Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Multiplayer Tech Trees
There are a lot of single-player games which have a crafting tech tree, think anything from Don’t Starve to Valheim. You start out being to collect only a few basic materials, but can then craft those into tools that allow you to access more advanced materials. Often the discovery of new recipes is part of the game. In Prosperous Universe, and similar space trading and crafting multiplayer games, the tech tree is known to all players from the start. But other than that, the main difference is one of scale: Single-player games are designed so that a single player can gather all the resources and do all the crafting for a large project by himself. Multiplayer games usually have projects that need collaboration. In Prosperous Universe players group together to do large projects, like building space ships.
In Prosperous Universe there are about 400 planets in the galaxy, from which you can extract 34 different basic resources. As there are only a few resources on any given planet, and your number of bases is limited, you will never be able to extract all 34 resources. The idea is that different players cover different parts of the resorce gathering and subsequent crafting tech trees, and then trade with each other. I have been playing Prosperous Universe for three months now, and found that for many basic resources and basic crafted items this system of trading works reasonably well and is fun to me to plan and execute. But that is at the lowest out of five levels of workers, pioneers. When I explored higher level crafted goods, I quickly observed something: The markets for these goods are very “thin”, with not many players buying and selling these goods, and not much trade going on. As you can’t realiably find buyers and sellers, the corporations (guilds) trade these goods among each other, away from the public markets, which then makes the market even thinner.
And then I realized that if you have a given size of tech tree and a given capacity of each player how many diferent goods he can produce, you need a certain number of players to create an active market for all goods. Prosperous Universe, being quite a niche game, doesn’t have more than a few thousand players. And that is only enough to cover the lower end of the tech tree, and not the complete tree. There simply aren’t enough players out there to create enough supply and demand for higher level goods. Prosperous Universe isn’t badly designed, it just has a design that would work optimally with a much larger number of players.
One example I have been exploring is Hardened Structural Elements, a material needed to build anything on a planet with high atmospheric pressure, like the one I chose for my second base. These HSE need the second and third level of workers to produce. They also need Stabilized Technetium, which is another complete branch of the tech tree, so it would be extremely hard to extract the Technetium Ore and refine it and make everything else needed to produce HSE alone without trading. So I tried with trading, and now I have a production that depends on me being lucky and finding people selling the intermediate materials like Stabilized Technetium that I need. Sometimes the production just grinds to a halt, because the market is empty. And once when I tried to sell a batch of my production, somebody simply bought everything, and then tried to resell it for twice the price, because there was so little supply.
Much of the fun in Prosperous Universe has been about planning my economy for the weeks to come. While market prices moved up and down, there always *was* a market for the low level goods I was trading in. Now I realize that this liquid market doesn’t exist for higher level goods, unless Prosperous Universe suddenly attracts a much larger number of players, which is unlikely. I could play the game in a very different way, integrating my economy into the larger economy of my corporation. But I have grown wary of MMO guilds, and prefer to play mostly solo. So I am currently not sure how much longer I will continue to play Prosperous Universe. Anyone know another MMO which is mostly about crafting and trading, without combat?