I was browsing through my hard drive on an old computer this evening and came across a player narrative I wrote in 2007 for a game concept I called the “Space Economy Game.” The main idea with this game was to create a game around two core mechanics: M.U.L.E. style resource auctions and currency creation/management/exchange. I wanted a game economy that could be played on two scales, micro and macro–real-time and long-term. The primary interface would be 3D/MMO, but there would also be a mobile component that lets you tweak your auctions when you’re not in the game.
“Glad you could make it out here Jim.”
A scruff voice is speaking to you over your intercom. You’ve been traveling for God-only-knows how long through deep space. You left your family, your friends, your job–everything you knew behind you back on Earth to find out if you have what it takes to make it on the new frontier.
“This is Earth Federation 721 to N792AC. Jim: DO YOU READ?”
You’ve been in deep space so long the only human voices you’ve heard were from your old-time movies you brought along to keep you entertained during the journey. This voice was real, and it was getting agitated.
“Ahem, yes. I mean, N792AC to Earth Federation 721. This is Jim. I read you.”
“Ah, glad to have you with us Jim. I know it’s been a long journey but we have a lot of work for you to do. As you may recall, your contract with Earth Federation may grant you 10,000 EFCs, but you’re expected to pay that back to us — WITH INTEREST.”
“EFCs?” you think to yourself. Oh yeah, Earth Federation Credits. In exchange for the flight out here on this rinky-dink spaceship, you basically sold yourself into a form of space indentured servitude. If you ever expect to make it out here on the new frontier you’ll need to repay your debt to the Earth Federation.
You pause for a moment. You could just ignore the Earth Federation star ship that’s hailing you. After all, they’re still many AU away. They’re in a big slow star ship and you could jump back out to deep space in no time. Maybe you could band together with a few other newcomers to the frontier and put together a rag-tag team of pirates. Hmmm…
“Affirmative Earth Federation 721,” you say begrudgingly.
“Good. We get plenty of idiots out here who think they can take our money and run back out into deep space and make a living on their own. Little do they know that we have a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SUCCESS RATE hunting them down and reclaiming our assets, with a heavy penalty of course.”
The voice in the intercom laughs uncomfortably. You get the sense the voice on the other end may not be speaking the whole truth.
“Anyways. It’s time for you to get started. We’ve just discovered a new asteroid belt in quadrant D7.2, and our research scanners believe it to be highly enriched with uranium. Uranium is a big growth commodity these days, and there’s a lot of money to be made mining it. If you head over to the space depot in that quadrant you can pick up a uranium mining device and start collecting.”
“Sounds good. And where do I find the space depot?”
“Quadrant D6.0. It should be on your map.” (A blinking light appears on your HUD). “Oh, and Jim. One more thing. You’re in the new frontier now. It’s dangerous out here. Since we’ve ‘extended’ you a loan we’ll protect you–when it suits us.” (*laughs*) “Most of the time you gotta watch out for yourself ’round these parts. If you ever get into some serious trouble you can call us for assistance, but we’ll assess a penalty if the protection isn’t ‘warranted.'”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“It’s in your loan agreement. If you call us to protect assets that are not under a lean by the Earth Federation you will have to reimburse us for our troubles.”
“But the Earth Federation gave me the loan to get out here. Isn’t pretty much everything I own under lean by the Earth Federation until I pay off my debts?!”
“Haha! You’re a bright one Jim, but it doesn’t *exactly* work like that. Until you start to pay off your debt, yes, *everything* you own is under lean of the Earth Federation. But as you pay off your debt to the ‘Fed your ownership in the assets you hold is pro-rated based on the percentage of debt that you have payed off.”
“So if I’ve payed off half my debt to the Earth Federation and I call for protection, I’m responsible to reimburse you for half of the protection costs.”
“That’s right! But why am I having this conversation with you? This is all in your loan agreement. You have been granted permission to collect uranium. Head over to the space depot and pick up some equipment.”
The space depot is bustling with traffic. The intercom has so much chatter on the public channels that you’ve decided to squelch it temporarily. You link your com up to the depot’s trading house.
A half minute goes by and you try again.
No response for another half minute. No one wants to trade with you! Then suddenly:
“Aha! Fresh meat! Err, I mean, hello there… JIM. Pleased to meet you. I see you’re a new recruit. You probably need to be outfitted with some mining equipment? I can help you with that! Real cheap!”
“Yeah, thanks.” This guy sounds like a total swindler, but he’s the first person that responded to your requests to trade. “I need to collect uranium. Can you set me up with the necessary gear?”
“Ha! Fresh meat, you’re going to need a bit more than ‘gear’ to collect uranium. First you need to mine the uranium, right? To do that you need a uranium miner. But then you need to transport the uranium somewhere so you can sell it, right? To do that you need a transport vessel. And then you want to sell the uranium to make money, right? Haha. To do *that* you need a licensed market agent — at least within Earth Federation space anyways — and *I* would be more than happy to be your agent.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad. How about I’ll buy one of these uranium miners and just use my own ship to transport the uranium?”
“That’s not a problem at all. In fact, with your measly Earth Federation loan I doubt you could afford to buy a decent miner and transporter anyways.”
“Sounds good. But why do I need an agent to sell the product?”
“In ‘Fed space they require a license to trade on the market. Licenses insure sure the Fed gets their taxes. The Feds’ really got everyone by the gonads here; first they issue all of the money, then they charge interest for you to use the money, then in order to exchange money they require you to pay a tax when you exchange it! It’s a crazy system, but some of us manage to eek out a living in it.”
The shrewd trader lowers his voice: “It’s not like this everywhere out in deep space ya’know. There are other star systems out here that *are not* controlled by the ‘Fed. They’re controlled by other groups that broke away from the ‘Fed a long time ago. Some of them are a lot more ‘business friendly’ if you know what I mean.”
“Well why aren’t you there then?”
“Here’s your mining equipment. Get off of my channel.”
Did you hit a nerve there? Maybe this guy has some shady dealings outside the Fed he doesn’t like to discuss…
You’ve taken your uranium miner and positioned it next to a nearby asteroid and have made two trips to pick up your mined uranium and sell it at the market. The market is busy place. With the assistance of the trader you were able to place the uranium you collected up for sale and set an asking price. But your uranium only sells at a rate of one unit per second. At any time you can connect back with your trader over the com and adjust your selling price. They say it’s based on M.U.L.E. theory, but you were never one to pay attention in school.
A couple times you set your price extremely low to entice a buyer. Once you had them hooked you jumped back on the market com and started to slowly jack up the price. This worked well on one occasion when you were the only person selling, but once someone else jumped in the market to sell uranium too you had to compete with them for price. There’s a lot of potential here for manipulating the market, but it requires careful collusion with other players…
It’s been almost an hour now and you’ve been making some serious money mining uranium and carefully selling it. You’re in the market now doing another sale, when out of nowhere a message pops up on your HUD: Your uranium mining units are being attacked!
A chill comes over you. What do you do? You move your display over to your mining operation. Another ship is firing at your mining units. As quickly as you can, you select the ship to get more information. Who is this? Unknown. Can you defeat them? Unlikely. Can you get help? Right! You can call for help! You contact Earth Federation HQ and request assistance.
Within seconds the ‘Fed descends on the attacking ship. The attacker stops firing. Several seconds go by and nothing seems to be happening. Then a crate of goods appears next to the offending ship. What’s happening? Then, without notice, the offending ship turns around and flies off. The ‘Fed picks up the crate of goods and leaves.
Earth Federation contacts you: “Hello Jim, we’ve taken care of the situation. Since you’ve repaid 10% of your debt, you’re responsible for 10% of our protection costs. We suggest you start to consider PROTECTING YOURSELF rather than disturbing us. We’re very busy.”
Protect yourself? Now there’s a novel idea! You head back to the space port to see what your options are. There are many different models of “defense drones” available, but none of them are within your purchasing power! What to do? Just then a voice comes over your com:
“Need to defend yourself but can’t afford a defense drone? Come to our factory and build one yourself! We’d be happy to help.” The position of the factory appears on your HUD.
You fly over to the factory to check things out. A basic defense drone can be built with 20 uranium and 20 steel. The base unit has an attack power of 50 and a movement speed of 50. Sounds great! But wait, you have no steel…
You remember passing by a steel processing facility earlier. You head back over there to check things out. Maybe you can get steel there?
The steel processing facility, sure enough, makes steel. For every 15 iron ore you supply, they give you 10 steel. (The process actually produces one steel for every one iron ore, but they charge a hefty commission!) Next problem: you don’t have any iron ore.
You could buy iron ore. Actually, you could just buy steel–both are sold on the market. Or you could mine iron ore and then use the facility to produce your steel, but that would require an investment in iron ore mining drones.
Decisions, decisions. Before you plop down the credits to buy an iron miner, you check the market prices for iron ore. What happened?? The market for iron has dropped significantly, it looks like a buyers market! You jump in and go for 30 iron ore. You get a great deal on most of it before the prices start to climb back up.
You take the iron to the processing facility, get your 20 steel for 30 iron ore (which takes a few minutes), stop by your uranium miner to pick up 20 uranium, and then head over to the factory to build yourself a defense drone. You’re all set to make the purchase when the factory controller comes over your com:
“Wait a second here, are you sure you just want the BASE model?”
“What do you mean? I thought the base model with 50 attack / 50 movement was my only option?”
“Oh not at all!! At this facility, every additional steel you add to the construction of your defense drone will increase its attack, and every additional uranium you add will increase its movement.”
“By how much?” you ask skeptically.
“It’s.. variable. Making defense drones is not an exact science. We do the best we can, but we can’t guarantee what will happen during the manufacturing process. The quality of the steel, the purity of the uranium, it’s all very complicated…”
“Cut to the chase! What do I *get* for adding additional steel and uranium?”
“Every additional 1 steel will add somewhere between 2 and 4 additional attack. Every additional 1 uranium will add somewhere between 1 and 6 additional movement. Like I said, it’s not an exact science and the solar flares effect the process substantially…”