In Europa Universalis III, the colonial system was a bit lackluster. Even when a colonial power split later in the game, it was either too late to impact anything, or too weak and unstable to actually contribute to the region. With the developer's diary about the west coming out next week, EU4 has a chance to change this. In this thread, lets take a look at some of the reasons where EU3 failed at the goal of making colonies relevant, and what EU4 can do to improve on this.
1) Colonies appeared too late in the timeframe. Up until the late 18th century, colonies in EU3 were almost non-existent. The beginnings of colonial independence began with the first wave of settlers. They risked everything to seek a fortune on foreign soil, leaving their homeland behind. Gradual, incremental advancement towards colonial independent sentiment wasn't modeled properly.
2) "Cookie-cutter" nature of the breakaway colonies. If Aragon, Naples, the Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland, or any other secondary power had been successful in creating a colonial empire, there was no way to express its breakaway colonies. You would still have the normal timeline colonies attempt to spring forth. A successful New Caledonia, for example, had no way of being modeled into the game.
3) The mother country controlled the entire direction of the colony. Up until the colonies attempted to break away, you had complete control over every aspect of the colony as if it was just another province. Contrary to this, self-governing colonies existed in history, colonists could choose which direction to expand in some cases, and varying degrees of autonomy were in place.
4) No cultural differences between the Mother Country and the colonies. The colonies were just provinces inside their respective empires, no different in culture or ideology than their mother country. Some of these colonies had already been building up a certain identity, whether it be to their state or to their region. EU3 had no way of modeling this if you started in 1399. Some of these colonies began having different identities from their neighboring colonies as well, such as the Southern and Northern states in the USA.
5) The ability to sail your entire army over an ocean was too easy. If a colony decided to revolt, all you had to do was load up the Royal Army on a few ships, crush the revolt and your army will be back home for Christmas.
As shown by these points, the old colonial system needs a complete redrawing. A new system will need to be dynamic, to account for EU4's ability to diverge from the common timeline. It should be simple to use, but powerful to master. The player should have the ability to setup colonies in ways that he wants to, but also be under the threat of colonial disobedience, should he rule with an iron fist.
Here are a few pictures of a simulated game as England, creating a colonial empire.
In this game, I have created two colonies, the colony of Carolina and the colony of Manhattan.
The colony of Carolina is centered around the region of Pamplico. This colony includes the Cotton and Tobacco rich areas of the south. This colony relies on me greatly for taking these goods to European markets to sell, so I have raised taxation/tarrifs, and disallowed them from expanding by themselves with colonists. They are only allowed to raise a small token force to protect them from natives and pirates.
The colony of Manhattan on the other hand, has a varied production of goods, with a large flourishing trade network. I have lowered taxes on them to minimal levels to allow them to colonize for me. Lowering taxes and giving them more autonomy allows my colony of Manhattan to expand faster and appeases dissidents, but it runs the risk of more dissidents in the future.
How does this colonization system work? Once you start getting a few colonial provinces under your belt, you have the option to make a colonial center. This decreases your colonial costs immensely, as colonial efforts are no longer hampered by an ocean. As you expand more into the region, your colonial centers become less and less effective with each province that is assigned to it. You will then have to create another colonial center for another region. The beauty of this is that you can also specialize these centers based on the region to provide better bonuses. This is the golden age of colonization, your people are happy and money is flowing back to the motherland.
When the new world is established, the colonists begin to question why they should stay loyal to a crown that is across an ocean. At this point, you can appease your colonists to keep your hold on the region, or bleed all of the money you can out of them until they rebel. When they rebel, those colonial centers that share similarities will revolt together and form a common country. Those who do not share enough similarities will revolt as a separate entity.
In my current game, my policies in Carolina and Manhattan are different. There is still a chance that they will revolt together, but they will most definitely have two different cultures, creating internal friction.
With this concept, all of the problems in EU3 are addressed, adding a simple yet powerful colonial system. New colonial countries will be formed based on their home province, with the AI having some flavor countries added. Colonies will be able to gradually increase their power until they can flex it in an all out revolt, beginning to effect the game much earlier. Instead of colonies being a homogeneous entity, they will all begin to establish their own identities. The colonial age will be split into a more historical model, with the mother country benefiting GREATLY at the beginning from colonies, up until a point where colonies demand more and more of their own resources.
This is what I hope will come of the new colonial system in Europa Universalis IV, if not at release, then further down the line. Thank you for reading.