Piracy is a career path in Star Citizen, defined by the theft of ships and/or their cargo, but also including a variety of criminal activities. For instance, a pirate may smuggle, but not all smugglers are pirates.
Criminal activities performed by pirates include but are not limited to: robbery, racketeering, scams, manufacture and distribution of narcotics, unauthorized or illegal salvage, kidnapping, sale of stolen goods, enslavement or sale or use of slaves, and murder. While most of these can be effectively accomplished in the current release version of Star Citizen, the majority of them are not yet fully supported by in game systems - narcotics cannot yet be manufactured, nor do restraints exist.
As with many other careers, the precise mechanics that these systems will utilize have not been outlined in a formal design document – instead, the intended goals and career experience have both been clarified through a series of short stories. The series for piracy specifically is titled "B0otyCall," a radio show hosted by a pirate named Jester. At this time, there are nine such stories covering a variety of topics, from as of yet unimplemented mechanics, to conduct between pirates, and what constitutes an acceptable amount of murder.
Law, Reputation, and Piracy
Recognized pirate ships should not expect to travel or operate in UEE space unmolested, nor should they expect landing permission to be given in UEE ports. Detection can be circumvented with forged hull ID's and personal ID's, however, these are stated to be imperfect, and caution should still be taken.
Piracy is intended to be accomplishable within UEE space, although at great risk. It requires that one first disables a communications relay. This prevents hostile action from being observed passively by the UEE. Thus, the pirate would not lose any reputation with the appropriate parties. However, it is unclear if player launched emergency beacons depend on comm relays, or if their signal is strong enough to propagate through a star system on its own.
It is known that there will be criminal controlled regions of UEE space, and that these regions will have their own laws. However, it is unclear if the UEE will notice or prosecute crimes committed in these regions.
It should be first understood that there is no single pirate law or code – NPC pirate organizations will have their own laws, customs, and regulations which will be applied within their sphere of influence. These will be enforced within their controlled territories, and enforcement may extend beyond their territory if a Blood Price is assigned to whoever broke said law.
It is intended for ships to be considerably more difficult to destroy. As more ship systems come online, such as the final iteration of armor, the final iteration of shields, component redundancy, and the final iteration of component damage, simply popping a ship will be impractical. Moreover, the rewards will be lower due to destruction of cargo and of the ship itself. The object of ensuring that ships are difficult and unrewarding to destroy is to incentivize boarding or negotiating a payment rather than pouncing on a ship and killing them instantly to receive most of their cargo. This can safely be expected to be, or at least be near, the core pirate gameplay loop.
In terms of economic gameplay, it appears probable that direct theft will be the primary method of resource acquisition for a pirate, as goods are going to be more expensive in lawless space. While the reasons for this have not been entirely stated, given the realistic economic simulation, and statements on the nature of the pirate economy, we can make an educated guess as to why (though it should be noted that this is partially speculation). It seems probable that the high prices of the pirate economy would be a consequence of economic isolation (most honest traders refusing to touch stolen goods or sell to pirates, limiting inflow of UEC and non-stolen goods to the pirate economy), limited production capabilities (struggle to make their own gear, limiting gear inflow primarily to what is stolen), the risk of operating on the edge of civilization, the risk associated with violent resource acquisition, and the operating costs associated with violent resource acquisition. Ships must be refueled, repaired, and rearmed. The pilots and marines must be paid, fed, and treated for injury. The constant need for resources to acquire more resources, and the limited availability of resources to begin with, would create high demand with low supply. Regardless of the specifics, it is a safe assumption that being a pirate will not be cheap. How specifically this will impact profit margins and the long term viability of various piratical activities is unclear at this time.
A few things are known about the actual practice of piracy, beyond the theory that makes the profession into a viable career.
While space is open and primarily empty, there will be terrain (of sorts) one can take advantage of, and around which one will expect to find those who hope to ambush others - whether pirate or bounty hunter. As an example, nebulae can interfere with sensor suites. Asteroid clusters can obfuscate ships, providing physical shelter and a place to hide. A practical example of these working in tandem can be found in The Coil of the Odin system - where asteroids provide shelter from the constant electrical storms that run through the husk of a shattered planet.
Anti-theft devices will be put in place on ships, including hackable keypads and physical keys that players will keep on their person.
It is stated that we will be able to scan hulls for the cargo within, so targets will no longer be random. Likewise, hulls can be hardened against scanning - serving both smugglers, and those who have cargo that they believe best not seen by pirates.
Mindless killing is likely to result in investigation from the UEE, attract bounty hunters, and potentially even hostile action from NPC pirates, which would appear to function as enforcers of social order in some lawless areas. For this reason, it seems probable that crews who make a habit of excessive killing could quickly find themselves in an unsustainable position.
The experience of the pirate cannot be fully understood without some examination of the experience of the pirate's law abiding counterpart - the bounty hunter. In some systems, there will be bounty hunting guilds. They will equip bounty hunters with an information network, updated in real time. Although limited to the jurisdiction, it will be able to show the last known position and ship of bounty targets. This is to further increase the risk of traipsing into systems secured by the UEE. Commission of crimes can create a trail of "breadcrumbs" which will result in NPC bounty hunters being dispatched to deal with the offender. Even if one escapes the bounty hunter through quantum travel, one should be aware that tools for tracking quantum trails will be implemented - although it is stated that the bounty hunter will need to be close on the tail for them to work, with the specifics depending on the size of the ship and the quality of the sensors. For this reason a pirate should expect to remain wary and vigilant.
If a pirate is captured by a bounty hunter, they will be instantly teleported to a prison - the bounty hunter will from thereon interact with an NPC copy of the pirate. The pirate may then attempt to break out of the prison, or serve their sentence, with the specifics of both as of yet undetermined.
The Distinction Between Piracy and Griefing
Piracy has been mentioned as a legitimate career path since the initial kickstarter. In an interview for CitizenCon 2949, a Systems Designer stated that "Piracy is a very central element to the Star Citizen universe."
However, despite its longstanding inclusion and significance to the game world, precisely what manner of player interactions constitute piracy, as opposed to griefing, has long been a contentious issue amongst the community. On June 25, 2018, a Lead System Designer defined piracy as a for profit enterprise, and contrasted it with repeated targeted player kills which prevented a person from actually playing the game. In that same interview, it was later clarified that regions of space will have variable and known degrees of risk and reward, with the greatest rewards laying in the riskiest, lawless regions – as there would be safer albeit less rewarding options available, as well as information about the inherent risks of various regions provided to players thereby enabling them to make an informed decision about where to play, it was concluded that complaints of griefing in space known to be lawless would be mostly indefensible. The primary determiner of whether an activity constitutes griefing would appear to be denying a player the ability to play: it is acceptable to make the life of a player difficult, to have an antagonistic relationship, to seek vengeance or have enemies, to hate some as you love others, but there is "a line." While that line certainly includes total denial of gameplay, what other cases may constitute griefing can only be discerned as more game mechanics come online and the player population grows.
- https://youtu.be/KYmIVatNQrg?t=2149 "Nothing's just [a] flavor copy. If you read it in the fiction stuff, we're usually thinking of, at some point, that would actually exist in the world. That's whole point. So ... the writers do really nice fiction stuff, but a lot of that fiction stuff is specifically seeding what we wanna do long term. So don't just view it as fiction. It is ... highlighting where the game will go." - Chris Roberts.
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=1947 Relevant section runs from 32:27 to 33:00.
- https://massivelyop.com/2019/11/22/interview-cigs-jake-muehle-on-the-player-economy-and-doing-crimes-in-the-star-citizen-universe/ "One easy way we have to modulate risk and reward is through our shops. For example, legitimate shops won't purchase stolen goods, meaning you're pushed into a narrower path to liquidate your loot into in-game-currency. Areas that accept illegal material might be farther away, give lower prices, reside in more dangerous areas, etc.. It's another way in which we're able to push back on behavior."
- https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/14248-Letter-From-The-Chairman "...and sensor-dampening nebulae!"
- https://youtu.be/qcHAfaQh3QE?t=1579 Relevant section runs from 26:17 to 27:00
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=1914 Relevant section runs from 31:54 to 32:27
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=1748 Relevant section runs from 29:08 to 29:40.
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=1353 Relevant section runs from 22:30 to 23:18
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=1988 Relevant sections runs from 33:08 - 36:03
- https://youtu.be/-dNoUjzTVaY?t=2700 Relevant section runs from 45:00 to 46:32
- https://youtu.be/QJgzlnUkrbw?t=329 "This is one that's been a point of contention amongst the community for years." – Jared Huckabee
- https://youtu.be/QJgzlnUkrbw?t=637 The relevant section runs from 9:16 to 10:35.
- https://youtu.be/QJgzlnUkrbw?t=750 The relevant section runs from 12:30 to 13:44