Solo players, market liquidity, and player count vs. tech tree size

I am fundamentally a solo player. I play multiplayer games for the indirect interaction with other people, in this case via commodity exchanges. I love economics, the laws of supply and demand, finding out which goods will be in demand, and making profit from trading. I don’t want to coordinate my production within a large corporation, that would feel too much like a job to me.

Coming from that solo player perspective, I loved the first few months of Prosperous Universe, setting up production chains for basic goods, and growing from one base to a second. But whenever I look at what to do next, I kind of hit a ceiling of market illiquidity. Even my second base, which is making titanium, feels like already producing more than the market needs, having to wait days for a sale. And most products I have been looking at, while profitable on paper, appear to be trading rarely, and in small quantities.

Imagine the whole tech tree of Prosperous Universe on a huge poster map covering a whole wall. Then imagine a little post-it with the name of a player who is regularly buying or selling a good on one of the commodity exchanges stuck on that poster map next to the good in question. It is easy to see what the result would be: A good number of post-its on the basic consumables and fuels, and less and less people the further you go up the tech tree.

What that image suggests to me is that Prosperous Universe would be the perfect game for me if it had ten times the number of players. But as it is now, there are too many goods on the tech tree with too few people involved in trading to make a solo player trading career beyond the basic goods feasible. I don’t blame the devs, they obviously had hoped for more people playing this. But a trading game needs a lot more participants to be viable. And I don’t want to switch to corporation “internal trading” mode.

I agree with the example you outlined and have experienced this on both sides - producing more than the market needs, and needing more than the market can provide.

From my perspective this is a good challenge - “what opportunities can I identify that will provide a good margin relative to the investment and effort required?”

Just an idea to get more players: business school students.

The game doesn’t necessarily need more players in order to increase activity at higher tiers, it just needs to be set up in such a way that there is demand for those higher tier goods even among the existing players. The fundamental problem is that higher tier goods are only in demand by higher tier players. If there was consistent demand for all tiers across all players, i.e. even beginner players could get an advantage from using higher tier components in their production, then the demand would be there and this wouldn’t be such an issue.

Various proposals have been suggested on how to effect this, the limiting factor is development time. So for now we just have to wait and see which approach the devs decide to implement.

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Why is it necessary for you to produce high-tier low-liquidity goods? There is no game mechanic prescribing you to only build ENG buildings.

Of course, if your goal is to participate in high-tech low-liquidity markets, for whatever godforsaken reason, that will not be very profitable due to basically no demand. But then again, why bother with it? There are plenty of products with decent liquidity you can produce.

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The incentives and the balance of the game is setup in such that higher end goods at the start or middle of a production chain. It stays private. Most bigger players who want to make an investment into a field want… need to guarantee supply for their inputs. So it’s common to make them yourself, or get in a direct contract of another player to make them.

The lead-times required for bases and supply\demand dictate that it’s difficult to get higher end goods to be more liquid with such a small playerbase.

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If corporations are just serving as centralized economic planning clubs which discourage people from participating with the outside world, what benefit are they providing? What’s the point of them in the first place?

Is this why there are so many laughably bad buy offers posted on local markets? People doing private trade deals outside the regular game mechanics? I’m not suggesting it is, just asking because I don’t know.

I agree that the game doesn’t need more players to provide more liquidity, it just needs to let the existing players diversify more easily, and probably give new players an easier start.

Corporations produce ship components and sell them on LM in bundles through auctions. Basically no big corporations = no new ships and everyone would have to do with their 2 starting ships. Corporations colonize new planets, and build infrastructure there (COGC, LM, warehouse, planetary administration, POPI). Corporations set up production chains for POPI consumables to supply planets they govern. So don’t be critical if you don’t understand how this game works. With such a small player base relying entirely on the CX is inefficient. More direct collaboration and vertical integration across several players is required.

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I didn’t think I was being/sounding critical…

As developers we’d like to see more (public) trading activity as well.

One way that could potentially increase the amount of publicly traded mid to high end goods would be to make players more dependent on cash. Right now, a corporation player usually doesn’t need a lot of money. Correct me please, if I am wrong here! Within corporations goods are traded at a very low rate, in some it is similar to barter trade. It is perfectly possible right now to do that, because the players don’t require lots of money to do so.

If we’d introduce a feature that acts as a massive money sink, worker wages come to mind, that would change. Now, the larger a company gets the higher the capital need is and the higher the need to sell products for reasonable prices at public exchanges.

Closed groups of players can vertically integrate very easily and produce products easily, but right now it is not possible to create money that easily, market makers a side for a moment.

Do you agree with that?

Yes, I think it would help.

Having said that, currently Prosperous Universe is more of a sandbox game, in which players are free to set their own goals. Which includes setting a goal of building a vertically integrated corporation to build ships without using much money. While a player like me, who play PrUn like an economic simulator with the goal of making money would be delighted, there are certainly players out there who don’t like that particular playstyle.

Money sinks are good, but I don’t really think they will solve the problem in the long run because of the inflation they will produce. Some people will just be knock off from the market by the increased costs and the remaining players will just increase prices to cover the expenses and this will just reduce the already low traded quantities.

If you want more players to cooperate, then cooperation should be stimulated: you should think about features that make vertical development (self production of every needed product from raw materials to finite goods) only convenient when very high volumes are involved.

If building another smelter to increase my iron production is more profitable than building an incinerator to produce my own carbon, I will need to rely on someone else to get the carbon I need and trading will natural occur.

Specializing in a single sector should be more convenient that building one factory for each input material someone needs.

If your goal is higher end products being traded on the CX, then you miss the point.

I am in a big corp with 20+ players. We do a lot of internal trading. Do we need a lot of cash? Maybe not. Still we have plenty of cash. We literally swim in cash. Myself I have more than 4 million AIC and I earn several hundred AIC per week. And I am by far not the richest player in the corp. In total, the amount of cash in our corp should be above 30 million AIC.

Where does our cash come from? I see 3 main sources

  1. We sell a lot of basic goods and raw materials on the CX. Limestone, hydrogen, AMM, water, carbon, MCG, GL, basic prefabs, light prefabs, flux, RAT, DW, OVE, PWO, COF, PE, PG, EPO, BHP, PSL, NL, COT, fuels. All pioneer or settler level products. Nothing fancy or high end. And this already brings tons of cash because this stuff is in high demand. By doing this we basically absorb the cash of smaller players, including starting players. Their cash ends up in our pockets. You balanced the game in such a way that it is not smaller players selling basic goods to bigger players, but vice-versa: big players selling basic goods to smaller players.

2)The second source are the higher end consumables: FIM, HMS, SCN, MED. This is very profitable. I guess these are mid tier products and meets the goal of mid tier products being traded on the CX. However, this is a very narrow branch, only consumables.

3)We sell ships in bundles on the LM. But we very seldom sell ship components separately on the CX. And we never ever sell intermediaries for ship components on the CX. The price of a full ship, or of a ship upgrade, is determined through auctions: the highest bidder gets it. And the ships sell very high. Only the very rich players can afford one. So we as a corporation absorb part of the cash of very rich players. And their cash comes in turn, I believe, from money printing by selling drones to the MM.

To conclude, to get all this cash we do not need at any point to sell on the CX the mid and high tier intermediaries, like electronic systems or alloys or software or whatever. Only basic products, mid tier consumables, and ship components in bundles on the LM.

So the introduction of wages, while potentially interesting in itself, and I am by no means against it, still won’t change anything to the fact that mid and high tier intermediary products are not traded on the CX. For our corp it would be a cash sink, but at the same time we will compensate this loss by selling more RAT, DW and OVE to the automated buyer representing pops purchasing their consumables.

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It would certainly make for a more realistic economy if companies paid wages to workers instead of paying them in RAT and DW. You would need to add simulated retail shops as agents on the market, which would buy players’ products wholesale in order to sell them to the workers individually.

The demand from the retail agents would scale with the planet’s population, so the end result would be consumption of RAT/DW at roughly the same rate as currently. But of course there are pros and cons of this whole approach.

Advantages:

  • You can fine tune demand for different food and luxury consumable tiers, independently of the level of the players. e.g. for every 100 workers on a planet, the retail agents try to buy 4 DW per day, 2 COF, 1 ALE, 1 GIN, etc. So demand for higher tier goods is decoupled from the actual player levels. This would solve the lack of demand at higher tiers problem, at least for consumables.
  • Planets could tax wages instead of taxing production, which feels more natural.
  • “Retail agent” could be a player career, if you let players build shops that to sell to workers. This means you wouldn’t have to write any code to make the retail agents adjust their prices according to demand - the players would do it for you.
  • Players could compete for workers using wages. Workers would have inertia - in real life people don’t switch jobs every week for a 1% bump in salary, so if you’re the first player to employ Engineers on a planet, they will tend to stick with you. However another player can lure them away over time by setting a higher wage.
  • Additional retail orientated products can be added - workers want smartphones and robot butlers. This would give higher tier players more things to produce, without the current lack of demand problem.

Disadvantages

  • Currently the demand for RAT/DW is directly from players themselves. With a retail layer added, the demand would be indirect. If you’re setting prices you’d have to get them right, otherwise the economy just won’t work. However this problem is mitigated to a degree if you let players be the retail agents - then you’re only setting the demand levels, which you’re doing at the moment anyway with 4 RAT per 100 workers, etc.
  • It adds more ways for players to go bankrupt. Currently, with the MMs as they are, it’s difficult to lose money as a beginner. But if players are selling goods at retail they could set their prices too low, because why would there be a price floor? If they have to pay wages they could set them too high, because why would there be a cap on wages? Keeping the game newbie friendly would be a challenge.
  • Inflation could be a problem, as mentioned up thread. What is to stop an ever spiralling increase of worker wages and product prices?

There are a lot more possibilities to add features to the game if you start modelling workers more realistically. You could have space tourism, with planets competing to attract visitors. Planet governments would still buy some RAT/DW directly (this could replace the MM mechanism) in order to feed the unemployed workforce pool.

However, one thing to wach out for is that, even after all these changes, in some ways you’d end up with the same economy. Currently players demand goods, and players supply goods. This would change to players employing workers who proportionally demand the same goods, and players supplying goods. The underlying demand mechanism actually stays the same, so you could get most of the benefits listed above by tweaking the current worker demand accordingly. Certainly if you make this change and don’t take the opportunity to add lots of new higher tier goods and extra gameplay then it would be kind of pointless.

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There are already two systems that encourage specialization. One is the experts. The other one is the COGC bonus. However, the specialization is encouraged only at a base per base level. On can still specialize in producing aluminum on Deimos, and specialize in producing carbon on a different planet (Nascent?), and ship carbon from there to Deimos. So while intra-planetary vertical integration is penalized, the cross-planetary vertical integration is not penalized at all. And that’s what most bigger players with several bases do. Each of their base is specialized into something, but the specialization on different bases is different, so overall they are vertically integrated.

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You can’t be more wrong. What do you mean by it is not easy to create money? It is easy. Closed groups of players can vertically integrate to produce drones and sell them to the MM, and print a lot of money in this way. Closed groups of players can also do something more useful and produce ships in kits for players who in turn print money through drones. That’s what our corporation does. Closed groups of players can also vertically integrate to spam basic prefabs in a very efficient way and sell them on the CX to all these starting players, and in this way capture a big part of their starting capital allocated by the game. This is also something that our corporation does.

By the way, it would be useful to have more data on the money circuits in PrUn, and perhaps you could provide this. Let’s divide in our mind the player base into two groups, top 50 % and bottom 50%, by wealth. Both groups have access to money printing through MM, but the top 50% can print money more efficiently, because the bottom 50 only print through raw resources, but the top 50 have access to drones. The bottom 50 group is also more volatile, because there are constantly new players trying the game for a couple of weeks then leaving. These new players also inject cash through their starting capital. Now here is the question. In which direction does the money flow between the top 50 and the bottom 50? My impression is that right now the money flows from the bottom 50 towards the top 50, that is to say on average smaller players transferring their cash to larger players. But I might be wrong since I don’t have the data. It’s just my impression. And the introduction of wages might just reinforce this: bigger players earning more cash indirectly from newer players, by intermediary of the automated consumable purchases. In any case, providing wages would be more of a challenge for starting players than for established players, and the members of big corps are very well established. So a game that is notoriously newb-unfriendly would become even more harsh to them.

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Just an additional datapoint - I’ve never been part of a corporation, and I am also “swimming in cash” right now. So really I think the issue of corporations is a red herring. Especially since the corporation itself doesn’t actually do anything - it’s just a means for a group of players to label themselves. The actual trading activity happens on the LM, and it could happen in exactly the same way if corporations didn’t exist - players would just create informal guilds instead, and carry on exactly as before.

So while I agree that the shadow markets created by corporations reduce trading on the CX, and that is undesirable, I don’t think there’s much the devs can do about it without banning LM activity entirely.

Instead of thinking up ways to “trick” players into trading more, by adding money sinks or playing with MMs, the devs need to fix the underlying problem of lack of demand at higher tiers. Yang_Mills had it exactly right when he said this:

In order to fix this problem, the underlying balance needs to fundamentally change. It needs to be less attractive for big players to produce the same goods as smaller players. Here is a two part approach to address this problem:

  • Make higher tier goods more in demand by lower tier players. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but currently there is no demand for higher tier goods at all, so higher tier players shrug and continue to make all the same products as they did at the start of the game. However, if it is more profitable to make GIN than DW, and there was high demand for GIN, then all the larger players would focus on that, and stop bothering with trying to sell DW - leaving that market for the beginners.

  • Make it more expensive to grow in size. Currently there is nothing to stop an advanced player from making both GIN and DW. Why would they replace their FPs with FERs when they can just leave the FPs in place and build FERs next to them? If companies got more inefficient with size, then players would start to replace existing Tier 1 buildings with more profitable Tier 2+ ones, instead of having both. But currently there is no reason to do this.

Since these changes only require tweaks to recipes and adding a single logistics penalty efficiency factor, I hope they would be small enough to consider making.

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@Yang_Mills Both experts and CoGC bonuses only affect THROUGHPUT, but this hardly has an impact on final costs of low level materials.

Just to make an example: producing 4 FE costs 757 raw mat + 251 consumable = 1008 NCC (based on NC1 prices in this moment). With 5 x Metallurgists and CoGC bonus, they would cost 757 + 164 = 921 NCC. Less than a 10% variation.

Experts are only impactful on high end materials so you can just use 5 x Manufactorer (just as example) to boost your final production and still produce your own FE. It would cost 10% more than a specialized producer, but it would still be a better price than the bid price you find on the market, thus there’s no reason for me to destroy my smelters and buy the resources on the market.

Yeah. I don’t have any reliable data, but my impression is that the economy in PrUn is not trickle down, but rather trickle up. In particular, there are many players trying the game for a couple of weeks then leaving. Their allocated starting capital ends up in the pockets of rich players who sell them basic prefabs, MCG or OVE. In Antares area it is extreme because even for the drinking water, most of the volumes sold on the CX come from rich players. This is because this water does not orginate from the starting planets but from Etherwind.

There is another thing that this game desperately needs: a loan system. Basically a way to transfer capital from rich players to starting players. Big players will stop investing and expanding once they reach a critical level determined by how much time and attention they want to dedicate to the game. After that level, they just pointlessly accumulate cash. On the other hand, starting players want to grow but don’t have the capital for that. So why big players would not just lend money to the starting players? First obstacle, there is no way to transfer money to trial only players, who form the majority of the player base. To be impactful, a loan system would have to be accessible to the trial players. Maybe with limitations, like the borrowers are required to be at least two weeks in game. The other issue is trust and risk. As the majority of players trying PrUn COLIQ after a couple of weeks, there is no guarantee that a loan would be ever reimbursed. So there should be a mechanic where if a borrower COLIQs or forfeits the loan, the latter is reimbursed to the lender by the game itself. Maybe without interests, maybe only a percentage of the loan, like 90%. In this way the lender will still bear a risk, but on a much smaller amount.

This is an interesting idea, but I am not certain that it would have the intended effect.

First, introducing a new major money sink would also require introducing new faucets as well (or increasing the ‘flow’ from existing faucets), in order to avoid deflation. Broad market deflation would be an extremely serious situation in a universe where money wages were required to pay workers and run production.

So suppose that the money sink is introduced as well as a new money faucet to balance it out (e.g., more MMs across more goods or maybe faction contracts). How does this result in fewer off-exchange trades? The original idea was that the money sink would force players to go to the exchanges for cash instead of trading in-corp. But that won’t happen if players can get all the money they need by trading within their corp. And given the required proliferation of new money faucets, it seems likely to me that there will be plenty of players in the corp with high cash flow, especially in the large corps which are presumably the biggest “problem” in terms of which corps run big off-exchange shadow markets.

Therefore the likely result is that in-corp bartering will be reduced but will be replaced by in-corp trading for money.

In short, I think the approach of trying to “solve” off-exchange trading by introducing a money sink is a very indirect, and consequently ineffectual, way of dealing with the fundamental issue.

What would be a more direct solution to the problem? It is helpful to recognize that in-corp trading does not happen merely for role-play reasons, there is a fundamental economic reason why many players prefer in-corp trading to using the exchanges: in-corp trading reduces transaction costs. It does so in the following ways:

  • Shipping costs can be reduced by avoiding the otherwise useless need for transport to the exchange – instead goods move directly from the seller to the buyer. This reduces shipping costs both in terms of fuel and in terms of the number of ships required to transport a given amount of goods.
  • The exchanges only support ‘spot pricing’, no futures. This means planning to buy or sell on the exchanges introduces commodity price risk – the purchase price of your inputs or the sell price of your outputs might vary significantly in a day / week / month from now. This can be a very significant consideration for high-end goods that require very significant capital expenditure to bring production online. By trading in-corp, you can guarantee the medium to long term stable pricing that is necessary to reduce the risk to your investment.

On the other hand, in-corp trades do have one higher transaction cost than the exchanges, and that is the time/effort required to discuss/plan with corp members on who builds what for who and at what price. However, the transaction cost reductions achieved from in-corp trading often far outweigh the cost.

As long as the exchanges have higher transaction costs than in-corp trading, there will be a “problem” of people disproportionately preferring to trade off the exchanges.

A proper solution to this, I believe, requires finding ways to make exchange trading have lower transaction costs compared with other forms of trading.

Here are some ideas:

Introduce costs that players pay, unless they are using the exchange

  • Introduce private contract taxes. The taxes should be proportional to the exchange value of the goods traded. Trade on the exchange and you avoid the tax.
  • Make off-exchange storage costs significantly higher, so that players find it more economical to list at the exchange rather than store and trade large quantities of goods among themselves.
  • Add stored-material degradation – a certain percentage of items in stockpiles deteriorates every day, unless listed on an exchange (role playing reason: the exchanges have proprietary carbonite-freezers to keep goods in great condition, or something). This idea and the previous one would likely require adding some kind of storage fee at the exchange to order to prevent people from simply using the exchanges as free storage. However, the key would be that the on-exchange listing “storage” must be more cost effective than off-exchange storage.

Reduce shipping costs when using the exchanges

  • Add tractor beams to the exchanges which significantly reduce the fuel required to transport to or from the exchange. Ideally, it should be cheaper to ship from planet A → exchange → planet B than to from planet A → planet B directly. This might also require supplementary measures to prevent players from using the tractor beams to transport goods without listing them on the exchange. E.g., the exchanges could subsequently charge for the use of the tractor beams if they are used by players who do not list the transported goods on the exchange.
  • Add wormhole portals at the exchanges to significantly reduce the amount of time required to get to the exchange when flying a ship.

Introduce futures trading

  • Players should be able to post a sell order for, say, 10 BHP for delivery in 1 week. Or post a buy order for 10 ROM for delivery in 1 week. It should be easy to post / accept recurring orders, so you could indicate that you are willing to buy 10 ROM per week for the next 8 weeks. Perhaps if the counterparty fails to complete their end, a MM provides ‘backup’ so there’s no risk to either the buyer or seller. This would require some new mechanisms in place to prevent abuse, but it should be doable.

Introduce money that players can earn by using the exchanges

  • The exchanges could pay people some amount when they list on the exchange. This would be similar to real-world stock exchanges that pay for liquidity. The role playing reason could be subsidies from the factions to encourage economic development through trade. Again, this would require some protection from abuse, but that should be a solvable problem.
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