With the disclaimer out of the way, the basic question I’d like to answer is: What is the nature of player owned structures in a purely instanced, open ‘world’ MMO environment?
There is a basic problem with player owned property and the instanced universe that has been described for Star Citizen. When you encounter property (or try and travel to it), which ‘version’ are you going to? Is there a copy in every instance or only one? Which one do you ‘own’?
No other MMO has such a instancing framework, so we don’t really have any references for how this would work. All of the MMO examples of instancing I can think of either don’t have personally owned property in public instances or don’t allow that property to be attacked / trade ownership in a game influencing way.
To put this in the context of Star Citizen, the easiest example for illustration is the ‘asteroid bases’ mentioned as ownable in the game. You will be able to find, conquer, own, and build defenses for the base. So, if you find and conquer an asteroid base, what happens when someone else conquers the same base in another instance? Or is the base only in one instance? If someone wants to conquer it and they bring too big of a force, are some of the attacking force in an instance that doesn't have the base? A different base? What happens if they win? You can easily see that the problem compounds.
So, to think about this further, let’s take a step back. There are two types of instances that we known about in Star Citizen. I’ll go ahead and assign some names for the sake of this conversation.
- Deterministic Instances: Instances that are only spawned at specific points. Planets and nav points (any defined nodes in you navigation) are prime examples. If ship A and B go to planet Z, then they will both be in the same instance unless there are mitigating factors (too much population, player interaction slider, etc.) It sounds like nodes with fewer constraints (e.g.lawless systems, PvP focused) will be more prone to determinism in the matching of players.
- Dynamic Instances: These are instances that are spawned on chance. If you are auto-piloting between nav points and hit a chance encounter (pirate, Vanduul, etc.). Another example is a bounty hunter tagging someone and following them hoping they’ll intercept them. These instances don’t necessarily exist at a given point in space (a nav node), but are created when needed. As other players can intersect the same instances once created (e.g. to help out other players), then they temporarily have some sort of location data that ‘some’ players can see (maybe a new node between two others?).
Let’s take the Deterministic case first. This exemplifies the problem as players can go there easily and in numbers. You can easily break or exploit any system that allows you to own property in an instance attached to a Deterministic node as the property (satellites, space stations, etc.) can be seen by anyone trying to find them. The counter to this would be property restricted to one instance that is not replicated and cannot be conquered other places OR property that exists in every instance and can be owned in each.
Both have the problem of confusion for players (Wasn’t that was Bob’s Bar last time I was here? Where did that repair shop go?). For the former you also run into the problem of either giving some instances lower play value and less immersion (I’m in the one one without the base, darn!). The latter compounds the confusion with property rights (I own the base at nav 3 in Stanton, but you need to be in instance 57 to see it…. instance 56 will attack you on site!).
So, let’s look at Dynamic instances. This solves the problem of confusion to some degree because you can’t deterministically get back to a Dynamically spawned node. Even when spawning a new Dynamic instance with different content between the same nav points can be explained by it being a different point in space (as Dynamic nodes are in a fixed point). That said, the node doesn't really exist until it is encountered, which is a bit of a problem for property.
To solve this, you could change the Dynamic instance where the base is found into a semi-Deterministic Navpoint in that only friends / owners of the station get map icon. This would, of course, also limit attackers to only those who happened across it randomly. This explains away part of the problem (e.g there are no multiple property problems as the node simply isn’t available to all) but does sacrifice some of the immersion. You can’t advertise your repair shop base as only your limited friends list would even be able to get there reliably.
You could also allow enemies to get the nav point upon the first visit (and give it to their friends), but then the node may as well be fully Deterministic. The same problem is present for ‘too many’ friends, but I assume there is some reasonable limit on the friend mechanism being assumed. Some sort of in-fiction reason could be applied for this to make sense (e.g. nav signal interference unless you have the crypto key to the beacon). Defense of such a base seems like it would be easier, but I guess an enemy in-the-know could try and randomly encounter the base by moving their attack force back and forth over the area of chance (one person getting in can invite their friends to help them).
So, that’s all I've got for now. I guess my conclusion is that property / asteroid bases only make sense in semi-accessible Dynamic instances. Even then, CIG would need some interesting restrictions to make them viable. Anybody else have more theories or ideas?