To me, there’s really three different areas where missions come in.
Tutorial missions, used to better acquaint new players with the game and mechanics. Colonize X planets, build Y stuctures/ships, kill Z pirates, etc.
Mid-game missions/objectives to keep engagement up. Things that might be a bit more challenging, but also help progress the game. Reach a population of 10m, have a combined total of 5m minerals, kill 50 pirate fleets.
End-game content. End-game is where I think things are lacking the most right now. We’re a few months in, and I’m pretty much out of stuff to do. Wars are pointless with the current planet caps. I don’t need to steal resources, and I can’t take any more planets. So short of griefing there’s no real value.
Adding in an option to Occupy (annex, control, or whatever other term you want) vs Colonize after an invasion might be one area where things could improve. A player wouldn’t directly control a planet taken in this way. Essentially, the planet would be 100% auto-build for structures. Players would get maybe 10% of what the planet would normally produce in taxes and have access to 10% of the resources generated. These planets wouldn’t contribute to corruption or the planet cap.
Another idea that’s come up a few times would be for pirate bases to spawn on unoccupied planets. The base would increase the frequency and strength of pirate fleet spawns until it was destroyed by bombardment or invasion.
There’s been forum chatter of rare resources that would be needed for T4 or alliance structures, as well as the possibility of finding artifacts/relics/ancient tech. Adding in something like that where it was a bit more of a timesink (but not a grind), or it was done in a way to promote conflict would be good.
When you say “award” what does that mean? If it’s something like an achievement or something then I don’t see much value. However, if this is like the aforemention rare resource/relic, then yes please.
Something like this could even be done where there’s a distress beacon from a fleet that broadcasts out 200LY, and the first to rescue the fleet wins. The fleet could be surrounded by pirates, trapped in a minefield, or just broken down. Rewards could be credits, minerals, population, RPs, or gaining control of the rescued fleet.