Balance the risk/reward of smuggling and reward smuggling-specific skills by increasing the consequences of getting caught

Balance the risk/reward of smuggling and reward smuggling-specific skills by increasing the consequences of getting caught

Smuggling missions are intended to be high-risk/high-reward, contrasting freight missions' low-risk/low-reward. However, smuggling missions are currently low-risk/high-reward.

The goal is for the player to "sneak" their ship and cargo into a station to avoid getting scanned by system security. The docking approach should be a tense moment in which the player either slips in undetected, or is scanned by system security and has to deal with the consequences of being a space criminal. But as currently implemented, smuggling missions are essentially high-paying freight missions because the consequences for getting caught are not comparable to the reward, and this gap widens as smuggling missions increase in pay.

For all the talk of smuggling strategies (silent running, heat sinks, depowering modules, lining up the perfect docking approach from outside scanner range, etc.), in practice the player can simply dock with a station as normal, and if they are scanned by security, then no big deal; they will be fined thousands of credits for a mission that pays hundreds of thousands, or even several million credits. There's also a local reputation hit, but those are easy to deal with or simply ignore, especially if the player is running smuggling missions out of a remote system and does not particularly care about their reputation with the destination stations.

Fix the Low Risk, Keep the High Reward

With the emergence of the lucrative Sothis smuggling runs, some players are wondering if smuggling pay will be reduced to offset the ease of smuggling missions. I would suggest that Frontier instead enhance the difficulty of smuggling by increasing the consequences of getting caught with illicit cargo, both to balance the high rewards and to better differentiate smuggling gameplay from freight gameplay.

  • If the player's illicit cargo is discovered by a security officer, then the officer orders the player to jettison the illegal cargo.
    • If the player complies, then they receive a fine for smuggling and forfeit the jettisoned cargo (the officer would stay with the cargo until the player jumps away to ensure they do not scoop it back up).
    • If the player does not comply, then the officer opens fire and the player receives a bounty instead of a fine.
  • If the player's illicit cargo is discovered by patrolling security near a station, then the station denies the player's docking privileges (revoking any permission the player may have requested before the scan).
    • Docking privileges are restored if the player complies with system security and jettisons their cargo, and the player receives a fine.
    • Docking privileges are withheld if the player does not comply, and the player receives a bounty and is attacked by security.

This would give more meaning to the various available tricks and maneuvers to enter stations undetected, and ships with low heat signatures would better fit the role of smuggling ships because their ability to slip past scanners would have more material value. The risk would scale organically with the smuggling pay, as getting caught would be a small setback for players running 20ly missions for thousands, and a huge setback for players running 500ly missions for millions.

The existence of those lucrative long-distance smuggling missions (Sothis, etc.) would give aspiring smugglers incentive to improve their entry skills with low-paying local smuggling missions until they are ready to pick up big jobs. Imagine the pressure of flying 500ly to Sothis and picking up 40,000,000 CR worth of missions if getting caught by security at the first station effectively wiped out that potential income! Players who perfect their smuggling approach and keep cool under pressure will be rewarded with reliable payouts from those missions.

This implementation would better balance smuggling risk/reward for all pay levels, and further distinguish smuggling as its own unique high-stakes play style requiring skills/gear not used in conventional freight running.
Are people still moaning about Sothis?

Smuggling missions are fine. But I do think the Sothis and outlying ones are set up slightly wrong, they should have missions to smuggle stuff to them rather than taking it elsewhere.
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I think ordering players dump their contraband cargo if they're scanned away from stations would work. If they're scanned by station security as they're attempting to dock, rather than having them dump their contraband (possibly tons and tons of it) in front of -or inside - the station, a better solution might be a fine and then the immediate SEIZURE of the contraband if the player still lands at that station.

I shouldn't be able to just shrug off being scanned when I am smuggling. Being caught needs to have the result of punishment and no reward, unless I'm willing to go to another station or fight the police and earn a bounty.

Make smuggling feel like, well, smuggling.
I think this is a fantastic idea. You could possibly ratchet up the risk even more by having the legality of different items produce different consequences. This might be a longer term solution, but perhaps when accepting a mission you could see that some items are highly illegal and carry with them the penalty of death. A station might just refuse to grant access if you're carrying narcotics, but carry personal weapons and they'll assume you're supplying an insurgency and blast your ship to pieces. Naturally the riskier cargo would provide higher rewards.

Another thing that might be interesting is to provide a component that has reduced cargo capacity but with the benefit of some kind of shielding. Perhaps regular cargo pods have a 100% chance of revealing their contents, but shielded cargo pods could reduce that chance based on their rating. Each pod would be scanned individually and cargo would be automatically sorted based on the consequence of getting caught. Let's say I'm carrying a small A-rated shielded pod capable of holding 2 tons of cargo, a medium B-rated shielded pod capable of carrying 4 tons of cargo, and a larger pod with no shielding. My ship is carrying 2 tons of personal weapons (highly illegal), 4 tons of narcotics (illegal), and 12 tons of biowaste (eww). When scanned the ship would automatically have positioned the personal weapons in the A-rated pod, the narcotics in the B-rated pod, and the poo somewhere else. If instead I had four tons of personal weapons and 2 tons of narcotics then both the A-rated and B-rated pods would have personal weapons in them. Hope you don't get caught.

It's just a thought, but the crux of the matter is that I agree that smuggling should have a greater consequence.
These are great suggestions. Smuggling indeed feels weird with such low risk/consequence.

On a small tangent: I've seen a lot of discussion of how effective the varying tactics you mention (chaff, heat level, heat signature, silent running, distance) are but it all sounds like a bunch of superstition and cargo-culting to me because nobody seems to know whether these things make any actual difference at all! In fact I have heard people state straight-out that one or the other of the above didn't apply to NPCs. Do we have actual dev sources on what does affect the likeliness of being caught smuggling?!
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My personal opinion is that smuggling should stay the high-dollar revenue stream that it is, but should be much more dangerous. Not annoying like it is now, but actually dangerous. Such as being caught or scanned means you cannot then sell those goods to the destination station, or scanning causing straight up mission failure. And then the guy constantly going "hey..hey..hey...hey...follow me" might not be such a bad alternative if he increased his reward and also paid your bounty for you if you'd been scanned already. The pieces are there for great dynamic smuggling mechanics, but they need to be arranged better. As it is, once you have the high dollar mission, it's very difficult to fail at it. It just gets annoying being interdicted constantly.
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