The trail thus far appears to be leading somewhere more logical, somewhere more complex but I'm not convinced it is becoming more fun.
(Long post but with several simple suggestions)
What would be fun elements in trading?
How about these:
The two lists could almost be twins and yet I'd suggest that the second one is much more fun.
Looking at them in turn.
Risk is only fun with reward and of course therin lies a balancing act.
Where was the risk in elite? Well it was mostly in the journey to get the goods to a trading station in the first place (at least until a pilot had learned how to dock easily), beyond that there was the option of trading in illegal goods.
What options might we have here? Of the three illegal goods, I don't ever recall trading in firearms - is it particularly profitable? I've toyed with making radioactives (for example) illegal to import into some systems (but with greater rewards for those who do). Something that the core game doesn't really accommodate here is smuggling.
Imagine a bribe system where for a small fee or percentage the authorities turn a blind eye; the more lawless the system, the more likely the bribe will be successful (risk balancing reward). If you're found out then insted of offender status you become fugitive, but if not found out you can remain clean.
What about the legal trader? Well, having computers destroyed in combat might make them a riskier cargo than say machinery, but that's pretty minor when you're shipping several cannisters.
Simpler still is to have rich cargoes attract more pirates. If they know you stocked up with food on your first trip out of Lave then they might likely decide not to bother (Leave him alone. I'll bet he hasn't even got an escape pod we can ransom...
And why shouldn't pirates be able to ransom escape pods? - it ought to be more lucrative than selling them as slaves...
It's nice if you care about your cargo or feel that it is something that might be important to someone. Such things are pretty clear with contracts, otherwise your first few shipments will be important because of the financial investment they represent. "Don't trade expensive trivia to a hungry world"
, so says the elite manual but it's not really something that's reflected in game.
If a planets needs tied in more to its descriptive text rather than its tech level or its economy then we have story elements already. Those banana plantations make food cheaper than expected (and if I buy some food then I don't need the game to tell me that it's likely bananas
), whilst a love of food blenders might make luxuries or machinery more expensive and civil war make firearms more valuable. These are potential story elements already present in the game.
I think there's a lot of room for improvement here but I'm not convinced that it would be provided by a more realistic economic model.
This, I consider, is where the current trading experience (note that I'm differentiating from trading model
here) is most lacking. You can pick up very predictable goods from one planet and sell them at a very predictable profit to another and then do a similar reverse journey back to the exact same planet, ad infinitum. Contracts are great in that they encourage the player to explore but they might be little restrictive/tough for the new pilot. Contracts also add strategy in that you can choose your route: quickest, shortest or safest.
Here's a very simple idea. What if the market screen didn't refresh every time you returned to the system?
By the time you've shipped those 64 cannisters of computers from zaonce to isinoreus there just aren't any left for a lone-wolf trader like yourself - you've already purchased your maximun allocation. You will be eligable for another allocation but not for some time. As a beginner, by the time you've shipped that lot, you've likely already made quite a profit as a trader, certainly enough to upgrade your ship significantly. And now you're encoraged to move on, perhaps one day to return to that familiar trade route you know so well?
Too player centric? Depends how you think of it - if it's a personal allocation of goods available to you as a visitor then the low numbers available make sense and the fact it might look like no other traders have visited is due to their receiveing independant allocations.
Well at least the player is now moving (and after only a few runs in a fully stocked MkIII) but what about the variety of goods chosen?
The randomisation element I suggested up thread might be useful here - where you know which goods will make a profit but not necessarily which one will make the most. Two of the other suggestions in this post (richer cargoes attracting more pirates and a planet's descriptive text affecting prices) would also increase variety without introducing much in the way of complexity.
I consider these suggestions to be quite simple (some especially so) and that that is likely a virtue. There's so much stuff that sounds great until you have to do it for the hundreth time...
I hope that's some food for thought.