Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Should Ships Cost?

Sometimes I feel like half the posts I compose are responses to something Ripard Teg wrote but he generates so many thought provoking reads that it just falls out that way.

So back on the upcoming mining apocalypse that Jester and I disagree on the severity of, in a more recent post he asks that ignoring the current price fluctuations what should ships cost?

I'm going to try and tackle that question, but first, let's explore what CCP originally thought ships should cost.

WARNING: History Lesson Drawn From Memories Incoming!

When CCP developed the game, they made a decision on the prices of the minerals, and that they would follow a nice exponential scale starting at Trit at 2 ISK per unit. These prices were used to calculate the value of ships and thus what their insurance payouts were based on prior to Tyrannis. From Evelopedia:

Mineral Value

These are the base mineral values that were used prior to the Tyrannis expansion to calculate a ship's insurance payout. For actual mineral prices, consult your local market. Prices are generally determined by their scarcity and the quantities needed to construct popular ships and equipment. Usually Tritanium is the cheapest and most abundant, and Morphite the most expensive and rare.
Mineral Isk Value
Tritanium 2
Pyerite 8
Mexallon 32
Isogen 128
Nocxium 512
Zydrine 2048
Megacyte 8192
Morphite 32768

Using these values tells you what, at least originally, CCP intended for the price of ships to be. With an item database viewer like EVEMon we can see the original prices of ships. Some samples:

Merlin: 285,000
Caracal: 4,560,000
Drake: 38,000,000
Raven: 108,750,000
Chimera: 731,787,300

I can't tell you if these prices were determined on any basis of how much minerals could be mined in an hour or if someone just filled in a spreadsheet and said "Yeah, that's about right". Maybe some old veteran in CCP knows. I do know that there used to be a floor of 2 ISK per unit of Tritanium because shuttles were sold by NPCs for 5000 ISK and with perfect refining gave you 2500 units of Trit. When NPC sell orders for shuttles were removed, Trit finally fell below 2 ISK per unit.


So what do I think ships should cost?

On one hand, I think higher mineral prices is a good mechanism for driving mining as a real profession rather than something reserved for the masochistic and the bots. I am really hoping that true mining corporations develop to fill the gap left by the upcoming game changes.

Furthermore, I like the idea of higher ship prices forcing people to make decisions about whether they fly the Drake or down-ship to the more affordable cruisers or frigates.

On the other hand, higher prices is a greater strain on newer players that can't afford to replace losses as easily as old vets like me and might make an already risk-adverse player-base even more unlikely to undock and take risks. This might lead to yet more safety-in-numbers fleets and less experimentation. (Note: since insurance is tied to ship prices and not some ancient arbitrary value this is offset somewhat, but high mineral prices also affect fitting modules which are not insured.)

The question ultimately comes down to time, as all things do. I watched a movie recently called In Time where the premise is that everyone in the world stops aging at 25 and don't die until they run out of time. They have built in time banks and get time added for working and pay time for items and services. They run out of time in their bank, they drop dead.

What was interesting about the concept is that in this world once everything is measured in time instead of money, you realize the value of not wasting your time by just sitting around doing nothing unless you can afford to. The poor run everywhere because they can't waste time, while the rich barely even stroll to go somewhere.

The concept really carries over to Eve. The question really is not "how much should a ship cost?" but instead "how long should a ship take to replace?". Easy right? Well no.

If Eve had levels we could say a level one character takes the same amount of time to get a level one ship as a level 4 character takes to get a level 4 ship. In fact, a lot of games follow this model to a large degree. I found in World of Tanks the number of game I needed to play to get the experience and credits for the next level was pretty consistent with some acceleration in the low levels to get you hooked.

But Eve does not have levels. What we do have is ship classes so I propose that the time it takes for a pilot to replace a ship should be a constant of using that ship class to generate the ISK to replace itself. In other words, the time to replace a frigate using a frigate classed vessel should be approximately the same as it take to replace a battleship using a battleship classed vessel. That time, as a rough guess, should be between 1-4 hours.

As an aside, I don't think capitals should follow the same constant as capitals should not be able to generate vast amounts of ISK by themselves.

However, there are two major obvious problems with my concept. One, ratting generates static amounts of ISK so as mineral prices rise the time it take to replace a ship takes longer for a ratting player. And two, its not immediately clear what combat ship classes correspond to mining ships and the tech II mining ships can potentially throw the calculations askew.


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