Once players get rolling, it’s actually trivially easy to make more money and right now making more ships doesn’t make too much sense as it’s also limited to Pro accounts only. As such, the eco to support it is also corp based.
Make the end game focused on exploration and the profits derived from discoveries. In particular:
Start the universe with a “known” core but unexplored outside
Basically, each facton will have its “home” system with shipyard/CX as well as all systems and planets within 2 jumps explored (with the exception maybe of a single circuit to connect all available faction starting cxs). The universe map will show all the hyperlanes, but each node will be “unknown” until exploration probes (launched off of ships) actually venture to the systems, and only those with the appropriate equipment will be available to venture into unknown systems (I’d not make this pro only but a basic upgrade, which would encourage at the very least one-time support of the devs). That said, to give “free” accounts a taste, they might be given a very limited stock of exploration probes to see the mechanic they’re missing out on.
Once a ship/probe enters a new system for the first time, it will discover all its planets, but will need to expend more resources to discover habitability and materials. My other thread details the one version of the mechanics of planetary exploration. But in a nutshell, it can be faction/private funded for information sharing so that there is no “repeating” of work.
Have limited “rich” and “meagre” resource deposits outside of core resources
Can be a pro only feature, and once again new players might get 1 probe to get a taste of the mechanic. Once a planet is mapped out, a probe can survey the remaining available base plots to see if it can find a limited supply of “more” of a core material or a small amount of a non-core material. For instance, while Vallis has iron ore that can be extracted at 28/day (base), a “rich” vein might be 4000 available at 40/day, whereupon it reverts to the normal 28. A player could then settle the “rich” vein base. Using the same example, a “meagre” deposit could be discovering a base has a hill with 2000 limestone that can be extracted at 20/day, but once exhausted disappears entirely. Another thing could be that pro accounts can seek local deposits that don’t expire, like a 10/day limestone.
Introduce wormholes/warpgates and make their navigation pro-only
Right now the issue with expanding beyond starting CXs is travel time - even if planets are awesome, they are dead weights without feasible supply lines. To alleviate this, one could make it so that pro accounts are licensed for warp travel - near instantaneous (say ~1hr) warping from one system to any other with another warpgate (or wormhole, depending on game lore). First as a means to dump money into exploration to explore the other side, and then with the prior mechanics, actually settling.
But basically, these features will turn the economy into one pivoting toward novel exploration rather than just getting more ships and incrementally pricier bases (that by the way make less than mere market making/cx trading, but that’s another issue).