Commodity Exchanges - For a grounded future

Recently it was confirmed that in the next iteration of our beloved game that Commodity Exchanges (CXs) would be moved ‘off-world’. I have made no secret before this confirmation and since that I think this is a terrible move for the economy and, primarily, the gameplay. I obviously have no true power over this, and I will certainly give anything a genuine chance, but I feel that such a major change to the gameplay (and it is) should have some weighty discussion.

Disclaimer 1: This is a LONG post (broken into separate posts for more easy discussion), but that’s because I think it’s VERY important. There is broad summary’s on each post and a very short summary at the end. I do want discussion, so do reply!

Disclaimer 2: Nothing I say/disagree with is intended as a ‘take down’ or criticism of anyone, especially not any developer. I will simply be trying to highlight arguments of varying sorts and analyse them.

On and Off?


Firstly, it would seem prudent to clarify the main terms which I will be talking about:

  1. On-World CX.

This is what we have currently. The Commodity Exchange is located on the surface of a planet. Bases on that planet are able to immediately trade and purchase items listed. All other planets’ bases have to fly to the CX planet to trade. Due to the nature of flight currently the base planet is hugely favoured and 1 ‘jump’ systems favoured moderately, with in system planets disadvantaged.*

  1. Off-World CX.

This is what we will likely have next. The Commodity Exchange is located orbiting around the Star in a system. No bases are able to immediately trade. All trades will either involve rentable storage or a parked ship. To access the CX a player must fly all goods. Due to the nature of flight currently 1 ‘jump’ systems are favoured moderately over any in system planets.*

  1. Orbital CXs.

This is what I had imagined was meant by Off-World, although similar there is an important distinction between the other usage. (Suggestions for better names welcome) The Commodity Exchange is located orbiting a planet. No bases are able to immediately trade. All trades will either involve rentable storage or a parked ship. To access the CX a player must fly all goods. Due to the nature of flight currently 1 ‘jump’ planets and the planet being orbited are favoured moderately, with in system planets moderately disadvantaged.*

*This is taking averages of orbital mechanics. In system flight can be very advantageous based on orbital alignment, but 1 ‘jumps’ can also hugely benefit. Considering orbital mechanics are a large mystery and after 2 years on the current server no player has openly expressed regularly taking advantage alignment it is unlikely this will change without a major overhaul of orbital information.

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The Reason to move off:


I guess before going anywhere we should first consider why this move to Off-world has been considered. This seems to break down into one central point:

Limiting CX Planets Dominance

It is no secret that the 3 CX planets are the most inhabited planet in the galaxy. All 3 (Even Katoa) regularly make it into top 5 lists of the best planets to settle. By the time a player’s empire stretches into double digits it is hard to imagine them having completed the CX set. Shipping to and from CX planets is the lifeblood of new players early forays into the wider galaxy. This is not necessarily fair on the other planets. Umbra and Vallis sit in relative obscurity, cursing every day their twin planets’ block out not just the sun but the very flow of trade.

The established meta is that players should start on CX planets. This is not good and limits new player growth to 3 planets. Waves really effect these planets but can be hardly felt in other sectors of the universe. It also really limits what new players can perhaps choose to do, even if just from dissuasion by well-meaning older players. It is not sensible or logical that the CXs need to be expanded every time, but the current alternative would be to force them elsewhere and that seems overly cruel and likely to push players away.

The hope would then likely also follow that by breaking this one planet dominance you improve the whole system. Some of the 100s of bases Montem loses, Vallis gains. Making a more equal spread of bases, which hopefully would be more enjoyable and more ‘natural’.

So Why not?


So, a simple fix then? Well, as you may have guessed, I do not think so. The key to the issue is why?

Why are the CX planets so vastly favoured in current meta for new players?

It is simple. They are more forgiving and far faster gameplay wise than any other planet. They are not necessarily any ‘easier’ than another planet. The same fundamental challenges regarding money and resources persist. But although space is unforgiving, CX Planets are. Accidentally bought one too few BSEs? Buy another one. Filled up your storage? Offload onto the CX. Run out of cash? Sell some stock. All of this is instant. The mistake will likely still cost you. Planning ahead still doubtlessly saves money. Waiting for cheaper supplies is still profitable. But those little mistakes that stop a production line going can be fixed instantly. This is not the case for any other planet. Local Markets (LM) can fulfil this role. But the instantaneous nature is not there, they of course also require a Pro-license. Something which 99% of brand-new players do not possess. LMs are also a nightmare on big non-CX planets (See Etherwind’s).

Removing this advantage from some planets definitely makes things more equal. But it does not really make other planets better. It just makes everywhere worse and less forgiving. Less new player friendly. This to me is huge. The early game is slow enough, which is completely alien to even idle games. The early game is meant to be the busy bit. Where there is lots to do and not enough time. But if you need to after 15 minutes of gameplay have a 9-hour flight to a Off-world CX well you are going to lose huge scores of players. 15 minutes is not enough to truly hook someone to come back. Then what when they have managed to buy a few things and get the ship back, managing to smash through the previous barriers of entry. But oh wait, they are missing a few key parts, so all their two 9-hour flights were effectively in vain. They turn to their planet for help, perhaps an older and wiser player can assist them. Alas, they are on a perfectly viable starting planet near a CX but there is quite a few and most players are scattered around this plethora of planets. So, there is no one online in the chats currently that can assist them without another 9-hour flight.

Also, the speed of which gameplay, specifically the market, can occur on a CX planet is far higher than what could be achieved with Off-world ones. Even with rentable storage on CXs. A large portion of players have turned their CXs into very heavy storage hubs just to take advantage of selling and buying things on the CXs. Arbitrage is common (good or bad). People clearly enjoy this gameplay aspect and it definitely helps the markets move quickly. Players can spend great deal of time actively working the markets. Buying and selling. This would suddenly be locked by a ship away, always with a pressure that when a ship is idling its losing money.

Broadly Off-world CXs, orbiting a planet or star, slow down gameplay hugely, increase reliance on LMs, and make gameplay much less forgiving.

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So, what is your suggestion?


Well firstly I think there should be consideration as to whether it is actually bad that some planets have advantages over others. Resource disparity is the lifeblood of trade. CXs are just a resource. If we decide one system should have a CX, why not one planet. To me I enjoy that there is more developed planets and systems. There are also many more things to consider than just a CX when choosing a location. Why is Katoa far less popular than Montem, which is less popular than Promitor. Many people settle off a CX long before they settle all three.

Now perhaps reliance of CXs is too much. I have always thought in-system trade should be buffed. Shipping CXs off world does not actually do this. But there are ways this can be done.

Buildable CXs

Fundamentally, I think this is the best, most enjoyable, most dynamic, most balanced approach. Which really has the potential for emergent gameplay which is where this game really shines and has the potential to stand head and shoulders above others. It was very unfairly dismissed by Molp: “it would simply lead to many, very small commodity exchanges with low volume brokers”. This would depend entirely on implementation.

My personal expectation is they would be expensive. Very expensive. I would imagine akin to a shipyard and university, rolled into one. Not something any of us are dropping on random planets. Something big planet governors or large corporations would take weeks to months to coordinate even in a universe which is several years old.

I would then say modularity. I think when Molp suggests “major hubs with a sprawling net of local markets stretching into the reaches of space” as a vision for the game this is spot on. I would see buildable CXs as a step for this. Modular Buildable CXs would need to be upgrading in some form. They would not be able to sell everything. You would still need to go to the Main CXs to buy the niche parts. But Basic Commodities? Those could be sourced at the intermediate hubs. It adds a granularity to the “sprawling net”. You have the City, and you now have the towns, rather than just going straight to the Villages and tiny outposts. By being buildable this would grow naturally and organically. With a suitable expense only a few important second tier planets would get on the CX steps, with specialised CXs suitable to what they are trading in bulk but helping to push niche purchases to the central hubs, whilst enabling the net of trade to sprawl further and civilised space to gradually grow and develop organically.

This also has the distinct benefit of letting LMs do what they are supposed to do. They would go back to representing small scale local markets as not much more than a glorified billboard. Not an actual exchange. This would save the need for a snazzy rework that would just make them CXs in disguise.

How would they be modular?

Well, this may come down to underlying programming and design. But one way it could be is each ‘line’ must be added. So, level 1 would have 5 lines, which could be assigned to 5 different commodities. Then level 2 has 10, and so on. Or there’s modular upgrades. Where you could build a ‘Consumable CX Module’ which would enable the sale of DW, RAT, OVE, PT, and EXO. Or a ‘Fuel Station CX Module’, enabling SF and FF. These could vary in price and resources hugely even. Such that Fuel Station’s are actually quite common and easy to build only needing some Tanks, Fuel Pumps, and basic electronics. Where as the ‘Rare Elements Module’ would need expensive technical electronics with even rarer elemental housing to make the storage. Such that only planets with very key use would want such.

Other simpler ideas to decrease CX dependence could also be as simple as reducing SF usage, making STL travel faster, or making SF cheaper/easier to produce. This would be a simple buff to non-CX planets.

More ambitious ideas could be planetary projects like space elevators which remove Landing and Launching SF costs if not times. Or could decrease costs but increase times, to just generally give more mechanics to interact with?

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Conclusion


Obviously, this is therefore a new feature that needs valuable development time. I think it would be worth it and should be high up the wish list. Though a new universe will likely not need it for several months.

But Off-world CXs would be really damaging to the gameplay. They will massively slow down early game play, not just early game world play, but any new players gameplay experience. This honestly cannot be understated. I do not think I’d be here with us if I’d had to start with a 6-hour flight to trade, I know Nick said similarly in the devstream. It may be something that many of the experienced and hardcore players would not notice. But many more casual players will, and the game should accommodate both, planning is still rewarded greatly, casuality is just forgiven slightly.

I am actually kind of shocked that if we don’t start with a LM and only off-world CXs exist. The pace of post-reset game will be painfully slow, and no one will take the plunge out of their own pocket early game to build a LM. Then if we are giving some planets LMs at the start… Well, there you go we have got our proxy-CX planets: One jump from a Off-world CX with a prebuilt LM. All other planets be damned.

Some have also suggested there might be a mix. This is laughable as unless the planet with an On-World CX is horrific it will end up having such a huge advantage over the others no one, especially early will play the others. It also seems with POPI that early game advantage will be huge.


In very short: Off-world CXs should not be added to the game currently. They will hugely harm gameplay both in pace and forgiveness with no return. The question of buildable CXs should instead be favoured for the future.

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You also forgot.

Less Damage to ship entering CX
Less ship fuel used to enter and exit CX.

These 2 are actually big. Lowering the cost of transport to and from a CX is like lowering the taxes on every transaction on the CX.

I guess swap dominance for advantage that leads to a dominance. The CXs not having this is an advantage to bases there. But really the nature of flying they’ll always be a entering and exiting cost (fuel and damage).

It all depends on the amount of gravity. I wonder what the devs will set.

Aside from player tools, maybe we just need some sort of in game tools to support trips to the CX. Early game we can fly slow enough that fuels costs aren’t bad. I suspect we will need some sort of tool to make the game work on mobile. I know I used to do a fair bit on mobile and it’s painful with a Google sheet (or a slip of paper with numbers on it).

The idea of LMs on starting planets could be super helpful. Some players could make money just acting as a convenience store (and would help players cooperate in the early game)

I don’t know if they mentioned this but I think the real reason they are moving CXs off-world is the CX will be system-wide. You will probably not build planetary CXs but system CXs. This avoids 1000 mini-cxs all over the place. Instead we could eventually build a CX in every system, instead of every planet. Its better, I guess. This is just my guess.

But lets get down to the real reason we don’t want off-world CXs. We don’t like the local market system.

It’s worth noting that if Promitor did not have a CX but Berthier did instead, I’d recommend Promitor over Berthier as a starting location. There is something to be said about Montem and Promitor being both CX planets as well as S tier in terms of resources.

Montem has LST and FEO for ideal conditions to make Bfabs (the building blocks of PrUn).
Promitor has massive H2O and fertility, ideal for RAT and DW.
Katoa had a CX, yes, but it was never as strong as Montem/Prom because SF didn’t seem like a hot commodity due to the nature of so many people vertically integrating within Montem/Prom.

I also believe that CXs on the planets is important. The CX interface facilitates trade. The LM interface does not (by the nature of being paywalled and unusable at scale). Trade is the reason we all play this game together. I feel it is especially important early on because creating a high cost for trade (outlined in OP) is problematic.

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It’s also worth noting that a planetary CX could also be located on a planet with minimal gravity and atmosphere.

Good summary of in-game chat suggestions on modular CX and space elevators.

Space elevator would help players get on-planet benefits to an orbital CX, and possibly loading/unloading with bases, CX, or WAR from orbit to save on fuel and damage.

Also, many of us would indeed have loved to use a modular/buildable CX instead of over-using a LM in places like Etherwind, Berthier, Boucher, Gibson, FJ-982c, Pyrgos, and probably others. The option to purchase partial volumes of sells would have made trade much more granular, and players could communicate via the CX rather than sharing price lists outside of game mechanics to do the majority of selling through even more LM contracts. I’m sure the developers have access to the volume of contract history on some of these local markets. These benefits would have greatly encouraged smaller and newer players to trade on these and more additional planets.

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Love the break down, Bobby!
I also agree that this, if not done correctly, will be highly damaging to the game.

I think we do know that the next universe will be hand crafted so if I had to hazard a guess, the plan will be to make entire systems a hub (and multiple planets in the system will have valuable stuff on them) rather than a single planet and as such the CX will be more of a system CX than a planetary one. If that is not the plan then there just is no reason to really have it off planet.

Another option in case of a sector based CX would be to have automated shuttles or even a teleport system that can run/transport goods to the planets in system for free or for a fee (perhaps a small percentage of the total cost of the goods). This would still allow players to have relative freedom of access but to a wider group of planets at a small cost to add the convenience of shuttling in sector.

Thoughts?

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What is actually needed is for the CX to mirror reality. Proper contracting systems and abilities to advertise on exchanges with shipping requirements associated with the ad.

Moving the CX off-world is just another band-aid on an open wound the devs are planning to implement.

Remember, they said it, they aren’t interested in fixing things, they are interested in adding new features.

This is taken out of context.
The statement reflects the goals for 2020, not the overall mindset.

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Actually it was not taken out of context. He elaborated on it and even provided deeper explanation as to the mindset.

I guess you are refering to Is this how the game is intended to be played?
It seems we have two different understandings of what molp explained.

I think this is a great time to be talking about CXs, particularly how we envisage they will be used in the next test. +1 for you Bob.

I feel that the CX concept provides a good base for further development and I’m hoping that the dev team will see fit to iterate on their designs.

There are multiple locations where CXs can be emplaced - on a planet, orbiting a planet, and orbiting a star. Each offers a particular set of benefits/trade-offs.

I think @molp’s concerns that

it would simply lead to many, very small commodity exchanges with low volume brokers

are valid and is something that is to be avoided. That said, I wholeheartedly disagree that the solution is to prevent CXs being constructed by players. I feel that the concept still has many avenues that could be explored.

To be clear from the start, I am in favour of players being able to construct CXs in any and all of the 3 locations I’ve listed - on a planet, orbiting a planet, and orbiting a star.

CXs should be complex and costly to build and maintain

I am very much in favour of the module CX ideas that have been floating around the galaxy.

A standard CX configuration could consist of (examples):

  • CX Core Module
  • CX Habitation Module
  • CX Storage Module
  • CX Trade Module(s)
  • CX Warehouse Module

The CX Core Module should come in various sizes and should be upgradeable through the various sizes. The CX Core Module provides a limit on the number of modules that may be attached to the CX.

The CX Habitation Modules provide staffing for the CX. Staffing must be maintained in the same manner as colonies.

The CX Storage Module should come in various flavours similar to ship cargo bays. This module would provide the storage space for materials that are listed on the CX. We should not have “unlimited space” CXs.

The CX Trade Modules provide the capability to list items from the category which the Trade Module represents. Eg, a Trade Module designated for Basic Consumables will allow the Basic Consumables to be traded.

The CX Warehouse Module would function similarly to the planetary warehouse. I don’t envisage this being utilised on a planetary CX as it would be more expensive to construct and maintain than the planetary warehouse.

All modules should require staffing and upkeep materials (like OFF).

Who manages the CXs?

The governor of the planet may appoint a CX Administrator.

The governor of the system may appoint an orbital (planetary) CX Administrator.

The governor of the system may appoint an orbital (stellar) CX Administrator.

Who gets the fees?

Planetary CX fees go to the planetary governor.
Orbital (Planetary) CX fees go to the system governor.
Orbital (Stellar) CX fees go to the system governor.

System governors could impose a % tax on all planetary collections. EG, the planetary governor collects 1000 in taxes/fees. With a 10% system tax, 100 would be paid to the system governor.

Parting thoughts

Having the flexibility of building new CXs in multiple locations would be a fantastic game mechanic. Whilst I understand the risk associated with allowing players to build CXs, I feel this can be greatly mitigated by making CXs expensive to build and by imposing staffing and upkeep requirements - this will cause more resources sinks as CXs compete with each other. (Yay! Capitalism??!!!) Higher levels of Core Modules may require staffing by higher tier workforces.

I feel that orbital CXs (planetary or stellar) will be a fantastic addition to the game and allow a greater degree of trade whilst minimising the impact on ship degradation. Ship degradation is going to be a massive factor in the next test, and I envisage scenarios where smaller ships acting as barges can ferry goods between planetary and orbital CXs, whilst much larger and less protected ships move between system CXs. Ship degradation is going to be expensive, and it will likely be worthwhile to implement such a system when the volume of shipping reaches a certain threshold.

Orbital CXs (without planetary CXs) allow free players to utilise more planets as they are currently restricted to not using LMs. I feel this restriction should also be lifted, but with a limit on the number of active contracts and ads.

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And I quote:
“We could have promised the perfect production system instead, asked for the players’ requirements etc etc, but “perfection is the enemy of progress” as they say. We’d rather implement and test new game mechanics than re-iterate over and over the old ones to make them perfect. This doesn’t mean that we won’t improve existing features, but a whole re-write binds a lot dev resources and we don’t have that.”

Thus far improvements of existing features boil down to slowing down the bleeding of the POPI system without actually improving it, establishing that they don’t intend to implement a Commodity system that would be akin to anything resembling a standard commodity exchange system in any game let alone in the real world, while trying to maintain control over a fluid economic system, which ultimately will fail.

Their best option, is to take their hands off the reigns and implement either a universal commodity system or allow for players to construct their own, but as he said, Molp: “it would simply lead to many, very small commodity exchanges with low volume brokers”. Which is in reality how it is. The place you buy a good is usually very near where that good is produced, or some sort of shipping agreement has taken place and been fulfilled to bring it nearer to the buyer.

There is virtually no means of creating an actual supply line so complex fulfillment agreements are out of the question, and with a lackluster ship system and no incentive for most players to progress out of just T! materials arbitrage is pretty much impossible on any meaningful scale.

There is a lot wrong with their mentality. If wanting to avoid smaller exchanges is because they can’t fathom how they would support the data infrastructure for it, from a hosting perspective, then that is a fair argument, albeit not a very likely one or good one, but still fair because depending on your hosting you may pay based on the number of database transactions you have. But, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume they have at the very least self-hosted so amount of transactions isn’t the issue. So the question becomes, what is? And why is a small exchange a bad thing? Is it because the prices could be low?

This is a phenomenon that is present in games like Eve Online. You have your trade hubs like Jita, and outside that prices start to go up because of less competition, however, prices on resources that are readily available in that system are well below what could get them at in Jita, because all the shipping factors don’t apply and competition for that specific resource or material in that system is high which drives the prices down. By forcing a controlled number of exchanges you arbitrarily inflate the price of everything which is exactly what is happening with the CX right now. Look at the price of RAT in Montem compared to everywhere else and you’ll see.

Your only option is to go to another CX which doesn’t use your currency so you have to do a currency exchange which takes time, not to mention the travel time associated with moving the material.

Anyway that was mostly off-topic with what you and I were talking about, and on topic with what this post is about.

The point is, the man himself in his response about small exchanges alluded to the mentality of the development team which is inline with the one quoted above. They don’t want to chase perfection, well how about just not broken then, not excessively tedious for no apparent reason, how about inherently intuitive.

I bet when people came to the game they were thinking I’m gonna setup some great contracts with manufacturers and try to sell at a markup. Nope, sorry can’t do that, and from what I’ve seen, won’t really ever be able to. At least not for a few years.

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