Rules of Acquisition #74: Knowledge Equals Profit

Greetings, my name is Moneybags and I’d like to welcome you to my new corner of cyberspace hosted by the fine folks of the Priority One Podcast. For those who are not familiar with me, I am an economy focused financial consultant for the Ferengi Free Market Consortiuum and one of the few neutral traders throughout the Galaxy. My interests primarily include the Dilithium Exchange, Energy Credit Exchange, and the economics of Fleet Holdings, Lock Boxes, Lobi, Latinum, and Research and Development. It is my intention to use this corner of cyberspace to enlighten my clients on financial opportunities within Star Trek Online as well as track economic trends and indicators over time to help all of us become smarter with our wealth. Like all social media properties, it is my hope this is not simply a place where I do all the talking, rather I hope to meet clients who willingly engage in a two way conversation to insure that I don’t miss any financial opportunities as well. All Rules of Acquisition articles will be broken down as such:

I.   State of the Economy
II.  Profits and Losses
III. Markets and Opportunities
IV.  Profit Tip of the Week
V.   Market Watch


Moneybags2I.   State of the Economy – Dilithium

There are four categories of player wealth in the modern STO Dilithium economy.

The top 1% are wealthy like Bill Gates or Royalty. We are the Ferengi in personification in the game, and in some cases *cough cough* we are actually Ferengi. This portion of the STO population refines above 64,000 Dilithium per day, every day, seemingly forever. I am in that category as I refine 80,000 Dilithium per day, every single day, which breaks down as 8K per day across 10 characters. I also have multiple items listed on the exchange for 100+ million EC, meaning I have to sell items on multiple characters, and use multiple accounts for account banks to insure I don’t sell and hit the 999,999,999 EC cap on a good sales day. These are 1%er problems.

The next 9% at the top are the wealthy in STO, and represents the primary sales market to the 1%. That 9% of the players in the game play extremely regularly and have multiple characters on a single lifetime account, but typically have only one or two main characters. These players have multiple characters that earn wealth solely for the purpose of making only a few of their characters extremely wealthy. That category of player makes between 150,000 and 250,000 Dilithium a week, can earn 50,000,000 EC quickly if they need to, and have the wealth on hand to fill all the projects of a Starbase and all 3 fleet holdings in a single day if they desired with limited impact to their wealth. I know several of these players personally, and since this class of player purchases my high end stuff on the EC Exchange I know many @names via the mail receipt I get when an item sells. After several years, the same @names become familiar.

Then there is the 65% middle class in STO. 8,000 Dilithium per day played is a normal day played, but they don’t play every day and struggle to build a stockpile of ore except during in-game events. They are conservative spenders so they can stockpile Dilithium, to some extent, but 200K Dilithium on a character is a lot to them. They hover around 5-20 million EC disposable income, and basically have to work to produce every item they obtain – whether it be for a ship, a bridge officer, etc. These players will occasionally buy low quantities of ZEN and may even occasionally open lock boxes, but to these players ZEN is mostly spent for a specific promotion, and a lock box really is a lottery ticket.

The bottom 25% play STO but are not caught up in the wealth of the game, and most of these players wouldn’t know what to do to earn income within the context of their play style if you asked them. Their economy is sufficient for their play style, but their play style mostly omits playing much of the repeated content on a regular basis and focuses primarily on the Episodic content, or more likely, social interaction with other players. These players largely do not see playing Elite and Advanced level queued content as something to do, have not completed several reputation systems, have occasionally donated to fleet holdings but never earned a great deal of fleet credits, struggle to earn more than a few million EC, and only on very rare occasions do these players ever have a stockpile of Dilithium ore on any single character.

There are always exceptions to the economic income demographics in STO as described above, but those people often already know they are the exceptions. Hopefully this gives you context for how I look at the demographics of the modern Dilithium economy, but by doing so I also want to acknowledge this will prove over time where I have blind spots, and how players who fall in certain income demographic categories can expect me to see things differently than they might see them – most particularly the bottom 25% of players whose monthly Dilithium income might be less than my daily Dilithium income.

II.  Profits and Losses

It is frequently suggested by players posting to the official Star Trek Online forums that the Dilithium economy in Delta Rising is in a recession, perhaps even a depression, and it is often suggested that the higher Dilithium costs in R&D combined with existing costs of Fleet Holdings are responsible. I believe most folks are correct that the Dilithium economy has had a major shift in 2014, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing, and the shift actually started well before R&D was introduced in the fall of 2014.

What I believe players are observing is more of an economic correction, and there was no single event in game that started the economic course correction in the Dilithium economy, rather the Dilithium economy actually started to shift gradually over time when Stephen D’Angelo replaced Daniel Stahl as Executive Producer. When Daniel Stahl was Executive Producer, the Dilithium exchange purposely ran with a very high return of ZEN for Dilithium, and it was not uncommon to see the Dilithium exchange drop below 100 Dilithium per ZEN.

If you listened to the Priority One Podcast 200th episode interview with Al Rivera (Geko), Rivera discussed the contrast in the different philosophy’s behind Legacy of Romulus and Delta Rising. Legacy of Romulus was intended to target new players and a broader base of players as not only an introduction of Star Trek Online, but an introduction to the idea of free-to-play MMO gaming in general. The Dilithium economy during that time actually reflected that philosophy, because a player in this new free-to-play style MMO game who was earning Dilithium in game was finding maximum value for their Dilithium being earned when converting to the ZEN currency market. If this Legacy of Romulus player – while enjoying his/her first free-to-play MMO – earned and saved 250,000 Dilithium in game, and could then trade in some of that Dilithium on the Dilithium exchange for 2000 ZEN, buy 4 fleet ship modules, and then purchase a popular fleet ship from the Starbase of the fleet they recently joined… well, odds are pretty good that player is enjoying their free-to-play gaming experience; most particularly if they are a Star Trek fan. The in-game economic philosophy that accompanied Legacy of Romulus was not trivial, indeed it was a quiet but important factor that earned Star Trek Online top marks at the time as a free-to-play MMO by credible MMO critics and observers.

Stephen D’Angelo brought in a new philosophy in early 2014, and Delta Rising is the first full implementation of game play and content that represents his vision of the Star Trek Online gaming experience since taking over for Daniel Stahl. As Al Rivera mentioned in the Podcast, Delta Rising is targeting the core, existing, and returning Star Trek Online player base. That target community already knows about Dilithium and ZEN, already has a foundation of understanding regarding how the game works, and has level 50 characters that are already integrated in some way into the in-game economy. With the Dilithium exchange now hovering consistently at around 160, even shooting up to as high as 180 in the early hours of Black Friday, what we are seeing is that Dilithium in Star Trek Online today has the lowest purchasing power relative to ZEN since the economy was fully shifted to Dilithium in Season 6 with the introduction of Starbases.

The game is still based on a Dilithium economy, but what has shifted most significantly regarding the Dilithium economy is not how much can be obtained easily, even as that has been tweaked and adjusted both in quantity and scope across most places in the known Galaxy over the last few months, rather in how much purchasing power Dilithium has relative to ZEN. That actually matters a lot in the macro economy of the game, because ZEN is a driving force behind the Dilithium economy – which significantly influences both Fleet Holdings and R&D; and ZEN is also a driving force in the Lock Box economy – which significantly influences the Energy Credit exchange and completely drives the Lobi store. What does this mean? It means the existing player base has seen the purchasing power of their Dilithium earned drop about 45% in 2014.

When the value of Dilithium in the macro economy drops 45% in a single year from a players perspective, it is fair to say the Dilithium economy is in a recession.

Moneybags_fpIII. Markets and Opportunities

At no point when offered the opportunity to write for Priority One was it suggested I promote the Podcast, but it just so happens the Priority One Podcast 200th episode interview with Al Rivera was one of Geko’s best interviews in many months. Early in the Q&A Al Rivera stated that Delta Rising was a huge success because Star Trek Online enjoyed their single biggest day of ZEN revenue in history. The meme his comments sparked went viral among the player base, and oh my, that is very amusing.

Al Rivera tried to explain why Cryptic had such a historic ZEN sales day, but all the reasons he gave were quite unbelievable and left listeners like me… confused. Allow me to speculate what the real reason might be for this historically significant ZEN sales day for STO. I think there are two factors that are potentially more believable than Al Rivera’s stated reasons in that Podcast.

The first factor is the Delta Expedition Lock Box, because that Lock Box is the best value for ZEN in Lock Box history. It starts with the Benthan Assault Cruiser and Hazari Destroyer – Tier 6 ships that honestly, are likely to impress no one but a naive Talaxian trader, but both ships do actually have useful Starship traits – particularly for a Klingon Empire Captain looking for a way to quickly earn 4 Starship Traits. Just as important though, the Lock Box delivers Research & Development Packs and Research & Development Mini-Pack’s at almost a decent rate – and the Research & Development Packs are actually pretty good value buys with ZEN anyway. I bought 80 keys for the Delta Expedition Lock Box, and ended up with a bunch of Research & Development Packs and Research & Development Mini-Pack’s, and when I add those with the ships, Lobi, Dilithium mining claims, ground gear, traits, etc.. for the first time in Lock Box history – ever – the Delta Expedition Lock Box actually felt like a good investment with my ZEN. I had been told I would really like this Lock Box, and I have to admit I was surprised when it turned out I actually did. Now please realize, every Lock Box is still a lottery ticket, but the difference this time is that only a few people I know who opened a bunch of Delta Expedition Lock Boxes felt like a loser this time around, because the quality of rewards not specifically the T6 ships had legitimate value to most players.

The second factor for high ZEN sales might also be the very high value of ZEN in the game in general. At over 160, the Dilithium exchange hasn’t been this high since just before the introduction of Starbases, so ZEN is earning a player more Dilithium right now than it has in a very long time. A $50 US purchase of ZEN right now earns a player 848,000 Dilithium at an exchange rate of 160, which is enough Dilithium to completely upgrade every space and ground item on a character, and have plenty of Dilithium to spare for other stuff if the upgrading is done wisely. Because the Delta Rising Lock Box has actual value, Lock Box keys are selling very well on the exchange north of 2.3 million EC per key, meaning a $50 purchase of ZEN can buy a player 30 keys (earning 69,000,000 EC at 2,300,000 per key on the EC exchange) and 308,000 Dilithium to upgrade gear with; and that represents game changing wealth to any Middle Class player.

It is my theory that perhaps, either by accident or on purpose, circumstances like a Lock Box that contains rewards of actual value to players equal to the cost of the lock box – combined with a favorable Dilithium exchange rate to players buying ZEN – has led to an all-time record ZEN sales day for STO. As I mentioned earlier, from a players perspective the Dilithium economy is in a recession, but I also noted that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – indeed if you look at the flip side that means ZEN has more purchasing power in the current Dilithium economy than it has had at any time since late Season 5, and a player who buys ZEN for Christmas this year and spends it wisely can get at least 45% more purchasing power in the Dilithium economy today than at any point since late Season 5, and thus live like a rich Ferengi while patrolling the Delta Quadrant in 2015.

IV. Profit Tip of the Week

For R&D Crafters who have reached level 15 in Beams and Cannons, here is how to arm your ship with Epic MK XIV weapons without breaking your bank account.

  1. Craft Very Rare MK II versions of the weapon type (Beam Array, Dual Beam Bank, Dual Heavy Cannon, etc.) you want on your ship.
  2. Upgrade each MK II weapon with 1 (Experimental) Superior Tech Upgrade and also apply a Quality (Research) Tech Bonus x2 (you will likely have to buy that item with EC, and is often the only real expense in this process that can’t be earned easily through normal game play).
  3. Sell all the weapons that finish Ultra Rare.
  4. Keep all the weapons that finish Epic.
  5. Upgrade all your Epic weapons to MK XIV Epic Quality.

I have thoroughly tested and profited handsomely from this process. To maximize my profits, I refused to spend Dilithium crafting and upgrading the weapons quickly, so for me his process spanned several days. After selling the Ultra Rare weapons that didn’t reach Epic and crafting my own Superior Tech Upgrades to get my Epic weapon to MK XIV, the whole exercise cost me between 1-3 million EC per Epic MK XIV Weapon. Every Epic MK XIV weapon sells on the EC Exchange for more than 3 million, so if you lose money on this deal, you are doing something very wrong.

V. Market WatchMoneybags1

Dilithium Exchange Rate: 163
Contraband: 40,000
Lock Box Key: 2,150,000
Trellium-K: 10,000
Argonite Gas: 299,999
Radiogenic Particle: 111,500
Plekton Particle: 195,000
Craylon Gas: 39,000
Salvaged Technology: 400,000

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