Going once, Going twice, SOLD!

Gisela couldn’t help herself. She knew the big money was on the big regional exchanges, but she was a bargain hunter at heart.

“Do I hear 25? 25? Anyone give me 25,000? Yes, bidder 15. Do I Hear 26,000? Anyone give me 26? Can I have 26? Yes, bidder 40. Do I hear 27,000? 27? 27? Anyone at 27,000? OK, 26,000 going once, 26,000 going twice. Lot number Alpha three niner, a Mushasi Freelancer sold for 26,000 to bidder number 40.”

Gisela whistled softly to herself. She’d looked over that Freelancer and knew the engines were about to detonate. She made a mental note to be nowhere nearby when ‘Bidder 40’ fired up his new ship. Such was life at the hyper-local planetary auctions scattered throughout the ‘verse.

“And now we have lot Bravo six four. A RSI Constellation. We’ll start the bid at 95,000. Do I hear 95? Anyone give me 95? 95? Thank you, bidder 67.”

Gisela tensed. She’d been all over this Connie. It was beat to hell on the outside and the inside looks like a gaggle of Flo-pets had been living there, but the damage and grime were superficial. All the important parts were sound.

“Do I hear 100,000? 100? 100?” Gisela raised her paddle. “Thank you ma’am,” said the auctioneer. “Bidder 122 for 100,000. Do I hear 105,000? 105? 105? Anyone at 105?”

Gisela held her breath.

“Ok, then let’s try 102,000? 102? 102? Anyone at 102?” The auctioneer peered at his long item sheet and frowned. “OK. Last bid was 100,000. 100 going once, 100 going twice. Lot number bravo six four, a RSI Constellation. Sold to bidder 122 for 100,000. Congrats, ma’am, you probably got the deal of the day,”

Gisela smiled and nodded. A good scrubbing, replace a few of the worst exterior panels, and she knew she’d be able to sell this Connie for 175,000 easy in the center worlds… if she didn’t take a fancy to the ship herself.

My first job out of college I worked for a public automobile auction. I was there a year before it folded, but almost every other Saturday for that year I was working the line, listening to the auctioneer’s call, and getting a front row seat to some of the strangest economic behavior anywhere. You see, we sold “drug cars” at this auction.

For those not familiar with the concept, America’s “War on Drugs” features powerful legal options for law enforcement to seize property used in the commission of drug dealing. “Drug cars” are those vehicles seized from drug dealers by local law enforcement. This was shortly after the days of Miami Vice (No link because if you don’t know Miami Vice, well, you’re hopeless.) where Crockett and Tubs screamed across the screen in cigarette boats and a parade of gorgeous cars (especially that Daytona Spider, may it rest in peace) seized from drug dealers.

The reality was uglier, of course. I’ll never forget we had two 1983 Honda Preludes running back to back. The first was a drug seizure car with 185,000 miles that smoked so bad we had to shut it off on the auction pad. It went for $3,500 under heavy bidding by at least a dozen people. (This was 1992 and, for perspective, the car’s original MSRP was $6,500). The next ’83 Prelude was a one-owner, 95,000 miles and in near perfect condition. The owner wanted $1,500 minimum for it (which was a steal). Only two bidders interested never got it above $750.

Incidentally, this is an example of why predicting economic behavior rarely works. People. Are. Stupid. Those Preludes were the most egregious examples in the year I worked there, but they were not the only one. While I digress here a little (OK, a lot), here’s my point: People love the excitement of the auctions. The auctioneer’s call is their heroin.

If you’ve been following along here at the Economy Blog, you know I’m a fan of handling transactions within the Star Citizen economy via regional exchanges. I think they fit the likely universe fiction, provide a boost to the velocity of money, and enable a wide array of economic interactions you simply don’t see if the exchange is confined to a single planet or installation.

That said, anyone who played Freelancer and Privateer (at least without reading web sites, BBSes, or the dev tester’s book) knows there is some excitement when you uncover great, local deals. This is lost – or at least very much reduced – with regional exchanges.

We should add live local auctions to Star Citizen. (If you didn’t click to listen to Leroy Vandyke’s classic, do it now or you’re going to misunderstand what I mean by live auction.)

Local auctions paired with regional exchanges allow us to have our cake and eat it too. The local auctions would be a fabulous place for players – human and NPCs – to interact. And the creation of a real auction environment – complete with a ‘live’ NPC character calling the auction like the fellow in Vandyke’s classic song – would be a stunning achievement.

Yes, I’m aware piecing together the sound for a decent auction caller would give poor Martin Galway fits, but I think the immersive experience would be worth it. There are also potential instancing issues if the auctions become hugely popular. A live local auction wouldn’t be effortless to create from a coding standpoint, but I think this would be well worth it.*

These auction houses would be hyper local, only selling stuff listed at that auction. Humans and NPCs could haunt them for great deals as an alternative to the regional exchanges. The auctions would take on the characteristics of their specific locales. For example, an auction house on Terra would be quite different from an auction house on Spider – both in the legality of the items and the participants.

Local auctions can also act as needed money sinks in the game. When the UEE seizes a pirate vessel or other ill-gotten goods, they can sell them at the local auctions as the Star Citizen equivalent of drug cars. If Janus hadn’t sprung Tanya Oriel’s Beacon II in the first part of Issue #9, the UEE could have sold it at a local auction!

Money from selling UEE seizure goods to human players would neatly suck money out of the economy. Auction listing fees can be charged for player-listed items. Both sinks would be a nice offset to the many money faucets in the game.

Economics aside, live auctions are great fun. Most lots can be sold in 2-4 minutes, so a 60‑minute auction can handle 15-30 items. If some systems need more capacity, run multiple lanes – one for ships, another for cargo, and a third for weapons. Multiple auctions can be held each day if the supply of goods is that large – which would be great anyway given the global time zones of the Star Citizen player population.

As long as the lots on the auction sheet come up in a predictable order, prospective buyers can decide when to arrive and leave. Even if the auction goes on for three hours, which one might presume would test the patience of any modern twitch-happy gamer, players aren’t required to arrive at the start and stay until the end. Goodness knows that’s never how it worked at any real world auto auction I’ve ever been at.

Local auctions would be a great way to bring an organized trading economy to odd corners of the universe. A regional exchange for pirate-controlled space makes very little sense from a game fiction perspective. A local auction makes all the sense in the world for Spider. I can just visualize what an absolute spectacle that might be with everything from captured ships to slaves coming in front of the auctioneer’s gavel.

Even on worlds like Terra, local auctions would have a place. If some poor soul didn’t pay his/her garage or storage fee, the contents could be auctioned off to reduce the debt. There are all kinds of items where the fiction fits with local auctions better than the regional exchanges.

Pairing local auctions and regional exchanges would be a unique approach for the Star Citizen economy – if done very well, it could be a signature feature of the game economy every bit the match of what we’re all sure will be a revolutionary combat side.

[*Postscript: While I’m obviously enamored with the idea of a ‘caller’ interface for the auction, this idea could also work with a more traditional “eBay” style local auction. This would be much less cool, but certainly easier to code.]

 

8 thoughts on “Going once, Going twice, SOLD!

  1. FWIW, in a brief chat with CIG sound designer Martin Galway he indicated the auctioneer would be technically possible. He also said that perhaps humans could do this spontaneously. I think he’s right, but policing it would be hard to do. Maybe CIG could provide the tools in a specific room — an interface for the human auctioneer he/she can use to enter in the transactions and bidding paddles (numbers) for the players.

  2. The trick for an auctionhouse is to maximize the number of eyeballs per item to help gauge the true value of an item. Having consistent spot prices per region will help send price signals through the economy, which will keep the engine moving. To do this, markets should be as large as possible to maximize the base of bidders. However, a centralized market cuts down on the amount of shipping traffic, which also needs to be maximized for gameplay purposes.

    I propose that auctions work similarly to commodities markets, in that ownership of most goods be bought and sold on regional exchanges. Action winners are issued a claim ticket, which can be resold numerous times. The actual goods are warehoused at the planet or station where they first entered the market, and the owner must travel to the location to take physical possession. This promotes the exchange of goods and the volume of shipping traffic which will be the lifeblood of the game.

  3. PadreJack -

    Thanks for the comment.

    I actually don’t think exchanges cut down on the amount of shipping traffic. The stuff still needs to get there and most of what’s sold won’t be used where the exchange is located. As such, this is a lot of shipping that is enabled to get stuff where it needs to go. How much shipping traffic an exchange will create depends completely on how many planets/systems the exchange covers.

    Because of this, I think we are on exactly the same page. If a regional exchange (as opposed to single-planet exchange) covers 5 planets (A-F), then a seller on planet F can sell to a buyer on planet A without ever actually seeing each other. To get the goods moved from planet F to wherever they need to go, the buyer has to either go fetch the goods him/herself or pay a hauler to go do that. This promotes a ton of shipping traffic.

    Of course, the seller could choose to schlep the goods to the exchange him/herself. This could fetch a higher price (if the buyer was also there) for the seller — perhaps enough to offset the costs of doing the shipping himself. Same with the buyer being at the exchange him/herself. This provides lots of economic choice.

    I think calling this a “commodity market” instead of a “regional exchange” is probably also correct, though in my reference set a “commodity market” involves a great deal more complexity (something I discuss in one of my earlier blog posts). Allowing the “ticket” to be resold also creates a passive income stream that allows players to create income without enabling any other commercial activity, which could be problematic.

    I see these local auctions as an adjunct to the regional exchanges (commodity markets) — less a place where common goods are sold and more a place where unique things can be found and discovered. There wouldn’t necessarily be one on every planet or system.

    Eido

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