Thursday, August 27, 2009

Traveller: Entrepreneurs

Mark Gellis, points out an interesting problem with Gurps Traveller: Interstellar Wars economic game system in this GURPS thread.
what else is great about using this format is I get to use my wife's and my old school material or the 'adventure' premise.
Below is a quickly converted typical business-adventure
As an entrepreneurship student I've always thought that the free traders have to be best of the best to make things work. I never imagined them as working with "routine" workdays, instead I imagine them with new project ventures every year or so.

My basic business strategy for free trader is not as a trader (buying and selling) but as an entrepreneur who can transport capital and skilled personnel to developing markets. The way venture capitalists fly in to start a business in a market that would be great fit for the service or product they are peddling.

There is economic opportunity everywhere that is "different". Amber zones with huge populations, but relatively undeveloped markets, will be the perfect place for both adventure and business. Even far-off dirt balls that have relatively small populations are their own opportunity, its just a matter of the economic role the location should be shaping up to take. Dealing with a different culture, different market, the red tape, the politics, and trying to make the business work is part of the fun.

The difference of just being a glorified medieval trader versus today's perception of a globalized entrepreneurship is the ballzy approach to risk, strange cultures and challenges. We have reached a new renaissance in economic theory with the help of advances in game theory, powerful information gathering and processing tools, market psychology and the rich economic history that provides enormous insight making business a science.

My default situation: A business will want to open an on planet with a rich potential market. This is the same as opening a business on a developing country and tapping into their markets. This kind of endeavor requires incredible ability for an outsider. There are political, cultural, and market barriers to penetrate. PCs of sufficient abilities can travel with all the capital and personnel on hand thanks to the 200-400Dton ship.

In such a game market barriers are the least problematic for the PCs since the GM can just make them roll their Business related skill for that (usually these skills will at LEAST be at 12 with cutting edge analysis equipment at +2). This will make the game less "crunchy" unless the PCs want otherwise.

When the PCs goes off in adventures making deals and getting caught up with the nitty and gritty political process. They get involved corrupt official, competitors, multiple facets of the situation that will try provide a dynamic and active challenge. These adventures fit the classic RPG adventure format but they have to meet some reasonable business-like objectives. Examples of such are Macguffins which usually fall in a social and intelligence category.

Then there are the situations where the greater scale of things affect them, like force majeur and other things that always happen when a business is starting up. PCs overcome them and potentially ride long and hard enough for the business to settle or break even.

Either way, they get something out of it: more business contacts, more lessons, discovering an interesting element from the developing market that has possibilities for business with someone near by etc. (which could be a culture more inclined for X production, special or abundant resource, certain tax benefits etc etc.)

My personal experience in the matter comes from my family business, and my wife work in foreign a investment firm. Typically Return on Investments should be within 2 years (more would be stressing it, because of the unpredictability of the time). If a business is not projectably profitable beyond this point, it would be better to just cash out or sell it.

Thus the $69M 200Dton (or $75M for my 400dton subsidized merchant) should be able to earn pay for itself in around 2 years. Banks that finance such entrepreneur also have several jobs in mind even before the contract is final. There is usually a back up plan, several in fact, to make sure that the venture makes money. The GM simply just has to make these "opportunities" up and set any arbitrary price he wants, already simplifying the bank interactions to ease the stress of the players.

What is so great about this incredible amount of planning and intelligence is that the GM can simplify it with his/her arbitrary rulings: X jobs will be needed to pay off the ship- the Players choose to be paid in kind (beyond subsistence) or earn ownership of the vessel.

Now and then, crap happens and businesses fail. This can turn off some players, but it shouldnt. Banks and Financers plan a head for Risk. If the performance of the PCs were good but were merely unlucky (or spectacularly unlucky), there are usually provisions to protect everyone involved. Investors can still understand how force majeur and enemy action doesn't entirely mean the PCs were unbankable and would normally give PCs another chance but will simply penalize them with greater debt and the extented period of payments. Players should worry so much about getting into financial trouble as long as their characters are still motivated to get out of it, the ideal mentality in any kind of trouble. Experience matters a lot and always in high demand. (the way people who crashed markets can still find a job)

Then Rinse, Lather, Repeat on the next venture capital investment. Note, there is a psychological difference between managers and entrepreneurs. PCs usually fall under the entreps. Entreps are actually = to Adventurers (and may be good starting a business but not running it over time) because of the appetite for risk that is very rare.

How to Run an Entrepreneur Traveller Game:
Step 1: The Sponsors or the PCs will have researched all the risk and factors concerning a venture. They will have a business plan set up with a number of objectives they need to achieve (or intelligence they have to gather).
Step 2: The PCs (with the npcs) make their extra-preparations considering the risks brief of the GM/Sponsors.
Step 3: They Land and go about their business. This is where RP is fun, even without combat. Social RPing Business interactions is actually very fun and doesnt requires astute psychological and social skills from the Players. Strangely these things are all in many business books.
Step 4: complications always happen, gunfights, space combat, espionage, political manuvering, naked/subtle power plays etc. etc.
Step 5: objectives achieved and time will tell (Rolls)
Step 6: Debrief, Consequences and the next adventure.

What else is great about using this format is I get to use my wife's and my old school material or the 'adventure' premise. Below is a quickly converted typical business-adventure
Johnson Mikeals is the owner of En-r-Vyv manufacturing in Forbolden. He has been keeping track of the news regarding Roup trade, which is negotiated by the Subsector Capital, Regina. Slowly, Mr. Mikeals has been accumulating Intelligence and contacts. Over time, he begins to feels confident that a venture into Roup will feasible and chance to be highly profitable despite the market entry barriers.

Recently, talks seem to be reaching fruition. Upon analysis of the political situation, he has decided to go a head and call in some favors and made some inquiries. He knows he will need highly skilled personnel and to make some fact finding and hands on examination of the Roup. Mr. Mikeals hopes to open solar cell manufacturing plant, using special light-industrial materials supplied by Forbolden.

A month later, he arrives home from Roup. His trip was successful, save for the usual problems. He has found an ideal location where he can start his business unmolested and endorsed by the local politicians as long as he come to an agreement with them.

The crucial early stages of the start up is delicate and he can't do this alone. Fortunately, several of his favors are returned in kind when several highly capable "adventurers" have come to help him for the opportunity to invest their own skills and capital to make the business work, in return for a piece of the ownership and generous returns.

This is where the PCs side of the adventure comes in.

Curve-balls. Here are some sample potential scenarios.
  • Government changing their mind (or a change of Administration).
  • A new Element/Politician enters the field hold the company hostage by denying basic utilities, infrastrucute or "newly required" permits.
  • Local Political unrest affecting market or the hired factory workers.
  • Political or Business Rivals trying to sabotage the business.
  • A syndicate plans to start a union that will seize control and bankrupt the company.
  • PCs get caught up in local or personal affairs.

Safety net.
Imperial Advocates. Given the logistics of maintaining fleet strength and bureaucratic efficiency the Imperium, there are special Law Enforcing bodies that are tasked to protect entrepreneurs and free trade to keep the Imperial Economy strong. Legal elements in place to "cover' their retreat or a way to "fix" the agreements are usually around to help the various entreps in the Imperium.
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