Complexity

Lines. Katarina hated lines. It had been like this ever since the Vanduul took out all the fuel refineries in this sector of space in retaliation for the UEE opening direct negotiations with the Kr’Thak. Every time she had to refuel, she sat in line for hours. Bored stiff, Katarina flipped on the vidscreen.

“New United News Anchor Tom Grunick here with Sloan Sabbith, UEE economist. Ms. Sabbith, can you explain the impact of the fuel shortages on the sector economy?”

“Tom, first off, thanks for having me. The UEE is shipping in fuel and UEE Citizens are first in line, so they shouldn’t see any disruptions. This sort of emergency response is precisely why UEE Citizenship is so valuable. The UEE is committed to…”

“Lying tramp,” Katarina shouted at the screen as she slapped the off button. “Always spouting propaganda. Effing ‘economists’ don’t know nothin’. I’m out here wasting time sitting in line when I could be earning money. This nonsense is disrupting my economy.”

I spend a fair amount of hours in the chat room. I hear complaints all the time along the lines of, “Why will it take so long to deliver the game?” I’m sure most of those people are just trying to be funny, but then it’s only five or so months since Chris Roberts debuted his vision for Star Citizen and Squadron 42. When the flight combat alpha starts later this year, and the final game is still 18 months after that, I expect folks will be asking this question more often.

Those of us who’ve ever worked in a software development atmosphere probably have a better appreciation for the massive task in front of CIG. While I was excited to see the funding campaign exceed all the stretch goals, I have to admit I winced at the additional workload each successive funding milestone added to CIG’s plate.

Since I’m focused on the game economics, I’ll use the game economy as an example. We have only hints about what roles – NPC and/or human controlled – will be a focus for the game, but working through just one of the likely economic roles reveals the hugely complex task CIG has in coding a real economy for Star Citizen.

In the chart below, I walk through all the economic roles involved in the single task of a pilot acquiring fuel for his/her spacecraft. It’s pretty stunning, actually, the sheer number of economic roles necessary. These are not presented in any particular order.

Explorer/Prospector Miner/collector Refiner
Hauler (multiple stages) Wholesaler Retailer
Security Ship seller Module seller
Mining/collecting equipment Refining Equipment Advertising
Maps Fuel storage Real estate
Equipment repair Ship repair Insurance
Auction house Medical services Taxes
Search & Rescue Bounty Hunters Contracts

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it is still 24 separate roles or processes that have to be coded. Some are simpler than others, but several of the roles are at least as complex as this list. For example, ship seller and module seller have enormous trees of their own. So do haulers or Bounty Hunters for that matter. Once you start mapping the economic relationships, things get darn complicated.

CIG can make some of this easier, ironically enough, by coding most of these roles for humans and allowing Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” to control things from there. Writing the tools and allowing humans to figure out the rest – combined with excellent monitoring tools and clever balancing – could help. Unfortunately, most of the necessary balancing tools require NPCs to perform those tasks humans aren’t handling efficiently.

So, we’re back to the necessity of CIG doing some heavy duty coding.

CIG spent most of January building their team and the physical infrastructure. February appears to be mostly about figuring out the 100,000-foot level overview of the task, filling coder roles, and building the software tools necessary to accomplish the huge task ahead of them. Because the economy is so tightly woven with the combat game play, I expect we’ll start learning more about CIG’s plans for the economy this spring.

In the meantime, I hope pledgers recognize the enormity of the project and give the CIG team a break – particularly when the inevitable timeline delays arise.

 

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