Bart the 43rd was excited. After grinding hard in his Avenger and, well, 42 deaths, he’d scraped together enough money to buy a used Constellation tricked out for cargo running. While it didn’t have the cargo capacity of the Starfarer, it meant he could haul over three times as much cargo on each run. He’d been parked at the Shippers’ Guild for hours looking for the right contract for his Connie’s inaugural run.
“Too far. Too dangerous. Too expensive. Man, am I ever going to see something other than this crap,” said Bart the 43rd to nobody in particular since the woman staffing the Guild desk long ago tuned him out. “Wait a minute… wait a minute!”
SHIPPING CONTRACT: 35 ton refinery robot CPUs for immediate delivery to Nemo. Speed bonus paid for delivery within 3 days.
“Bingo!” shouted Bart the 43rd. Bart accepted the contract, raced to his new Connie, and 36 hours later, he was at the door. 36 hours and 15 minutes later, he was back in his Connie. Another trader in a closer system accepted the contract first and beat him there.
“Effing pigeon drones,” Bart the 43rd muttered. “When in the hell are those UEE boys going to invent FTL communications?”
A serious problem with relay-style communications is highlighted by poor Bart the 43rd’s dilemma. At least the poor dude can visit the Space Whale while he figures out how to pay for the fuel he burned getting to Nemo.
To understand what happened to Bart the 43rd and to facilitate what I expect will be an ongoing discussion concerning this issue, I’ve created the following graphic:
Let’s make some assumptions for the purposes of this blog entry…
- Nemo is system ‘A’ and the source of the contract request.
- Each planet graphic represents a different system.
- Commercial communications take one hour to propagate between systems via pigeon drone (just for ease of discussion purposes and not a prediction of how long it will actually take in the game).
- Bart the 43rd was on system ‘D’
- The trader who fulfilled the contract was on system ‘B’ and is named ‘Hilda’
Now let’s work the timeline.
- Hour 0: Contract request made
- Hour 1: Contract request at system B
- Hour 2: Hilda accepts the contract at system B. Contract request at system C.
- Hour 3: Hilda’s contract acceptance received at System A. Contract request reaches Bart the 43rd at system D, is accepted by him, and he leaves immediately for the jump point. Hilda’s contract acceptance data at System C.
- Hour 4: Hilda’s contract acceptance data reaches System D. Bart the 43rd’s acceptance reaches System C.
It’s clear the relay delay has screwed Bart the 43rd out of his contract. Even in the best case where his MobiGlas picks up Hilda’s acceptance data once Bart enters the system with system C, he’s still screwed.
The pigeon drone and system-limited exchange system CIG has envisioned will inevitably cause duplicate contract acceptances. Inevitably. The question then becomes how to handle it. Frankly, there are no good ways to handle it within the game fiction.
The creator of the contract on system A cannot be responsible for anything other than the first contract acceptance. Even in the limited example above, there could be four duplicate contracts – one each from planets B, C, D, and E with only the one from System B being the ‘valid’ contract.
The creator of the contract will possibly still need those refinery robot CPUs and be willing to offer a lower price to those who arrived “late”. But that’s not fair to the traders, especially traders who come longer distances and have higher costs that may not be covered by the lower prices.
There may be other consumers of refinery robot CPUs on Nemo who could take up the slack supply, but that would have to be coincidental. CIG couldn’t purposefully spawn consuming nodes just to handle duplicate contract issues. It would break the game economy quickly.
I honestly have no idea how CIG gets around this problem inside the game given the current communications assumptions. And I’ll reiterate Bart the 43rd’s situation is an inevitable and regular occurrence in the economy as currently foreseen.
The easiest way around it is to relent and make communications instant (faster-than-light). Perhaps the technology could be limited by the fiction to very short bursts – urgent news and contract data – and not suitable for the kinds of constant stream of price data necessary for regional exchanges. This is about the only “have our cake and eat it too” solution I can devise.
There is another way around this, and that’s the use of an outside contracting website. Some enterprising folks set up a contracting exchange outside the game. Anyone interested in any type of contract – askers and bidders – list their contracts on this outside exchange. Contract-related communication in this outside exchange would not be hampered by in-game communications limitations and are, therefore, instant. Everyone involved agrees contracts made on this outside exchange are binding inside the game, with appropriate penalties (loss of access to the system, for example) for breaking this agreement. At the point bidders and askers make contact in the game, an in-game contract between the two is created to fulfill the contract originally created on the outside exchange.
I’m 110% confident outside exchanges will be created if CIG can’t come up with a good solution to this “Contract Conundrum” Bart the 43rd experienced. We have already seen similar websites created as players work around analogous issues in EVE (see EVE-Central.com and EVE‑Markets.net as two examples).
Every time a player feels the need to Alt-Tab away from Star Citizen, immersion suffers. That’s a bad thing, so here’s to hoping CIG and the community can come up with a smart way to solve prevent poor Bart the 43rd’s problem.
[Note: Make sure to click on the comments where we have discussed a possible solution to this problem. Feel free to hop into the conversation. Comments are moderated to start, but I release them pretty quickly.]