Economic Oriented Survival
Add money to the game and integrate it into the various modules of game-play so as to unify all forms of progression and to provide motivation in the form of financial rewards that can be spent how they player chooses. Economic oriented survival would revolve around the management of money (credits presumably). The player interacts with various modules of game-play to earn, spend and protect their money.
Currently space engineers has a focus on designing and building interesting vehicles and bases, but is in need of reason to build those things other than role-playing. And ideally those reasons should fit the theme and scope of the game and be achievable in terms of development complexity and time.
I would like to suggest that Money could be used to provide all of the above.
Money provides a reasonably clear representation of progression. And as such can be used to scale events in the world, such as pirate attacks. (more money more problems) It also allows all forms of game-play to contribute to the players progression as no matter the task most actions could be rewarded with money.
eg: sell mined resources, take up missions to earn commissions, sell ship designs, ... All progress can be rewarded via money.
As money will link many modules of game-play progression, it means that the player can be rewarded for all of these forms of progress. Money simply provides a unified way to reward the player and allows them flexibility to spend that reward in the way they want (or need) most. As they can buy resources they need, or buy ship designs or mercenaries to help in a fight etc
eg: so now if the player designs and builds a mining vehicle it actually can be used to earn a reward them rather than just looking cool.
The game is a sandbox, but at the moment you have to do everything yourself in order to progress with little flexibility in survival game-play. eg: you must mine and refine materials, then must build mining vehicle and continue mining more until you construct a base and then you can keep going but there is no in game motivation to do so. With money the player gets more freedom to enjoy the sandbox in the ways they most desire knowing that they will always be rewarded. eg: can mine a little, then could refine the materials and build a ship, or could sell the materials and buy a ship. With a ship they could mine, or they could raid nearby bases, or they could take up contract jobs all to earn more money and continue progressing.
After the basic systems have been implemented (to allow the player to have and store money), any of the games existing modules of game-play can be integrated or not at the development teams discretion. These suggested modules of game-play bellow are quite separate and so could be developed simultaneously by different developers or teams of developers, allowing work to be delegated out. Flexibility comes from the ability to pick and choose what is implemented or not without negatively impacting the core concept that is to connect game-play systems so that all the isolated forms of progression become connected. New expansions to game-play content can be easily integrated into economic systems by simply adding a way to gain or lose money when interacting with that new game-play.
Note : Could allow the player to select the economic difficulty with a world setting so they can get increased income and reduce costs to provide the player with customisable difficulty.
Money can be either tied to player or stored as a very light weight item depending on desired implementation. Both have pros and cons, however I would recommend implementing as an item, as it makes looting simple (just grab money from all the crates), gifting to other players is easier, could have a crate that is unconnected to act as the vault. eg: if tied to player then if the player is attacked at an outpost with little defenses then they could loose a percentage of their entire wealth. however if using the item version then the player only loses as much as they are carrying so they can manage the risk and keep their wealth horded at main base. However NPCs attacking and stealing from the player via hacking would be harder to implement with physical items. (see hacking idea in Space Pirates game-play module below)
--- MODUELS OF GAMPLAY ---
A few example ideas on some modules of game-play that fit the scope of the game and how they might be integrated into the economic progression.
As the player becomes wealthy they will attract the attention of space pirates, who will pass buy on occasion as an event. They may fist demand some payment to save you from an attack. If you refuse then they have a chance of assaulting your ship and or base. Initially they would attack (ship count and quality scaled to the player based on how much money the player has), seeking to damage all exterior defenses and if attacking ships to imobalise them. Then once complete or they would begin stealing a portion of the players money before continuing on their way. As it would be hard to implement physical theft this would likely have to be a digital transfer after they have hacked your system while in proximity.
This provides a need for base and ship defense that scales as the player progresses. If the player takes a beating they will lose some money and therefore be subject to less severe attacks next time so it self balances.
Main source of income will be selling off excess resources. These can be transported in crates to the nearest trade depot, where the crate must be delivered and left with the goods. Value of various resources fluctuates and depends on the players activity due to it being a small locaised economy. So selling lots of iron plates will reduce their value etc. Could also buy resources in the same way. May even allow the player to buy and sell goods to earn a profit through arbitrage.
This provides a need for transportation vehicles and logistics to produce the materials and load them into said vehicle.
Buying Block and Parts:
Traders could provide the player the ability to buy new block designs. Either to replace or compliment the new part progression system.
This provides a base motivation to engage with the economic progression as it provide access to new parts.
Buying Ships and Blueprints:
Players can use their accrued income to buy ship blueprints from traders that are passing through, these could be specially selected set of ships by KeenSWH or selection of popular ships from the steam workshop. In effect the player can be given in game access to the workshop that fits into the theme and function of the game. Possibly could even have purchasing of constructed ships that would be delivered to designated spaces that the player sets up. (some sort of lading zone that must be a set size and have clear access to the sky)
This provides the player some way to spend their income and get access to interesting ship designs.
Players could create a blueprint and upload it via a trader, then whenever their blueprint is bought by another player on the server they get a portion of the payment. Players could even build and send off an entire constructed ship, then they get income if someone buys their constructed ship. (note you could buy a blueprint, construct the ship and then sell the ship acting as a manufacturing plant providing supply for demand of popular ships people want) Trade menu could calculate local value of parts to provide "Scrap value" so that players know how much the ship would cost to make and can place reasonable prices based on that estimated scrap value. (say 3 times for constructed and 1 times for blueprint, note not fixed just an example of what players might agree on) (also tells buyer how much it will take to make the ship from a blueprint) This could even be used to sell ships that are loaded up with good, or even just for selling crates full of goods
Player Trading Through Workshop: (This one is a bit unrealistic, too much work for value of the feature)
Expanding on the previous idea the steam workshop (or some bespoke system), could be utilised to allow players to buy and sell ships and blueprints from each other in different servers or single player games.
[Possibly each steam workshop ship could have a flag that denoted the blueprint was created in survival and therefore can be bought, and could also have a count of stock allowing a constructed ship to be delivered. Likely not that easy]
The player could hire mercenaries (possibly drone piloted vessels) that can assist in the defense of their base for a small fee. They could cost more than the price of a space pirate bounty but you also get to salvage the pirates ships and take any money they had from a previous hall. This provides the player another way to spend income and deal with threat of attack.
The player can offer their own services by accepting various missions and completing them for commissions. (these may want to be in world having the player travel to them, but could also be instanced missions where the player is taken to the destination to take part in a bespoke mission.) eg: Escort of cargo vessel, player must assist a cargo vessel through some dangerous territory. other examples could be to attack a location, search for signs of downed ship in area, transport some goods from A to B, ...
Provides the player a way to get involved in some exciting constructed missions testing the ships that they have taken time and care to design.