asteroids? The creation of new places to explore also offers the opportunity to add new kinds of resources to the current crop -- perhaps things like different products keyed to specific dangerous creatures ("Organic, Creature, Bile, Sarlacc") -- getting 1000 units of that might be a real challenge!
Overall, the point is to have brief, localized "shortages" of a particular resource. Players who discover this need would be able to profit; those who don't but who hear about events like this would be encouraged to participate in commerce in the hopes of big, fast profits. Result: more fun.
"Passengers" is the name for -- well, for passengers.
If the Space Expansion allows some ships to carry multiple players (in the same way that multiple players can be inside a house simultaneously), then the bare necessities for passenger service will be in place. This would at least allow informal travel arrangements. ("Give me 10,000 credits and I'll take you to any NPC city on Tatooine." "We'll give you 2000 now... plus another 15,000 when we reach Mos Espa.")
But suppose I take your money, then I land on Dathomir and /eject you from my ship? In an informal system, this is all too possible. To avoid ripping off potential travelers, it may be necessary to tweak the travel system somewhat in this way: If you take someone on board your ship as a paying passenger, then they get to set your destination (unless some other passenger has already set your ship's destination, in which case you'd have the option of going there or getting your money back and waiting for another ship). When you launch and go into hyperspace, you go directly to that destination. And when you reach that destination, the moment you exit the ship your money is credited to the ship's owner.
This system would allow potential passengers to travel with some assurance that the ship owner wouldn't be able to leave them stranded on some dangerous planet. Bad things might still happen -- there could be a hyperspace malfunction, or pirates might catch you, or if your captain is factioned your ship might be attacked by a ship of another faction. But these things would typically hurt the ship captain, too, so he or she would be motivated to bring passengers safely to their destination.
(Note: Secure travel arrangements could also be made through a Player Contracts system.)
Assuming passenger service is possible, one interesting Space Expansion feature might be the ability to fit ships with passenger staterooms. There could be several levels of quality, from Efficiency (it's just a small room with no windows) to Standard (a decent-sized, one-porthole room with a few amenities that will let you drop up to five small inanimate items) to Luxury (a large, lavishly-appointed room with picture windows that will let you drop up to 20 medium-sized inanimate items). How cool would it be if a player could own a line of large passenger ships equipped with numerous luxury staterooms? Naturally passengers will be charged appropriately for traveling in such opulence....
The notion of staterooms into which passengers can drop items brings up the question of whether larger ships might be able to function as residences, or as city or PA halls. If you're a paying passenger in a Standard or Luxury stateroom, then paying your money should cause one stateroom aboard that ship to grant you (and only you) admin permissions. You should be able to drop items in that room (but nowhere else), and no one else (including the ship owner or pilot) should have access to that room or to those items without your permission.
The one tricky issue is what happens when you land at your destination. When you land and exit the ship, your access rights to your stateroom must be revoked... but what if you leave the ship with items still in "your" stateroom? The only thing I can think is that you should be prevented from leaving any ship while items you own aren't carried on your person. If you try, you'll be given a pop-up window asking you if you want to give up all items in your stateroom -- this would give you a chance to go back to your stateroom and collect your possessions, after which you'd be able to leave freely.
Obviously the Space Expansion should support smuggling!
Imperial patrol ships in space should harass players just as stormtroopers do in cantinas. If you wind up near Imperial ships, you'll risk being pulled over by a very well-armed Imperial patrol ship and searched for contraband. "Honest" merchants will just be verbally assaulted, but smugglers found to be carrying proscribed goods (weapons, spice, or anything Rebel-factioned) who fail a random check will have some of their goods confiscated and may be attacked, as will any ship that tries to run from a search. (How fast you can jump to hyperspace could be an interesting factor here!) As with the ground game, ships controlled by Imperials could be immune to search-and-seizure.
Naturally we'll want to be able to craft ships with "secret compartments" for hiding a few goodies that not everyone needs to know about -- a five-item container should work. These compartments would be subject to being scanned; if such a compartment is detected, then your ship would be subject to search. If something is found, then you're subject to the consequences.
The other part of this is that Smuggling skills should be augmented to improve a ship's resistance to scans. (Ships might also be built with scan-resistant technology... at a much higher price.)
There's also the ground game to consider. We don't yet know how the Space Expansion will handle landing ships, however, so it's hard to speculate usefully on this now. However, if there's anything like "landing" at all, then it should be possible to have something like Customs, in which case this is also a point at which your ship might be subject to search.
A final possibility for Smugglers in the Space Expansion will be hiring their specially equipped ships to smuggle cargo for other characters. The most obvious way to do this will be as a mission taken from an NPC, so hopefully this feature (as noted above) will be implemented along with the Space Expansion. But it would also be a lot of fun for players to be able to use Smugglers. Maybe a Rebel city on Lok needs a shipment of crates of ranged weapon powerups. Maybe a neutral city on Rori thinks there's big money to be made selling spice, but is low on product. If Player Contracts were available (I know, I just can't shut up about this ), players could make these kinds of Smuggling deals and countless others.
Many people have expressed a strong interest in Space Expansion features that would make some form of space piracy possible. Since there are economic ramifications, we should talk briefly about piracy here.
Piracy in SWG boils down to two questions:
1. Can characters on Ship A board Ship B against the will of Ship B's crew or passengers?
2. Can characters who board a ship take that ship or loot any of the stuff on that ship?
The first question of piracy concerns boarding. And the first question of boarding is docking.
If we want piracy, docking has to be possible. But to prevent it from being used inappropriately, it also needs to follow PvP rules. I'd like to see these requirements implemented through a /dock command whose success or failure is determined in two steps:
Given these rules, ships of different faction should always be able to dock with each other; no consent should be required. If I'm commanding an Imperial ship and you're Rebel scum (or if criminal faction is ever implemented and either of us has it), and if I can destroy or disable your engines to keep you from running, then I should be be able to dock my ship to yours and board you whether you like it or not -- it's part of the risk you run by being overtly factioned in space.
(It should be noted that in the case of Rebel vs. Imperial or vice versa, neither would be acting as a pirate by boarding the other's ship; that would just be an extension of other military action. Only non-military ships not of Rebel or Imperial faction can technically be pirates -- a Rebel/Imperial factioned non-military ship that attacks a ship of the other faction is more correctly considered a "privateer." Privateers won't exist if only military ships may be Rebel or Imperial factioned in the Space Expansion. We'll just have to see.)
Non-factioned use of /dock should require that the target of the /dock request give consent to be docked to. This should hold whether the target is another ship, or a space station, or a landing facility. If the target of a /dock request is neutral, then that target must explicitly consent to being docked to. If players could also choose who could board their ship, this would eliminate most if not all potential for forcing player characters to defend their lives and their ships from player pirates.
If it's possible for NPC pirates to dock to our ships then I hope we'll see some features that allow us to defend our ship when it's boarded. Internal security, chain of command, automated defenses, Space Marines(?), and of course a self-destruct capability -- all these are features that would give the defender a fighting chance. Naturally NPCs should have these features on their ships as well, to defend against evil player pirates.
It would be a hoot if the Blas-Tech Plasma Cut Boarding Device were available. (Remember how the Empire boarded Leia's "diplomatic ship" at the start of the original Star Wars?) But there's one thing I definitely want to see if my ship is boarded: I want to be able to hit the button that turns on the "Intruder Alert" klaxon and flashing red lights all over my ship....
The other big question is whether we'll be allowed to take stuff from defeated ships, or possibly even take ships themselves as prizes. My guess is that no, this won't be part of the Space Expansion... unless it's an NPC ship.
Looting may simply not be permitted if the target ship is PC-controlled. Even in PvP duels the victor doesn't get to take any of the loser's stuff (although that's exactly how it worked in medieval jousts, and how I think it should work in SWG to really make dueling interesting). The developers have chosen not to allow the victors of PvP ground combat to loot the corpses of those who lose, and I don't expect that they'll choose to allow this in space.
Piracy of PC ships by PCs may be limited to the faction points you can earn by destroying enemy ships and killing their (factioned) crew; piracy of PC ships by NPCs may be limited to killing the crew. But it might still be possible for players to earn reputations as "pirates"... as long as they're satisfied with targeting NPC ships. You should probably be able to take stuff from the cargo holds of captured ships in addition to whatever you found on the bodies of your victims. And if you could take NPC ships as prizes, that would make victory even sweeter. Given the likely cost of ships, it would certainly be an economic advantage... and the financial aspect of piracy is why we're talking about it at all here.
C. Other Features
A "command" system for operating a starship would add to the roleplaying part of the game, but it would also help protect ships from pirates. When someone first creates a ship from its deed, he takes on the additional role of "captain" with access to all ship functions (direction control, fire control, etc.). He can then designate another player as "second-in-command," who has access to some subset of ship functions. Should the captain be killed or exit the game, the second-in-command becomes captain and can then designate another player as second-in-command, and so on. (If the owner logs back in, he's automatically captain again as soon as he boards the ship.)
A ship's captain (regular or acting) would have access to various commands that other players aboard the ship wouldn't have, such as the option to allow firing on another vessel, the ability to name another second-in-command, and the always popular self-destruct feature. (Allowing a random passenger to accidentally blow your ship out of space would probably not be a popular feature.)
This command concept would make piracy a more interesting challenge. A well-defined command structure would prevent a ship from being captured as long as there was a captain who refused to surrender. ("/surrender [playername]", which would cede ownership of one's current vehicle to another player, should be a command available to any vehicle owner/captain.) Pirates would thus have to destroy the chain of command before they could loot (or possibly take possession of) a boarded ship.
Finally, please note that all these rules apply whether only NPCs can be pirates or whether player characters are allowed to be pirates as well. NPC pirates should be able to board ships that have allowed them to dock (or been forced by faction to allow them to dock); this should open their ships up to being boarded as well (and possibly even captured as prizes). PC pirates may not be subject to having their ships seized, and PCs boarded by pirates may not lose their ships, but some amount of goods should be up for grabs either way to make things interesting.
I'd like to add at this point that I hope there will at least be NPC pirate ships who try to prey on innocent-looking merchant ships, because this will open up one of the most thrilling of enterprises, and one of the most entertaining of all nautical story devices: the fake merchant ship.
Back in the glory days of piracy in the Age of Sail, a particularly bad run of piracy in an area might lead to nearby military ships disguising themselves as wallowing merchanters. When the pirate moved in for the kill, the "merchanter" would cast off her disguise and open fire. Not only did this actually happen, the suspense -- will the ruse work? will the pirate run, or open fire? -- made it a natural plot device for swashbuckling stories. The recent movie Master and Commander (adapted from Patrick O'Brian's novel) is a good example, but when George Lucas revealed the Millennium Falcon's concealed nose cannon (as seen near the start of SW:ESB), he was after a similar effect.
Another real-life example of this stratagem occurred during World War I, when the new German U-boats were tearing through the merchant shipping on which Britain's survival depended. The problem became so acute that the British Navy actually commissioned an operation to add hidden weapons to small merchant ships. These "Q-ships," built from trawlers, schooners, and cargo ships, disguised their new weapons with false steam funnels, dummy lifeboats, awnings, and even paint jobs. The Q-boats were designed to lure the U-boats into showing themselves, then destroying them with their hidden weaponry.
It doesn't always work. By the end of WWI, the score was 193 Q-ships built, 15 U-boats destroyed... and 44 Q-ships lost. But those numbers don't count the number of U-boats damaged or which failed to attack merchant ships for fear that they were more deadly than they appeared.
Sometimes just the effort can inspire. If the Space Expansion can allow this kind of play, it will achieve something worthwhile.
One proposal I saw floated a while back that seemed really clever to me was the notion of "spacelanes." Direct routes between major planets would be safe from piracy, but would offer the lowest-paying freight missions. Indirect routes between minor planets and moons are somewhat less safe but offer better-paying freight missions. And everything else is risky but offers the highest payments for freight missions.
"Safety" in this system is provided in a couple of ways. First, direct routes are marked by buoys; the game simply doesn't permit piracy or "monster" attacks within these areas. Indirect routes aren't marked, but are patrolled by randomly-spawning Imperial cruisers (in much the same way that groups of stormtroopers spawn now for the Imperial Crackdown). If a "Pirate Flag" or "Pirate" faction points are assigned to any non-factioned ship that attacks another, then any Imperial patrol ships that detect a "pirate" will immediately attack it. Likewise, patrol cruisers will attack any mobs they find along these indirect routes.
These Imperial patrol ships -- since they are Imperial-factioned -- should be open to attack by Rebel-factioned players. However, it should be noted that destroying Imperial protection would leave this area of space vulnerable to monsters and pirates... something that merchant vessels will not appreciate. Long-term this could and should reduce player support for the Rebellion in this area, but if it happens too readily it might prove necessary to add an in-game feature that increases the risks of attacking Imperial patrolcraft -- maybe they're given the ability to call in rapid reinforcements.
This "spacelane" approach gives the player the choice of risk vs. reward based on his voluntary actions without explicitly making a artificial in-game distinction between PvE and PvP play. And of course we're just talking about freight missions here -- it should always be possible for players to buy items on Planet A for transport to Planet B to sell at a profit. (This is the distinction between "freight" -- hauling something for someone else for a predetermined delivery fee -- and "cargo" -- hauling goods you buy in one place to sell somewhere else on a speculative basis.) A spacelane approach works just as well for cargo-hauling as for freight-hauling without requiring a separate system of mission terminals.
VIII. TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Between missions, freight, cargo, passengers, smuggling, and piracy, the Space Expansion could offer players numerous opportunities to expand their commercial operations. What will make all these new opportunities work together well will be if the Space Expansion also includes features that allow players to think of themselves as "citizens of the galaxy" rather than natives of any particular planet. (NPCs are the "natives" -- players need to be free to be roaming heroes.)
For example, the Bazaar currently allows players to see item listings from all locations on all planets. This is excellent (although the interface -- the sorting function in particular -- still desperately needs improvement), but it could be enhanced to better support interplanetary commerce. What if you could place orders to buy certain items and resources instead of just making offers to sell? What if you could buy and sell from your ship when it's berthed?
How about having a Space Mission terminal aboard your ship? Starfighters could take Destroy missions, freighters could take Deliver missions, and so on.
What if merchants needed to travel in convoys -- if you own a starfighter, would you agree to provide protection if there was a way to be sure you'd be paid (and were allowed to keep any loot you take from attackers)?
For you would-be Space Rangers: Suppose it was possible to explore the galaxy to find new places, but trying to find new hyperspace routes was incredibly risky -- would a big finder's fee persuade you to try this? Or would the excitement be enough? What if you were allowed to uniquely name places you found?
Finally, how about a crafthall? Not a PA, but an organization necessary for building large, complex objects (like capital ships) that allowed a controlled distribution of effort and of rewards? Even better, what if we could create our own hierarchical organizations, complete with ranks and titles? A multi-person business syndicate that owns ships and runs freight and cargo operations could allow players to have all their shipping needs handled by a known corporate entity (including those little exchanges that the Empire doesn't need to know about, wink-wink).
The Space Expansion could be the greatest force for economic activity in the galaxy since the invention of hyperspace... if the developers know that this is what you, the player, want.