I got a lot of very insightful responses last time. Some people were just salty, but most of you guys are level headed. Maybe encouraging teaming up with escorts is too big a project.
Instead, what if we simply merged cargo racks with shield and hull reinforcement?
That would change the choice from combat vs non-combat to offence vs defence. You're not forced to become a sitting duck if you do non-combat, you just don't get to do damage. Being a freighter makes you very hard to kill, but also (just like now) very hard for you to kill other things.
If you have a lot of armour or shield upgrades, you also get free cargo space. I think that's okay. More experienced players please tell me if I'm totally wrong. I really think I'm onto something and I'm here for discussion. If you have a lot of cargo space, your impact on the galaxy is exactly the same, but it's harder for the galaxy to make an impact on you.
The goal here is so that ships with less pew pew are not just straight up less suited for combat than ships built for it. To that end, there cannot be options to engineer more cargo space that would compete with engineering for more armour. Either one or the other, and I'm leaning toward engineering for more armour. How do you engineer greater volume anyway?
I really want to hear what the rest of the community thinks. What disadvantages could this bring about?
I don't know what I think about passenger cabins though. Should those be armoured for the same reasons?
Also please tell me if I'm just imagining the problem. I mean, obviously ganking exists. But would removing this one tradeoff (armour vs space) be so terrible for gameplay, or balance, or realism? Yeah I know it's a space game that tries to be a little realistic, but they sacrifice realism for practical purposes too. Or just cool purposes. White dwarves having jets for example, of faster than light travel. FTL is required for a space game, sure. But I would also argue that forcing, motivating, or rewarding players for having no protection in a multiplayer sandbox is on the same tier as not allowing FTL.
Edit: To clarify, you'd be able to choose armoured or shielded cargo racks. The same number/letter would have the same value according to FD's reckoning. Maybe armour cuts jump range while shielded is totally weightless and impactless, but uses energy or fuel.