There have been rather a lot of questions on the Sector and Universe traders recently so, given that most of my income is from them, I thought I'd write this guide.
Some of this guide is based on X2's trade command MK3 (mostly the level based data). The original read me from X2 proved most useful and some small sections of this guide have been adapted from it or used directly where relevant.
Many thanks to mkess and BurnIt! for producing the original script and documenting it so well
I hope you find the guide useful
FyreByrd has produced this http://forum2.egosoft.com/viewtopic.php?t=107407 excellent guide on traders as well, although it's not been updated for a while.
This is just my take on the subject after a fair bit of playing time.
What they are:
The Trade Command Software MK3 is a software upgrade that allows a hired pilot to automatically look for good prices and trade on the player's behalf.
Sector traders only buy and sell in one sector, Universe traders will range over all discovered sectors (except Xenon ones).
A high level UT in a good ship will easily out earn several factories.
As an example my level 25 traders in Demeter Super Freighters are making between 250,000 and 300,000 credits an hour. A large wheat farm buying at average and selling at maximum makes 90,000 credits an hour, a large cahoona bakery at average buy, maximum sell, makes 68,400 per hour.
This is largely taken from the X2 read me, but from what I've observed seems to apply to the X3 version as well.
The pilot learns to interpret the output from the MK3 software and earns experience.
Pre 2.02 and bonus pack every 50,000 earned credits the pilot advances by one level.
Post 2.02 and bonus pack 3.1.07:
STs and UTs need to have made the same profit to advance levels (Only relevant for levels 8-9 and 9-10 as 10 is max level for ST).
Lower levels need less profit to advance than higher ones (e.g. 1-2 is less than 25k profit, 8-9 over 50k, 10-11 over 100k).
The perception that UTs take longer from 8-10 is due to the fact that many of their trade runs are to neighbouring sectors which greatly increases flying time as they don't use jumpdrives until at least level 12.
This increasing scale of profits required is new but I don't know if it was introduced in the patch or the bonus pack (ISTR a discussion just after the bonus pack was released that mentioned a change in pilot level behaviour).
I'd therefore recommend that STs are not converted to UTs until level 10.
From level 4 onwards he is intelligent enough to check the product of the station he is located in before flying to other stations to trade, avoiding empty trade runs.
From level 7 onwards he will recognize the chance to make a profit if the selling price is above the buying price. Before he only bought wares where the selling price was above average price.
From level 9 onwards the pilot will steer his ship to the closest shipyard if it has been damaged.
Additionally from level 8 onwards the pilot is able to check neighbouring sectors for good trade opportunities. This requires you to start the "Universe Trader" command (assuming you meet the other requirements below).
Level 8 allows the trader to use the jump drive, if the ship is not equipped with a jump drive the pilot will simply order one as soon as he reaches level 12 (at a 10% premium for delivery). Additionally the trader will order up to 12 Fighter Drones over time which he will use in emergencies to distract attackers.
If a Trader is attacked he will tell you the ID of the attacker so you know who to look for should you feel the need for revenge.
The jump distance for buying and selling increases with the Trader achieving higher levels until the ship covers nearly the whole universe. For reasons of rationality the buying-range is limited to a max. of 5 jumps (level 21+) otherwise the ship would require too much jump energy.
Up to level 12 the selling-range is 1 sector - the pilot is learning to check his neighbourhood.
Level 13+: 5 sectors
Level 17+: 15 sectors
Level 21+: 25 sectors
The buying-range is smaller.
Up to level 15: 1 sector
Level 16+: 3 sectors
Level 17+: 5 sectors
Extremely high-level Traders (level 23+) will additionally co-ordinate their trade runs with each other to avoid multiple Traders heading for the same stations.
This coordination doesn't seem to be working properly at the moment, with any luck it'll be fixed in the next patch. (Thanks to apogee for pointing this out, I've investigated and now spotted it happening as well.)
Post patch 2.02 - Still investigating, not noticed this happening in 10 game days but can't confirm it has been fixed either. (21/06/07) Now seen it happen, they're still not coordinating like they did in X2.
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Level Title 1 Assistant Courier 2 Courier 3 Freight Pilot 2nd Class 4 Freight Pilot 1st Class 5 Freight Pilot 6 Assistant Distributor 7 Distributor 8 Chief Distributor 9 Paymaster 10 Senior Paymaster 11 Chief Paymaster 12 Trade Negotiator 13 Senior Trade Negotiator 14 Chief Trade Negotiator 15 Small Trader 16 Trader 17 Major Trader 18 International Trader 19 Dealer 20 Major Dealer 21 International Dealer 22 Production Assistant 23 Production Expert 24 Production Manager 25 Production Director
What you need:
A suitable ship
This is a compromise between speed, cargo and, to a lesser extent, shields.
The bigger the cargo hold, the more profit per run if you can fill it.
The faster the ship, the more runs you'll make per hour.
Finally the better shielded the ship, the greater the chance of it surviving attacks.
I am of the opinion that the best ships are TS super freighters (some prefer to choose the faster Split freighters), but there's no clear winner.
The three most popular choices are:
Split Caiman - fastest (89.99m/s), good cargo (10325), 4*25MJ shields
Paranid Demeter - good cargo (11210), reasonable speed (79.2m/s), 5*25MJ shields.
Boron Dolphin - best cargo (14000), slow (53.98m/s), 5*25MJ shields
I've separated this one as, although popular, it's actually a very poor choice. It's just too slow and gets beaten to most of the best deals as well as not making nearly enough runs/hour.
I'm a fan of the Demeter as the best all rounder, on paper the Caiman should be best as it can shift the most cargo in a given time but I like the extra shield more than the speed.
The vanilla TSs lack shielding when compared to the super freighters but may yield higher profits in the short term as they make more trips in he same time. Only a small sub-set of possible trades (e-cells, soya beans and nostrop oil for example) regularly fill SF holds so for most the smaller variants can carry sufficient cargo. The lack of shielding will lead to more losses in the long term though.
The Teladi Vulture (13275 cargo, 57.59 m/s, 5*25MJ shields) offers no real advantage over the Dolphin and the Argon Mercury (11800 cargo, 72 m/s, 5*25MJ shields) has little to recommend it compared to the Demeter. Both the Dolphin and the Vulture SFs are far too slow to make good profits as they make less runs over time and regularly get beaten to the best deals.
It is also possible to install the software in M4, M3 and TP class ships but the small cargo holds and lack of ability to carry XL size goods will severely limit profits.
The various Super Freighters may be purchased from:
Dolphin - Kingdoms End
Caiman - Family Nij
Vulture - Ministry of Finance
Mercury - Omicron Lyrae
Max the speed and turning, if you can afford it also max the cargo. If the cargo's not maxed then the trader will slowly buy extra space but only up to 80% of the available expansion IIRC. It also means that the trade ship has to visit trading docks each level to install the extra capacity slowing down trading.
Trade Command Software MKIII - Available at Teladi Equipment Docks or Terracorp HQ
For Universe traders:
Fight Command Software MKI
Fight Command Software MKII
At least 25MJ of shielding - can be made up of 5*5MJ if you cant get 25MJ shields, but I'd recommend getting the maximum that your TS can hold as soon as possible, there's a lot of time and credits invested in a UT
Special Command Software MKI
Allows you to transfer pilots between ships
Navigation Command Software MK1
Allows you to command the trader to jump remotely - particularly useful if they've tried to escape from attack by flying to a station in the same sector (often happens in pirate sectors for some unknown reason).
Better scanner range, not needed for the trader but can be useful when you're looking at the sector they're operating in remotely.
The trader will buy their own at level 12 but this costs 10% more for delivery, cheaper to buy it in advance.
You don't need weapons or trade command MKI/II.
Note that you cannot make the ship you're personally flying a ST or UT.
Tips & tricks:
For a sector to be a good training ground for your sector traders you should look for:
Basic and Advanced food factories (e.g. Cattle Ranches and Cahoona Bakeries in Argon space).
Trading Dock (In all race sectors, just don't start your ST in a pirate sector ).
Ideally some high tech fabs and mines.
It helps if it's a smaller sector with the fabs close together to cut down on flying time.
Some popular sectors for starting your sector traders:
Empires Edge - This seems to be the best sector in the X universe according to reports. All my STs start off here.
Other good sectors:
Shore of Infinity - my second favourite
Scale Plate Green
Optimum Number of UTs:
I find between 20 and 30 UTs works well, more than this starts to reduce the profit/trip as the best trades become harder to find - plus more effort's required to manage them (mostly stopping them running almost empty to trading stations - see bugs below).
Adapted from the original Trade Command MK3 read me.
To transfer pilots, a special menu option is available, where you have to fill in the start and target ship as well as the station where the ships should meet. Because of the limitations of the script engine, both ships have to be in space. Also, both ships should be in the same sector to prevent accidents (crossing enemy sectors).
The trader's original ship needs Special Command software installed. Choose "Transfer Pilot" from the special command menu on the trader's ship (NOT the player's ship), then select the trader's ship followed by the ship to transfer him to, followed by the station where the transfer should take place. The two ships will fly to the selected station and the transfer will take place.
The new ship, which has to be "empty", i.e. no pilot must be on board, gets the name of the old ship, all important items are transferred, and the pilot is placed into the new ship with all his experience. After this the trader can be started as normal and resumes at the current level.
You'll need to transfer the scanner and Special Command software manually or buy new ones if you want them on the new ship.
The old ship gets the name '---'
Both ships retain their names and equipment. This means you'll need to manually transfer the trade MK3 software if the new ship doesn't have it and any other needed upgrades.
Also post 2.02 it appears that the "Bonus Scripts" pack must be installed to allow pilot transfers to work - this has been reported by several posters on the forums.
It is not possible to preserve the experience level of the pilot through simple transferring of the MK3 software. If you transfer the MK3 in the normal way, the pilot stays and you take on a new inexperienced pilot when you start the MK3 software.
I've also noticed that the trader level doesn't get displayed following transfer until after the trader's been restarted. This gave me a bit of a shock the first time - I thought the level had been reset, but the UT command worked and when I checked again, the level was back to 25 as it was before.
Ships Under Attack:
If your trader is attacked then they will try to escape to a nearby sector or station. Always check out reports of attacks and ensure that he trader has jumped to another sector. If they try to dock in the sector they were attacked in then they will probably die.
If they were buying then re-issue the universe trade command, they'll probably not head to the same sector as prices will have changed and they'll be starting from a different sector as well.
You may want to sell manually if they were selling and then re-issue the UT command. If you don't then they'll head back to the original target station, which could take a long time, plus the station will most likely have had other deliveries that will reduce profits.
Always try to make sure that the attackers have been dealt with, if you don't then you may regret it later when they manage to kill the next trader that encounters them. I find the "under attack" messages from my UTs provide a good source of pirates to capture and always jump in to avenge the attack
Known Bugs (as of Patch 2.02 & Bonus pack 3.1.07):
No energy in range:
Fixed in 1.4 and later
Every so often one of your traders will stop with a message saying he can't find energy cells in range. These should be delivered if he can't find any (you'll get the message even if the ship has a reasonable stock on board) but there is a bug in the delivery routine. The bigger your cargo hold the larger the e-cell reserve and the less often you'll see the message. To resume trading either order the trader to jump to a sector with cheap energy and restart the trade command or manually buy him some energy and restart.
Running almost empty:
Still present in 2.02
Traders will repeatedly run very small quantities of a good to the same station. This usually happens with equipment and trading dock runs. It seems that if the dock has more capacity at delivery than at loading then the ship will make another run to fill the gap. This will continue until either the target station's full or no more of the good can be bought. Restarting the UT fixes it until the next time ......
Still present in 2.02
The final minor problem with UTs is that if they're selling fighter drones they will also sell the 4/8/12 they keep for defence. Even then selling the ones they get from the delivery service to replace them.
These few bugs mean some micromanagement is needed but UTs are definitely a good investment in my opinion.
[edited to correct typos]
[edited to add profit/hour and correct high level behaviour]
[edited - further tips added++]
[Edited 2/12/06 - first 2.02 updates, more to come soon]
[Edited 4/12/06 - Updated pilot levelling details]
[Edited 9/12/06 - Updated pilot transfer details]
[Edited 10/12/06 - Added tip on numbers of UTs]
[Edited 27/12/06 - Added table of levels]
[Edited 21/06/07 - Minor update, corrected shield requirement to minimum of 25MJ of shields rather than minimum 1*25MJ, added a couple of sectors to the good sector list]
[Edited 22/10/07 - Very minor update, mostly tidying up. There will be a more comprehensive update after the next patch is released.]