While I was playing a build of Star Citizen's Alpha 3.0 a few weeks ago at CIG's studio in Los Angeles, I noticed something I hadn't seen on a ship before: a door lock. The last time I'd played Star Citizen, I entertained myself for an evening by clumsily trying to sneak aboard other players' ships, and while it usually didn't go so well, my repeated failures at stealthy infiltration weren't due to ships having good security, or any security whatsoever.
Currently in Star Citizen, as soon as a player opens a door on a ship they've spawned, anyone else playing can also open the ship. That means it's possible to stow away, steal unoccupied ships, or attack the pilot if they're in a free-fire part of the solar system. There haven't been ways to protect your ship from intruders or thieves other than looking over your shoulder every time you climb aboard.
Not that Star Citizen has needed security up to this point, really: if your ship is destroyed or stolen, you can just spawn a replacement without any penalty. If someone steals your ship, they can fly it around, but a few minutes after they log off the ship will despawn, so thieves can't currently acquire a hangar full of stolen vehicles.
But the new door locks are the first step on the road to making players' ships actually mean something in Star Citizen—to give them importance and permanence. Surprisingly, those locks will also be joined by an insurance system: initially, a basic one, though it sounds like ship insurance is something that can—and will need to—grow considerably more complex.
"We want you to work hard to accumulate your ships, your equipment, and have an ownership and investment in it," Chris Roberts told me when I met him in Los Angeles.
He made a comparison to something like Serenity, the ship (or boat, as Mal Reynolds somewhat annoying insisted on calling it) from the sci-fi series Firefly: a spacecraft that you'll grow to love, customize, and want to protect, rather than zipping around with a throwaway attitude. "Oh, I got a dent in an asteroid field, I'll just respawn a brand new ship," said Roberts. "We don't want that. So we're sort of moving toward systems that encourage players to repair and survive, not die, not have their ship blown up, and keep on playing."
Of course, your ship will get blown up at some point, which is where the insurance comes in. If you've bought insurance, and your ship gets destroyed, you can pay the 10% deductible, which will expedite the replacement of the ship. If you don't want to pay that money, you can try being patient: the deductible will eventually burn down to zero and you'll receive your replacement ship without having to pay anything extra.
Of course, like real insurance companies, Star Citizen's fictitious insurance company won't be completely forgiving. "But the more times you claim," Roberts said, "the higher the deductible gets." This is another way to get players to take their ships seriously, to avoid rushing into danger or at least to proceed with caution, and especially to earn in-game money through missions and get their ships repaired instead of just junking them when they've taken a little damage.
As far as the ships some players have bought with real-world money, rather than those paid for in-game, Roberts also explained how that would work.
"Basically, the ships that players bought with cash have lifetime insurance which basically means that they don't have to re-up their premiums after a certain period of time," he said. "But for 3.0 it's not really going to make much difference because every ship has insurance, [so] you're getting the base ship back [if it's destroyed]. So, if you went out and you upgraded, bought some new components, weapons, put them on the ship, and then you lost your ship? Those components or weapons will be gone, you'll just be getting the default starter ship back.
"Later on you'll be able to get supplemental insurance to insure your upgrades. But that won't be in 3.0."
This is all part of the system to recover a destroyed ship. But, as I said earlier, theft is a different beast. Door locks will give you some control over who can board your ship, and while that's just the first step, there are future plans to add combination locks, accessible via a keypad, so you can give your friends the code to enable them to board your ship even if you're not around. This may someday be joined by a scanning system that can identify the players you've given permission to board, which will unlock the doors for them automatically.
Naturally, locks won't keep determined unfriendly players out for long. If a door is locked, an enemy player could use an explosive to blow the door off the ship and gain entry. I was told a combination keypad, on the other hand, could be hacked. Rest assured, there won't be any foolproof way to make sure your ship isn't stolen. And if it is, and you have ship insurance, you can file a claim to have your ship replaced.
Filing a claim for theft adds a couple of different wrinkles as compared to a claim for a ship that's been destroyed. First of all, the stolen ship is still out there, somewhere. The thief will get to keep it, even though insurance is providing your replacement. However, selling a stolen ship, or even landing in certain places, could prove difficult or impossible for the ship-jacker.
"That other ship is now hot," Roberts said. "There will be a bounty on the thief, and there will be only be certain places the thief could sell it, and they wouldn't be able to land it in the main landing zone.
"Its VIN number, basically its ID number, is registered as stolen." In other words, AI security forces, in areas of the universe it is present, will be aware of stolen ships and won't take kindly to the players piloting them.
"Yes, that has the potential for insurance fraud," Roberts told me. I hadn't even considered that, but CIG has: the issue of fake insurance claims. What if a player teams up with an accomplice, and instructs them to "steal" their ship, then claims it as stolen? The player making the claim gets a nice new replacement, but their buddy has also gained a ship. A hot ship, but a ship nonetheless.
I wasn't given a solution in the case of co-operative theft and fake claims, but it's clear CIG is already trying to stay a step ahead of players who might try to exploit the insurance system for their own gain. That's a problem for the future, though. For 3.0, just remember to lock your doors.