Joss was bored and looking for a new FPS to play. He hit up his friends, and everyone came up with the typical names except for his friend Josie. “Try Combat Arms,” said Josie. “It’s free to play so I’ve been meaning to check it out.” Interested in what the gameplay looked like, Joss did a YouTube search and came up with page after page after page of hacking videos. It was clear there was quite the commercial enterprise selling hacks for Combat Arms. Playing hacker-infested games was marginally entertaining when he was 10 or 11, Joss thought to himself, but not anymore.
Savvy developers, like CIG, develop their game with prevention of hacking in mind by making smart decisions about what game resources are server side versus client side. This goes a long way towards addressing the problem, but it isn’t enough given what’s at stake. The Star Citizen universe must be monitored for evidence of hacking.
I (obviously) believe Star Citizen is as much about the economy as space fighting – perhaps even more about the economy if CIG is to create a durable universe populated by hundreds of thousands of players. The health of the Star Citizen economy must be monitored so the “Dungeon Masters” at CIG can make the necessary tweaks and prods to keep the economic system working smoothly.
Monitoring for economic health and for detection of hackers are related tasks.
CIG needs a robust “Economic Dashboard” to not only keep tabs on the game economy, but to detect cheating. Coding for nearly every aspect of Star Citizen needs to incorporate “hooks” for the Economic Dashboard, which means designing this sort of system needs to be an early priority for the CIG development team.
In 13+ years of working with the stock market, I’m familiar with how economic monitoring systems work. The typical professional trader in my business has 3-6 screens at their trading “turret”. The screens visually depict the heartbeat of the stock market. At any given moment, the best traders can tell at a glance what is positive, negative, and unusual amid the billions of transactions taking place between the opening and closing bells each day.
Creating an Economic Dashboard for Star Citizen is, from my perspective, largely reinventing the wheel.
Creating a robust monitoring system requires every economic “thing” in the Star Citizen economy to be individually identifiable. Every physical item that can be bought or sold needs a unique serial number so it can be tracked. At the most basic, this prevents item duplication hacks and leaves a trail for investigating questionable transactions. Contracts for services need similar serialization. Correctly designing the serialization protocol benefits the Economic Dashboard as the protocol can make it easier to group certain related economic items into “classes” – fuel, ores, modules, and certain services come immediately to mind. A simple 4+10 (class+item number) alphanumeric serialization system would likely suffice.
With this incorporated into the game code, following the game economy for stability and cleanliness (from hacks) becomes easier because the baseline data are there. It also means CIG’s economy managers and system security staffs have all future options open to them. If this baseline capability is not in the code, then it must be slapped on after the fact – a messy, nasty job that is unlikely to ever work quite right. Incorporating data collection into the earliest versions of the code enables adaptability for the monitoring systems.
The Star Citizen Economic Dashboard will morph over time as CIG learns more about the game economy and potential holes for hackers. Below are a few initial ideas for what the Economic Dashboard should display:
- Current price and historical price trends for every physical item “class” tracked in the game. One set of data for completed transactions and one set reflecting quantities and prices from whatever trading exchange system (if any) is included in the game.
- Current and historical trends for quantities and values of a list of standard contract types (bounty, exploring, shipping, etc). The data should discriminate between completed, offered, and in progress contracts.
- Current and historical trends for every contract and physical good class transaction showing whether it was NPC/NPC, NPC/human, or human/human.
- Most of the above sorted by planetary system
- Players sorted by bank account size
- Players sorted by speed of account balance change
- Players sorted by number of transactions per given periods (hour/day/week/month)
- An alert system for known violations (e.g.: duplicate items)
I could go on, but you should get the idea from the above examples about what I mean when I say “Economic Dashboard”. The above items would be displayed at CIG HQ in the Star Citizen equivalent of a professional trader’s turret. One or more CIG team members would be responsible for watching the data flow to detect problems with the game economy and/or potential security problems.
Creating this capability early in the process has other important advantages, including providing data to govern NPC economic actions. I’m also excited about the game content possibilities.
Once the data are gathered, it’s no trick for CIG’s developers to make a subset of the Economic Dashboard available to players. If CIG hires the right personnel, the same CIG staff responsible for monitoring the economy can create economy-related content, contributing greatly to immersion in the Star Citizen universe. The content can even be used as a game economy management tool in cases by highlighting certain areas underserved by human players.
The key is the early incorporation of tools for monitoring the Star Citizen game economy – which is why I’m writing about it a year before we even see the space combat alpha. If you have other ideas about what should be tracked by the Economic Dashboard, please let me know. One of the best parts about Star Citizen is the ability to tap into the “hive mind” of the 10,000+ subscribers to improve upon our ideas.