Friday, September 14, 2007

Pirate-run economy?

Trinity from has an interesting article on the economy of Pirates of the Burning Sea, describing the system and asking whether it will work. I sure hope it does, but I have my doubts, which I would like to list here:

1) Crafting in PotBS is not an activity taking up any significant amount of time. You have 10 production lots, which produce X items per real-time day, whether you are online or offline. Quote: "For example, you might have a lumber mill, with a corresponding recipe to turn oak logs into planks. A structure starts accumulating “stored labor” from the time you set it up, and each recipe has a requisite “stored labor” component. In other words, before you can start producing the planks, you have to have the required number of hours of stored labor on your mill. Once you have that, all you have to do is click on a button, and the planks are produced immediately." Emphasis is mine. Second quote: "Materials/product movement will be done manually, ie. you have to actually transport goods from one port to another in your ship. No UPS delivery through the mail." Which tells me that there is no "crafting game" per se, there is only a transportation game. Once you have your 10 trading structures up and running, you just log on once a day, click a button, and immediately produce items out of all the stored labor in your structures. Put the stuff on the local auction house, and log off again, having played just 5 minutes. That is nice and easy for people who *don't* like crafting, but doesn't sound very interesting for people who do like it.

2) Apart from not taking any time, the system also appears to tend towards being static. You are limited to 10 lots per account, thus expansion of your business isn't possible unless you two-box. Once you filled all 10 lots with some production structure, they are going to produce the same X items every day. You can probably destroy structures and build new ones, but as that apparently costs money and materials, there isn't any profit in changing too often. Once you found some production chain that makes a product that sells well, there isn't much incentive to change. The whole thing becomes a source of free gold, with no decisions or effort required from you. Just produce the same stuff every day and sell it.

3) The only challenge lies in transporting stuff, because obviously the prices for oak in a port where oak can be produced will tend towards zero profit. So you load your ship full of oak and sail to somewhere where there is none, selling it at a profit. There are two extreme risks involved with that: either it is boring, or you are being robbed by pirates. I'm not sure how the developers plan to make shipping oak from port A to port B fun. You could increase the excitement level by going through PvP zones, but after being ganked by pirates a couple of times you probably stop doing that.

Quote Trinity again: "What excites me - and no doubt all other spreadsheet/database geeks - about the concept is the challenge of figuring out what to produce, how to make it, where to set up my factory, where to sell the product, and how much to sell it for." Yep, that excites me too. But what happens once I figured it out? Once my spreadsheet tells me that I should build 6 oak lumber camps, which produce enough oak for 3 lumber mills, which produce enough oak planks for 1 ship mast factory, and I set all that up, what then? I'll be stuck as a ship mast salesman, transporting ship masts from my home port to some port where other players have set up ship building factories using lots of masts. The only excitement will be whether I will be ganked on the way there, and I can avoid that by only going when there is no PvP currently on in those two ports. That gives me flashbacks to Earth & Beyond, where trade was also static. Once you found out the best trading route, you went that same route over and over, until you got bored, quit the game, and forced EA to shut Earth & Beyond down after 2 years.

The only hope is that the trade actions of other players and the PvP wars make change profitability over time to a degree where at some point selling ship masts isn't a good idea any more and building a new production chain to produce cannon balls is worth the investment. I just wonder how often that will happen, and whether that is enough to keep me busy playing as a trader.

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