Let me begin by saying that I love the Dead Zone. it's an exceptional flash game, and certainly the one that I've spent the most time on. That being said, I'm sure that it's not a finished product, and that Con wants to take it to the next level. The current trading system does its job in a pinch, but we need to consider the facts that A) Trading is one of the core PvP elements that keeps the game interesting, and B) the current system is both difficult to use AND completely unviable if the game were to get more popular. The reasons that support these two claims are simple. PvP interaction is at the heart of of any truly successful game - players would quit soon if there weren't any. So to improve the game, you need to improve its core features. As for my claim that the current system is too difficult, it's because of the following factors: A) no base currency, B) prohibitive fuel cost (the benefit of free trade slots are small compared to their cost, C) the sheer volume of items being posted in the trade chat (imagine what it would be like if the game had 2x as many players on, or even 3x), and D) the need for prospective traders to be online at the same time, logged into the trade chat, and actively browsing the trade chat.
But I'm not one to outline a problem without providing a solution...or several. There are two main routes I think you (Con) can take to improving the current trade system. Either would do the trick in my opinion. So without further ado:
Option 1: Implement a system similar to the Auction House in Diablo 3. It would either REPLACE the current trading system, OR serve as a SECONDARY/PARALLEL system. I envision a listing service where users can post items for trade and then solicit trade offers (if you don't intend to implement a base currency into this game). The listing would have filters so that people looking for items can sort out what they need based on item type, item level, item stats, etc. The system would have the following caveats:
1. Listings are only active so long as the USER is active. The whole process of soliciting offers over a period of time is too tedious without a base currency - users would want to negotiate, and they might trade items before an agreement is reached. Since the system is designed to solicit offers, it only makes sense for listings to be active so long as the user is active, so that negotiation can be done in real time.
2. A separate chat window/function would be included solely for this feature. There's almost too much volume in the current trade chat room system as it is. Users need to find a more efficient way to negotiate without being bombarded by the chatter of other users. My vision is there will either be 3rd tab on the chat window for this purpose, or the trade tab be replaced with this. You would only get messages from users who want to make a bid on your item(s). The new tab for this trade function would consist ONLY of incoming/outgoing private messages for negotiation on items listed.
3. Some minor, finishing details. The usual fuel cost would be implemented once an agreement is reached. The option to list items and take them down would be put in the new trade tab of the chat system - or you could put in a new function on the bottom right along with survivors, inventory, and such. A limit on how many items a user can post at any given time might be helpful. Incoming trade pms would be differentiated based on what item they concern, and which user is pming (useful when there are multiple people contacting about the same item).
Option 2: Make the current system easier. Here's a list of improvements that would help:
1. Reduce the overall cost of trading. The current system is draconian - in part because the "free trade slots" are misleading. Either reduce the fuel cost completely, or improve the value of the free trade slots. I doubt you want to go the route of reducing fuel cost Con, so let's identify some possible improvements to the free trade slots (who's benefits are questionable in comparison to their cost).
i) You could make it so that there would be a certain number of truly free trades in a day. For example, 3 free trades a day limited to 2 slots per trade, and BOTH users would have to have the free trade slots. Afterward, it would revert to the current system.
ii) You could improve the number of free trade slots. At the very least, 3. Considering that less than half of all players have free trade slots, it's difficult enough to find them as it is.
2. Make it easier to find prospective trade partners. Who here has offered a unique for trade, yet 90% of all incoming offers are garbage offers by low level dreamers? Or, encountered low levels that demand the world for their rather cheap item? There's no clear cut solution to this, but at the very least there should be ONE more trade tab (not another channel, an entirely new tab on the chat function) for higher levels. If you were to keep the current system, there would have to be more trade channels anyhow - because of how much volume there already is in the current one.
3. Implement a base currency. This would make everything much easier. Instead of negotiating over items, people can now negotiate in trade rooms. Let me digress. Right now, most people prefer to negotiate through private messages - because most people tend not to have what they want in return. But if there's a base currency, then you know for sure they have something you want - just not necessarily enough of it. Icing on the cake is that you already have a possibility. You could make FUEL the base trade currency - so that players can trade their items for FUEL. I don't think anyone would object to that.
While the current system does its job in a pinch, it simply is not good enough for the game to get to that next level.