As we’re hitting the one-month point for STO, which is a significant milestone for every MMO, two questions loom above all. How many people are sticking around for a second month of a paid subscription, and what is Cryptic doing or promising to convince them to do so?
I think it’s significantly telling that I haven’t read anyone who’s absolutely delighted with the amount of content in the game right now, particularly at the level cap — which several folks have hit without breaking a sweat. Sure, there’s delight in aspects of what the game has to offer and many voices happy with the space combat, the Star Trek feel and the ownership of a ship, but that doesn’t stretch to blanket the whole package. It’s merely parts that are clung to instead of embracing it all.
For me, STO became a complete Champions Online redux, with all its highs and lows. Its combat is solid, graphics attractive, and gameplay aimed right at the casual player. Yet it was obviously launched too soon, it’s too instanced to give the feeling of a cohesive universe, sector space is an atrocious way to navigate, their microtransactions a PR bruise, and the end game skimpier than spring break on Miami Beach. Whatever the reason for shoving it out the door quickly — and then defending the move as saying how brilliant they were for bring a MMORPG to market in two years — they’re now tasked with both running a live game and scrambling to shore up its weak spots.
Personally? I don’t hate the game. It’s fun for what it is. But what it is is not a $15/month title. What it is is half-baked, and needs more time in the oven. I think that, like Champions, players coming to STO a year from now will find a far more mature and fully-fleshed out title — and fewer players than they’d like.
So let’s take a look at what Cryptic is doing, particularly with their new community relations focus, on getting STO to where it needs to be. They recently sent out a survey to current players — which they incentivized by giving players 240 Cryptic Points for filling out (the cost of the Federation Klingon race) — and Tipa has a terrific response on her blog to this.
You can’t help but read their latest State of the Game post and not hear this as a direct plea for players to stay in the game. As always, it’s easy to promise the sky in regards to the indefinite future, so with that disclaimer, let’s take a look:
- They emphasize just how hard they’re working. This is a plea for sympathy and also reassurance that they’re not sitting on their laurels. I don’t envy any dev team in the first month of launch, and I can’t blame them for trying to communicate just how it is on their side.
- They’re continuing to increase server capacity and stability, and shorten queues — all good, all necessary, all fundamentally unforgivable if players can’t play what they’re paying for.
- The big promises with an indefinite timeline: Respec, Death Penalty, Difficulty Slider, More open auto-fire, Replayable missions, Improving Memory Alpha, Fixing those Commodity missions. All of these are significant issues that almost every STO player will agree need to be fixed or implemented, and it’s great that at least Cryptic is acknowledging them. BUT. I want to take a rolled-up newspaper to the side of their head for making lighting strike twice by messing up the whole “respec” thing two games in a row. Is there a reason they couldn’t anticipate this? Or why they neglected to create a death penalty until after the game launched?
- As has been said, Memory Alpha is a huge joke of a “crafting” system, and man, they need to get that black mark off their record sooner rather than later. You know it’s bad when you don’t even hear any marketing spin for what they think are its good angles. It’s the very definition of a half-assed feature put into a game just to have another bullet point on the back of the boox.
- Raids are on the way, soon. These aren’t just nice, they’re going to be the lifeblood of every player who hits the level cap and doesn’t want to PvP or reroll an alt. I just hope they not only deliver, but are compelling enough to handle the burden of being the premiere end game content.
- Other vaguely-defined future promises: ship interiors, first officers, fleet advancement. Sounds good, and also sounds like things that should’ve been there on day one. But that might just be me.
The letter kind of ends on a curious note, with the author separating the audience into those who “get it” and those who don’t. It’s an interesting tactic to take — sort of emotionally rewarding those who continue to be a proponent of STO while at the same time trying to label those who have withdrawn support as those who just don’t get it. You’re with us or against us, that sort of thing. Maybe I’m reading into that a little too much.
He also says “We guessed [that STO would be polarizing and only appeal to some folks] and still we made a conscious decision to not water things down and go ‘mass market’.”
Um… you mean you didn’t go “mass market”? I guess I’m not sure what that means, then. As far as I can tell, STO’s combat-centric nature and eschewment of several Star Trek traits that weren’t as easy to sandwich into a MMO meant tells me they were trying to appeal to a wider market than a narrower one. You made a game where stuff blows up real good and some of the guys have bumpy foreheads, and put stuff like “diplomacy” and “problem solving” and “character relationship building” on the back burner. I don’t think you could make Star Trek more appealing to the general masses than that.
All in all, I don’t think this letter gives them a free pass, but for those who are looking for a reason why they should stick with STO — or to come back in the near future — there’s a lot of tantalizing concepts here. We’ll have to see how quickly these ideas can become reality.