Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Economics in a Star Trek MMORPG +

So how should a post-scarcity economy be implemented in a massively multiplayer online game based on the universe of Star Trek? Are there ways to satisfy both canonical economic lore (as discussed in previous comments on this topic) and gameplay?

The first big question concerns replicators -- the devices in TNG+ Star Trek that are used to create copies of materials and objects based on patterns. That's useful in a science fiction TV show, but how do you implement such a capability in a multiplayer game where you play a character in Starfleet? Should all parts/resources be free to replicate?

My suggested solution is to allow basic resources, materials and parts to be replicated infinitely for free... but with consequences for abuse.

First, some things shouldn't be considered "basic." Dilithium and some other resources, for example, should only be available through mining (although the mining process itself might be abstracted out of the game as not much fun). This allows some resources to be strategic resources and thus supports strategic gameplay.

Also, it should probably not be possible to replicate large or complex objects. To allow that would eliminate crafting.

Second, if basic things can be replicated for free, players can't be allowed to replicate as many copies of something as they want. Enough loonies would soon clog up the game's object database. So even if it's theoretically possible for someone in Star Trek to generate as many widgets as they like, in practical terms in a game we can't let players do that.

The obvious solution is to put some kind of cap on the number of items a character can possess at any moment in time, and assign ownership of replicated items to the player who replicates them. Yes, that would probably work... but it seems boringly artificial.

Instead, why not call Starfleet Security (NPCs) if someone monopolizes a replicator or pops out 100 copies of something at a time? "We're sorry, sir, but we need to suspend your replicator privileges for a while." Maybe your prestige even takes a hit.

Wouldn't that be preferable to a hard cap with no Star Trek backstory?

Should missions be generated for the combat people based on what various people need, upon completion, resources get placed in a ship wide container?

I hope that mission rewards for everybody (not just combat-oriented players) are inclined more toward prestige than money or loot items. Frying that poor NPC on Sasquatch IV should be much more about the ethics of destruction than about obtaining samples of the local currency or technology, neither of which should generally be useful to a character. (Although high-tech alien technology might occasionally be usable, obtaining such things through force from a high-tech culture should generate an equally high-tech response... not to mention painful diplomatic objections.)

The big question here seems to me to be whether Star Trek Online will treat player groups like corporations -- as entities that have their own "corporate" existence.

If not, then everybody's out for himself. When you succeed in a mission, whatever you get for it you get as an individual.

But maybe player groups in Star Trek Online will work more like player "corps" in EVE Online, which are persistent organizations that can "own" resources whose distribution is administered by selected players. In that case, perhaps some of the rewards for completing a mission are designated as group rewards -- something that can be applied to enhancing the capability of everyone in that group.

I'd sort of prefer to see that kind of thing, actually. It's a better fit with Star Trek as a more social and cooperative universe.

Should people be free to charge their fellow crew members?

I'd say no. As you say, the idea of charging for performing some appropriate service for one's fellow Starfleet officer seems very wrong.

There should be rewards for cooperation, but making them tangible, direct rewards sort of negates the idea that helping your fellow officers succeed is what you're supposed to do.

"We work to improve ourselves" probably needs to translate into prestige, which can then be used to purchase personal capability enhancements such as skills, ships, or advanced rank.

For as much ink as has been spilled talking about it, it'll be interesting to see whether this prestige feature makes it into the game that actually ships... if it ever ships.