Friday, July 2, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Advanced Space Commerce


I believe that SWG and Jump to Lightspeed will be more fun with features that support space-based commerce -- in other words, space needs to have features to support both combat and commerce.

To this end, I've put together a number of ideas to support commerce in space. Some of them I've already discussed in other threads, some are new. The main new idea I get to toward the end of this message. If you're terminally impatient (heh) you can skip to the "SHIPPING TERMINALS" section, but I hope you'll try reading through the preliminary comments first -- they'll help the rest of this message make more sense.


I put together a fairly detailed list of ideas to support space-based commerce in my thread SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Space Commerce essay. This discussion wasn't so much about how to implement ideas for space commerce as it was to talk about what kinds of commerce the Space Expansion ought to have. It was a pretty good discussion, but I wouldn't mind giving these ideas a little more exposure -- if anyone thinks it might be useful to repost that thread over here in the actual Jump to Lightspeed forum, let me know.

The core of that thread that relates to this one is the list of three main types of space-based commercial service:

  • passenger transportation
  • freight delivery
  • cargo sales
So how can we get these features?


There's an idea I had a while back that would support space-based commerce without needing to implement any other new features. This is because it's a major new feature itself that goes well beyond supporting just space-based commerce.

This is the concept of Player Contracts. I've designed a contract system that would allow players to establish long-term and repeated contracts with each other to securely perform many different kinds of economic transactions, from the basic goods-for-money trade we currently use to crafting, repair, guard duty, player bounties(!), and even in-game marriage contracts.

If you'd like to check out the details of this idea, please see my Player Contracts essay. There's also a somewhat shorter version of the Player Contracts + concept that provides most of the key ideas in a shorter form. (Admittedly, it's not all that short.)

A couple of the contract types I propose are Transport and Delivery. Transport contracts allow you to make deals with players to move items or players to a specified location; Delivery contracts let you agree to give specific items to another player.

If just these two types of player contracts were available, we would have a formal, game-backed way to perform two of the most requested space commerce services: passenger service and freight delivery service. There's nothing preventing us from doing these things informally the day that JtL ships... but it doesn't appear that there'll be any features to reliably support doing those things, either. And without a formal in-game system that protects the players who agree in good faith to make contracts with other players, these kinds of commerce just won't happen -- it'll be too easy to cheat the other guy by taking his money or goods or services without providing the agreed-on payment.

A game-implemented contract system would be exactly the kind of formal system needed to be able to make trustable deals. But how would this actually work in practice?

One feature of player contracts that would make a freight delivery system practical would be contract terminals. As a freighter pilot, you'd be able to go to a contract terminal near your favorite starport, find a delivery mission that suits you, accept the mission, take "delivery" of the item (I put delivery in quotes because you never actually see the item in your inventory -- it's put in a special contract account to prevent theft), travel to your destination, and have the item "transferred" to the delivery terminal, at which point your bank account is credited with the freight delivery fee offered in the contract.

Sound like it might work?

It must be said that although the developers have discussed the idea of implementing some system supporting player missions (which really is what my player contract system winds up being), they haven't mentioned it publicly in months. Nor do they show any signs of considering implementing anything like a player contract or mission system.

So is there some other way to support space-based commerce? Is there some other relatively simple feature the developers could implement that supports not just freight delivery but cargo sales?


Having gone through all the background details, let's cut to the chase. What we need is this: Bazaar terminals that can be placed inside starports, and that have been enhanced in two ways: to allow players to enter "want ads," and to provide automatic payments for delivering selected items to selected off-planet destinations.

(In what follows, remember the distinction between freight and cargo: freight is stuff you carry for someone else for a predetermined fee, while cargo is stuff you buy in one place and carry to sell in another place in the hope of making a profit between the two transactions.)

What we need is a new type of terminal -- a Shipping terminal -- that works just like a Bazaar terminal but with a couple of enhancements and a restriction:

  • has a new "Wanted" category (in addition to Armor, Misc, Resources, etc.)
  • has two new columns on all item categories (except the new Wanted category):
    • Delivery Location
    • Delivery Fee
  • is only found inside starports
When you offer an item for sale on the Bazaar terminal, you have the option of marking it for delivery to another starport. If you take this option by selecting a Delivery Location starport from a pulldown list, you're prompted to enter a (non-zero) Delivery Fee as well. If you don't enter a Delivery Location, the item is listed for sale just like items are listed currently. Otherwise the delivery fee is immediately deducted from your bank account (if you can't pay it, you aren't allowed to mark the item for delivery) -- that way when someone delivers it they are assured of payment. If you later cancel the offer, the delivery fee is credited back to your bank account.

[Question: Would we want to allow items to be delivered to starport Shipping terminals on the same planet as the source Shipping terminal? Or should the pick list of possible delivery starports exclude all starports on the same planet where you're placing the item for sale?]

Only operators of multi-player ships would be able to accept freight delivery missions from the Shipping terminal. Starfighters will already have plenty of cool things that only they can do; they don't need to be able to haul freight or cargo, too.

To prevent the theft of freight by griefers, you never get the actual freight items in your ship -- you just get a ship's manifest that lists the items you're moving from one Shipping terminal to another. When you take a freight delivery contract from a Shipping terminal, the item is marked and displayed as inactive to anyone viewing that item in a Bazaar or Shipping terminal. If you get killed in space, the item is marked back to active. Only when you successfully land at your destination and redeed your ship is the item removed from the source Shipping terminal, added to the destination Shipping terminal, and the delivery fee deposited to your bank account with an in-game email message telling you about the transfer. (It might also be nice to send an in-game email message to the person who offered the delivery fee to let him or her know that the item has been successfully delivered.)

[Note that if piracy and docking are ever implemented, having a ship's manifest of items being delivered would be a good source of items for pirates to steal.]

[Additional enhancement: What about allowing anyone to mark an item for delivery, even after it's originally been added by someone else to a Bazaar terminal? That way if you're on Lok and you need 1000 units of Resource X and someone is selling it on Dantooine, you can offer a delivery fee for someone to bring it to you. The only catch is that the person who placed the item for sale would have to authorize the delivery, otherwise you could have people griefing merchants by having their products shipped to undesirable locations.]

Finally, there would also be a new button next to the "My Sales" button on the Bazaar terminal -- this would be labeled "Wanted". Pressing it would allow you to create what would essentially be want ads. You'd enter text into two fields: a short Subject line (probably with something like a 30-character limit), and a Details text entry box. You'd briefly describe what you want to sell (or buy!) in the Subject line, then provide any other necessary information in the Details box. When you hit OK, this would create a new "item" that's only shown when you click on the "Wanted" category on any Bazaar or Shipping terminal. All Wanted items would automatically have, say, a 3-day lifespan, but you'd be able to cancel Wanted messages in a way similar to how you cancel sale offers on Bazaar terminals currently (the only difference being that you wouldn't get an actual physical item to retrieve, since there was never one to begin with).


So how would all this actually work? Let's try an example.

Congratulations! You're now the proud owner-operator of a YT-1300 -- she may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, and you're ready to start earning back what you paid to buy her.

You walk into the Coronet Starport with your YT-1300 deed in your inventory. Set amid the ticket stations are several new terminals -- they look sort of like Bazaar terminals, but seem to have a few more blinking lights.

You access this new Shipping terminal, and click on the "Resource" category. On the right side of the terminal screen, the usual list of resources for sale appears... but you notice that there are two new columns: one for "Delivery Location" that for some resources lists the names of starports on various planets, and one for "Delivery Fee" that shows some number. All the resources marked as having a Delivery Location also have a Delivery Fee listed.

There's one item that shows a 500-credit delivery fee for taking some Radioactives to Theed Starport. You were already thinking of heading that way, so you mark that item and click on the "Deliver" button. You notice that there are two other items whose owners want them delivered to the Shipping terminals at the Theed starport, so you click on "Deliver" for them, too. Now all three items are grayed out on the Shipping terminal display.

You deed your ship, travel (uneventfully!) to Theed starport, and redeed your ship when you get there. As you stand on your two feet again, you notice that your email icon is blinking. When you click on it to bring up your Email window, you see that there are three messages waiting for you, each one telling you that the appropriate delivery fee has been credited to your bank account.

"All too easy!" you think with a grin. Then you realize that while you were in Coronet you could have checked the Wanted category for Bazaar terminals on Naboo to see if there were any items you could have bought in Coronet to bring to Theed in the hope of making a profit.

You figure you'll head back to Coronet, so you access the Theed Shipping terminal and select the Wanted category for Corellian terminals. Someone is looking for Lokian leather; someone else wants as many crates of Muon Gold as you can offer (but you're not desperate enough to try smuggling spice -- yet); and -- hey! someone wants Nabooian Fiberplast. You click on the Resources category, and sure enough, someone is selling 1000 units of high-quality Nabooian Fiberplast for 6000 credits. That seems a bit steep, but the person who left the Coronet want ad says he'll pay 8 credits per unit. That would be a 2000 credit profit, which would definitely pay the electric bill for a few days.

So you buy the fiberplast (before someone else can) and send an IM to the guy who wrote the want ad -- no response. You send an email, then jump in your ship and head back to Coronet.

When you get there, there's still no reply to your email. Now you have to make a tough choice -- do you hang on to the fiberplast in the hope of selling it to the person who wrote the want ad? Or do you put it onto the Coronet Bazaar yourself to try to make back what you paid for it (and maybe a little profit in the bargain)?

Welcome to the exciting life of a freighter captain. :)


Here are some other ideas and concerns that might bear thinking on with respect to a cargo/freight shipping game.

1. Limit the number of items that can be concurrently taken for delivery. We don't want someone coming in and taking every single freight item from a Shipping terminal -- would 5 items (no more than 2 from any one terminal) be enough?

2. Delivery from Bazaar terminals. Suppose you're using a regular Bazaar terminal in a player city with no starport. Does that mean you can't offer an item for delivery (since there's no way to pick which Shipping terminal the item should be shipped from)? Should the rules for how items are deposited be changed so that you could pay a fee (in addition to the delivery fee you're offering a freighter captain) to have your item transferred to the nearest starport's Shipping terminal when you put it up for sale on your Bazaar terminal? Or should we make players have to go to an actual starport Shipping terminal to be able to mark items for delivery to other worlds?

3. NPC delivery missions. We want to be careful with these. If it's just a matter of delivering freight, it would probably be OK to have "fake" items to be delivered from one planet to another -- freight items (per my original suggestion) are never tangible items; they're just marked on a ship's manifest. What we don't want is NPC cargo missions, since that suggests that there'd be NPC-created items on Bazaar/Shipping terminals that we could actually purchase... which would corrupt the entire player-crafting economy of SWG.

4. Smuggling. This probably deserves a thread all to itself! I've never played a Smuggler, so I don't know how this profession currently does its thing. But given the hugely iconic nature of Han Solo's character to the Star Wars literary universe, I can't imagine that the developers don't have some new features in mind for Smugglers in a post-Jump to Lightspeed world. So I don't want to go too crazy with suggestions here, but it certainly seems that smuggling ought to be involved somehow in shipping as I've described it so far.

My suggestion is to have Imperial ships in space be able to scan freighters (in normal space). Imperial ships within a certain distance would be able to "see" your ship's manifest. If you were carrying something illegal, that would give you a TEF to them and they'd be able to attack you. Or perhaps Shipwrights will be able to craft smuggling holds on certain ships (*cough*freighters*cough*) -- smuggled items wouldn't show up on your ship's manifest, but Imperial or Rebel ships that got close enough to your ship and had the necessary sensors (see my thread "Sensor Ops and You" in this forum) could perform a cargo scan. If the scan turned up any items that weren't on your manifest, or that were obviously illegal, or if the scanning ship was Rebel and the scanned items were clearly pro-Imperial, boom -- TEF time.

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