Rules of Acquisition #144: There’s nothing wrong with charity… as long as it winds up in your pocket

Moneybags_fedI. State of the Economy – Dilithium

War is good for business, and as we hit mid-season – business is booming! Say whatever you want about the story arc unfolding in Star Trek Online as we jump into Season 10.5… with the addition of a new Ferengi ship from the recent Summer event on Risa, I feel like my immersion experience has taken a big step up this summer. Quasi legitimate Ferengi commerce has come to the Galaxy, and as my employees zoom around the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Refugee Empire in their shiny, new Tier 6 Ferengi destroyers assigning duty officers to work the contraband, prisoner chain gang, and refugee markets while accumulating other high demand red light district items like Entertainment Provisions (what Gecko brilliantly described as hookers and blow to Aron Eisenberg), it occurs to this Ferengi that the Iconians have arrived just in time to witness the ascendency of ultimate Ferengi greed to new heights and prominence in the known Galaxy – and it is a beautiful thing!

The Ferengi, also known as the Whales by the poor Romulan refugees roaming the Cryptic forums, have inherited the Galaxy… now kiss the staff! Not only has your 8,000 Dilithium per day declined in purchasing power over the 18 months, but the real Latinum in the game – ZEN – has seen its purchasing power skyrocket not only in the context of the Dilithium exchange, but also in the quality of items ZEN enables access towards purchasing. The impact of the high Dilithium exchange rate has, thankfully, been felt everywhere – particularly the Energy Credit market which has seen virtually every item related to ZEN has seen inflation of at least 50%, meaning now Ferengi get 3,000,000+ EC for our lock box keys. If you have toured the Galaxy as long as I have, then at some point or another you might remember that before free-to-play came along the alternative to lifetime subscription was to pay around $15 a month (US) in subscription fees. If you put $15 a month into Star Trek Online these days for ZEN, you are basically earning enough ZEN to earn yourself well over 40,000,000 EC a month in Lock Box key sales alone… enough to afford all the hookers and blow your Vulcan Pon farr ritual could ever require. Can you imagine a $15 a month subscription player back in Season One getting a 40,000,000+ EC stipend each month just for subscribing to the game? And yet, that is exactly where the economics of the game is as Season 10.5 arrives.

No wonder Delta recruits were given enormous boosts and bonuses, there is absolutely no way a new player can jump into Star Trek Online today under the attraction of Free-to-play without those kind of boosts and enjoy the game long enough to want to buy ZEN. It won’t surprise me if Cryptic eventually tweaks the account creation system, and turns the Delta recruit experience into an integrated part of new character creation, because any new player not doing it the Delta Recruit way isn’t going to enjoy playing STO very long. Just saying…

Dilithium is everywhere. Think about how easy it is to get more than 8000 Dilithium per day. Contraband twice = 2000×2 = 4,000 Dilithium (takes about 15 seconds). One Borg Red Alert earns 460 Dilithium + Borg Daily marks (takes about 5 minutes). Tholian Red Alert earns 980 Dilithium + Nukara Daily marks + Romulan Daily marks + 25 Romulan marks (takes less than 10 minutes). If you do the hourly reputation project 3 times per day for Borg, Nukara, and Romulan marks you will only spend 45 of each reputation mark earned that day, and you will get 1020 Dilithium from each of the three reputation schools doing those 3 hourly projects. 2000 (contraband) + 2000 (contraband) + 460 (Borg Red Alert) + 980 (Tholian Red Alert) + 1020 (15 x 3 Borg mark Reputation Hourly projects) + 1020 (15 x 3 Nukara mark Reputation Hourly projects) + 1020 (15 x 3 Romulan mark Reputation Hourly projects) = 8500 Dilithium per day for logging in three different hours throughout a 24 hour day but only playing less than a half hour. If you do anything on top of those two Red Alerts and having a 15 second conversation with the local Security Officer, you will almost certainly earn your character even more Dilithium.

Saturation has reduced the value of Dilithium in the game, but Cryptic has done a really good job managing the saturation of Dilithium among the player community by insuring the demand on Dilithium at the individual player level has remained very high – particularly with R&D and the technology upgrade systems. Season 10.5 brings the first Fleet Holding in the new Dilithium economy, and it also brings the Armada system where access to fleet holding contributions will expand greatly for a large portion of the player population. It is going to be interesting to watch whether these two changes function as Dilithium sinks sufficient enough to actually impact the Dilithium price related to ZEN on the Dilithium exchange. I personally doubt it will have much effect, but I acknowledge it depends greatly upon how much Dilithium the Alpha and Beta fleets are willing to spend on the Gamma fleets. Charity – which the Armada system appears to be functionally enabling – can be expensive, and Charity is not historically a trait associated with the Ferengi who sit on the biggest piles of Dilithium in game today.


II.  Profits and Losses

As one would expect, the intensely bipolar Cryptic marketing team I love so dearly is out and about advertising a lock box in the context of a “Year of Hell” only to deliver nothing short of an attractive slice of heaven. All Ferengi’s love the lock box, and my read of the upcoming “Year of Hell” lock box is that it is going to be fantastic.

For starters, The Krenim ship stats appear to be ridiculous, but I’m not convinced it is the better of the two ships (the cruiser looks great!). The ship is basically the KDF Fleet Mah’ta Raptor with an extra weapon slot, more bridge officer options, 1 degree less turn rate, different bonus power options (the +15 weapon on the Raptor is better IMO), and a slightly less impressive Universal console. The diversity in bridge officer skills has me fascinated though, and will likely drive the cost of that ship very high for a very long time, regardless of lock box drop rate.

Overwhelming Force is, in my opinion, the best ship trait in the game and the “Year of Hell” lock box will make that ship trait available to all Federation Captains. Unless the drop rate for the ship trait is extremely high, I expect this lock box reward to be valued in the same context as the Leech console.

But it was the drop rate changes that are unquestionably positive for players combined with the removal of rewards of very low value in the upcoming lock box that has my attention.  This particular change highlights a distinction between the new Executive Producer, and the previous two Executive Producers that have run Star Trek Online, and speaks to the philosophy guiding the game that can be felt from a player perspective.

The problem with lock boxes, in my opinion, was that until Delta Rising the lock box rewards were mostly garbage, giving it more a feel of lottery tickets and gambling than earning and profits. What the Delta Rising lock box did was cut out a lot of the extra garbage, like useless DOFFs and a bunch of equipment of limited value, and created a standard set of rewards at the lower end of the lock box reward pyramid that was useful to every player. Examples were tons of low end rewards like DOFFS with R&D traits, Dilithium mining permits, new kit modules, ship and ground traits, R&D Packs, and Tier 6 ships that even if they weren’t great – still had great ship traits that would be desired from a player perspective. Less ‘other’ crap meant fewer diminishing returns for investment of real money thrown into a video game. At around 50 lock boxes, I always found that beginning with Delta Rising the rewards returned for opening the lock box often held value equal or greater than the value of the lock box key sold on the EC exchange. That change in lock box rewards made ZEN purchased lock box keys a currency in more than one way – either for highly sought after items of high quality but of limited quantity, or as straight EC in direct sales to other players.

The changes to the “Year of Hell” lock box rewards appears to codify the new standard of extremely high rewards for opening lock boxes by increasing the drop rate of the high end items, and removing altogether the rewards that players overwhelmingly did not appreciate as reflected by the items near worthless value on the player driven EC exchange. This is a fantastic change for the game, and a reminder that Cryptic is absolutely paying attention to players when it comes to insuring players hold value when investing in the lock box system by purchasing ZEN.

But there is something else too… I haven’t written a Rules of Acquisition article for Priority One for almost six months, despite playing STO virtually every day. It isn’t that I haven’t had time, rather I was having a real problem with the new Executive Producer and felt like I was constantly being bent over like an Orion hooker and given the ole Salami Inferno, particularly with the Dilithium weekend changes (a weekend event I never play anymore), because I did not like being forced to do chores. OK so I still hate doing chores every hour with my reputation mark rewards, and would prefer an equivalent reputation system project for 4 hours (60 marks for 1360 Dilithium) so I wouldn’t have to roleplay Fleet Admiral pushing virtual paperwork all night every night logging in and out of each character…, but despite the things Stephen Ricossa has done that really annoy the hell out of me… I actually like his philosophy for the game much more than his predecessors.

With the sole exception of my reputation mark hourly chores, since taking over as Executive Producer of STO Stephen Ricossa has guided the game away from a philosophy of diminishing returns and towards a philosophy of unlimited potential gains, and it is reflected in the new systems, new rewards, and new frequency of content additions. One could even argue, assuming they ignore the frustration of doing chores, that moving towards Hourly reputation marks rather than converting reputation marks solely during Dilithium Weekend, is legitimately an enormous boost for Dilithium earning for players (because it actually is, it’s just the chores of doing something every hour is extremely annoying).

I used to feel like each new system, or function, or item, or feature introduced by Cryptic was both a kiss on the cheek and a punch in the lobes, but with only one exception (again, hourly #*$%ing chores…) – I don’t feel like my time or money invested in STO is being wasted on both gains, and inevitable losses. It may be a subtle difference that has evolved slowly over the past year, but players who have been around for a while should be able to remember how for the better part of 8+ Seasons it seemed the guiding philosophy of the game was always about including obvious diminishing returns or obvious restrictions with new stuff Cryptic would introduce, where now the context of new systems, items, rewards, etc… is all about the unlimited potential gains that seemingly always default in the favor of the player.

This lock box appears designed to reward the player as much as possible, and disregards the philosophy of limitations related to player rewards that both Daniel Stahl and Stephen D’Angelo seemingly always required in each new system. Count me among those players who love the new apparent philosophy towards profits that finally disregards the frustration of built-in losses.


III. Markets and Opportunities

There is something going on with over capping power and [EPS] modifiers, because the amount of DPS being produced from the ultra high EPS rates as a result of the mods is eye-popping. So I have this Epic level Science Console called an Exotic Particle Generator with the EPS mod. For kicks I check out the Energy Credit Exchange and the cheapest copy I found was somewhere around 400,000,000 EC.

So is an Epic Exotic Particle Generator [EPS] worth 400,000,000 EC? You’re damn right it is, as long as you are over capping weapon power. The DPS League has unlocked all the secrets and explained why, but I’m a simple businessman just trying to make some Latinum – although this simple businessman is also pushing DPS out of my new Ferengi hot rod at extraordinary levels beyond what I thought I ever could with a lowly Engineer. Indeed, the more and more I play with the various mods on the Conductive RCS Accelerator and Exotic Particle Generator, the more excited I am getting about the new consoles soon to come out in Season 10.5. For 9 seasons it seemed to me like there were too often only certain items and certain builds that could combine to make for truly masterful and powerful combinations, but variety combined with ever increasing high values for item mods has enabled new opportunities across the entire spectrum of ship builds lately.

The ease with which mods can be piled on, particularly if you choose your Engine, Deflector, Shield, and Warp Core based on mods rather than going for set bonuses, creates options for several fantastic gimmicks for players.

For kicks and giggles I recently did a respec and created a build that piled on the highest possible Graviton Generator value I could find, and started playing around with Tractor Beam Repulsors. Testing in Tholian Red Alerts, With A2B every 20 seconds I was throwing enemy ships 10km easily as a way of thinning the crowds. With Gravity Well or Tractor Beam, once your Graviton Generator skill goes above 300 the target ship basically stops on a dime, throwing it’s defensive value to close to zero quickly making it Nausicaan lunch meat for whatever weapons you are able to direct that way.

Not satisfied trying new things, I have been running around Ground PvP lately with a phaser pistol using the [RUN] mod. Talk about pistol whipping your opponent! The latest hot trend in ground combat has been increasing character run speed with devices, skills, traits, specialization, etc.. and yet with a [RUN] mod stun pistol one shot gives me a 100% chance to turn these super sprinters into Bolian joggers who look like they’re struggling with their weight loss plan. Oh my moogie it is so very cheap – and yet so rich at the same time.

A new mid season patch is likely to bring a new flavor of the month, because it always does. Don’t be scared to try new things, because while it looks like that Exotic Particle Generator or Conductive RCS Accelerator is overpriced, considering how expensive it can be to make those items with the best mods…  I continue to find that the price is about right. New ships, new equipment, new DOFFs, new skills, and new items with each new featured episode are opening the door for new build ideas every day, and I am continuously finding that the abundance of variety in the games mod system is allowing some really fascinating and extremely effective builds to go unnoticed and unannounced, until you find yourself in an Infected PUG wondering “how in Ferengiar did that guy just do that?


IV.  Profit Tip of the Week

When crafting a special item (TR-116B, Exciter, Omni Beam, etc.) in the various schools with R&D at Level 18 or higher with purple DOFFs, use one green and one blue catalyst instead of two blue catalysts when trying to build Ultra Rare items, because statistically the difference between 2 blue catalysts and 1 blue/1 green catalysts is so marginal you’ll never actually notice over time. With catalysts being inexpensive in general (relative to the cost of actually crafting the special item), you’ll never have to craft without a catalyst again because using greens instead of blues with each new crafted item will give you plenty of mileage.


V.   Market Watch

Dilithium Exchange Rate: 247
Contraband Price: 41,449
Lock Box Key: 3,180,000
Trellium-K: 12,000
Argonite Gas: 65,000
Radiogenic Particle: 90,000
Plekton Particle: 32,000
Craylon Gas: 8,000
Dentarium: 10,000
Salvaged Technology: 397,500

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