The background simulation (aka BGS) is a big and very complex part of Elite Dangerous. There are no official guides and manuals - everything that is known is a painstaking process of trial and error by the game community.
The New Pilots Initiative is lucky to have a large and well organised BGS team. You are always welcome to join. For additional information and question please refer to the Faction-Chat channel in NEWP Discord.
In Elite Dangerous, there are several tactical layers to the game, where players manipulate the political and economic simulation to achieve certain goals. There are 3 levels at which this is played.
There are 3 superpowers in the game - Federation, Empire, and Alliance. Some players support one of these over the others, and try to help powers or factions that are aligned to their preferred superpower.
This layer is called "Powerplay", it is a complex part of the game which involves pledging to, and supporting one of the 11 "Powers" in the galaxy. However, it also provides the ability to unlock certain modules, the majority of players only interact with Powerplay to unlock modules, but there is a dedicated playerbase who dedicate their time to Powerplay. This guide is DOES NOT cover Powerplay.
This is the layer most commonly referred to as "the BGS". Where players attempt to manipulate the fates of "minor factions" vying for control of star systems.
The BGS is a very deep and complex area of gameplay in Elite, as such, this guide is intended to give you an overview of how it all works, and hopefully capture your interest. It won't teach you all the details of how to manage a faction. Though it may be a useful starting point.
It's worth noting at the outset that BGS is an area of the game that only a relatively small proportion of the playerbase engage with. You don't need to understand any of this to enjoy the game. But for those who enjoy tactical gameplay and engage with the BGS, it adds a whole new dimension to the game.
I should also warn you that there is a lot to this subject, and it's far from simple. So my apologies that this guide is somewhat long. I've done my best to be brief... honest.
Changes to the simulation affect many different aspects of the game. For example, you may have noticed that sometimes there are very high prices for commodities, like Painite. These high prices are driven by particular BGS states. You may have seen that some systems have wars. You may have seen rare mission types. Or found a faction you really like doing missions for in a cluster of systems. You guessed it, that's all due to the BGS.
Having your own faction in multiple systems also offers and important benefit in providing easier access to better paying missions, without having to grind reputation with multiple different factions. This is one of the primary benefits of our faction for NEWP, helping newer pilots have an easier time earning credits and materials from missions when they are new to the game.
Finally, space can be a lonely place, and any direction can be up. The BGS provides you with objectives to work towards as a team, something to fight for, a reason behind doing those missions beyond the financial reward, and providing a sense of camaraderie with those you are working beside to achieve those goals.
Think of factions as politically active groups of various different sorts. Some are corporations, some are democracies, some are criminal syndicates. Whatever type of group they are, they have some level of political interest in at least one star system. You can see which factions exist in the star system you are in by looking at the system map, or checking the right panel "Status" tab. But most likely you've noticed factions already from the mission board at a station. There you see what jobs each faction present in your current system has to offer.
There are tens of thousands of factions in the bubble (about 75,000), some only exist in one system, some exist in many many different systems.
Mostly factions compete for "influence". Think of influence as the percentage of the population of the system which supports each faction. As a result the total influence of all the factions in a system will always add up to exactly 100%. The faction with the highest influence in the system will be the "Controlling faction" for the system. This means that they set most of the laws in the system, provide police enforcement and issue bounties on criminals.
Factions can also control assets like installations, outposts or starports. These provide particular benefits to the faction that controls them, more detail on this later. The faction also affect the facilities available in stations they control, like which ships are for sale, or the presence of black markets, etc.
Control of assets are passed between factions through "Conflicts". These can be either military conflicts - Wars, or political conflicts - Elections. Conflicts happen when two factions have the same percentage influence above 7%, and one of the factions has control over an asset of some sort. The winner of a conflict takes control of the most valuable asset controlled by the loser (if they control one).
Time for an analogy on how BGS influence is gained and lost.
Imagine a casino with many gambling tables, at every table there are a number of people, and there is £100 cash on each table, divided among them. Each day a single hand of cards is played on each table, the money never leaves the table, but moves between those at the table. The analogy works as follows:
In every hand of cards, each faction representative is required to bet a proportion of their money (their influence), what proportion they need to bet depends on the table they are at. Tables representing low population systems require a larger bet.
For example for a system with a population of around 1,000, each faction representative is required to bet around 1/5th of what they have. So, if a faction representative at the table has £50 (50% of the influence in the star system), they need to bet £10 (10% of the influence in the system).
Meanwhile, if the system has a population of 10billion, each faction are required to bet just 1/40th of their influence. A faction with £50 would only be betting £1.25.
Therefore systems with smaller populations change more easily than systems with large populations. The tables below show how much influence can be gained or lost by a faction depending on what they currently have, and the population of the system (note this is considering only "positive" actions).
All the bets together form the pot, which will be split according to the cards played for each faction.
Now, you may note that i haven't mentioned a Dealer yet, so where do the cards come from? In short, us. Human players (CMDRs) who come to the table, and play cards, by taking actions impacting the BGS in the system. Then at the end of the day, the Server Tick occurs, and the pot is split among the factions according to the cards played on the table. And immediately a new game begins.
The way the pot is split is very complex. But the following should help to understand the mechanics:
If cards are played for multiple factions, then the pot is split between those factions in proportion to the value of the cards played for each. i.e. if population of the system is 1,000, and there are three factions:
Lets say that factions 2 and 3 each have 10 cards of equal value played to support them, and faction 1 has no cards. Faction 2 and 3 evenly split the £20 pot. The standings going into the next day are as follows:
It should be noted that no faction can have less than 1% influence. If the results of a server tick would take them below 1% then they are left at 1%.
There are a whole array of faction states which effect, and are affected by the changes in influence in the system. I'll only cover a few of these here:
If the influence of a faction in a particular system gets high enough (75% or above), then that faction can expand to a new star system. In the analogy, that faction representative will now start playing another nearby table as well, representing their faction at both tables each day instead of just one. Note that the money still stays on the table it started on.
The opposite of expansion, if the influence of a faction falls low enough (2.5% or below), then the faction may retreat. In the analogy, the faction representative will lose the ability to play at that table, leaving an empty chair.
As I mentioned before, two factions can compete over an asset when they have the same influence %. When this happens, their influence is typically frozen at that value and the two factions fight for the asset. The conflict is fought on a "best of 7" basis, with a point awarded to one of the factions each day. In the analogy, you can think of this as the two representatives starting a side game at the table. They retain their money and place no bets, and only compete with each other, while the rest of the factions at the table play on as normal.
There are also some states which have a direct impact on the influence in the system, for example, the "Infrastructure Failure" state requires that the faction bets an extra 1% of their influence each day. In the analogy, they must bet an extra £1, and this applies even if they are in a conflict state.
Virtually everything you do in a system will have some impact on the influence of factions in that system. While using basic services like refueling, repairing, rearming, or buying or selling ships has no impact anything that earns you credits, and some things that do not will have an impact, including the following:
To be more specific:
Note that the way that the negative actions work is to force the faction to bet a higher proportion of what they have. So, these can be used to change influence levels more quickly than would normally be possible. But can also have other significant problematic effects.
The table below shows the effect of different types of activity on a faction. For example, trading medicine increases the influence of the faction that owns the station, improves their economic rating, and reduces the likelihood of an outbreak in the system.
Meanwhile violent crime against a faction reduces their security status and influence.
The first question to ask in answering this is "What are you trying to achieve?".
Are you trying to help out an existing player group who already support a faction? If so, then simply get in contact with the guys who look after that faction. They will let you know what their objectives are, and tell you how to help achieve it. It's worth noting that BGS players more than any other type of Elite player depend on communication and co-ordination. Without organisation, different players will be working against the groups interests without even being aware of it.
If on the other hand you are starting out on your own, what are your objectives? Do you want to take control of a particular asset? For which faction? Why? Do you want to take control of the System? Are you aiming to expand? Answering these questions allows you to plan out what actions to take. The most direct path is often not the best path to your objective.
I would strongly recommend that if you are starting out on your own, to experiment with an NPC faction to learn from before you attempt to create your own faction. The BGS is complex, and it is easy to cripple yourself by choosing the wrong system, or the wrong faction type before you start.
As a starting point, if you want to increase the influence of a faction perform actions for that faction which give a positive effect, or actions with a negative effect against the other factions (as per the list above). If you want to reduce the influence of a faction, do the opposite.
It's important to understand that variety is the spice of life with the BGS, doing each type of action will provide an effect, but doing more of that action will suffer from diminishing returns. For example, performing missions for a faction has a positive effect on that faction. But as you perform more and more missions, each new mission will be less effective, so your time might be better spent on a different activity, like trading.
As for the specifics of which actions are the most effective, this changes over time. Mostly, at the time of writing, we are seeing the highest level of effectiveness in terms of impact per unit time from Bounty Hunting, and Trade. However, remember the diminishing returns factor described above.