I would hate to see this game go the way of all those 'world of ...' clones i'd be ashamed as a DEV to go for such a shallow design approach.
The problems with these design are:
- stale linearity
- a fake progression since everybody is staying in a relativ position to his opponents
- a waste of surpassed production assets
Fortunately you can fix this even if you are already following this approach, simply by:
I. Creating a nonlinear system entity - let's call it the captain, that allows for an overall unlimited specialisation on several meta subjects like engineering, material construction, weapon systems, tech research, aswell as ship classes: vettes, x, y, z and roles: support, tank, heals, recon - throughout the captains career, being limited in its usefulness for certain ship/equipment types/combinations...
...as an addition to the linear tier approach and thus creating more complexity.
The outcome would allow, that higher ranks could modify lower tier hulls which they wouldn't use anymore and make them competetive again allthough they already surpassed those tiers. You can come up with a huge variety of meta/tech combinations for example miniaturizing weapons, so that you could fit more of surpassed lower tier guns on the ship - or improving the hull/speed whatever of an outdated ship.
These modifications would either re-strengthen a lower tier ship or allow to shift the role of the ship - lets say from heavy destroyer to dreadnought - or vette to light destroyer.
This way you wouldn't always see only the same 5 ships in a tiered match - and furthermore you could hide your spec by shifting a ships role.
The permutations of the linear and non-linear elements are easily graphable for statistical balancing.
II. Get away from tiered fights. It is a lame system for the intellectual weak exploiting simple psychologic needs by keeping the frustration level high.
If you assign weights to the above mentioned permutations you can balance players by the quality of their combination of tier progression and captain spec - allowing to mix up weaker high tier players with stronger lower tier players and allowing more competition then in tier restricted fights, without the danger of having too strong opponents mixed up with noobs. If you don't invest in modification - you stay within your tier, if you mess it up, you stay in your teier a pay by losing - if you do it in a clever way, you can play with the big boys. Of course you should be able to choose the tiers you play with - upwards and restricting it downwards - in case someone comes up with a weak weighed permutation, that actually would be too strong in special situations. This problem cannot occur, when you freely chose to play against higher tiers, in case a lower tier permutation comes out as too strong - you get matched upwards.