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Wavinator

Trading Mechanic: Visible But Unstable Prices

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Many trade-based games have you visit ports where commodity prices are unknown. Typically, this forces you to note where the deals are or look it up online. I'm wondering about ways to change this. Two questions: 1) Has any trade-based or trade heavy game done trading where commodity prices are visible at all ports? If so, where did the challenge come from? 2) If you can see prices all around the map in advance but can't guarantee that they'll be stable when you arrive, would it offer some level of suspense? Or would it simply feel random, even if you knew the cause of price change / volatility.

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Original post by Wavinator
Many trade-based games have you visit ports where commodity prices are unknown. Typically, this forces you to note where the deals are or look it up online. I'm wondering about ways to change this.


This was one of the most annoying things about Spore. Thousands of systems to go to and you had no way to get prices of equipment much less mark where a particular place was.

In Freelancer, the prices were always stable so once you knew where the two places were, you could set a waypoint using the map and it was easy to find the way each time. Of course the names were based on cities so remember what place had what was not as hard as Spore which had "random names".

I don't know of any games in particular to point 1, but on point 2, it would sound more of an annoyance than a surprise over time. It would be most unfortunate if you have goods that would spoil too. All of this assumes a "free trade" system though. What about a contracted trade system? Planets place orders for things they need at some price and you can choose to accept to trade them? That is something I've not seen that seems more realistic than the ad-hoc means of freely trading around.

Or, how about this: The world is setup using a "stock market" design. You can visit any planet and see the current exchange rates for other places. This of course could be made a premium service in game. I.e. you have to pay for it, earn it, and continue to advance relationships with the host planet to continue to use it.

As for price volatility, what exactly are you trading? If planet X mines gold, it should always buy gold at a significantly low price. If planet Y is in need of gold and is some far parsec distance away from planet X, then it's buying rates should remain high unless it's market is entirely flooded with a large amount of gold to where it won't need gold for "months".

More interesting is if your game has some random event system along with news. If some planet is facing a natural disaster, as you read in the news, it will need more food let's say. That's the tip off to you to go there with food to sell. If a planet is engaged in a war, it will need lots of metal, so you take it metal. There could be chances that the planet doesn't actually need it but that would make it interesting.

Just some thoughts, I'm not much of a trade person though. I'm a lone wolf; I want to make it on my own. Steal, loot, and plunder I say [grin]

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Original post by Wavinator
1) Has any trade-based or trade heavy game done trading where commodity prices are visible at all ports? If so, where did the challenge come from?
I don't know if/how it has been done, but I can speculate on how it could be done. Remember that revenue is only a tiny piece of the equation. You need expenses, opprotunity costs, and risks as well. Even in a game where you can instantly know all prices at all ports and thus how much you will make by buying here and selling there, you still probably wont know exactly what you'll have to spend getting there (and what other opportunities will pass you by in the meantime). Perhaps an unexpected warp storm (celestial)/thunder storm (terrestrial) causes damage to your supplies, or a pirate attack hampers your shipments. Knowing the general concentrations of these things (ie the chance thereof), but not their exact figures (keep it random) allows a risk vs reward system to fall in place. Maybe that new trade route will yield 10k profit, but there's a good chance of pirates. Then the player must decide whether 2k of safe profits is worth it, or 10k of very risky profits. Also, spending money to meet challenges. Buying a warp core stabilizer/extra sails might be costly, but cost less than loosing all your cargo to the storm. So you really have to plan, take certain risks, or avoid them for the long haul.
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2) If you can see prices all around the map in advance but can't guarantee that they'll be stable when you arrive, would it offer some level of suspense? Or would it simply feel random, even if you knew the cause of price change / volatility.
I think having the factors of price change known from the start would fall right in with a risk vs reward system. Think about it: a far off port is under revolution and has a high demand for guns. The revolution - win or loose - wont last long. Will you buy the rebels guns? If you get there and the revolution's over, the Old Rulers probably wont like to see you trying to ship them guns and might take a fine out of your cargo (or your hide). Even if they won, you're still stuck with a bunch of unwanted/needed guns. But saving them, rather than selling them, might allow you to discover a new opprotunity later. Of course, saving them costs money, so there's one more consideration...

Basically make the players think through their actions, rather than having a clear path set out for them. If the only consideration is "which port buys what for the most profit" then there is no real challenge. If you have to think, plan, react, compensate, rethink, ect - then you have a challenging game with a lot of replay potential.

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Patrician 2 would show an icon representing which commodities a particular town is in need of at the current time. You could then find somewhere that produces these commodities (and thus assume that they will be going cheap) and take them to the town in need. The suspense would then come from whether the town is still in need when you get there and also if you buy too much of the commodity then you may not be able to make a profit as for each unit you sell the price would drop.

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Take a look at X3: Reunion. Once you place a navigation satellite in a system, you always have access to the market prices on every station of that system, from anywhere in the universe. The problem is partially that pirates and aliens love to destroy satellites on their patrols (You could theoretically place the satellite far out and it'll be spared). So I suppose it's an in-between kind of deal, although nothing is keeping you from placing a satellite in every system (there are around 157 of them).

Also, prices fluctuate heavily depending on inventory and whether the item is being consumed or produced and such (items consumed cannot be bought from a station, and the price is generally above average, while items produced cannot be sold to the station, and the price is generally below average), and your traders are in direct competition with NPC traders who fly around buying low and selling high. There is nothing random about it, though.

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There is Port Royale 2. You will only see the prices in ports where you have ships or buildings. The prices will change according to consumption (population buying up essentials or AI traders purchasing goods and raw materials) or trade (where traders or local production structure sell to the port), so there is a chance that the prices will change before you arrive.

Real factors like population consumption, piracy in the region, etc will affect goods level and prices. This allows you to make decisions based on these factors.

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Original post by Drew_Benton
More interesting is if your game has some random event system along with news.


I think this count as an absolute requirement. If the player had no way of knowing to why certain goods when up or down in price, it may turn them away from trading because there's no way to come up with a strategy to exploit economic events if everything feels random.

Perhaps news of both economic and political developments which can affect pricing could spread instantly across the game universe in some cases, and slowly in others. Adding rumors and speculation to the mix may make things less predictable to the player. The player's physical location could also limit the window of opportunity, assuming the game does not permit players to teleport anywhere they want in the universe instantaneously.

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1) As was mentioned above, X3 did something like this through the use of satelites. The challenge came from the satelites being destroyed. Also, you had to place them in every system if you wanted to see all of the prices.

2) This could work but you run into the issues if the user can see all of the prices in real-time. Because if they are watching the prices while they travel, there's never any real suspence and surprise. On the other hand, you could allow people to see prices that are delayed by some amount of time, but you'd have to make it very clear to the player, these arn't real-time prices.

In X3 the price flucuation didn't feel random, probably because they werent. The game actually simulated the economy, down to actual competing transport ships flying around buying low and selling high. When I was heading to a station to buy a bunch of cheap goods, I always new I was in trouble when I saw a large transport leaving the station because I knew that they had taken all the good deals.

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Original post by Wavinator
1) Has any trade-based or trade heavy game done trading where commodity prices are visible at all ports? If so, where did the challenge come from?
2) If you can see prices all around the map in advance but can't guarantee that they'll be stable when you arrive, would it offer some level of suspense? Or would it simply feel random, even if you knew the cause of price change / volatility.
Escape Velocity did both of these (at least EV Nova, possibly the earlier ones as well). Once you had visited a system, you could see the approximate price (low, average, high) of each good on your galactic map, but random local events (water shortage, mining accident, food glut) often pushed the prices up or down. In addition, if you talked to NPC ships, one would occasionally give you a heads up to a local event, allowing you to arrive in time to take advantage of the price fluctuation.

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That old Drug Lord/Dope Wars game was basically just a list of prices at a series of locations, but was surprisingly fun. The challenge came from:

* Time taken to travel means that you have to use the market trends to estimate what the price will be when you arrive, rather than just going to wherever has the highest/lowest current prices.

* Weighing close-by trading opportunities against risky but more profitable trade further afield. Do I spend $30000 extra on fuel to go to the faraway planet which is trading at $55000 more but shows signs of the market beginning to recede?

* Rumours and random chances (of increased demand, or some event causing a huge drop in prices of a certain good at a certain port)

* The ability to pay for shipping, with a trade off of reliability against price

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