A brief summary of what I think are the points of conflict:
Problems with Vertical Progression
- It creates a treadmill and a need to grind.
- It can leave you outdated if you don’t research or constantly upgrade.
- As research trends to higher, the numbers start getting silly. Even with scaling, it’s somewhat dubious to assume that a Level 500 laser is really doing 600x the DPS of a Level 1 laser, and Level 500 armour is really absorbing 600x the DPS. You’d anticipate that there really would be some natural law of diminishing returns.
(assuming some scaling mechanic - unscaled vertical progression is just Increase T to Win)
- Markets will become saturated much more quickly without the need to upgrade.
- ”growth” is necessarily horizontal - i.e. more territory - because there’s nowhere to go upwards.
- The mechanics for new companies “overtaking” small companies become those of warfare rather than economics. Market Share can’t be won on products because products across companies are essentially uncompetitive. This leads to protectionism, cartelism, actual military fighting to secure markets etc. While replicating 17th century naval empires is certainly not an invalid way to play, it is rather limiting.
TL;DR: limit vertical progression to areas of productive capacity that affect big industrial players, keep it out of the way of smaller Hardenberg players.
The thing is, it appears as if vertical progression makes sense for some technologies, and doesn’t make sense for others.
Weapons, shields and armour - military tech, in other words, seem to be where vertical progression really upsets the Hardenbergs and messes with the gameplay.
Conceptually these things seem to be realistically capped at a certain limited range of inputs and outputs. And also these are the things that most bother people in their constant need to upgrade: “What if I go away for a year and then I get back and people can one-shot me?” Valid concerns - scaling helps, but doesn’t fix “why do I have to upgrade at all though?”
Where it does make more sense is in non-military hardware. Mining, construction, transportation, logistics, space stations, planetary development, etc etc etc. Infrastructural development, basically.
To go back to my prior spreadsheet re: construction drone scaling, for example. I added a “trade off” column of “mass” - amount of materials used by one construction drone.
I made a couple of assumptions with numbers, for the sake of getting something out of the model:
- I assumed a Level 1 drone would weigh 0.5 tonnes and be able to process 0.3 tonnes of refined materials into a constructed object per minute.
- I assumed that the construction rate base increase would be 25% per level, and that the mass increase would be 20% per level.
- I assumed an acceleration exponent of 1.3 to counterbalance diminishing returns.
- I assumed that cost would scale linearly with mass, so the one could be used as an analogue for the other. This would probably not be true for a whole host of reasons, but I didn’t want to overcomplicate the model.
- I assumed 100% efficiency, again for simplicity.
Obviously that kind of extreme min-maxing wouldn’t be a worthwhile cost saving at all, especially for a single ship. The optimal range is somewhere around level 10 (26 drones with combined mass ~59T to make a 60KT ship in ~1 day). Over an entire manufacturing industry which routinely made ships and stations weighing millions of tonnes, though, it demonstrates that progressing to bigger/faster drones does make sense, and not in an obviously game-breaking way. In fact, as structures get larger, if things like construction time, refining time, production time etc only scale upwards if you add more drones/units, you could end up with hundreds of thousands or even millions of drones. It makes far more sense to buy smaller numbers of bigger/more expensive drones if you want to build a space station than to buy vast numbers of little ones (and also saves the engine from having to model the activity of millions of drones per system).
Considering vertical progression in terms of Production Capability also maps onto real world analogues in, for example, the production of automobiles. Considered in terms of embodied technological progress, a Ford Fiesta might as well be a space shuttle compared to a Ford Model T. But the top speed of a Model T was around 45mph, and the top speed of a Fiesta is around 115mph. That’s a jump of only 1 order of magnitude. Further, most cars are generally driven at somewhere between 20-100mph, and we reached the ability to make a 100mph production car in the 1920s. Top speed hasn’t been where the vast technological increase has manifested.
So here we have a potential square to the circle.
If we consider values like “DPS/watt”, “defense per m2 of hull,” “thrust/watt” etc to be sacrosanct and capped to within an order of magnitude, we can visualise “vertical progression” as being something that large-scale, megacorporations need to do to remain competitive with each other, but that small traders, pirates etc needn’t particularly bother with. While the latest model of small fighter may be considered “more advanced,” if you still like your 1967 Mustang there’s no pressing need to upgrade it because it’s still (assuming either no degradation over time or maintenance enabling you to keep component efficiency at 100%) broadly equivalent in performance to those super shiny modern ships.
We can also start thinking about what aspects of materials, weapons, ships, thrusters, computer cores etc can be given an “infinite” component that will provide a tangible benefit while not taking those items outside of our set limits for sensible gameplay. At the moment I got nuthin’, but it’s a valid area of inquiry.
Now, to make an objection to my own work: by itself, this only partially addresses market saturation and horizontal growth concerns. The big vector of competition in the end-user market with more efficient and faster productive capacity is price, which helps somewhat, but not as much as a “scaled treadmill” does because price obviously has a pretty hard set of lower bounds. We need a way to give Hardenberg The Pirate an incentive to buy an upgrade from his 1967 Mustang without making it necessary for him to do so, and that’s a tricky one.
One way of partially addressing this would be to borrow from something I floated over in the Macro Economy thread regarding basic commodities and introducing a form of irrationality to NPC decision making in the form of Novelty Preference.
Consider this to be a single variable between 0 and 1, normally distributed across the population. At 0 an NPC will only spend money to upgrade if the cost-benefit of said upgrade is clear and apparent - Hardenberg with his 1967 Mustang. At 1 an NPC always wants the newest and shiniest thing even if it doesn’t really give them any tangible benefit. Most NPCs, in the range 0.3-0.7, will pay some sort of premium based on the newness of a given item, even if a completely rational cost-benefit analysis might make them skip the transaction.
This partially simulates depreciation as the Novelty Premium diminishes over time. It also provides a built in advantage to smaller players - even if I can only make 100 McDuff-Brand Lasers in a week, and they’re not really much better than the ones MegaCorp Inc can churn out at a rate of 1,000 a day, NPCs with a high novelty preference will prefer mine because they’re new and rare, meaning I can either charge a higher price or quickly capture as much of the market as my productive capacity allows if I keep my price competitive.
These are not complete solutions by any means. But it feels, to my addled brain, like a decent first stab at addressing the potential bottlenecks of a Zero Technological Growth economy while also not forcing smaller players onto a treadmill of Upgrade or Die.