I’ve looked through previous posts and unless I mis-filed it, I cannot find anywhere where I’ve talked about my original thoughts on a dynamic market for this on again, off again space trader game.

The original idea was based on supply and demand. Naturally if a particular market was low on inventory for a particular item, it would sell for more money as it would be a scarce item, while an overabundance of inventory would depress prices. To make trading effective, each port of call would have to have different levels of inventory in order to calculate different buy and sell prices. If every shop bought and sold for the same price, there’d be no reason to move goods around.

In order to calculate this, though, I had factored in a universal supply which meant that shops could have limited inventory, and — yes — players could hoard commodities in order to drive up prices (counterpoint: means of production was on the roadmap to get around this particular situation). At the end of the day this was a lot of math to go through behind the scenes, as inventory would need to be tracked on a galactic, systemic, market, and personal level, and it would all need to be factor into the formula when generating prices at any given place or time.

While I was out getting lunch this afternoon, I considered an alternative method to intergalactic marketeering. once again, thanks to EVE Online.

In EVE, players can sell what they want, how much of it they want, and at what price they want. Conversely, players can indicate that they are looking to buy an item at a specific quantity, and also indicate how much they are willing to pay. A lot of times these are ships passing in the night because sellers want to maximize their profits while buyers want to get the best deal they can. When a buyer agrees to purchase items at a proposed price, a sale is made.

One of the less-talked-about mechanics of EVE, or of any game with an auction house or player run economy, is that economics is a form of PvP. When players can set their own buy or sell price, each seller has to decide how much of a hit they’re willing to take should they choose to undercut the competition in order to make their product more appealing to potential buyers, and buyers have to decide if it’s worth paying a little more where they are as opposed to flying all over New Eden looking for a better price and take the risk that the “good enough” price might not be there should they decide to return and make their purchase. The thing about EVE is that commodities have a purpose, so players have a sort of “gold standard” dictating how much specific items on the marketplace are worth. Because of the way EVE was designed, at least part of that is completely player-driven over the course of years, but it still fluctuates as a result of corporate wars and other player events.

I didn’t want to go down that route because in a game where the point is to move goods around to minimize buying price and maximize selling price, but where those goods don’t actually have a use that can contribute to a fluctuating baseline worth, players would be free to see completely stupid prices for items which no one else would have the cash to buy. Gamers be like that, sometimes.

Instead, I considered the “community bucket”.

Say I have 5,000 widgets to sell. I bring them to a station which has no widgets to sell. I set up a sale which takes those 5,000 widgets from my cargo and stores them at the station. Based on the base universal value of a widget, taxes and conditions at the station, system, and sector, as well as the fact that there are only 5,000 widgets available to buy, a price is calculated. If you’re at this station and are looking to buy widgets, this is the only game in town, so you have to decide that the price is right, or that you’re going to shop around and hope no one cleans this station out in the meanwhile. If you buy all 5,000 widgets, I get the proceeds (minus processing fees, of course).

Now say word gets out that this station only has 5,000 widgets for sale, and nine other players are looking to offload their own 5,000 widget cargo. They converge and put their cargo into the market. Now there are 50,000 widgets for sale at this station. Because the inventory increased the price-per-widget isn’t as valuable as it was when I was the only Widget Pusher at this market. Technically, we all lose in the sense that no one is going to make as much as any of us would were we the only ones selling at this station, but instead, should anyone buy any widgets, the profit would be split between all of us who are selling widgets. Instead of targeting a specific seller to buy from because that player chose to undersell the competition, we all get something — nowhere near as much as if we were the sole seller, and not even as much as if there were only five of us selling widgets, but more than if there were 50 people selling the same item. Assuming no one else comes in to top off the widget inventory, the more widgets that are sold at this station, the higher the price climbs, and the more profit the 10 of us stand to make in the long run.

I’m not entirely sure how this would math-out, though. Would it be profitable in any way to split proceeds between a growing pool of people as the price-per-item that makes up those profits decrease? The impetus would then be to find a station to sell goods at which isn’t already stocked to the gills with the same commodity you want to unload. It wouldn’t be completely possible, but if it were then players could simply agree that some people sell over here, some sell over there, and the market is gamed so that everyone wins. It does, however, make embargos and blockades an attractive option to keep sellers away from certain stations while gouging buyers who really want those goods. At least with the split-profit model folks will not have to decide between “I get all the profits” or “I get an insignificant amount of the profit”, but only with “do I take the chance that my profit cut will be between ‘just ok’ and ‘I can live with that'”?

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