Designing an match based game’s economy is an extremely critical task, it shapes the entire flow of matches, feeling of progression and reward as well as power scaling over time. It will also shape the size and composition of the NPC fleets. Battlescape is a mixture of games like planetside and shorter match based games so there are many places to draw experience from.
How do shorter, match based games handle this design? One good example, Natural selection 2 uses a very stable, predictable economy to ensure matches flow in a satisfying way a majority of matches, while allowing players to pick different upgrades. Instead of being rewarded with more money for better play, all players only receive a portion of the same team wide trickle of income. The reward for playing well becomes survival, by playing well and staying alive you keep your upgrades and bought assets intact and stay in the asset for as long as possible.
However, NS2 is a game where matches last between 20-40m, the majority of players are expected to stay for an entire match. The flow of the economy is predictable over that time span, at the start destructive power is limited with bases being tanky and rushes need to be well executed to succeed, during the midgame most combat is over outlying bases and resources while economic income ramps up, and then as the economy stabilizes the income allows the destructive power of both teams to balloon and soon no bases can be easily defended, sometimes leading to a situation where all bases are being destroyed and the teams need to race to defend and attack at the same time. This exact system wouldn’t work as well in a game with hours long matches where a majority will join and leave partway through. There is also a lack of individual player rewards for completing any special objectives. However, this kind of stable progression is also extremely desirable to maintain quality/pacing of matches and to create distinct phases in the flow of the war, which perhaps counter-intuitively makes players feel the progress and variety better even though it’s less random.
The current design of the economy takes a different approach and meets different goals. In battlescape, passive team wide income is a trickle compared to the potential rewards from completing objectives. Players at the top make so much money that we will often have enough for dozens of capship respawns, and farming enemy turrets for money is rewarding both in damaging enemy assets while receiving an economic boon. On the upside, players are heavily incentivized to complete objectives and this design allows freedom to implement a variety of objectives and mission types. On the downside, it over-incentivizes some objectives and makes the economy unstable, as players can inject huge amounts of money into the economy by blowing up enemy facilities. This can create a snowball effect where as soon as attackers are at the advantage, they complete enough objectives to get a large currency boon and can snowball to victory, it’s less stable and tends to prevent comebacks. When over-incentivized like this, suicide attack runs can become too common and parts like defending and dogfighting, can become “suboptimal” to worry about.
Steps that limit the immediate rush towards attrition are a good idea, options like making torpedos unavailable without an extra loadout option would limit the immediate hangar torp rushes that are now possible with cheap bombers, but of course if killing a single turret pays for it the progression won’t matter much. That is why i would suggest moving towards a mainly passive income system, where the amount of money the players gets is scaled by the log of their score rather than paid per objective.
Here is what i mean. First, direct money rewards now only contribute score rather than paying out, and there are regular passive income ticks every minute. Imagine over the past 5 minutes you’ve destroyed 4 turrets and a few other misc pieces of a base, as well as players worth 1000 score. Another player scored 100, and another player scored 0. The team has secured/generated 10000 credits during this tick and the game is set to only distribute 50% of that to players instead of npcs for the current player count, so the game then needs to choose how to split that 5000 credits between the 3 players. Basicallly the idea is to start with splitting it between the players but then weight by score. With a base of 1.0 for each player and 3 players it would be 1/3 each, if scores are used as weights after taking the log and dividing by 10, the player with 1000 score will get an extra weight of .6, giving them a weight of 1.6. The player with 100 gets a weight of 1.46, and the player with 0 score gets a weight of 1.0, then simply the player with 1000 gets 1.6/4.06 (1.6+1.46+1) of the money available, the player with 100 gets 1.46/4.06, and the zero scorer gets 1/4.06.
If this is run every minute using the score gained from the last 5 minutes, it should create a stable income for every player even up to high player counts. Teams with fewer player counts automatically get an effective individual bonus to income to make up for lower numbers, and defending income sources like freighters gets incentivized, and so does completing missions and objectives. The barrier here is implementing a score system which probably needs to be done anyways and assigning accurate score value/rewards for each objective, kills, etc.
The purpose of the log (could also use log2 instead of loge or log10 to tune this effect) score scaling is to to compensate for how good players will die less. It keeps increasing rewards of vets, but also doesnt runaway to the point of “so much money i can never spend this because i never even die and dont need to rebuy my ship and loadout” Once it gets to that point, progression becomes irrelevent which is bad and best avoided. It also makes sure newer players arent just stuck with no money forever, which is also bad as they also wouldnt feel any progression until they become veterens, which may never happen if they dont get the chance to play with loadouts between frequent deaths.
To simulate the “early game buildup” phase, perhaps the Ai “commander” of each team can spend the early game accumulating funds until they reach a predefined warchest of resources. Ex: at the start of the game the team’s players only get a base 20% each of the team wide income generation instead of 50% until the team’s npc spawning fund reaches 100000 or something. The goal percentages could also be adjusted based on the current playercount, it’s probably not worth giving teams 50% of income if only one player is connected per team, but it definetly is if 100 players are connected.
TL;DR: Passive income and percentage of team fund rewards over instant money faucets from blowing stuff can lead to more stable game flow and progression for people at all skill levels. Stable and predictable progression within margins is key to shaping the flow of each match.