What Star Trek Online Should Learn From Champions

theenemywithinhd669Once Star Trek Online launches in the spring of 2010 (reportedly), Cryptic will truly transition from a one-title company into a multi-launched MMO studio.  According to Jack Emmert, the shared technology and resources between the three dev teams (Champions, Star Trek and an as-yet-unannounced title, presumed to be a D&D MMO) is what’s making these parallel development processes work.

As Champions graduates from its initial rocky month and powers forward, here’s a few lessons about its launch that the Cryptic team would be wise to keep in mind for STO’s launch:

  1. Don’t launch until you’re 100% (or at least 98%) ready.  Champions was feature-complete, but had a lot of unfinished issues on launch day, along with systems that really needed to tested a whole heck of a lot more (retcons and the economy, anyone?  power balance?) than it got.
  2. Be smarter with your launch promotions.  Champions’ pre-order pricing promotions should have been nothing but a positive boost for the game’s PR, and yet they shot themselves in the foot with time- and number-limits that asked players to take a huge leap of faith before many even stepped foot in the game.
  3. Character customization is the game’s “first impression” — Cryptic did a great job with Champions’ character creator, and Star Trek will let players both customize their race and their ship.  They could help boost the game’s public profile by releasing a race editor prior to launch for free.
  4. When the community is extremely and prolifically vocal about perceived problems, don’t sail by and ignore them.  Cryptic is hardly the first studio to do this around launch time, publicly ignoring issues while proclaiming that the emperor does, indeed, have great clothes, but their seeming indifference of the playerbase’s concerns did nothing but bite them in the weeks after launch, as they were forced to finally confront and deal with these potholes (the potholes being the issues, not the players).
  5. Communicate constantly, and be prepared to compensate easily offended players.  For all of Cryptic’s missteps with Champions, they restored a lot of goodwill by handing out free game time and respecs, as well as being frank and open with where the most dire problems were and how they were going to deal with them.
  6. Have enough content or hold off release until you do.  Right now, Cryptic is playing catch up with Champions’ quest content, frantically adding more to close the content gap in several levels.  If they had given themselves more time or had better foresight, this wouldn’t be catch up at all, but simply adding more delicious toppings to the cake.
  7. Give players more than one path to the end.  I don’t have a lot of knowledge as to STO’s leveling path, but Cryptic’s solitary progression path (PvP doesn’t really count as a leveling tool in CO, does it?) in Champions hurt replayability in a game where players want to do nothing more than make alts.
  8. Keep up the synergy between MMO titles.  I love that they’re already doing a lot of cross-promotional stuff between CO and STO (such as giving out confirmed beta access to players who shelled out for longer Champions subscription plans), and hope that we see more in the future.  According to Jack Emmert, there should even be a Station Access-type multi-MMO subscription system coming in the future.

As for Champions, once the game is shored up a bit more, they really need to get on that XBox 360 version to show us that they’re not just another developer who’s all talk on the console port front and no action (such as, oh, FunCom).

8 thoughts on “What Star Trek Online Should Learn From Champions

  1. canazza October 8, 2009 / 11:03 am

    The problem CO has (or had, it’s slightly less so now they’ve fleshed out Monster Island) is that post 30 you *had* to do atleast a level of Stronghold PvP to get ahead. Sadly, Stronghold is probably one of the most boring PvP arena’s I’ve played in. It’s like a mini version of WoW’s Alterac Valley, with alot less to do, and frustratingly overpowered bosses.

    As for early releases, there’s not much Cryptic can do when Atari are prodding them in the back with the sharp pointy stick of doom.

  2. Longasc October 8, 2009 / 11:27 am

    Some days ago I wondered if the company that made Champions Online so “light” on content so far is able to provide 2-3 MMOs with enough stuff to keep people occupied and playing. Unless the invent the ultimate sandbox or something like that.

  3. lukane09 October 8, 2009 / 11:57 am

    “as they were forced to finally confront and deal with these potholes (the potholes being the issues, not the players).”

    This made my day.

  4. Blue Kae October 8, 2009 / 12:21 pm

    Good list, Syp. I think number 5 is the most important one. Initially I thought the communication was pretty poor, since you had to go to the forums and search around a bit. Getting the community manager’s twitter account improved things quite a bit, but I imagine that a good portion on the player base is not active on twitter. I’ve been much more impressed in the last week or two with the updates on the front page, especially the recent map issue where the news entry was kept updated.

  5. Rog October 8, 2009 / 5:07 pm

    I’m a little torn over whether I think listening to players is working for Champions, or making it worse.

    The cheaper Retcons specifically seem to be leading now into more balancing, an inflated game-economy and more than a few players saying they feel detached from their characters with easy (and several free) retcons.

    Having the Retcons there and unattainable was awful, for sure, but I’m wondering if it would have worked out better if they just didn’t have Retcons at all. Players might have accepted their choices more if the respec carrot wasn’t dangling in front of them.

    The problem with compensating easily offended players: What happens to the rest of us when the balance of the game gets thrown out in the process?

  6. We Fly Spitfires October 8, 2009 / 5:08 pm

    MMORPGs always launch too early (apart from if you’re Blizzard) and I think that’s because it always boils down to money and management. I’m sure if the devs had their way, these games would stay in development another year until utterly polished and ready.

    I think waiting for stuff to be perfect is probably the best way to ensure things go smoothly and the game is well accepted.

  7. Blue Kae October 8, 2009 / 6:58 pm

    @Rog – I haven’t noticed any detachment from my heroes as a result of the free retcons. Actually I feel a bit more attached since I was able to use a retcon to switch from electricity to force which ended up fitting the concept I had much better.

  8. Tim October 8, 2009 / 11:20 pm

    Good list. I hope that Cryptic sits back and rethinks it’s notion that, with the technology platform in place, building a complete MMO on top only takes a couple of years.

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