Rules of Acquisition #10: Greed is Eternal

Jimmy2I. State of the Economy – Energy Credits

The change to the Star Trek Online economic system that began with the introduction of technology upgrades and fully materialized with Delta Rising Research and Development represents the biggest economic shift in the game since the introduction of Dilithium. In only a few short months, there has been a shift away from an in-game economic system based primarily on character and account bound currencies for obtaining top tier items in favor of a new player driven economic system where Energy Credits now represents the primary currency for trade and commerce of top tier items in Star Trek Online.

The addition of character skill level progression, item level progression, ship level progression, and now a Bridge Officer skill(s) progression gets end level players focused on leveling resources within the game. At the heart of the item progression is the ability to buy and sell Technology Upgrades on the Energy Credit exchange, not to mention buy and sell Duty Officers and materials leveraged by the R&D system. This trade function has significantly increased the purchasing power of Energy Credits for each player. The Energy Credit economy is unquestionably enjoying purchasing power greater than at any time since the game launched.

In the economy of STO for the first 5 seasons, the only way to earn the highest end equipment in the game was to farm for it. That meant you play for the rewards predetermined by content missions and character bound currencies, or hope for a lucky drop. In the very early days of STO, nearly every player I knew used PvP Marks (remember those?) and later Exploration Marks (remember those too?) at the console to buy MK X purple equipment, and as a result everyone at the top basically used the same equipment. The lucky drop method was always a poor experience though, but was basically the only real way to get new equipment during the infamous year of hell. When STFs were introduced and the Omega/MACO/Klingon space and ground set drops were distributed as infrequent random drops, the lucky drop random rewards system in STO simply exasperated the frustrating gaming experience at the time.

Cryptic then changed the entire economy beginning in Season 5 with the introduction of Dilithium and evolved the economy through season 9 with rewards primarily obtained through the Duty Officer System, the Fleet Holding system, the Reputation system, and the Lock Box economy in addition to the always infrequent lucky drop method and the specific content rewards. There is no question that new economic system was a vast improvement over what came before, and individual currencies like ZEN, Reputation Marks, Fleet Credits, and Dilithium – character bound or account bound currencies – became the primary currencies in the STO economic model. The economics of Seasons 1-9 historically limited the EC exchange *mostly* to selling rewards obtained via lucky drops, but opened up a bit more with the Duty Officer system and the handful of top rewards obtained via the Lock Box/Lobi economy that were not bound. The problem though, is that the economic system from a character perspective was still driven by character and account bound currencies – which meant the ability of one player to really advance and assist another player to compete at the top level was extremely limited.

Not anymore.

While you can still play content, use the reputation system, buy from fleet holdings, or open lock boxes to obtain specific unique item rewards (like ships, set pieces, or unique items), we are still in the early stages of a true multiplayer economic model in Star Trek Online where the majority of items important to every character can be significantly influenced through some form of commercial interaction with other players. Even the most hard core, self-sufficient R&D crafters are buying materials from other players off the exchange, and for many players who lack large sums of Dilithium, it is smarter to buy specific items directly from other players off the exchange than trying to craft an item with the mods desired.

It took Cryptic five years, but the Energy Credit has finally become the primary currency in a healthy player driven economic and trade system in Star Trek Online. Nearly every single item you use on your character, ship, or bridge officer can be improved by using the same unbound currency that can purchase top level items or purchase an upgrade for bound items. The best part IMO – every player can participate as an income earner at various levels within the supply chain of the new economic system. Legitimate player commerce has finally arrived in STO, and the shift was so well done few have discussed the shift openly at Starfleet Command. While the Dilithium economy is far from dead, Dilithium is no longer the currency required for top tier advancement; rather Dilithium has instead become the currency required for self-sufficiency. When you consider the degree that character bound and account bound currencies have defined the top level equipment over the first 5 years of the game – this really is the first time in STO that Energy Credits are legitimately the primary currency in the Galaxy.

II.  Profits and LossesMoneybags_Voth

My first love will always be business and economics. I love money; greed is eternal. The human term greed is how the humans relate to the Ferengi cultural desire for and pursuit of wealth, status, and power. I use the human term greed in a way educated Human Starfleet Officers would relate to, derived from its original Latin, avarita, which describes the way my species has an inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to hoard it for selfish intentions, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort.

The human definition of greed only partially describes what greed truly means to a Ferengi. Most species define greed as a psychological concept describing those with an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. They tend to associate greed as a pathological behavior in an obsessive or compulsive context, and many species popularized greed into a negative stereotype of a person with a mentally unstable condition. The negative connotation to the concept of greed in many cultures is congruent with a negative moral judgment.

In Federation society there is a big difference in how Humans, for example, associate wealth in their lives and how Ferengi associate wealth in our lives. To Humans wealth makes for a better life, but to a Ferengi, the degree to which your life is good is directly proportional to the amount of wealth you have.

Ferengi culture has evolved for over 10,000 years with greed as a central tenet of our culture, and the concept of greed has become the holy lifestyle in Ferengi culture that consumes our mind, body, and soul. To a Ferengi, greed shapes our behavior and beliefs towards the endless effort to satisfy needs without ever reaching satisfaction. Unlike most Federation species, the amount of wealth accumulated by a Ferengi isn’t simply a matter of higher social status; in Ferengi culture our wealth represents how we measure each others moral status.

To those species who seek personal profit and/or gain in Delta Rising based on their old moral interpretation of greed, you can choose to keep clicking GREED in STFs misguided by the belief we still live in the old Dilithium economy. But the truth is, that trash loot is no longer just a pile of pack consuming rubbish, because each useless white and green item looted in game represents your next sale in the righteous Ferengi pursuit of higher moral status. Every time a Ferengi clicks NEED in a STF – that Ferengi takes another step up the stairway toward heaven.

I do realize that the more learned among the younger species will recognize that the future has arrived, and it is time to embrace the Ferengi definition of greed by discarding the negative stereotype. The wiser among those younger species will choose to embrace the wisdom that older species in the Galaxy have long understood; that clicking NEED in STFs is the path of the older, wiser races that pursue higher moral status through prosperity. There is a reason you have never heard a Vulcan suggest “Live long and be poor.”

III. Markets and Opportunities

The new Star Trek Online economy represents an indirect confirmation that Cryptic’s microtransaction revenue stream with ZEN has no dependency at all on the Dilithium currency, indeed the shift away from an account bound currency like Dilithium implies that Cryptic’s revenue stream for ZEN is now very stable and sustainable based primarily on direct purchases of products from the ZEN store.

Lock Box Keys have become the gold pressed latinum bar of Star Trek Online, and Cryptic is selling a ton of lock box keys on the ZEN store on a daily basis. Players aren’t buying lock box keys just to open lock boxes either, for years players have been buying ZEN with intent to purchase Energy Credits, which means those players use ZEN to purchase lock box keys to sell them on the EC Exchange rather than opening lock boxes themselves.

I recently conducted an unscientific test with a game session open for 24 hours that captured the system message to see how often players were obtaining a ship from a lock box, and on a random weekday earlier this month, I recorded 111 lock box ships earned by players that day, which is an average of 4.6 ships per hour over a 24 hour day. If the statistical probability of obtaining a lock box ship is .4%, that means the odds of getting a ship in a lock box are 1 in every 250 keys. 250 keys per ship with 111 ships earned means players would have consumed an average of 27,750 lock box keys on that random weekday in January. That would suggest players used 3,468,750 ZEN just to purchase the lock box keys that were used to obtain those ships on that specific random weekday. If 1000 Zen represents a $10 US purchase, Cryptic potentially earned somewhere around $34,687.50 in ZEN sales for the keys used on that random weekday in January. Because of the ZEN bonus for $50 and $100 purchases, not to mention the potential for lifetime subscriber stipends to be used to purchase small numbers of lock box keys, we could estimate Cryptic is earning an average of $33,000 a day from lock box keys alone using the numbers above.

If we assume $33,000 on a random weekday in January 2015 is an average day in the lock box economy, and I have no idea if that is actually above or below average for a year, that would basically be the equivalent revenue of around 66,000 monthly subscribers at $15 a month. That is a lot of revenue from ZEN used solely to purchase lock box keys on the ZEN store, nothing else, from a player base in STO that I imagine would certainly be smaller than 66,000 unique players if STO was still a subscription based game.

Clearly the lock box economy is very healthy in Star Trek Online, and as a ZEN dependent economy players can obtain unique items or earn large sums of EC with lock box keys. So how do we measure whether there is value in opening a lock box? The way I do it is I put each item potentially rewarded in a lock box into categories so I can compare the value of different potential lock box rewards. What I do not do is concern myself with statistical chances, because the only statistical probability I am concerned with is the one related to the ship – which has historically averaged around .4%. With changes to the game in Delta Rising, I admit I have had to reassess the categories of each item in each lock box, and I think most old lock boxes are a huge waste of money now. My categories are:

Desirable – a desirable item in a lock box is something everyone wants and has legitimate value to virtually every competitive players character. Tier 6 Ships, because they have ship traits, are a great example. Full R&D Packs, Dilithium Claims, and hard to obtain very rare Duty Officers are other examples. A few character traits, universal consoles, kit modules, and kits can qualify, but most do not. Lobi is always desirable.

Useful – All T5U lock box ships, yes ALL, fall into this category. This is the single biggest reason old lock boxes have lost significant value in my opinion. Look, ship traits matter most, because they always scale in a game where new ships will always be released. Some character traits, universal consoles, kit modules, and kits qualify as useful, and in specific cases some unique weapon types with good modifiers do too.  The Mini R&D Packs are always useful. To me, what defines a reward as useful is whether it can be resold on the EC exchange for at least 200,000 EC, or said another way, any reward that has value at 10% or higher the EC cost of a lock box key is useful.

Not Useful – This category is getting bigger over time as old lock box rewards become stale and less valuable in the context of newer rewards or game changes. Duty Officer Packs are a great example of a lock box reward that is not useful, because they have no resale value over time and are statistically less likely to reward a useful Duty Officer than even most lock boxes that reward very rare DOFFs. The vast majority of weapons, ship equipment, Mirror Universe ships, universal consoles, kit modules, and kits qualify as not useful. At this point a player is basically being punished when getting most of these rewards, because they have no value to people who purchase lock box keys who prefer rewards with resale value on the exchange. Cryptic really needs to improve the quality of rewards in the old lock boxes by removing rewards that are no longer useful and adding rewards that are either useful or desirable in the context of Delta Rising – R&D Packs or unique very rare R&D DOFFs, for example.

Undesirable – This category defines why I truly believe people who use lock box keys on old lock boxes are flushing their money down the toilet. For the most part, everything that is not useful, is undesirable, but there are also special items that claim top marks for being truly terrible lock box rewards – the equipment boxes that reward useless Deflectors being a top offender.

Using that criterion, let’s look at the upcoming Vaadwaur lock box.

Vaadwaur Manasa Assaut Escort T6 ship – DesirableLockboxTime
APU Cruiser – Not Useful
Sniper (ground trait) – Desirable
Bombardier (ground trait) – Desirable
Anchored (space trait) – Useful
Lead Foot (space trait) – Useful
Vaadwaur Anchor Drone – Useful
Vaadwaur Shield Drone – Useful
Polaron Bombardment – Useful
Kobali Engineering Corps Duty Officer Pack – Not Useful*
Vaadwaur Polaron Weaponry – Vast Majority will be Not Useful
R&D Research XP Bonus Pools – Undesirable**
Full Size R&D Packs – Desirable
Mini R&S Packs – Useful
Lobi – Desirable

So in my mind, the Vaadwaur lock box has 5 desirable rewards, 6 useful rewards, 3 not useful rewards, and 1 undesirable reward. There are also several very desirable additions to the Lobi store, as usual, which is why Lobi is always desirable. One thing on the new Lobi items… I personally hope that the Vaadwaur Officer Uniform can be resold on the EC exchange, because that uniform looks like a long term EC earner with Lobi if it isn’t bound on purchase. In my opinion, this has the potential to be a good lock box.

* white DOFFs are never special and always not useful.

** It takes 14,350,000 R&D XP to complete the 7 current schools of R&D per character, and Cryptic is calling a 10,000 R&D XP boost large? Since when is 1 in 14,350 a large anything? That’s so absurd it is almost meme worthy. These 10,000 and 2,000 R&D XP Boosts are each missing a zero.

IV.  Profit Tip of the Week

In the early hours of every lock box release, there are always more keys than lock boxes. What some clever Ferengi do is in the early hours of a lock box release, they put a bunch of lock boxes up on the EC exchange at a good sale price – usually between 30-50K, and watch as players run over to the exchange to buy them up. Ferengi are lazy, we don’t farm for new lock boxes, rather what those Ferengi are doing is buying the new lock box in bulk from the Dilithium store and posting them to the exchange at high price. Why? Because most lock box folks would rather spend EC on lock boxes than spend Dilithium on lock boxes.

It only works the first 6-18 hours of a new lock box release, but it does work. During the Temporal Lock Box release I bought thousands of lock boxes with Dilithium, and sold each for at least 30,000 EC each. I don’t remember the details exactly, but it was something like I spent 60,000 Dilithium buying lock boxes from the same Dilithium store every character has a button to access, and I sold those lock boxes on the EC exchange earning me somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000,000 EC. Yes, it was a full time grind putting a new lock box up every 10 seconds, but when money is flowing like that the grind gets too much fun for a Ferengi to stop.

In recent times more people are aware that lock boxes can be purchased from the Dilithium store, so the market for this trick isn’t anywhere close to as good as it used to be, but during the Delta Expedition lock box release a Ferengi I know made 14 million EC selling lock boxes purchased with Dilithium, so amazingly enough… as of the last lock box this trick still works.

V.   Market Watch

Dilithium Exchange Rate: 164
Contraband Price: 44,000
Lock Box Key: 2,097,000
Trellium-K: 22,000
Argonite Gas: 300,000
Radiogenic Particle: 128,000
Plekton Particle: 215,000
Craylon Gas: 29,990
Dentarium: 15,000
Salvaged Technology: 330,000

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