Rules of Acquisition #87: Learn the customer’s weaknesses so you can better take advantage of them.

q_MoneybagsI.   State of the Economy – R&D

One of the challenges of R&D that came with Delta Rising was that access to very rare materials became gated behind the new Advanced and Elite queued content. Initially that was simply a level curve issue, but it turned out that reaching the appropriate level to play Advanced/Elite queued content was only half the battle. Added to these Advanced/Elite queues were conditions that would allow players to fail without getting the very rare material reward, and a significant percentage of Pick-Up Groups (PUGs) are still failing the queue missions for various, legitimate reasons. It doesn’t help that many of the Advanced/Elite queued content is also bugged and fails when the “optional” condition fails, not just when the “victory” condition fails.

As I PUG through the queues, I am realizing that the PUG community of players who are failing is significantly larger than I originally realized, and I’ve noticed an increase in the use of what Vulcan’s call “colorful human metaphors” when things go wrong. Luckily I am not dependent upon PUG queues for very rare materials, thanks primarily to the new Lock Box and the various ZEN purchased R&D Pack promotions we have seen since the release of Delta Rising.

While the Elachi Sheshar Dreadnaught Cruiser is an unimpressive beached Gekli that vomits ugly, armed shuttle craft at its targets, the Tier 6 ship included as part of the latest R&D Pack promotion does represent another Ship Trait available to Klingon players looking to put 4 Traits on a character. The nature of the latest R&D promotion was what had the most impact though. The ship was rewarded upon purchase of the R&D Pack in a separate box, and you either got the ship or 10 Lobi when opening that separate box. That meant the player didn’t even have to open the R&D Pack in order to win the ship. That small detail has ultimately had a significant impact on the R&D economy.

Research and Development Packs started getting listed on the EC Exchange in enormous numbers following the promotion release on December 11th, and that generated a broader availability of those packs to players than what one would normally expect from a ZEN based promotion. It turned out that a lot of promotion buyers were just trying to get the ship, and not the R&D Pack.  While evaluating the impact of this promotion, I checked out the R&D Pack (not to be confused with the mini-packs or holiday weekend packs, which are different) price on the EC exchange and noticed the big R&D Pack was selling for as low as 1 million EC each!

Holy Virgin Leeta!!

A 300 ZEN item – which is actually a decent value at 300 ZEN if you get a x2 Research bonus – was selling for only 1 million EC each! I bought 21 of the R&D Packs at 1 million per and threw a dance party on the cargo deck S.S. Dilithium, but later I learned that one of my wealthy brothers bought over 150 of the R&D Packs for 1 million per, basically getting 45,000 ZEN (~$425 US) worth of R&D Packs for only 150 million EC. Whoa!!

The supply of R&D materials increased significantly on the exchange with the promotion, which suggests Cryptic sold a bunch of R&D Packs with the promotion.  The massive increase in very rare material supply represented the second significant price drop for very rare R&D materials since Delta Rising was released – the first coming with the Delta Rising Lock Box the first day of the recent ZEN sale in November. I also note the December 3rd patch that reduced the R&D material cost of crafting R&D components. The R&D economy has had significant changes on both the supply and demand side since the release of Delta Rising to address “the concerns” with R&D, but what exactly are “the concerns” Cryptic is trying to address? Are they concerned about player access to very rare materials, because if they are, allow me to suggest fixing the queues as the best option towards addressing that concern. Are the failing queues an intended part of the overall design? How much of a factor has the ZEN based R&D Pack had on the supply of very rare materials in the game?

I don’t think we really know what the R&D economy looks like yet, because to date we have seen a significant portion of the wealthy crafters living primarily on ZEN based R&D materials purchased rather than in-game R&D materials farmed and sold by players. From a wealthy player perspective, the real impact of the December 3rd patch to R&D that lowered the material cost of crafting components was to insure the ZEN purchased R&D Pack now goes a lot further towards crafting a top end item. There is an assumption out there that the reason very rare R&D materials have dropped in price is because supply is high, but if you look closely at the exchange, the supply of very rare materials isn’t actually all that high that I can tell, but the price is low anyway. We’ll know more in a few weeks, but I believe the reason the prices for very rare R&D materials are dropping isn’t because supply is so high, but rather because demand is so low.


RD_MoneybagsII.  Profits and Losses

If you are doing R&D the smart way, you are doing the 6000 XP R&D project in each available slot everyday – on every character you have, and switching to 6000 XP per day in five schools when you finally get one school to level 15. Hopefully you are not spending large sums of Dilithium to level R&D faster than the 6000 XP daily. You should never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.

There are two distinct categories of R&D in STO with Season 10 – crafting and the technology upgrade system. I like the technology upgrade system, and over time have come to truly dislike crafting. Both are very expensive, but I am finding that is the only thing they have in common.

The technology upgrade system is expensive, and for that reason many players do not like the system. In my opinion cost isn’t really an issue for any new system as long as those costs and risks are well understood. For everything I do in the tech upgrade system, there is a high degree of certainty and all of the risks are well understood. I know what the absolute maximum costs are to get an item to Epic level, and I can either assume that risk or not. All of the randomness of the technology upgrade system is to the benefit of the player, for example, the random nature of crafting a technology upgrade is that I might get two upgrades for the cost of one. Another example, I could upgrade the quality of an item at less cost than the absolute highest cost.  In both examples those random chances within the technology upgrade system serve to benefit me – the player, rather than set me back in my efforts towards achieving my final goals within the context of upgrading equipment. Yes, the final costs can get extreme, but at least I can calculate them exactly and they are known. Some human named Joe once said knowing is half the battle, but to a Ferengi having a full understanding of the financial risks involved is the whole battle when it comes to making a major purchase.

The R&D system for crafting, however, is a complete shit show. Anyone who attempts to argue merit or virtue in the R&D crafting system as currently implemented speaks with a Pakled tongue. For starters, the entire R&D system as designed is punitive to the crafter, meaning no matter what you do, the player is punished for anything other than minimum investments into the system. It starts with the level curve itself, which I find to be one of the most self defeating implementations of currency based leveling I have ever heard of in any game. The crafting system in STO is dependent upon player idiocy to be profitable, because it is actually a design feature that the more Dilithium you spend leveling crafting, the less crafting skill you gain per Dilithium spent. I get it in regards to MMO systems that have diminishing returns on investment in leveling curves, but STO’s R&D crafting system of diminishing returns has a leveling curve where the player is expected to pay more real money for less virtual skill in return. And yes, stupid human’s do pay, because as you should be aware… the flimsier the product, the higher the price.

For example, it takes 630,000 XP to reach level 15 in each crafting school, and at that point you unlock all currently available crafting projects for that school. Level 15 is also a base crafting skill of 150. To get to level 16 you need to get to 882,000 XP, while level 17 is 1,152,000 XP, and level 18 is 1,440,000. In other words, as the cost in XP increases for every level, the base crafting skill only increments by 10 per level, and that base crafting skill increase of only 10 gives the crafter an obviously insignificant bonus in crafting any item. In other words, after level 15 the XP requirements to level become significantly higher, thus very expensive if you choose to level with anything other than the base 6000 XP project, but the benefits are extremely insignificant and amount to basically a 1% increase per level that the quality of an item crafted will be ultra rare instead of rare.

Look at the math. To get from 630,000 XP at level 15 to 1,440,000 XP at level 18, if you were to spend Dilithium to make that level increase, you would need 2,430,000 Dilithium to use the 18,000 buy now option 135 times. The net effect of that is only a 3% increase in the random chance of crafting an ultra rare item instead of a very rare item. The Dilithium exchange is currently at around 165, so 2,430,000 Dilithium is around 14,727 ZEN (about $140 US). If I simply bought 130 Lock box keys with that ZEN and sold the keys on the EC exchange at the rock bottom price of 2 million EC each, I would have 260,000,000 EC. If the crafting system in STO was done well, 260,000,000 EC in the hands of a crafter would be an exciting opportunity to use the crafting system for personal gain and/or profit, but instead 260,000,000 EC in the hands of every smart STO crafter in the game is an opportunity to never have to deal with this stupid implementation of crafting ever again.

Consider that if I crafted the special item in each school available at level 15, the odds are astronomical that any item I would craft would actually have the modifiers I want on the item, meaning the item I craft is extremely likely to be suboptimal or the chances are high it will be an item I don’t want once I made it. That is how I see the R&D crafting system in STO as punitive, because higher level adds no tangible value, and the random nature of modifiers punishes the crafter for building any item. It is completely accurate to note that the majority of modifiers on items crafted serve the specific function of reducing the value of the item to the crafter rather than enhancing the value of the item to the crafter.

The random aspects that occur in the R&D crafting system overwhelmingly serve to punish the crafter, which is the complete opposite of the technology upgrade system where all random aspects of that system benefits the player. Higher level skill comes at higher costs, but the more you spend to raise crafting skills the less value you get for actually spending currency to raise that skill, and the value of higher skill is so tiny it is impossible to assign a positive value to it.

As prices continue to fall for R&D created items, the value in trying to craft for profit is in decline and in many cases has long past the profit point, indeed where you can still profit is primarily due to luck, not the skill you paid for. The overwhelming majority of crafted items on the EC exchange are misfires – items crafted that the crafter didn’t want, created because the random modifiers were not what the crafter desired. This crafting system continues to flood the EC exchange with undesired items at unrecoverable costs.

If we are being objective – by any standard that takes a players perspective, it is very difficult to say anything other than Cryptic has poorly designed the STO crafting system. My advice, level your skill as inexpensive as possible, and only craft with the expectation that you will pay for participation in the crafting system and you will almost certainly not craft any item with the specific modifiers you desire. To be honest, all I craft is tech upgrades, because crafting in the tech upgrade system actually works to my advantage – unlike the rest of R&D crafting.

Cryptic appears to be watching the system, because they have made several adjustments so far, but I don’t think they fully recognize how terrible the system they designed actually is. My prediction is crafting will remain very unpopular as everyone personally experiences the punitive nature of the system as the majority of players hit level 15, but upgrading technology and DOFFs will remain very popular – assuming the DOFF upgrade system coming soon (Season 10.5?) is similar to equipment upgrades recently implemented. It is fairly obvious why upgrading is popular, and crafting is not popular at all, at least it’s obvious to those of us whom actually play the game.

Finally, I do believe my observations as written here fairly represent the mainstream opinion of the STO community in regards to the R&D system as implemented in game, and it explains why very rare R&D material prices are low, even though supply of very rare R&D materials is low, by observing the demand by players for those materials is also low.


III. Markets and Opportunities

In case you haven’t heard, Q has returned, and the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets have suddenly decided to declare peace in the Alpha Quadrant; and along with the new Romulan government; they have all raced over to the Delta Quadrant to pound several aggressive Delta Quadrant races into submission.

Wait, are you suggesting this isn’t a Q plot?

I don’t actually care about the geopolitics within the games story plot. As a Ferengi I know that War is good for business, and Peace is good for business. No matter which way the winds of galactic politics blow, a wise man can hear profit in the wind.

In musing about how the politics of the Alpha Quadrant has taken strange turns in the last few years, it has become my observation that the Federation has become more militant as a result of constantly evolving threats and several consecutive large scale wars. Federation Science Vessels are no longer dispatched to explore the Galaxy, rather they are instead being dispatched to other quadrants with the intent to conquer the Galaxy. How it must swell the pride of the Federation scientific community that Admiral Tuvok’s Flagship for the Federation fleet sent to pacify the Delta Quadrant is described as a Science ship. To me that sounds like the same pseudo political science Chancellor J’mpok used to justify the pacification of the Gorn. In truth I admire the Federation and the Klingon Empire, because at the heart of the current galactic political trends we find a very Ferengi concept: Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.

So what was that really important point I was trying to make? Duh, that Q has returned! For reasons I could never explain logically to a Vulcan, Winter Wonderland is my favorite grind in STO, and once again I ran around the ice track 25 times to get a new ship and I am proud to say I’ve already got my first ship trait… some carrier pet heal skill I’ll almost certainly never use. Oh well, at least I can get back to shooting snow projectiles at assimilated snowmen, or even regular snowmen; all while protecting Gingerbread men, collecting recipes, trading tags with that extremely annoying Epohh Dabo girl, and doing the holiday DOFF missions all so I can get stuff like ice based damage modules and obtain a bunch of unique costumes I’ll force bridge officers to wear.

But this year’s Winter Wonderland is extra special, and not just because the art refresh was very well done. It turned out that the Bajoran’s who make up the Cryptic QA workforce have been riding the short bus to the Delta Quadrant, and when Q realized that the old Cardassian Proverb Never let a Bajoran QA Your Content is actually sage advice, he unlocked the holiday store for everyone. The effect is, the entire population of the game can access everything in the holiday store. If you have holiday currency, then you can spend holiday currency, and even the Scrooge’s of Star Trek Online can own holiday stuff this year.

I’m not sure when it will happen, but there will be a moment as we approach the end of Winter Wonderland when the value of the holiday currencies will go up considerably on the EC exchange. Part of that has to do with supply. Fewer people are doing the holiday events this year thanks primarily to the bug associated with the assimilated snowmen accolade. We can also expect to see Ferengi begin hoarding up the currencies for next year. But I also suspect we will see more last minute shoppers for the holiday store this year than we have in the past buying up the currency from the EC exchange. Unlike every other year of Winter Wonderland, this will likely be the only year that all of those Scrooge’s who normally avoid Winter Wonderland can actually purchase Winter Wonderland specific stuff from the holiday store without having to spend time in Winter Wonderland. If anything, there will be last minute shoppers looking to insure all of their alt characters own a pair of snow boots, and there will be people who want those cold damage based kit modules on all their characters just in case they need to smack a Tholian next time they are earning Nukara marks in ground combat. Buy while it’s cheap, because the prices will only go up as the end of Winter Wonderland gets closer.


IV.  Profit Tip of the Week

Now that we are finished with Human Christmas, we can begin preparing for Ferengi Christmas, which means – Dilithium weekend! Expect the next Dilithium weekend to come in February. This is the baseline for how I get prepared, and I spend the time between Dilithium weekends doing all of this on several characters for maximum profit, and if you want this type of wealth on your characters – now is the time to start.

Earn at least 1000 marks for each reputation. For higher returns, earn more marks.

1000 Omega Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium
1000 Nukara Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium
1000 Romulan Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium
1000 Dyson Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium
1000 Undine Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium
1000 Delta Marks = 750 * (1000/50) = 15,000 Dilithium

Get the rich dilithium claim project ahead of time from the little Ferengi so you can mine twice on day #1 of Dilithium weekend, for a total of 5 times over the 4 day weekend. That means you need 5 claims per character.

5 claims x 10,000 per = 50,000 Dilithium

Do contraband 4 times per day each day of Dilithium weekend. Requires 80 contraband per character over 4 days.

(80/5) * 2000 = 32,000 Dilithium

Wait and turn in your Delta Reputation mission during the weekend.

32,000 x 1.5 = 48,000 Dilithium

Collect 30 each of Borg Neural Processors, Voth Cybernetic Implants, Isomorphic Injections, and Ancient Power Cells.

(30/3) x 1500 = 15,000 Dilithium for each (60,000 total if you collect 30 of each).

Under that plan, come Dilithium weekend you will refine at least 90,000 Dilithium from reputation marks, 50,000 Dilithium from rich mining claims, 32,000 Dilithium from Contraband, take 48,000 Dilithium for finishing your Delta Reputation, and grab an additional 60,000 Dilithium from Neural Processors / Cybernetic Implants / Isomorphic Injections / Ancient Power Cells for a total of 280,000 Dilithium ore. In reality you can actually earn much higher than this, because instead of turning in 50 rep marks for 750 Dilithium on the first day of Dilithium weekend, I actually spend all Dilithium weekend until Sunday night doing the hourly projects for each reputation on each character, an activity that returns a much higher rate of Dilithium per mark. On Sunday night I’ll then cash in what’s left with the 50 rep marks for 750 Dilithium projects.

280,000 Dilithium ore means at least 35 straight days of 8K Dilithium refining per character after a Dilithium weekend. For context, I do this on several characters, and I rarely earn less than 300,000 Dilithium ore on each character from a Dilithium weekend. Now do you see why it is called Ferengi Christmas?

To some this might look difficult to pull off on paper, but if you plan ahead and actually try it, you’ll see this is a lot easier than you think. Yes, it does take a lot of time to prepare, but free advice is seldom cheap, greed is eternal, and a Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.


V.   Market Watch

Dilithium Exchange Rate: 164
Contraband Price: 45,555
Lock Box Key: 2,025,000
Trellium-K: 12,000
Argonite Gas: 300,000
Radiogenic Particle: 120,000
Plekton Particle: 135,000
Crylon Gas: 36,000
Dentarium: 15,000
Salvaged Technology: 410,000

Send an email to Moneybags@f2pecho in game correctly identifying the # of Rules of Acquisition I quoted in this post (not including the title) and I’ll send you a gift via the in game email. All emails sent with the correct answer by midnight PST January 5, 2015 will earn a small reward, but the first 20 emails with the correct answer will earn a Superior Tech Upgrade of your choice (please identify which you want in the email, or I will choose for you). Only 1 reward per @name, and you must post a comment in this post telling me that you sent me the email in game. Please don’t be the illiterate Pakled who doesn’t read instructions and forgets to leave a comment in this post.

Happy New Year!

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