Thursday, November 3, 2011

11-3-11 Just Lie to Me: Star Trek Online

That awkward moment when…
You realize that the game you play can’t possibly make money AND represent the ideals of the franchise on which it was based.

Or can it?

Yeah, I’m talking about Star Trek Online, what else? Over the course of the last three months – since it became clear that the MMORPG would be moving to a Free-to-Play (F2P) model, it’s also become clear that company that holds the license to the game, Cryptic Studios, would need to implement a way to actually make a significant amount of money from it.

From everything I’ve read about MMORPGs – the F2P model is exactly how that gets done. The F2P model simply makes money, and usually a LOT of it.

Unfortunately the world upon which the game is based is more cooperative, and yes – socialist, and implementing a hard “economy” to a game where the players aren’t supposed to be making money is extremely difficult to resolve in the heart.

The game has come across VERY hard times lately.

A decision by Cryptic’s former owner, Atari, to sell the company placed understandable restrictions on news leaks, communications and personnel that squelched the normally vocal company as well as squelched any new content (or relevant bug fixes) from being placed into the game for well over the past six months.

Numerous monthly subscribers I know chose not to renew their subs until the new model is released and probably not even then, unless they’re given a “real” reason to subscribe. (‘Real’ should be taken to mean there is a justifiable and significant difference between being a F2P player [silver] and a monthly subscriber [gold]. At this time, the matrix between the two levels does not, in my opinion, make a monthly subscription a value.)

So the game has been wallowing in its own lack of content; a premature push of “Season 4” which only served to crash and effectively annihilated the only asset that differentiates itself from any other MMO, The Foundry; stacking the C-Store with ships and pets and fluff while its new parent company, Perfect World got into the guts of the thing and decided that they could find a way to sell the heart-machine to the patient.

Admittedly, so goes the ways of business. This shit happens!

BUT what has ultimately frustrated me – probably one of the most loyal players this game will ever see – is the fact that the changes that are being made appear to be utterly slapdash.

I’m getting the very distinct impression that the poor employees at Cryptic are running around like Keystone Cops. (If you’re too young to understand what this means – Google it.)

I started this game as a complete “n00b.” It’s an insult to some, but it’s a freaking badge of honor to me. I had never played any other MMO or console or other type of game to the degree I have played STO. I will always look at this game and offer opinions about it based on how terrifying it was to type in my password and click on “Engage” for the first time.

You laugh, but it was terrifying. I had NO IDEA what it was like and I was afraid people would be horrible to me.

As you all know, Star Trek brings out the best in people. It’s why Trekkies are so passionate about the franchise – if we get “nasty” it’s because we see the franchise being diluted or twisted into a cookie-cutter clone of other less hopeful or paranormal sci-fi franchises. Frankly, we simply love what makes Trek so different from other franchises and we don’t like it when we see corporations trying to punch our square peg into the other franchises’ round holes.

But, as the economy changes in Star Trek Online have come in, piecemeal, in frustrating waves of confusion which leads to ire and anger leads to hate…

…wait – wrong genre… sorry. ;)

But you get my point. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been testing an unfinished product, only to proffer an opinion, only to be told – “Wait don’t offer your opinion yet, because we’re NOT DONE”; and then another HUGE piece of this economy gets thrown in, which I try to learn; only to be told – “Wait, we’re NOT DONE and another piece of the game gets thrown in – which I try to learn…

Getting the picture here?

Yeah, I gave up.

I haven’t played the game, with the exception of attempting to play a few Foundry missions for review for Podcast UGC in three weeks.

I was tired of not having anything to do in the REAL game. I was tired of feeling like I was useless in the FAKE GAME because I can’t render a useful opinion because the parameters keep changing.

My husband briefly mentioned that he may try the game. Nothing would have made be happier six months ago, but I haven’t had the heart to tell him I haven’t played in 3 weeks.

So this morning I got snippy. I got snippy on Twitter because I don’t like to be snippy in the forums. I WANT to be constructive there, but every time I start to say something, I’m shut down by yet another piece of the game that MIGHT alter my opinion.

So I started to tweet sarcastically about how Picard and Kirk and Sisko and Archer all needed to find ore to refine in order to get crystals so they could go back home to Earth and trade it all in for – oh….torpedoes or some such shit.

I realized I was getting angry and then took a deep breath and tried to clarify my thoughts and have come to this:

1)  An economy in a F2P MMO is a necessary evil. I can live with one that works fairly.
2)      Cryptic is holding back promised material in order to make their conversion to F2P look cooler and bigger and more spectacular and as such;
3)      Subscribing to STO at this time is a huge waste of money.
4)      Participating in the test server is also, at THIS TIME, a personal waste as proffered opinions become irrelevant every Thursday (patches). Why waste your breath or your time typing out ideas? Let’s get the ENTIRE thing out there and THEN let us figure out how to screw each other so Cryptic can put in firewalls or create a new kind of lubricant to ease the pain.
5)      Cryptic is NOWHERE near ready to push this conversion. If it happens before 12/31 it will undoubtedly suffer the same ramifications the game did during the Season 4 fiasco. Let’s face it Cryptic, you’re already losing monthly sub-holders, what’s a few more if it means you’re relying on the Silver players any way? WAIT TIL IT’S RIGHT!
6)      THIS KILLS ME!!!  The Foundry probably isn’t Perfect World’s idea of a viable product. It won’t make enough money to justify personnel. I give it 6 months before they execute it. I just get the feeling it was nothing more than an experiment to see how well the tools might work in Neverwinter – a game that will be much more Foundry based. They’ve already moved the two Foundry QA people out and into other positions. I just get the feeling they’re washing their hands of it.

It should now be noted that while I was typing this dissertation, yet ANOTHER post of changes has come out. Luckily it doesn’t render the majority of my rant invalid.
They’ve come up with a couple of ideas that supposedly make subscribing to the game AFTER it goes F2P more worthwhile. Admittedly, here, I am biased. Since I am a lifetime subscription holder (and was BEFORE the game EVER went live) my opinions ARE irrelevant here. I’m NOT sure what a monthly sub holder will see as being worth $12-$15/month as opposed to just playing and dealing with the new format for free and then paying for C-Store points (or just quitting the game) when they get too frustrated to play a game that should be fun. (Ooops, I let my snark out there a bit, didn’t I?)

So here – since this is MY blog and it comes with a whole COMMENT thingy – why don’t we just open this up?

Look, if I’m totally wrong about stuff – let me know. I can take it. I WANT to be wrong! Give me reasons why you think the new economy will work and that we will still have the same caring community this game has enjoyed since it began!

Tell me why fleets will be stronger than ever!

Tell me why crafting will be SO FUN!

Tell me why people should play this game after it goes free to play.

Tell me how Star Trek it will be…