Spike's Guide to Galactic Economic Hegemony
... or just managing your first station
Stations. They're big, expensive, can't run away from rampaging Qs and can be a pain to keep running optimally, but if you do keep them running optimally they're well worth it.
This guide will give you some hints and tips on how to do that.
In this guide, I will cover;
Station placement; what to build and where.
Station economics; how to set prices optimally.
Freighters and salesmen; how to best set up your factory's freighter fleet.
Complexes and self-sustaining factories; how to set up factories that don't need to buy resources.
Factory defence; how to stop your factories from being blown to Kingdom End.
Appendix A; details of factory production rates for supply/demand calculations.
Appendix B; a rundown of the extra options available in the Bonus Pack.
Appendix C; summary of rules.
The main points of each chapter can be found highlighted in yellow.
A message to newbies; this guide looks like a lot of stuff. It IS a lot of stuff, although as a newbie buying your first factory only the first three chapters are going to be relevant to you. Effective management of factories is not straightforward, and I understand if the length of this Guide puts you off a little bit.
But stick with it. It is well summarised, and time you spend here will translate to increased profits in-game, meaning that your fledgling business empire grows faster and you more than make up the time spent with this Guide.
The step-by-step guide to profitable factories begins here.
Chapter 1; Station placement
This section is all about how to choose a factory and a good location for it.
This is important to say the least. If you get this bit of the factory-building process wrong, then you've wasted a thundering lot of money in addition to a thundering lot of profit.
Fortunately, there's only two relatively simple rules to follow when choosing what factory to place and where to place it;
Rule No. 1; Factories should be placed where there is a large demand for the product and a shortage of supply.
Rule No. 2; Factories should be placed where there is an excess supply of required resources.
Rule number 1 is more important than rule number 2, as you can usually build more factories to supply any resources that the local region of space may be missing. However, this takes money which early in the game you won't have, so if you're just starting out with only a few million, you need to pay close respect to both rules. You will need approximately 2,000,000 (two million) Credits to build your first factory.
Rule number 1 is relatively simple. If there's no-one to buy your product, you won't make any money. In fact, this leads to something I call Spike's First Law;
Spike's First Law states that economic profit is only gained by selling goods to NPCs.
We'll come back to this, as it has a number of implications later on.
The big question is; how do you find these locations where there is a demand for a product and little supply?
Well, that's relatively straightforward. Here's how;
1: Pick a block of sectors that you operate in, for example if you picked the Humble Merchant start then you'll probably be operating in the main Argon bloc around Argon Prime. If you picked Bankrupt Assassin, you may be in the Argon bloc around Light of Heart or the Split home bloc around Family Pride.
2: Go through each sector, and check each factory in turn for resource stock. You are looking for several factories in a given region of space with low stock of a particular resources, e.g. Meatsteak Cahoonas or Sunrise Flowers. Note that not all the factories in that region of space may be low; one may have got lucky and had a passing trader sell it a full supply of that resource five minutes before. This is a pretty good indicator of whether or not that resource has a supply/demand discrepancy in that region, and if it does, then that's a profit opportunity for a budding factory owner.
3: With this possible opportunity, go through each sector again looking for factories that produce that product, and check the balance of supply and demand. Sounding out the competition here. Use the information in Appendix A to work out what the total supply and the total demand for that region is (this information also appears in Chapter 4). You want the demand to far outstrip the supply; the bigger the difference, the bigger the profit will be. You will need to check sectors outside your chosen area for a jump or two as well, to ensure that any competition from imports is taken into account.
4: Go away and wait for an hour or four. This will give the economy time to run a bit.
5: Check the resources of the factories you intended to supply again. This makes sure that you didn't just catch a group of ordinarily well-supplied factories that, by chance, happened to all be low on resources at the same time. If they're still low, then it's time to build your factory!
6: Select a factory position. There are two considerations here. Your factory needs to be placed roughly in the middle of the group of factories you intend to supply, which may be spread out over several sectors. So choose a sector in the middle. The second thing is defence; reading the chapter on factory defence will demonstrate to you just how expensive this can be. Much better if you get the local police to do it for you; that means building in a core sector (shown in the Universe Map info box with a note that says "Security level: Core"). You then need to select the actual factory location; ideally it needs to be close to the gates that your freighters will use most (i.e. if there's three gates in the sector, two of the factories you will supply lie beyond the North gate, three beyond the East gate and one beyond the South gate, then you probably want to build half-way between the North and East gates). If you are relying on police protection then you'll need to be in sensor range of the main trade routes, where coppers tend to hang out. Building a little way off the ecliptic plane is best, then you won't get random ships colliding with your station whilst you're in the sector. As most factories have their docking ports in the bottom, then building above the ecliptic plane is better than building below, as if you build below then ships have to fly all the way around the factory to dock with it.
7: Go hire a TL and build your factory!
The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this isn't good if rule number 2 can't be ignored, as you can end up with a factory that you can't supply. Well, there's four ways round this; first, you can build the missing factories to supply your own (expensive and a no-goer for early gamers); second, you can supply the factory yourself with any resources that aren't in range (but since you'll have better things to do this isn't really palatable for more than a short time); third, you can equip the factory's freighters with jumpdrives and allow them free reign of the Universe (possible, and frequently done, though not my own personal style because jumpdrives are expensive, the jump fuel cuts down on cargo space and at at least 12 Cr per cell costs money to the tune of 120 Cr per jump per return journey, and equipping freighters with a jumpdrive is one more complication and I prefer to be able to set them to work straight out of the shipyard) or fourth; repeat steps 2 to 5 checking for factories producing resources that your intended factory will need, and make sure that supply equals or exceeds demand. This is what I do at the start of a game; later on I have enough money to go the first option and build the missing factories myself.
If you want some good tips for stations that meet this criterion, then I have a couple of suggestions for you that meet both criteria;
Wheat Farm in Argon Prime
Cahoona Bakery in Argon Prime
Teladianium Foundry in Duke's Domain or Friar's Retreat
Crystal Fab in Omicron Lyrae
1MJ Shield production plant in Argon Prime, Duke's Domain, Blue Profit, Family Pride, Friar's Retreat or Queen's Harbour.
Dream Farm in Greater Profit
Remember that factories producing illegal products cannot be built in sectors owned by races that consider that product illegal; if you do build a factory in such a place (for example, a Space Fuel Distillery in Argon space) then it won't be long before a Cerberus stolls along and blows your factory to pieces.
Most illegal goods factories are quite profitable, however due to the necessity of building them in strange places, supply is difficult, and defence just as bad; they should be considered as first factories only for slightly more experienced traders and very experienced combat pilots.
Chapter 2; Station economics
This section is all about how to set your factory parameters.
This is the trickiest part of the process, but fortunately the easiest to correct if you get it wrong.
You've got your new factory, and you need to set it up to make money. Let's begin by familiarising you with the menus. To do this, it will help if you have the menu in front of you, so dock at your factory, save your game, and use alt-tab to come back to this Guide. This will let you look at the actual menu whilst checking out this helpsheet.
The info menu gives you the factory's vital stats; location, registration, shield, hull, and production rate (see Appendix A).
Next it gives you the product cycle info; the time it takes to complete one cycle, the number of products for that cycle, how far through the current cycle you are and how much of the needed resources are stocked before the next cycle can begin.
After this comes the stock info, of product, primary resources (must-have resources) and secondary resources (optional resources; player owned factories never have any so this will always be blank). It also lists the volume of cargo space that a single container will take up, as well as the cargo type required to transport that cargo. This is important later when considering what freighters to assign to the factory.
We finish off with the factory's current level of Credits.
Adjust station parameters menu
This menu, unlike the info menu, is interactive. It is this menu that you use to set up the factory's production.
It lists the selling (or minimum selling) price of the products, the buying (or maximum buying) price of the required resources, and a slider to adjust the station's cash reserves from your own bank account.
To finish, there are two 'advanced parameters'. The 'maximum jumps' parameter sets the maximum distance away that freighters assigned to this factory may trade (irrespective of whether or not they are equipped with a jumpdrive). Note that freighters can and will go beyond this range if their starting point, destination and the local geography allows, for example if you set up a factory in Thuruk's Beard and set the jump range to 9, don't expect a freighter that has just missed a buying opportunity in Profit Center Alpha and has another one in Ianamus Zura to avoid Xenon Sector 347 because it is outside the maximum jump range; even though X347 is 10 jumps from Thuruk's Beard your freighters will go through it as it's the shortest route to the sector that they are allowed to trade in. Or at least, they'll try to go through it, and fail. The other 'advanced parameter' is the 'other races can trade with this station' parameter; this allows you to toggle your factory to not permit NPC traders to dock, only freighters from other factories you own will be allowed to dock. You cannot stop your factory traders from buying from or selling to NPC factories unless you stop them completely. More on the implications of this later.
The Command Console has two sub-menus. The first sub-menu is the 'Orders' sub-menu, which in an unmodified game allows two things; you can set a waterline for the station's cash reserves, over which it will automatically transfer funds to your account (but you cannot set a factory to take funds from your account if it is low) and the second order is to issue an incoming ships report. This will tell you what ships, player and NPC, are inbound to the factory.
The other sub-menu is simple; the fact that it's called 'Rename' sort of says it all really.
How to set up your factory (in general).
Well, before we get to the business of price-setting, there's a couple of other things that we'll need to do.
First, you'll probably want to rename your factory.
Second, you'll probably want to set a watermark for cash transfer from the factory's account into your own. What should this be? Well, it needs to be enough for the factory's freighters to fill up the stock from empty; I'd suggest that you check around the other factories producing that product, multiply the lowest price you find by the highest stock you find and set the watermark to that.
Third, you need to set your factory jumprange. This is the number of jumps the factory's freighters will fly looking for trading opportunities, both buying and selling. They will not fly further than this. Hence, jump range depends on what the factory is trading in and what freighters are assigned to it. I'll revisit this at the end of the Freighters section.
Now on to price-setting.
The key points will be summarised later; for your benefit, I'm going to waffle a bit here. The wider understanding helps.
So, you've just built a new factory, and one of the first things that you may notice is that it's flashing yellow. This means that the 'Resources needed for next cycle' indicator is not 100%, or in other words your factory doesn't have enough resources. We'll fix that later by giving it some resources and then it'll stop flashing yellow; for now, ignore it. We're busy price-setting.
First, we need to set the buying and selling prices. Go into the 'Adjust station parameters' menu and take a second look at the 'Selling price' at the top of the menu. The current selling price of the product, whatever it is, is listed, along with another number in brackets.
This bracketed number is the minimum required selling price for the factory to turn a profit assuming that it buys all resources at the price specified just below. Important number! If you drop the maximum buying price of your resources, then the bracketed number will correspondingly fall.
Exactly how do NPCs decide who to buy from? Well, NPC factories, you may have noticed, have buying and selling prices that change depending on the stock. The stock of an NPC factory is fixed by circumstance; this in turn fixes the price that factory is willing to pay / sell at for resources / products. NPCs don't have their own traders selling their own products like you can do (see next chapter), they just stockpile it, but their resource collecting freighters will always try to keep their resource stocks up. If the stock is below 3/4 full, the trader will start looking for trades.
To do that, it will look for the closest factory with a selling price below what they're willing to pay for it. When it gets a factory that meets the criteria, then off goes the NPC freighter to that factory. We, of course, want this to be our factory. If the NPC factory you want to sell to is really low on resources then that buying price will be high, and your selling price can also be high. If however the NPC factory is only just below the 3/4 mark on that product stock then it can afford to wait until it gets a more palatable price, so if you want to sell to this factory your price needs to be low.
Right, that's enough waffle. It's time to work out how to make that NPC freighter come to you.
It is an iterative process (you have to refine it a couple of times before you get the right value). First, you need to set the buying price. Look around at the local factories (the ones that you'll be buying off) and see what they're selling for. You can squeeze this one a bit; set your buying prices to be the same or slightly lower than the cheapest supplier that you can find. As soon as one of the factories around hits this value, your freighters will make a beeline for it.
That tells you what your first minimum selling price will be, allowing you to now set your actual selling price.
As a first go, you can set it to minimum required price + 1 Cr, giving you 1 Credit of profit for each unit you sell. Fine if you're selling 180,000 energy cells per hour at 1 Cr profit each, not so fine if you're selling 40 Microchips an hour at 1 Cr profit each. So if you're dealing in a 'slower' product (meaning one that sells fewer units per hour), the price needs to be higher (compared to a 'fast' product that sells more units per hour).
I said that it is an iterative process; this is where it starts to iterate. See the next chapter for how to set up freighters; follow it, do it, and off they'll go. Your factory will start working and making at least some money. Once it has stabilised after a couple of game hours, you can check again and see how it's doing.
If the resources are totally full, then you can safely revise the resource buying prices down. If they're empty then it's too low and you're going to have to raise it. You might have got it right for some resources and wrong for others.
If the products are totally empty, you can safely revise the selling price up. Conversely if you have a full stock, you're clearly not competetive and the price needs to come down.
The underlying aim is to match the selling rate and production rate as closely as possible. A basic education in Microeconomics is needed to understand exactly why this is but in brief, if a factory is left idle because its stock of products is full then you are losing money because the more you sell the bigger your profit and the more you produce the more you have to sell. Conversely, if you sell dirt cheap and everyone is flocking to buy your products then you could clearly be selling at a slightly higher price with corresponding increase in profit.
The ideal selling price is the one that leaves your factory's product stock hanging between 0 and about half.
The ideal buying price is the one that leaves your factory's resource supplies hanging between a quarter and full.
There is something big that has been assumed up to now but has been left unsaid, and I'll say it now; all of this is conditional on the demand exceeding the supply including the contribution of your own factories. The implication of this not being the case? Well, let me explain by example; you build a factory in a low supply, high demand area and business booms so much you add two more. Enough to allow supply to match and even slightly exceed demand. Soon, the factories you are selling to start to fill up. Prices drop, taking an edge out of your profits when your competitors catch up. With supply at 90% of demand the price will be high; with a 10% increase in supply the price crashes from high on the scale to low on the scale, losing you perhaps as much as 50% of the income and potentially a full 100% of the profits. Do not be tempted to try and fill the supply to maximise your profits, thinking that the price will stay high, it's the lack of supply keeping it there!
How to set up your factory (for the case of having your own resource collectors but relying on NPCs to buy off you).
The selling price must be set higher than the bracketed minimum (unless you're really experienced and know how to squeeze it a bit; not covered in this guide). However, the higher it is, the fewer customers you'll have because they'll all be going to cheaper factories elsewhere in neighbouring sectors. Exactly how far away depends on what it is you're selling; if you're selling Nostrop Oil then you probably only have to worry about competition within a jump range of 4 sectors but if you're selling 2GJ shields then you need to be looking at the whole X-Universe.
How to set up your factory (for the case of having no freighters assigned to it at all).
... Is pretty much the same as above, but you'll find that your buying price has to be higher to attract enough NPC traders to keep your factory running. This takes a chunk out of your profits. A large chunk.
This is the worst possible way to run a factory. Don't do it unless you have to (i.e. your factory is for some reason in a hot zone and any freighters assigned to it are likely to be blown up, though if you've done this then you probably need to re-read the chapter on factory placement). Do what comes next instead...
How to set up your factory (for the case of all foreign ships not being permitted to dock at your factory and you provide both resource buying freighters and your own resource selling freighters).
Previously, we only had our own resource buying freighters (I will refer to these henceforth as 'collectors') and we relied on NPCs docking with our station to buy our stock. However, there's a option to have your own traders selling stock (who I refer to as salesmen or distributors) as well as buying it. This changes the entire dynamics of setting the selling price, as everything you sell with a salesman/distributor freighter is sold to the lowest stock factory in jumprange, hence for the maximum possible price in jumprange.
This means that the selling price is of less importance, unless you've for some reason built enough factories for supply to exceed demand, in which case you need to set a high selling price because it will dictate the local price of that product as you hold the balance of supply/demand. This can happen if, for example, you have a complex supplying food to another of your complexes, say a missile producing complex, and decide to siphon off some of the excess food to the locals for a bit of extra dosh. If you supply too much you'll cause a price crash and lose all your profit margin.
The extra profit that comes from selling at the maximum price going is well worth the extra cost of a freighter; this is the method I use in all of my factories. Just remember to set the other races can trade with this station parameter to 'No', in addition to the renaming and cash watermarking that you put onto your factory.
Although it requires many freighters, this method is by far the most profitable way of running a factory.
Now, time for a summary of all the yellow key points I've made.
The selling price must be set higher than the bracketed minimum.
If the resources are totally full, then you can probably safely revise the buying price down.
If the products are totally empty, you can safely revise the selling price up.
The underlying aim is to match the selling rate and production rate as closely as possible.
The ideal selling price is the one that leaves your factory's product stock hanging between 0 and about half.
The ideal buying price is the one that leaves your factory's resource supplies hanging between a quarter and full.
All of this is conditional on the demand exceeding the supply, including the contribution of your own factories. If this condition isn't met, the price will crash.
Chapter 3; Freighters and salesmen
This section is all about how to choose a fleet of transporters.
The choice of freighter for a given task can make or break your factory. The principle tradeoff that has to be made is speed vs. cargo capacity.
Generally, faster transporters tend to be smaller, whilst slower transporters tend to be bigger.
Rule coming up;
Rule No. 3; In a high-competition market, speed is more important than cargo capacity in a freighter.
There's no point having a huge freighter if it's so slow that the cheap resources have been bought by the time it gets to the destination factory, as will happen in a competitive dog-eat-dog market. And remember how X's factory price setting works; it changes dependent on the current stock, so it is only the first freighter to a factory that gets the really cheap stock. You therefore need to make sure that your freighter is the first to a factory.
That said, not all goods are particularly competitive; and although those that aren't tend to be high-tech goods that simply won't fill a fighter there are odd goods that it is appropriate to use a slower, bigger transporter for.
Cargo capacity can matter for some things even in high-competition; factories get through thousands of energy cells per hour, so if your freighter does one trip per hour and doesn't have the cargo capacity to deliver thousands of energy cells, you'll run out of energy and your factory will stop.
So for 'fast' bulk materials like Energy Cells, Sunrise Flowers etc (things that cost less than 20 Cr) you need both large and fast freighters. That's a problem as it's a tradeoff between the two, and hence requires careful balancing to get right if you want to use a single freighter. Using several fast freighters is a better method of going about getting the required resources at the lowest possible price.
Slower goods like weapons can usually manage being transported by the smallest, fastest transporters. Goods in the middle (Ore, Meatsteak Cahoonas etc) still need as much speed as the faster goods but cargobay is less of an issue, as fewer of the middle speed goods are used in a given time frame so you don't need to carry so many.
Also, what if there's a way to speed up a larger freighter? Say, for example, giving it a jumpdrive? Well, it's possible. However, remember that jumpdrives use energy cells; each energy cell costs a minimum of 12 Cr. For a return journey, that's 240 Cr per gate (plus another 480 Cr per trip for jumpdrive initiations) for a freighter. If you've got a 20 sector range, you average 5 sectors, that's coming up on 2000 Cr out of your profit from that trade run. That's a lot, so if a fast non-jumping freighter is quick enough, use that.
One final restriction on freighter selection; There are several classes of cargo, ranging from S (for 'Small') through M and L and to XL ('Extra Large'). Each and every good has a cargo class, each ship has a cargo class, and a ship can only carry a good if the good is of an equal or smaller cargo class to the freighter's cargobay.
That's pretty much all there is to selecting a freighter. So, without further ado;
A look at common freighters.
The obvious freighters are the standard variants, the Mercury, Demeter, Vulture, Caiman, Dolphin and Mistral.
Forget the Dolphin and Vulture for pretty much anything. They're too slow.
The Mercury is outstripped by the Demeter, with only a slight cargobay advantage. There's not much between them but in my opinion and remembering the rule, the Demeter's speed just barely gives it the edge.
The Caiman is the fastest standard freighter, but has the smallest cargobay. A very good ship, and with its speed and still O.K. cargobay (despite it being the smallest TS cargobay) I'd say the best aside from...
... the Mistral. This is not only the fastest TS, it is also the biggest. Of course, OTAS engineering wins again. The problem with OTAS ships is that they're harder to outfit than mainstream counterparts due to the lack of an Equipment Dock in Legend's Home.
Of course, what if you do want a jumpdrive-equipped larger freighter? I may knock them for general use but there's some specific applications where they are useful (longer range jumps, for example, in the most high-tech goods). Well, if it has a jumpdrive, speed becomes much less of an issue, because the freighter only has to fly a maximum of half a sector. So you probably want to max out your cargobay. This means that super-freighter class TSs are the way to go.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest superfreighter is the Mistral Superfreighter. It's also one of the fastest; double score; only the Caiman SF is significantly faster. As for the other superfreighters, the Mercury SF and slightly faster Demeter SF are about the same speed as the Mistral SF, and Dolphin and Vulture SFs are so slow that speed is almost becoming an issue again despite them only having to traverse half a Sector.
But why use TSs? There's plenty of other choice. You could use TPs; they have good cargobays and are faster than their TS counterparts. The Iguana is commonly used; with a cargo capacity of 400 and a speed of 169m/s it is a great light freighter.
If you're trading in a hot zone regarding enemy action, there's also the option of using TMs. These have the ability to brush off attacks from light fighters and with their heavy shields can survive long enough against heavy fighters for help to arrive. Like TPs, they have around 1000 to 2000 freight capacity. The Yaki Chokaro is the biggest cargobay-wise.
But what about smaller ships for specific tasks? For example, as an equipment freighter for a carrier? TS, TM and TP ships can't dock; you need a fighter-class ship with a good cargobay. Up step the Teladi and, curiously, the Pirates. The Falcon Hauler is a commonly used light freighter; with a 200 MJ shield it has much heavier defence than most freighters. It is as fast as the fastest freighters, has a cargo capacity of about 320 after equipment, takes XL cargo just like a TS and it is freely available from Teladi shipyards.
The Kea is slower but bigger, with about 370 cargobay units after equipment. This is also available as standard from Teladi shipyards, but at a price.
If you're in the business of forcing fighters to bail (many walkthroughs about this knocking around), then there's some more options; Pirate Blastclaw Prototypes are good with 600 cargo units after equipment. If you can get your mitts on Enhanced Keas (plural) then they are utterly huge with cargo capacities of 750 before equipment. However, both of these and the standard Kea can only carry L-class cargo.
Going the other way, you may find a niche application where a freighter needs to be fast and cheap, but not necessarily large. Some M4s qualify; the Mako is the largest M4 in terms of cargobay and is of comparable price to a TS, somewhat redeeming the Boron in terms of trade ship effectiveness. A good choice provided the goods are only of M-class or smaller. The Pike can carry L-class cargo. Some M5s, such as the Discoverer or Kestrel can carry M-size cargo.
And what if you want a freighter that is guaranteed to reach its destination? Use an M6. The Springblossom is commonly used as a freighter by NPC; when equipped with a couple of PSSC this ship will laugh in the face of any marauding Pirate horde. Before blowing them into tiny pieces, that is.
The Hydra is also a good armored freighter. But either of these will set you back a cool 11M Cr, which explains why neither is often used; you can buy an entire factory loop for that kind of dosh.
I said that I'd come back to this.
Freighters with jumpdrives can obviously traverse the entire Universe quickly and safely, so you can max out the factory's jump radius. However, if your freighters don't have jumpdrives, maxxing out the factory's jump radius means that your slower-than-light freighters will trudge 30 sectors across the entire X-Universe to get to a factory to buy resources for 1Cr per unit less than an identical factory that is in the next Sector. Of course, the stock will have been long gone by then and your freighter will probably return to base through a Xenon sector and get blown to atoms. I suggest you use more common sense in selecting jump radius than the autopilot does in route planning; if your factory trades in local goods with freighters equipped for local flying (no jumpdrives, just small and fast) then you want a local jump radius, 2 to 6 jumps in all liklihood. Check where your suppliers and customers are and remember not to get too greedy; ships that have to fly further are more likely to be beaten to the line and miss out on the trading opportunity. I rarely use more than 4 jumps for my production complexes, which are set up to trade over a 3-sector (ish) range.
Equally, trying to sell something like PPCs locally won't get you very far. They're a galactic resource, and you need a long-range freighter for them. This means a jumpdrive and maxxed-out factory jump range. Be warned, however; if you've got one of these long range freighters selling a Galactic product, but the rest of your freighters supply your factory from local sources, then all of your freighters will have to be long range or your slower-than-light freighters will go trudging off across the Universe.
Also remember in addition to the maximum jump radius of the factory, to set the minimum jump distance of the freighter correctly as well. It has happened that players have posted on Tech Support complaining that their jumpdrive equipped freighters don't use their jumpdrives. Turns out, they've got a factory which only allows its freighters to fly 6 sectors and the freighters aren't allowed to use their jumpdrives unless they're flying more than 10 sectors. Go figure. Minimum jump distance of the freighter should usually be 1 or 0 sectors.
Chapter 4; Complexes and self-sustaining factories.
This section will tell you about factory loops and complexes.
Factory loops are groups of factories that feed each other; the most common example being a loop of factories producing Energy Cells, Silicon, first level food (depending on factory race), second level food and Crystals. Such a factory loop produces an excess of one of the goods (usually energy, but it can be any one of the goods the loop produces) which can then be sold, whilst a proportion feeds back into the loop to keep the production cycle going.
Loops have been around since the first X-game, X-BTF. In X3, Egosoft added the Complex Hub which allowed you to link factories together directly, meaning that it was no longer a requirement to have freighters shifting goods between different factories in a loop. There is a distinction between a 'loop' and a 'complex'; a loop is defined as a string of factories which are principally supplied by other of your own factories. These do not have to be connected together. A complex by definition is connected together. 'Loop' is hence an economic term; 'complex' is structural as it depends how you implement the loop.
Some more terminology; There are two types of loops, open loops and closed loops. The example above is a closed loop; it needs absolutely no resources to maintain production, meaning that no freighters are needed to supply it. An open loop is a string of factories that is not a complete loop and hence does require a continual supply of resources on its bottom rung to function, meaning that at least one freighter is a requirement.
Take, for example, my own trading complexes strung throughout the Universe; they are of the above form, producing Energy Cells, Silicon, two levels of food and Crystals. However, the Silicon Mines are separate from the rest of the complex; the complex is positioned in the center of the region that it supplies and the Silicon Mines are often in different Sectors (an example; my Argon Prime production complex gets silicon from my mines in Herron's Nebula and Ore Belt). Since they all feed each other with no requirement for additional resources, the whole assembly is a closed loop, but the central complex is not a closed loop complex because freighters are needed to continually import resources fromoutlying mines for it to function.
To understand why people build factory loops, I'm going to introduce you to the rest of my Laws of Economics. You've already met Law 1;
Spike's First Law states that economic profit is only gained by selling goods to NPCs.
There's a complement to the First Law;
Spike's Second Law states that economic loss is only suffered when resources are bought from NPCs.
Add to that the Third Law;
Spike's Third Law states that any amount of processing of a given product leads to an increase in value of that product for no marginal monetary cost.
... or in English, if you take a box of Crystals and stick them into a Solar Power Plant, the value of the Energy Cells that you get out is bigger than the value of the Crystals you put in and you havn't had to pay anything to do it (except the initial cost of the SPP, which in the long run is negligible). This holds true for all goods being processed by your factories.
This is probably still confusing, so I'll use another example to help you out with all three Laws; If you buy Energy Cells for 13Cr and sell them on again for 16Cr per unit, then your profit per unit processed is 3Cr.
The First Law here is basically saying that if you've currently got 100 E-cells in stock ready for selling, you'll only make an immediate profit if you sell them to an NPC trader or factory; if you put them into your own factory, you get no money.
The Second Law bit comes in when you consider how you got those 100 Energy Cells; since you did indeed buy them for 13Cr each off an NPC you made an economic loss; you had to pay money to get those resources. If they'd come from one of your own Power Plants, you would not have spent any money immediately getting them.
Lets say we then put these Energy Cells into a closed-loop complex and turn them into a box of Crystals. You'll find that it takes 60 Energy Cells to produce a single box of Crystals. If the Energy Cells are valued at 13Cr, then the 60 Energy Cells cost 780 Cr. If you're selling the box of Crystals for the minimum of 1432 Cr, then the value of each Energy Cell after processing is 1432/60 = a bit less than 24 Cr. That means that, simply by processing them, each Energy Cell has increased in value by nearly 11 Cr. That's Spike's Third Law in action.
Combining these three, you can see why closed loops are so highly sought after; they don't need resources, so they don't cost anything according to the Second Law. This means by the First Law that the profit they make for each unit sold is equal to the selling price of the unit. Furthermore, by the Third Law and the example in the previous paragraph, the initial resources will spiral in value on their own, meaning that the complex will be able to sustain itself.
There's a warning here though, a rule to be followed;
A closed loop can only sell as much or less per loop cycle period as it generates in increased inventory value. Or in slightly easier language, if your Energy-producing closed loop complex sells more Energy Cells per period than are excess in that same period, the production loop will be losing resources faster than it generates them and will grind to a halt. If the difference is only slight then it could take a very long time but it will happen.
One way round this is to have a single freighter actually buying resources for your complex. If you then sell these resources on at a higher price, then you do make a small profit, but it won't be nearly as large as if you'd produced them yourself. You are not making a loss however, and you're protecting your loop from economic collapse.
This 'buy low, sell high' policy can actually be used with an entire Complex if you like. Again, the profits aren't as big as if you'd produced the goods yourself but since there aren't actually any more factories in the supply chain (you're just dealing in competitor's stock) then you don't have to worry about price crashing. This 'brokering' can be applied to every resource you do not produce directly, which really will leave you with galactic hegemony over trade.
Complex and loop price setting.
We now move onto the question of how to set prices for factory loops.
It depends exactly on what you want to do with the factory loop. Since there's many, many, many permutations, I'll try to keep it as simple as possible.
If you just have a plain open loop factory complex, say, producing Crystals from Energy Cells and Silicon, therefore incorporating both levels of food in addition to the Crystal Fabs then multiple permutations can apply.
If the complex is balanced and with no intermediate trading, the buying price is set in the same way as you would if the final link in the chain (the Crystal Fab) is on its own as a single factory. But if it is the same as a single factory, what's the advantage of the loop? Well, the advantage is gained from the fact that as you're buying the Energy Cells directly, and these have a lower value than the equivalent food that they produce, you are getting a profit increase per Crystal of the increase in value of both levels of food over the Energy Cells used to produce them (read that again, slowly; it's Spike's Third Law in action).
So, if after following the single factory price setting strategy mentioned previously you would set a single Crystal Fab's Energy Cell buying price to 14, Cahoonas to 40 and Silicon to 430, then it's still 14, X and 430 for the entire Crystal Fab & Food production complex. I say 'X' because it doesn't actually matter; you're not trading in these resources.
If the loop is 'top-heavy' so that it still needs some resources imported, then you need to set the intermediate prices intelligently. The 'X' is now 40Cr again. The Argnu Beef price is found next if you're importing that, in the usual manner that you would if the Cahoona Bakery is on its own. It isn't, but we assume that it is.
If you've got it balanced 'bottom heavy' so that it's overproducing food so that you actually want to sell some of your middle resources, in this case the Argnu Beef and Cahoonas, then again as normal set their prices to ensure that the production rate matches the selling rate plus the usage rate by factories next round the loop.
The issue with complexes is that they don't give you the bracketed 'minimum required selling price' number, so you have to know what the single-factory values are prior to connecting the factories into a complex. Also, connecting factories into a complex will reset values, so if you do set them all up before you link the factories into a complex, you'll regret not writing down the values as they'll all reset when you deploy the complex construction kits!
The selling price is also the same as the single factory scenario.
For open loops not in a complex and not trading with NPCs for intermediate resources (only the final one supplies NPCs) which is the balanced case, each stage must be set as if it were a single factory otherwise the thing will run out of money irrespective of whether it's balanced or not, although the profit on each unit sold only needs to be 1Cr so only the minimum selling price rule needs to be obeyed. This is one example where the factory being in a complex makes a difference (this is the only difference between this scenario and the on in the preceding paragraphs). For a factory loop with fixed buying prices and fixed selling prices, but variable intermediate prices, any profit not got at a lower stage will be got instead at a higher stage, so you aren't losing any money by reducing the profit at intermediate stages. Remember Spike's First and Second Laws; Profit and loss depend only on selling to NPCs which only happens at the two ends in this case.
If you do want to sell intermediate resources to NPCs without the problems outlined in the first couple of paragraphs if this section, the easiest way is to have your own salesmen or distributor freighters. These will maximise your profits and forgo any of the difficult intermediate product price setting (you just set them to minimum for profit +1Cr, though as I said, you need the number written down before you add the factory into the complex). The same is true of loops linked into complexes, both open and closed loop. You don't have to worry about intermediate price setting because profit is set by the region's stock levels (because the freighters sell to the highest bidder).
If you want to allow NPC docking for intermediate resource trading so that you don't have to worry about your own freighter fleet; that's when issues start to crop up. In a complex, it isn't really a problem, because the later stages don't need to buy the resources so the price doesn't matter. You are hence setting the price of the intermediate good being sold in the same way as the final good; as if it were a single factory with the stated buying prices. Again, the bracketed minimum isn't present, so you'll have to either work it our or copy a single factory that you already know the prices for.
If you want to allow NPC traders to dock at and trade with a factory in an open loop there is a potential problem. You need to set your factory price to the optimum for profits (i.e. high!) but this pushes up the price that the subsequent factories in the chain need to have their buying prices set at. Of course, this doesn't affect your profit, as you're simply picking it up at a lower level rather than the final level, but since each factory must be making in excess of 1Cr on each unit of product it sells then it can work out that your final factory cannot have a selling price low enough to turn a profit (because it is forced too high by the expensive resources to be competitive).
In summary, optimal managing of complex prices is not straightforward. Looking back, I see no way of summarising it; you just need to know what rules apply and what rules don't. Read the section above through several times; if Economics were easy then it wouldn't take three years to get a degree in it. I can't give you a crash course in something this complex in three sentences.
Lets move on to a quick note on complex balancing.
Complex and loop production balancing.
Having a load of Solar Power Plants providing Energy Cells for your uber-missile production complex is no good if there's not enough Crystal Fabs feeding the Solar Plants to keep them running. This section will tell you how to balance your loops so that you've not got intermediate resource shortfalls.
There is a complex calculator available here for Terran Conflict, but to understand exactly how to use it still requires a basic understanding of how to match production. Fortunately, it's really easy.
You will probably have noticed quite quickly how there are several different types of factories; some have an M appended to their name, some have an L, some have an XL and some are blank. This is the demarcator that denotes the production rate of the factory;
- <no letter> denotes a factory of standard size, with production rate 1.
M denotes a factory of medium size, with production rate 2.
L denotes a factory of large size, with production rate 5.
XL denotes a factory of extra large size, with production rate 10.
Mines run at standard rate if put on an asteroid of yield 25. If the yield is higher than 25 they'll run faster, if it is lower they'll run slower. Solar Plants use crystals at the given rate, but massively overproduce Energy Cells. For 100% sunlight, the SPPs of each class produce at the following rate;
- M produces at rate 18x
L produces at rate 46x
XL produces at rate 92x
So, how much does an Argon Solar Power Plant XL in a 250% suns sector need to run it? Well, it is an XL-type with a multiplier of 150/300 +1 = 1.5, so will use Crystals at a rate of 10x1.5 = 15x the standard rate. This means that it needs Crystal Fabs with a total output of 15x; this can be done in two ways, using either three L-types (3x5 = 15) or eight M-types (8x2 = 16; this will overproduce slightly, meaning that the factories will be left idle for a short period of time every now and again). Let's say that we use three L-types; they all need Silicon, Meatsteak Cahoonas and Energy Cells. We'll worry about the energy later; we're obviously going to need L-type Silicon Mines on at least three 25 yield asteroids... or an equivalent combination. For example, we could have Silicon Mines on 36, 24 and 18 yield 'roids; this equals 78, which is again a slight overproduction but that's fine. Again, we'll worry about energy at the end.
Note, that if we had, for example, roids of 24, 21, 18 and 15, we get a total yield of 78 again. Despite the fact that there are four mines, they use the same amount of energy as the three mine solution. Energy usage of mines is dependent on mine size and total yield, not mine number.
The Crystal Fabs also need Meatsteak Cahoonas; since each L-type Crystal Fab uses the entire output of an L-type Cahoona Bakery we need three Cahoona Bakeries. Each of those needs an L-type Cattle Ranch, and we're left only with the calculation for energy of the system.
Let's list the factories;
- Crystal Fab L x3
Silicon Mine L x3 equivalent (we aren't using the extra 3 yield so we don't need to provision for it)
Cahoona Bakery L x3
Cattle Ranch L x3
What on Argon Prime do I mean by this, you wonder? Surely complexes have to be connected together?
Well, if you have a complex that grows too big for the asteroids in that sector to supply it, then you have a problem. You've got to put Mines in adjacent Sectors. In order to obey Spike's Second Law, you have to ensure that these factories only buy from your Complex, and that your Complex only buys from your own factories. How to do this? If you use Buy/Sell Ware for Best Price as you normally would, then your freighters might find a 'better' deal which isn't actually better; an Energy Cell bought from a fully stocked NPC Solar Plant costs you 12 Cr, whilst an Energy Cell bought from your own self-sufficient complex for 13 Cr actually costs you nothing.
How to stop this? Well, group your new Mines that are in the wrong Sector into a new complex, get a freighter homebased there and another homebased at the main Complex; tell the mining complex freighter to 'buy wares -> Energy Cells -> main complex -> -1' with the -1 being the number of repeats and it will repeat indefinitely, hence buying Energy Cells exclusively from your main complex as if the new mining complex were directly connected to the main complex. Set the main complex freighter to do the same thing with the satellite complex's product and voila, you have a structure that behaves as a single Complex spread out over two Sectors!
A note worth mentioning; Many players restrict themselves to building their entire Complex around their Silicon supplies and will not consider a distributed complex. This is a serious error. There is very little cost involved moving your own resources even across the whole X-Universe, let alone one or two Sectors. There's no competition to worry about. But you do have to worry about competition when siting your production complex; it must be close to the factories it supplies. Sectors with high concentrations of Silicon 'roids rarely make good places for complexes.
Chapter 5; Factory defence
With your factory built and optimised, it is time to make sure that it stays that way.
A little exercise first.
In game, find a Shipyard, and look at two things;
- - The cost of a Crystal Fab M
- The cost of an M3 class heavy fighter
So, station defence is less about protecting your assets; it is usually cheaper to just replace them. It is more about time and effort; it is easier to replace a station defence force than a station itself.
Early in the game, when you're buying your first station, you don't have the money to defend it well anyway. Recalling Chapter 1, the section on factory placement, it was recommended that you place the factory in a core sector where the local police forces can defend it. And for early stations, this is what I always recommend; the best options are usually in core sectors anyway.
Stations have shields that match those of the toughest capital class ships. It takes a long time for a Pirate fighter wing to bring down one of your stations. Furthermore, although Betty sometimes has problems with telling you that a ship is under attack, not so with stations. If one of your stations gets attacked, you will be told about it in good time, and it will flash red (along with the sector it is in) in the Universe and Sector maps. This gives you a lot of options for station defence, because you have plenty of time to respond.
There is a rule here that has nothing to do with trading; it is, in fact, to do with OOS combat, which works on a completely different principle to IS combat;
In an OOS fight, bigger ships have a marked advantage, because smaller ships cannot evade in OOS combat. This means that the most devastating anti-fighter weapon in OOS combat is the PPC; a weapon that is next to useless IS.
To see exactly why this is is beyond the scope of this Guide. Take it from me that using anything smaller than an M6 to defend a factory is suicide. A wing of Blastclaws, which are the usual aggressors against your stations, will tear apart defending M5 and M4 class ships and M3s only stand a chance if they outnumber the Pirates. Even then, you'll take losses, and at 3M Cr a pop losing a fully equipped M3 is a serious hit to the pocket.
The only low-cost fighter that can adequately defend a station without suffering heavy losses in OOS combat, when used in numbers, is the OTAS Solano because it has M3 grade shields. The Solano is a very effective fighter; it has all the power of an M3 but is faster and half the price due to its official designation as an M4. Have five of these defending your factory (homebase them to it, they'll automatically undock and defend it if it gets attacked) and it should be safe, but if your factory only has 5 docking ports (and most do) then your factory won't be able to dock freighters to trade. Problem.
The alternative is to use an M6; only takes one docking port, but is more expensive by a long way, we've already established that the Hydra will set you back 11M Cr.
But remember; we said that it takes even a wing of Blastclaws a while to punch through the shields of a station. Why have the M6 docked at all? In fact, it's quite possible to have a wing of two or three M6s, equipped with jumpdrives set to autojump and based at an easily accessible Power Plant, on hand to respond to an attacked factory as soon as Betty tells you what is going on. Just go to your corvette wing, and tell them to defend the station that is under attack. They'll jump to the nearest Gate, fly to the station, and blow the crap out of any enemy they find there.
What M6 to use? Well, the Hydra is cheap, quick, and mounts enough weaponry. The Skiron is also fairly sprightly, well shielded, and packs a punch. But nothing compares to the awesome power of the Aldrin Springblossom. Cheap, VERY fast and with a huge cargobay, its real advantage lies in the fact that it mounts a full bank of prototype SSCs, making it the most devastating anti-fighter platform in the game, if a little tricky to equip. Well worth it though; I use a wing of three, with two set to attack the leader's target.
Of course, for the biggest super-complexes, you want some serious guns. Nothing short of an M7 class will do for a sector patrol ship. I recommend the Thresher, with a full bank of PPC and HEPT it devastates enemies in OOS combat.
If you're really rich late in the game, teams of Osakas can even be used. If you're as rich as the top 50 of us in game, you have so much money that you can't buy Osakas fast enough to stop your bank account from overflowing...
It is of note that it is rare for enemy capital ships to go after your stations, though it does happen, particularly with Kha'ak sector invasions and Commonwealth ships going after illegal goods factories in their space if you're dumb enough to build them there. Preparing for this eventuality is a waste of time due to its rarity; being realistic, Pirate fighters are your only real adversary, but Xenon and Kha'ak have been known to take pot-shots at stations.