The reason I believe was mentioned for not having higher tier produce lower tier materials is to prevent lower players from being priced out of tier 1 markets. I believe there’s a way around this if we view things from a profit per area per day perspective.
In theory, in a perfect economy, the price of everything would balance at the point where every building produces the same profit per area per day. Since humans are involved and markets can shift rapidly, there’s a risk factor to everything and the more complex a production recipe is, the higher the market risk is and therefore the higher the profit per area per day needs to be before someone decides to jump in that production. This is why a FRM has low profitability while a SL prints money and will always have this relationship.
FLX recipes kind of do this, but it’s not large enough to be noticeable. It’s normal because it still uses the same building and the same workers, which means profit per area per day is going to be slightly higher than the non-FLX recipes due to risk of securing FLX, but not that much.
To really make a difference, I would move this recipe to a settler tier building, essentially SME2, which instead of employing 50 pioneers, would employ 50 settlers. By being a higher tier, the supply chain grows in risk and profit per area per day can grow a bit more without making the non-FLX recipe unprofitable for new players. It will require precise balancing, but it’s something that should be rather simple by attributing a target profit per area per day to materials and going from there.
The desired outcome is using SME1 6 FEO + 1 C + 1 O = 3 FE produces higher profit per FE and the SME2 4 FEO + 1 C + 1 O = 4 FE produces lower profit per FE, but higher profit per day. The recipe might need to be tuned based on the value of FLX and FE.
This means that new players will always have profitability in the SME1 recipe, while advanced players will be encouraged to move up to SME2 because they are running out of base space.
Also, I mentioned SME2, but there could also be a SME3 using even more advanced materials to produce FE at a much higher pace. 3 levels might be enough, but it could go all the way up to 5.
By applying this concept to all buildings, this also creates an incentive for ressource rich planets like Etherwind to tier up their workforces instead of being the place where pioneers go to be slaves forever.
The positive side effect of doing it this way is it solves the chicken and egg problem when tiering up the economy. Also, it will allow materials to be used in more recipes, which will help create a market for them and have them show up at the CX, unlike some materials which are used in a single chain and make no sense to trade on the CX.
Also, it fixes the pyramid relationship between scientists and pioneers where you need an absurd amount of pioneers to support a single scientist. By teching up tier 1 production buildings to level 3, scientists can be supported by technicians because technicians become self-sufficient. This could also be pushed up to level 5 where the entire universe runs on scientists with brain wrecking interactions between production recipes compared to a quarter of the universe turning H2O into DW.
This can also be tied into other systems to increase player diversification, encourage horizontal scaling and trade.
For example, the SME2 building might be something that you must buy with NEO Charter faction points while EXT2 is bought with Castillo-Ito points. This means players will be unable to get all upgraded versions at once until well into the game. It will create trade between players because one player using EXT2 and one player using SME2 will produce higher profit per area than a player using EXT and SME2 or EXT2 and SME.
This could also be HQ upgrades for players who prefer to isolate in Hubur.
Another option would be to have efficiency bonuses to these upgraded versions, but not the base ones. Anyone could build SME2 right from the start, but to really specialize in it requires investing a lot of limited tech points into that particular building. Since you can’t upgrade SME1 this way, new players will be unaffected. This also encourages trade between players for the same reasons as above. Vertical players can spread their points all around the place and get some bonuses for their chain, but would not be as efficient as trading with other players.