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Most online games [browser-based, I mean] are usually based on a simple structure:
*Grow an Army and improve it
*Attack a weakling
*Go to 1
My idea is, make attacking expensive, and focus mostly in the economy, alliances will be more useful, so that gatherers are as necessary as attackers, and focusing is almost obligatory (for example, upgrading costs depends on the number of upgrades you already have); This will make everyone in an alliance equally necessary, and watching each other's backs is the only way to survive.
Also, add a system of Offer/Demand; the more a resource is bought (perhaps from default trading planets), the more it costs, which will make the backmarket bigger.
No permadeath, attacks are to destroy resources in a city, and intercepting transport ships is awfully profitable.
Moneymaking [irl] is in buying upgrades with real money, and offering Secure Trading via the site; ads could be added, and you can pay to get them removed.
===I ran out of napkin!===
Too powerful players should be unable to attack weaker ones, or make it almost useless: attacks should be more expensive, and players with too big an armament become nearly useless, because they destroy the cargo.
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