Secret Project: The Network Backbone

“Of course we’ll bundle our MorganNet software with the new network nodes; our customers expect no less of us. We have never sought to become a monopoly. Our products are simply so good that no one feels the need to compete with us.”

— CEO Nwabudike Morgan, Morgan Data Systems press release

This video is built around a somewhat-dated joke. In the late ’90s, Microsoft was being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice for antitrust violations. The core of the complaint was the DoJ along with several plantiffs complaining that Microsoft was unfairly using its virtual monopoly over Windows to bundle Internet Explorer with it for free, making it impossible for rival companies to sell browsers. At the time, among the types of people who were likely to be the SMAC audience, this was widely considered obvious evidence of malfeasance.

The whole debate seems pretty old-fashioned by today’s standards. But Morgan, here, is clearly standing in for Bill Gates as he makes his disingenuous claim that he has never sought a monopoly. And whatever the player might have thought about Gates’s claim at the time, we know for certain that Morgan is lying. After all, his most famous work is non-ironically titled “The Centauri Monopoly”.

The primary effect of this secret project is part of the joke. After researching Digital Sentience and building it, it grants one bonus research energy at this base for each commerce energy the base receives. In addition, it grants one extra research point for each Network Node on Planet, regardless of the owning faction. Depending on the size and economic sophistication of the faction and the whole world, this can add up to be a really big number.

But, for our purposes, there are a couple of other details here that are more worthy of focus. First, we see shots of many different kinds of bases and buildings as part of Morgan’s advertisement. We see a couple of shots of a Believer base with the stained-glass cross, a facility with the Spartan arrow, a structure with the U.N. logo, and a couple of shots of bases of indeterminate origin. I suspect that the one that’s made up of domes sticking out of spires is Gaian and the less distinctive one is a University facility.

Notably, there is no shot of anything that looks like a Hive base. It’s possible that the reason for that is that the Hive has not signed a trade treaty with the Morganites. Or maybe it’s a sign that the Hive is under active sanctions for an atrocity. But based on what we have inferred previously, I believe it is because the Hive didn’t make it this far into the game.

If that’s true, then it means that we can conclude a couple of other things about the implied canon. For one, it would seem that the Morganites have managed to remain neutral and at peace with all the other factions on Planet. That’s quite the trick given his usually unpopular economics. For another, it means that we can presume that all the rest of the factions made it into the end game.

The other conclusion we can draw comes from the secondary effect of the Network Backbone: it eliminates the negative effects of selecting the Cybernetic Future Society option. Which means that we can presume that the Morganites go Cybernetic for the same reason that we were able to previously infer that the Spartans chose Thought Control.

This brings Morgan’s canonical late-game social engineering choices into focus. I suspect that he’s running Democracy/Free Market/Wealth/Cybernetic, with the Living Refinery to negate the Democracy penalty and the Network Backbone to negate the Cybernetic downside.

This is a very, very powerful economic combination. In Morgan’s hands, it combines +4 Economy with +4 Efficiency, which means that he’s both pulling in raw energy hand-over-fist and can losslessly redirect it entirely to cash or research as needed. At the same time, he’s getting a sizeable research efficiency bonus. Finally, the Cybernetic Planet bonus is the only potential choice on the board that can mitigate the massive ecological penalty for running Free Market.

The downside of this configuration is that it almost requires a pacifist approach. He still has a massive Police penalty that forces him to fight only limited or defensive wars, while the Morale penalty from Wealth makes him bad at even that. It’s no wonder that he’s willing to sit back and let his rivals fight amongst themselves while he profits from selling Network Nodes to both sides.


3 thoughts on “Secret Project: The Network Backbone

  1. CCC

    There’s more than that. The one research point from every network node carries its own implication; that the bundled MorganNet software is spying on its users and sneaking data back to Morgan Industries. Data which Morgan then has people – or AIs – collate and sift through and mine for useful insights to pass on to his R&D division…


    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      I considered that. But I think that it’s not necessarily the case. For instance, you could get a similar effect from MorganNet software performing a SETI@Home sort of function, in which any available system idle time is used to run calculations for the Morganites, essentially granting them free research energy.


  2. Michael

    When I was playing Alien Crossfire, I couldn’t help wondering why Yang was spared the efficiency penalties from both PS and Planned, while Aki was only spared the police penalty from cybernetic–not free market? Someone’s judgement call on game balance, I presume, but it shouldn’t be hard to add additional penalties–diplomacy came to mind to represent her inability to grasp how people in other factions thought.



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