Star Citizen has a booming grey market. Most MMOs have a grey market but Star Citizen’s is unique partly because the game isn’t even out yet but also because the size of the transactions is pretty large. Every month, thousands of transactions are processed amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a vibrant and chaotic place and its easy to get lost.
I have been observing the grey market for ~8 years now. It combines my love for financial markets with my love for Star Citizen! However, I get a lot of queries from new players asking about safety, best trading practices and whether it hurts CIG financially. These are the questions I endeavor to answer here.
Star Citizen’s Grey Market – What are your options?
The grey market is not one monolithic entity. You have a number of options that differ form each other in terms of safety, cost and ease of trade.
eBay is usually the first stop for many new buyers. It is a well known marketplace for all sorts of goods and I have been buying on eBay for over 20 years now. It’s not always the best, but it beats the competition. eBay offers many safety features including verifying seller details and handling disputes. I have gone through the process of getting verified as a seller on eBay and they require all sorts of KYC documents, identity proofs and bank account details. They also place very tight limits on new sellers until the trader is well established with a solid reputation.
So from a seller’s perspective, eBay’s journey is a bit long, tedious and costly. As a seller, you will only be selling small items early on until you build a reputation. eBay also takes pretty a big cut (~15%). But as a buyer, all of this usually leads to the safest environment out of all the options.
The Star Citizen Trades sub-reddit has the most attractive prices by far because there is no middleman like eBay taking a cut. It also takes like 15 seconds to set up which means literally anyone with a RSI account call sell there. This leads to better prices, but also a riskier environment.
It’s a sort of laissez-faire, caveat emptor type of deal. But there is a reputation mechanism in place, and you are recommended to use PayPal invoicing which has built in protection. In case of any issue, PayPal acts as an intermediary which ironically makes this a decently safe option. The reputation mechanism means you can see how many trades that individual has done before. Don’t just look at their trades, look at how old the account is as well.
3. Private websites
A bunch of small websites have cropped up recently that offer SC trading. They charge a lot for the service they provide, which means higher prices than reddit. The biggest issue here is dispute resolution since you are totally reliant on on the website owner for solving your issue. You dont have PayPal or eBay to rely upon.
The TLDR is that eBay still seems to be the safest bet but has mediocre pricing. Reddit has the best pricing but you really need to what you are doing and be able to spot scams. Private websites have the worst pricing because of their high commissions while also not offering the best protection.
Why do people use the grey market?
The Grey Market originated because of CIG’s own policies. Ships sold initially had Life Time Insurance (LTI) but it was then replaced with just 6 months insurance. People were afraid that they could lose ships bought with actual money, so they insisted on LTI and paid a lot of premium for LTI which was only available on the grey market for a time.
Eventually, CIG started giving LTI to all new concepts and then the CCU system was introduced. CIG also started offering longer insurance than 6 months and now we get 10 years insurance during the anniversary sales. Still, the market has now matured and offers opportunities to buy rare or limited ships to users.
Does CIG support the grey market?
Not officially. Use of the grey market is technically against CIG’s terms of service. It has been argued that CIG loses money to the grey market but grey market trader also buy a lot of ships from CIG so I believe it’s a net positive. There are also a lot of other factors to consider that I have outlined in the last section of this article.
The fact remains that CIG has not shut the grey market down although they have several ways of doing it. It has its utility as you will see below.
Is Star Citizen’s Grey Market safe?
Any grey market inherently carries some risk. Even buying or selling old graphics card on the second hand market carries similar risks. The SC grey market on reddit has a lot of safety features built in and the moderators have done an excellent job over the years. The big traders also have an incentive to keep things safe since they are the ones who get impacted the most if buyers dry up. This is why mods and other pros try to keep things in check. But its still far from perfect and people do suffer losses so be extra careful if you must venture there.
Despite some safety mechanisms and protections from PayPal, you still have to use your own judgement every time you trade. I would not recommend using the grey market if you have a low risk tolerance. And if you do, be sure to follow the guidelines regarding invoices, gifting etc. and trade in public. The subreddit has some great advice and guidelines on the sidebar.
An Economic Analysis of Star Citizen’s Grey Market
Nobody really asked for this analysis, but its something I have observed for 8 years now from an analytical point of view so here are my findings.
Trade Volume estimate
The number of trades on a monthly basis is around 1200 for 2021. This is just on reddit alone which is by far the biggest market. eBay would be second but there is no data we can get from there but its definitely smaller. During peak months (Invictus and IAE), this goes up to 2000 trades. Looking at all the confirmed trades you can estimate the total dollar value of these trades and its somewhere between $250K to $750K monthly.
The grey market does serve a purpose for the community. We shall look at the Pros and Cons next.
- Extra margins earned by traders is an opportunity loss for CIG. These margins are not normally that high except for a few rare ships like the Scythe, Idris-M which are so rare so as to be negligible. Given the total trade volume estimate and average margins, the monthly impact would be in the mid 5 digits in my estimation.
- It encourages scalping for rare and limited ships. I really hate this part. Its not how markets should operate.
A pathway to an exit: Sometimes people get bored of waiting for the game and more often they realized they invested more than what they can afford. Grey market is a way for them to exit and recoup some of the costs. These people would otherwise get disillusioned and create a negative perception.
Rare and discontinued items: This is a good one actually and a genuinely positive outcome. A lot of old and limited-run items like the Hardcover Jumpoint, signed physical collectors case etc. can be found on the market. Even digital items like zero value CCUs that cant be bought from CIG anymore can be found.
Saves money: CIG does keep increasing the prices of ships as time goes on. Price rises can be anywhere from 10% for new ships to >100% for some of the older concepts! You can save a lot of money buying these from traders. In fact, the money saved here more than offsets the loss from trader margins for CIG.
Caters to more market segments: Customers are generally divided into several market segments. For example, some people buy stuff at full price. Some wait for a discount even if it is only 15%. Some wait for decent discounts like 75% and so on. Companies want to cater to them all, especially if they are selling digital goods that have almost negligible variable costs and the fixed cost is well, fixed, and already incurred.
The first segment is obviously the most profitable and profitability reduces as you go down. Which is why companies prefer to fully saturate the first segment before moving down the value chain. This is why Steam sales for a new game start small and then keep on increasing. CIG cant really do this because most ships are pre-orders but they still want to capture all the segments. But the market sort of allows this as bargain hunters who would not have otherwise bought a $700 ship can buy it for $450, for example. This means CIG can cater to all market segments without losing out on the most profitable ones.
Even more market segments: CIG creates artificial scarcity and FOMO to encourage ship sales. Many ships and CCUs are offered only once a year in limited quantities leading people to stay up all night to try and grab them. This is perhaps necessary for CIG to sell these ships at high prices. The grey market allows users to access these ships. Its not something I like as it can lead to scalping, but its a service for some people who do not like flash sales and the rush to buy in a hurry.
Note that scalping can only occur for limited quantity ships of which there aren’t many. Out of the 200 or so ships, only 7-8 are quantity limited. So its not that big of a deal but I would prefer if it was done away with altogether.