A Star Citizen contract system

“I shoulda stayed behind the bar,” Lance thought to himself as he drifted amongst the wreckage of what used to be his 300i. Lance pressed his rescue beacon, a probably useless gesture since he was floating just 100m from the business end of the Vanduul Scythe that fragged his ship. Lance eyed the Vanduul pilot and keyed the pod’s transmitter, “OK, toad brain. Now what?”

To his surprise, the Vanduul pilot responded by spinning and hitting his afterburners. Lance saw a blip appear on his pod’s proximity display about the same time he heard the distinctive sound of a Behring Judge missile streak over his head and disintegrate the Scythe.

“Looks like you could use a ride,” boomed a voice over the escape pod’s speakers. “You can wait for the UEE to eventually get here or I can ferry you back for 10,000. Contract?”

Lance was immediately glad he paid the doctor in his more recent MedBay visit to install one of the new MobiGlas implants in his left wrist. Last time he was in this situation, his MobiGlas was floating in the wreckage of his ship and he had to wait a half day for UEE to arrive because he had no way to pay.

Lance thumbed his MobiGlas implant to accept the contract and replied, “Contract… and thanks, friend.”

No player is going to get very far in the Star Citizen universe without transacting for business. Ship, gear, fuel, maps – a spacefarer’s life isn’t cheap. There are lots of folks out there who are more than happy to take advantage of the unwary, NPCs and human characters alike.

I’ve written before about economic friction, highlighting as one source of economic friction the inability to reliably exchange goods or services. One solution for the Star Citizen economy is the creation of a contracting system. This is no small coding task, I’m aware, largely because a robust contracting system has to be able to handle all manner of transactions. Some can be identified in advance, but the human influence on the Star Citizen economy means economic transactions will occur in unexpected formats. Coding for the unexpected is always tougher.

The obvious base requirement of any contracting system covers the offering and the payment. Some allowance for contract expiration (time) is also going to be necessary. Things get a little difficult after that.

Take a shipping example. A shipper contracts with a cargo hauler to deliver 600 ton of Mixed Oxides from the Kellogg to the Killian system. As everyone knows, MOX decays in transit so the value of the contract varies according to how long it takes the cargo hauler to get there. The contracting system, therefore, has to be flexible enough to allow for variable payments depending on time. This will be a common feature necessary for any perishable cargo – whether it be isotopes, foodstuffs, or slaves.

Bounties provide another example. A particularly brazen pod-killer may have a dead-or-alive contract on his or her head. The contract interface would need to be able to handle one payment if the target is brought in alive and able to be put to work in the Kellogg system’s QuarterDeck PrisonWorld generating victim compensation income. A lesser payment would be earned if the bounty hunter were only able to provide the perp’s dead body.

Some contracts, particularly the more illicit kind, might work off a percentage basis. The owner of 5,000 ton of artifacts salvaged from the Hades system might want to pay a cargo hauler friendly with pirates 10% of whatever the items can fetch in the Nul system. This means the contract system not only has to allow for percentages, but be smart enough to link the cargo‑hauling contract with the commodity sale contract value in order to complete all legs of this transaction.

If the Star Citizen economy only allows transactions in Galactic Credits instead of exchange of goods, this would make things easier. I’m not certain eliminating barter will work – even if it would be possible. After all, barter can be accomplished merely by two pilots sitting nose-to-nose in space and jettisoning cargo pods.

One might think contracts are too much bother, but I strongly disagree for a number of reasons:

  • Contracts will reduce griefing. Without a contract, an unscrupulous cargo hauler can simply accept cargo and then deliver the goods somewhere else. That blows back into multiple other players and could cause quite the nightmare. While a contract doesn’t prevent this behavior, it allows verification that this behavior occurred and in-fiction processes (UEE enforcement, bounties, etc.) can be engaged as controls.
  • Using contracts creates a “track record” for the character. Fast, effective cargo haulers can charge a premium for those “must deliver by deadline” goods compared to less experienced or speedy haulers. Loss of this “track record” for a character could also make character death more meaningful.
  • Contracts enable proper insurance premium costing and loss payments.
  • Contracts are probably the only way to properly track the value of services inside the game for purposes of monitoring the economy.
  • Contracts are the best way of tracking the flow of goods and services (not just gross volumes) for purposes of managing the economy. Geolocating contract execution and completion also allows the CIG economist team to track common trade routes.
  • If there is a contract system, it opens up another line of business for Bounty Hunters aside from hunting ship/character killers. Bounty Hunters can go after haulers who divert cargo in violation of their contract.
  • Paperwork always helps when support teams are asked to settle disputes. Paperwork is also required for any in-game judicial or dispute-resolution system. A contracting system provides that paperwork.

There are many more examples, but these should provide some sense of how a robust contracting system can help players, smooth game play, and provide a rich source of data for CIG’s economic team.

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