Thanks, @pasmith, for putting us on this path to looking at crime and punishment in Star Citizen.
Foreword: Compensation for Lost Goods
One of the (many) overarching questions folks have is how Star Citizen will deal with the fact that a ship can be stolen — off the pad if someone gets in there before the owner, or boarded and captured while in space — when some folks will have acquired their ships via the pledge system for real cash. Obviously, if there’s only one instance of a player’s ship in the game this will put the owner behind a very serious, very rage-inducing 8-ball, and I think we can all agree that this is not a good game design.
The short answer is “insurance”. If a ship is insured, then the owner can file a claim and get a new ship. An article on the RSI website from 2012 goes into a bit more depth by saying that each ship will have a unique “hull ID code”. If you register a ship as stolen, that code becomes “hot”. Any NPC or player who finds this “hot” ship can attack or arrest the criminal, that ship cannot be re-sold, nor can it land in lawful space, and while the idea is that maybe the thief can purchase a new hull ID code elsewhere, that route will be difficult and expensive. Also, insurance fraud is a system that CIG is keeping an eye out for, and those who try and screw the system might find themselves either with a hefty fine, or an arrest warrant of their own. As this is an old post, it remains to be seen if this is still the plan going forward, but it’s a nice guideline to think about.
So what kind of punishment are we looking at here? Insurance fraud is lumped into a list of “criminal activity” that was presented at a CitizenCon 2949 panel that has recently made its way to YouTube.
Here are some of the finer points for those who prefer reading:
These are the kinds of things that will earn you a “crime stat”. Crime stat is a pip-system which is accrued whenever you “do something bad”. Currently in version 3.7 that includes ramming other players on landing pads, killing another player unprovoked, hacking communication satellites, and taking missions offered by criminals. The above list includes other activities that aren’t currently available, so right now it’s more of a “wish list” than anything. At this time the number of pips you have earned determines the response, from NPCs doing nothing all the way up to rejecting landing requests, and finally to KoS and bounties being issued against you. You can travel to Security Post Kareah or one of a few outposts, hack the criminal database, and erase your crime stat, or if you die your stat is reset. A lot of players earn stat and then offer themselves as “sitting ducks” to players to blow up for the reward money and a quick stat clear.
Going forward, though, crime stat is going to get a lot more complicated.
The idea of punishing bad behavior in online games has never reached a point where it’s been a real deterrent, and while I heartily applaud CIG for implementing a “prison system”, they seem incapable of offering a stick without a carrot. This will certainly lead all kinds of players to justify bad behavior as “I needed to get into prison” while leaving the victims feeling like they got stepped on twice for someone else’s gain — first the actual crime, then the criminal being rewarded with a new gameplay loop.
Still, this prison plan is pretty innovative. Players with a crime stat are SOL: they can either fight to the “death”, or surrender to NPC cops, player bounty hunters, or players deputized by the NPC “Citizen Defense Force” organization. Regardless, they will wake up in prison, stripped of their loadout, and forced to “do time”.
Doing time, right now, is planned to mean “in-game time” because the mechanic involves participation. Prison is meant to remove criminals from the flow of the game; while they might ultimately find benefits to being incarcerated, they won’t be out in the ‘verse harassing other players, and the length of time spent behind bars is a factor of the severity of the original infraction, compounded by their behavior while in the Big House. However, time spent is not the sentence; the only legitimate way to get out of prison — to serve your time — is to earn merits.
While in prison, players earn “merits” through good behavior at a set rate. If you keep your head down, don’t piss off the guards, and don’t run afoul of anyone that ropes you into doubling-down on being a criminal, you’ll earn these merits and when you have earned enough merits to fulfill your sentence, you are released. You can increase the rate of earn by participating in a work program. The example provided was focused on a mining facility on Aberdeen, which would see inmates issued a basic multitool with which they would mine in underground caverns. The more minerals they returned, the more merits they could earn, hastening their release.
Merits can also be used as an in-prison currency to upgrade your in-prison equipment. In addition to the multitool, players will have environmental gear, since the atmosphere of Aberdeen is toxic, and working in the mines will require O2 tanks. Merits can be traded between players, and also granted by taking in-prison missions or fulfilling bounties. This opens a whole world of gameplay for the incarcerated, from protection on players of NPCs, gambling on boxing matches, and even killing the more violent offenders in the facility. Of course, bad behavior while behind bars will increase the number of merits necessary for release, up to a point where even prisoners can become persona non grata in the facility — resulting in those aforementioned bounties that players can collect or the ire of the deadly automated sentries.
Escape and Release
No prison would be complete without the option to escape. The talk doesn’t go over specifics specifically, but the allusion is to breaking free by tunneling out through the mines. During the Q&A period it was mentioned that the escape routes would be static, but painful, as automated defenses would operate inside, O2 levels would turn the event into a race against the clock, the surface conditions would be deadly, and simply being a prison, coordination with outside partners would be difficult to arrange. Each attempt would be a case of tasks, route-memorization, dealing with conditions, efficiency, and speed. If players manage to escape, a tracking chip is activated so that they will find very few safe havens; they could, of course, hack a security database and clear their crime stat by explaining away their pardon: diplomatic immunity, maybe?
Of course, players can just sit around, do nothing, accrue their merits, and wake up one day back in their last “lawful” hab with all of their possessions returned, or they can work off their debt, or they can participate in the prison economy with NPCs and other players to acquire more merits — possibly at the risk of lengthening their sentence. Whether any of this results in an actual “reformed criminal” is doubtful. It seems that there are several good reasons why players might want to get into prison, and it was stated that should a player earn rep with the NPCs there, subsequent visits will allow them to retain and build on those benefits.