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Author Topic: Tariff mechanic discussion  (Read 1395 times)

jwarper

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Tariff mechanic discussion
« on: January 27, 2020, 12:14:53 PM »

There have been many suggestions/discussions on trade and economics in Starsector, but I haven't seen a discussion focus just on the tariff mechanic.  Because it influences player trading behavior so heavily, I feel it should be a core focus of improvement.  Tariff changes have the potential to influence how the other trading mechanics work in a much more organic way. 

As it stands, the current tariff mechanic is a flat 30% across the system.   I understand it is in place to prevent the farming of overly lucrative and safe trade routes.  Yet it really only excels at making legal trading a very uninteresting aspect of the game.   Since there are other trade mechanics in game to try to incentivize player trading activities, let us look at those for a moment to put tariffs into perspective:

1. Black market - no tariffs, but risk losing reputation/confiscation of goods
2. Market contract missions - randomly generated purchase orders that are time limited - buy side tariffs only
3. Bar missions to transport goods - take goods from A to B for $ - no tariffs
4. Commodity price fluctuations based on volume of goods and world stability - dependent on world type and stability state - buy and sell side tariffs

The activities above provide trading alternatives with varying degrees of risk/reward.  While #1 is a good implementation of risk/reward, #2 and #3 seem like quick fixes to save legal trading from the tariff mechanic itself.  #4 rarely ever works out because of the current tariff mechanic adding 60% cost overhead.  Thus, the tariff mechanic has very little positive impact on player trading activity, instead applying more of a punishment that other game mechanics then have to make up for. 

Being that a flat tariff system is not very inspirational to the player nor from a game mechanic standpoint, the alternative would be a variable tariff system.  The variable tariff could be based on certain metrics in game to provide an additional layer of risk/reward to the player for doing legal trades.  There are a couple ways of going about implementing a variable tariff:

1. Faction wide tariffs - Tariffs are applied per faction and are based on the reputation you have with that faction.  If you want to do legal trades between factions, you better improve your reputation with each of them.  This provides appropriate reward for work the player does without making anything overly lucrative.  The player won't be able to abuse this since market price fluctuations still apply at the commodity level.  This method potentially is low effort to implement since you would still use the trading missions to help improve rep gains.   

2. World based tariffs - Tariffs are applied at the world level, and dynamically change based on factors like distance from the core worlds (rewarding player for travelling farther distances from safe zones) or the volume of traders the planet receives (if a planet is getting a lot of traders visiting, tariffs naturally go up.  Planets receiving less traders, would have the tariff lower gradually).  This is a much more dynamic and market based system that would provide good synergy with fluctuating commodity prices.  Would require much more effort to implement, but the outcome is a much more dynamic trading system altogether.   

Would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.  While this conversation is ultimately about legal trading activities, try to keep discussion focused on the tariff mechanic itself.   
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DatonKallandor

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2020, 02:16:36 PM »

Tariffs do what they are supposed to do, and any redution to them, no matter how couched in fluff or lore reasons would be to undermine what they are supposed to do. They're not supposed make non-mission, above board, non-emergency trade unprofitable unless you ground enough rep with a faction. They're supposed make non-mission, above board, non-emergency trade unprofitable period.

You could apply the "but what if the cost goes down with rep" to any number of other mechanics too. How about Ship restoration? What if that got cheaper the more the faction in charge of the market you did it at liked you? That could make lore sense - but it wouldn't make game design sense. Restoration is as expensive as it is for a reason - and tariffs are as expensive as they are for a reason.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2020, 02:18:53 PM by DatonKallandor »
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xenoargh

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2020, 08:59:52 PM »

OK, let's back up a minute and think here.

1.  If above-board, legal trading is unprofitable period, why is it in this game?  I mean seriously, this is not just a Newbie Trap, it's just a waste of time and CPU.

2.  The fluff doesn't make sense and neither do the tariffs.  This is a world where everybody's some flavor of Mercantilist, but nobody's smart enough to form a cartel, let alone let the player sit at the table?

3.  It makes even less sense when we're looking at the Pirates and Ludd.  Pirates shouldn't have "black markets"; they should probably have port fees at most.  I mean, the fluff says they're desperate and the game says their Markets need everything under the sun.  They don't make sense.

4.  Ludd shouldn't have "black markets" either; maybe a "terrorist tax" might be more appropriate.  But historically most terrorists are basically organized criminals with political goals; also historically most terrorists look the other way, in terms of their stated ideals, if they need money for the Cause.  It's hard to see why Ludd should behave differently; they aren't the Knights, they're the radicals.

5.  Trade routes aren't inherently "boring".  "Boring" is when you just circle a huge fleet from point to point, taking hours to do so while your eyes glaze over, and then, after hours of circles, you're rich, because the game mechanics allow that.  That's not the fault of tariffs or trade systems; it's that nothing interesting or remotely dangerous happens if you build a big enough trading fleet.  This seems like a fixable problem.   For example, make your fleet more and more attractive to Pirates based on the value of the cargo you're carrying and the ratio of civilian ships vs. military ships.



To put it another way... Freelancer had totally fixed trade routes.  But the Cardamine Run was actually quite fun, because you were practically guaranteed to get jumped by something scary and have to fight your way out. 

The problem this game has with making trading (and to an extent, travel in general) interesting is that, once you get past early midgame, practically nobody will try to jump your fleet, period, and anybody who might do so cannot catch you.  I've been saying this for years now, lol.
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DatonKallandor

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2020, 03:00:55 PM »

OK, let's back up a minute and think here.

1.  If above-board, legal trading is unprofitable period, why is it in this game?  I mean seriously, this is not just a Newbie Trap, it's just a waste of time and CPU.

To offer a way to offload stuff you don't need at less of a profit but also less of a hassle? To let the player counteract low-volume black market trades with high volume open market trades? As a contrast to the profitable mission and black market based trading to push players towards those options? As flavor to show how nobodies like the player get screwed over the big factions to push the player towards working against the big factions?

Having something that would be a bad thing to do in a game doesn't automatically make it bad. In fact, finding out what is not profitable and what is - and what is a good combat tactic or ship building option, or colony location and what isn't - is kind of the game.
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Megas

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2020, 03:06:52 PM »

1.  If above-board, legal trading is unprofitable period, why is it in this game?  I mean seriously, this is not just a Newbie Trap, it's just a waste of time and CPU.
To rip-off starving and dying players with things they need right now with a Nethack-style idiot tax.  (Prices for food spike when shopkeepers know you are starving in that game.)  That said, Open Market is occasionally handy for buying the few starter hullmods early in the game.  For vendor trash, yes, I try to avoid Open Market if I can.

This is a reason why I do not like Commerce for my colony.  Player is paying upkeep for freeloaders to rip him off at his own colony.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2020, 03:09:04 PM by Megas »
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Goumindong

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2020, 03:19:38 PM »


1.  If above-board, legal trading is unprofitable period, why is it in this game?  I mean seriously, this is not just a Newbie Trap, it's just a waste of time and CPU.


The short answer is that above board legal mercantilism isn't in the game. But above board legal trading is in the game because you might want to purchase goods for use, or sell goods acquired in other manners in a legal fashion.

I sell on the open market with factions i don't want to *** off. I sell on the open market when i have illegal goods in my hold that i don't want to offload immediately and i don't want to draw undue attention to myself. I sell on the open market when i specifically want to increase standing with a faction. Etc etc etc.

If you're hauling around AI cores for later use, but need to buy some supplies... its not smart to buy on the black market. You might get scanned and lose the AI cores. You might get caught coming in with your transponder off and either get scanned or have to fight...

Do note that its possible to make money trading on the legal market if you're exploiting the dynamic features. Places that go into shortage will sometimes pay above the tariff difference. But rather than simply establishing a trade route between two places and then being able to make money the tariffs force you into the dynamic aspects of the game. They force you to examine the world space and interact with it.
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AlucardNoirsFolly

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2020, 08:36:30 AM »

Guys, don't bother. This exact issue has been cropping up every few months on here and no suggestion have ever been taken under advisement.  To quote a reply Alex gave me when I opened my own thread on the topic last year:

Quote from: Alex
Just a real quick note here that tariffs and "open market trade isn't generally profitable (and never as profitable) as black market trade" was in the design - and a core, intentional feature of the design - since the very first version of the economy.

The open market is still useful for buying stuff you need or selling salvage etc without attracting suspicion/negatively affecting your reputation. And, as mentioned, it can be used for profit situationally. Generally, though, the whole thing is meant to make you look at black market trade, which leads to more interesting gameplay because it creates conflict.

Also, if there was no open market, the first question would be "why can't I trade legally?". Having the open market is a way of, essentially, answering that question. It's not that you can't, it's just that you often won't want to.
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jwarper

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2020, 09:15:00 AM »

Guys, don't bother. This exact issue has been cropping up every few months on here and no suggestion have ever been taken under advisement.  To quote a reply Alex gave me when I opened my own thread on the topic last year:

Quote from: Alex
...

I understand the need for the black market.  That is a perfectly good use of a "risk/reward" system that RPG mechanics should be built around.  Black market should stay in place as is and should always be more profitable, at a higher risk.   However, the fact that the black market is almost considered the "norm" means there is a strong bias toward it.  Primarily because of the steep tariff.   That or the risks of using the black market are not enough.   In either case, it feels like the black market is is too good not to use.  It even contains much better equipment most of the time!   

The tariff is a good way to rebalance this.  Creating a better risk/reward system for normal trading through a dynamic tariff would be one way of doing that.   
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Megas

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2020, 10:38:46 AM »

In earlier releases, suspicion was reduced but not eliminated for transponder off trade at Black Market.  Today, there is no suspicion for transponder off trade.

I would not say Black Market is not too good not to use.  Well, it is compared to Open Market, but not colony resources or ship production from his colonies once player can produce his own stuff... except personnel.  Personnel are dirty cheap at pop-up pirate bases, about a third less than player can get from his own colony resources.
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AlucardNoirsFolly

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2020, 12:11:36 PM »


I understand the need for the black market.  That is a perfectly good use of a "risk/reward" system that RPG mechanics should be built around.  Black market should stay in place as is and should always be more profitable, at a higher risk.   However, the fact that the black market is almost considered the "norm" means there is a strong bias toward it.  Primarily because of the steep tariff.   That or the risks of using the black market are not enough.   In either case, it feels like the black market is is too good not to use.  It even contains much better equipment most of the time!   

The tariff is a good way to rebalance this.  Creating a better risk/reward system for normal trading through a dynamic tariff would be one way of doing that.

Almost? hehe, no. It is the norm. Go to any other thread discussing the topic of tariffs and you'll soon discover that the vast, vast majority of players no in fact consider it the norm. It's only weirdos like us that don't think it should be the norm.

As for dinamic tariffs... yeah, again, just go read the previous threads on the topic of tariffs and the ingame economy. That has been proposed again, and again, and again for literal years.
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FooF

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2020, 12:50:54 PM »

Tariffs exist so that players don't min/max trade routes to make millions without fighting anything. It's an arbitrary, "game-y" mechanic that disincentivises monotonous, no-risk, gameplay.

That being said, I'm for granularity or exceptions to the standard tariff mechanic. However, in all the attempts I've made to solve the problem, I've only created more or different ones. For example, if you earn reputation at one planet/faction enough to lower the tariff, that planet/faction ostensibly becomes the "only" place you'll buy/sell. While that has the benefit of saving you money, it also creates the new problem of monotony whereby you visit the same system over and over. Granted, I do this already with my own colonies but if there was a lower tariff "somewhere" not terribly inconvenient, I've circumvented any impetus to visit other systems. In short, by messing with the tariffs, you create a path of least resistance that the player feels compelled to follow even if no such external pressure exists.

It doesn't make a lot of logical sense but it does make a lot of gameplay sense. Gamers tend to be a logical lot so the suspension of disbelief begins to erode but I understand and agree with the design decision.
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Perq

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2020, 06:10:07 AM »

Overall nice ideas, although one thing that I quite often find to not work very well - one mechanic loaded with multiple variables that interact with one another.

This can lead to wild, out of control scaling of values. In other words - if tariffs and goods prices are variable, you can reach more extreme numbers, in both ways. If there is only one variable (goods price) the range is the minimum and maximum. With tariffs and price being variables, the range is now tariffs times price the lowest and the highest.
In other words if world is starved of some good and nobody is delivering it, player could get crazy high prices for very little effort (say, delivering to further away system with zero danger on the way). And other way around - center systems would have way too low margins, since now tariffs are always maxed out due to density of traders being there.

Something to keep in mind.
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Plantissue

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Re: Tariff mechanic discussion
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2020, 06:20:32 AM »

Most items seem to be softcapped at somewhere around 3 times their "normal" price as their highest. As you sell, the price of each next commodity sold lowers as well, which is why the top 5 highest/lowest market guide shows the price for quantities of that commodity. You might sell 100 of recreational drugs at an average of 500c but the next 100 of recreational drugs will be sold at an average of 400c, for example. Things like ore can be brought at very low prices, but even so, you need a massive amount of cargo space to make a decent profit of that.
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