Mo' Money Matters

Hey Folks! Still at work on the crew finances task. This time on the details page.

As mentioned yesterday, I want to focus a bit on crew finances since that's the dwindling resource which players need to live. There are others of more or less immediate concern, like life support, crew mood, and fuel. But when it comes down to it, your ability to do things in this world depends on money. Or bending/breaking the law to avoid paying money.

My idea yesterday was to have a dollar value and graph combo in the top corner of the page, to act as a sort of heart monitor for your cash. The dollar value is current liquid assets, while the graph shows a quick overview of how that number is changing over time.

However, the graph is just a widget. And based on feedback from yesterday's post, not a particularly exciting one. And the time I was about to spend making it is not really relevant to the overall goal: making a money game loop.

So I've ditched the graph for now, and left the numerical indicator as a red/black color tint to show if it's going up or down over time. And instead, I've turned my attention to the details that make up that number and burn rate: the profit and loss sheet.

Today's screenshot is my first mockup of that. It looks a bit similar to the docking expense UI, and for good reason. It's basically a cost spreadsheet with the same UI goal :)

In this case, it's the current financial snapshot of your ship/crew/company. In it, you can see sources of revenue at the top, and operating expenses below. And their total is calculated at the bottom.

The idea here is like a really simplified corporate P&L sheet. The same document you'd keep running any other business, except missing some line items that don't apply in this game. Here, we see the snapshot for August 2079, with a job contract and some sold cargo providing 14k of income. Unfortunately, our ship insurance, mortgage, docking fees, and crew salaries add up to more than that, meaning we operate at a loss for this month. To the tune of -24k.

I'm thinking there will be left and right buttons on this page to see future and past months. Also, I think I've decided that any given ship is going to exclusively use one currency, for simplicity. It might change depending on which homeworld you choose (Yuan for Tharsis Landing, for example, or USD for Virginia Colony). I'd like to still have foreign currencies and exchange rates, but that might have to come later if time permits. And if so, I'll just convert them on this page to all be the same currency.

One immediate problem I'm seeing is that this includes both costs which are paid immediately, like docking fees, as well as costs that are deducted at month's end, like salary. So I might have to do something special to ensure the right values show up on this page. Like, when you undock from a station and pay the fees, it'll have to log an item in the ledger to show up on this page later. And that'll mean each expenditure needs good metadata.

Another problem is what to do if the cash reserves can't cover a loss. If you can't pay all your bills, who gets paid, and who doesn't? I might need some sort of "Pay" checkbox near each of these. Maybe this screen pops-up at the end of the month to force you to choose if you can't cover costs.

And then, if you skip payments, there have to be consequences. This is actually a good thing, for game design anyway. Repo men chasing you down to repossess the ship is exciting! Unpaid crew mutinying is exciting! But it's also work to build those systems. And how to balance that between hard-coded, bespoke logic and data-driven design...well, that's tricky :)

Anyway, I can at least feel good knowing this is a core system, so time invested here is worth it.

Tags: Ostranauts


matsy's picture

I think you need a separate ledger for everything brought/sold/earnt etc. Then a separate one in your monthly subscription.

In this monthly prediction I think it should just have known income and outgoings so active jobs (which updates when you miss deadlines and bonus condidtions) and standing orders. I would lose the docking fee unless it is a month subscription? It would be nice to maybe have crew as one entry as a total that can be expanded to see the crew individually.

I like the idea of being able to choose what to pay. Maybe a tick box for standing order ie paid when due or a button that you can pay earlier or later.

Would be nice to see some graphs on this screen though.

With your widget from the last screen I think it would be useful but maybe have the option to add different elements to it. So Money as a whole overtime, and then food stock, fuel so at a glance you can see the rate you are going to hit 0.

Part of me feels like I would like to have a smaller windows floating like in OTTD rather than a full screen window. As I can imagine myself with the shopping window open at a space station but wanting to see the ledger at the same time. Or just wanting to keep an eye on things.

ra1's picture

Perhaps have an option to amortize any periodic and one-time payments over multiple months. You could even make it go a step further and actually pay off those large amounts partially each subsequent month, with interest.

So, an annual license for 1200 would cost $120 per month. A docking fee for $1000 would be automatically split over the next 3 months (with the presumption that you will dock an average of 4 times a year).

dcfedor's picture

When you say a "separate ledger for everything bought/sold/earned," do you mean a separate line item? Like instead of one line for "sundry cargo sales" you'd have a line for each specific cargo sold? (e.g. compressors, food packets, etc.)

And for monthly prediction, I was thinking we'd want a screen that showed both recurring and one-off costs. Basically, to see whether you are making a profit each month or not. But I'll be the first to admit that once we get our hands on it and start testing, things are going to change :)

As for floating windows, that's something to keep in mind, but it might be a bit out of reach for me at the moment. I might have to iterate on that later once the basics are running.

I do agree, however, that players are going to want to see financial info when making purchase decisions. So one way or the other, they should have easy access to that while shopping.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

matsy's picture

"When you say a "separate ledger for everything bought/sold/earned," do you mean a separate line item? Like instead of one line for "sundry cargo sales" you'd have a line for each specific cargo sold? (e.g. compressors, food packets, etc.)"

It could be displayed as one line but maybe nice to see a log of what you sold.

Hard to predict one offs as I would be like buy food in bulk to hopefully last me a few months. IE longer than my duration incase of trouble. I wouldn't want that shown that said maybe you do. I just had a thought how my bank does it with a pie chart of my spending split into rent, food shopping, leisure, savings etc. So I guess last month's expenditure vs incoming this month gives an idea if you'll be in the red depending on your up coming jobs.

dcfedor's picture

I'll have to see how hard it is to track individual items in sales like that. First order of business will be to get a basic version working, then fine-tune it from there.

As for budgeting on-off costs, that's basically a real-world problem :) Some things you pay a fixed, monthly amount, and those are easy to predict. (Rent, payment plans, insurance) But things like food, utilities, fuel, and repairs vary by usage, and sometimes by market rates. For those, you have to look at history to get a sense for the average, and approximate.

Being able to switch between current and past months should help in a crude way. And if I ever get that graph thingy working, it should do most of that work for you.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games