Recently, I had the chance to sit down and speak with Craig Zinkievich and Bill Roper about the sometimes controversial Star Trek Online. In the interview, they tried to address some of the issues that MMORPG.com readers have had with the game since its launch.
When Cryptic launched their "C-Store" for Star Trek Online, many people were outraged. They felt that asking them to pay a subscription fee and then offering further products for sale on top of that fee was, at the very least, not in the spirit of MMORPGs.
Zinkievich and Roper answered the question by pointing out that they have a policy against putting items in the C-Store that requires players to buy them, with nothing required for advancement, and nothing that allows players to "play better," or, as Roper put it, the store is populated with "Nothing that's truly substantive."
I asked the pair about that statement, pointing out that the new races that were made available in the store do indeed come with Traits that are different from what is available for free. I was told that while the traits are certainly a part of the races, they are primarily there to add flavor to your racial choice, and that none of the races offered have "the best" traits, or are anything "better" than what is available for the original subscription fee. In the end, I was told, species traits end up being almost completely cosmetic.
I asked how the company justifies their C-Store and was told by Zinkievich that "if we didn't have that revenue from the C-Store, items in the C-Store wouldn't get made" and that the store allows items to be completed and made available to players more quickly.
Lack of Social Interaction
Star Trek Online has often been referred to as an MMO that keeps people separated. Some players have complained that they can progress through entire ranks in the game without ever once interacting with anyone else.
I was told that the team is actively looking for ways to make this aspect of the game better and more engaging. Social interactions are happening within their game, but they feel that they need to do a better job of funneling people toward that interaction.
It was also pointed out to me that players may not be communicating as much as in some other more traditional MMOs because the game is designed to be fast-paced and require a lot of interaction, meaning that players aren't devoting time away from their combat or other activities in order to initiate chat.
Easy Mode Combat
With Star Trek Online, the question really wasn't to ask why they included combat, especially in space, that was incredibly easy and without much risk. That's an easy question to answer for ourselves, knowing that when anyone is learning a new game, they don't want to end up dead all the time. The real question is why was a decision made to keep the game in easy mode throughout the Lieutenant ranks and into Lieutenant Commander.
That decision, I was told, was actually made in reaction to the players. During Beta, when the developers dropped the level where the game got more difficult they saw a large drop off in their open beta players. A significant enough drop to make them re-think that strategy.
In the future, this issue will become a moot point as the team will be implementing difficulty sliders that will provide those who choose a more difficult path for combat will receive better rewards. It's a concept that was originally in the works for Champions Online that will now find a place in both games.
"It's Just Not Star Trek"
One of the biggest complaints that we've heard about Cryptic's Star Trek Online has been that there are many players out there who claim that it just "isn't Star Trek" enough. In other words, there are those out there who feel that STO is really just any other generic MMO (specifically Champions Online) with a Star Trek skin on it.
In a way, I was told that the team takes a little bit of offence to that statement, given that they have been trying to create a compelling game in the Star Trek universe. With that being said, they are free and willing to admit that there is at least one area in which they have fallen down on that front.
They recognize that they haven't included enough compelling non-combat activity for players to engage in and promise that they are planning on addressing this soon. In fact, we should prepare to see not only more of the non-combat stuff, but in the form of quintessentially Star Trek story devices like first contacts and discovering pre-warp civilizations.
Exploration missions, we are told, will become more and more like the traditional Star Trek non-combat missions that are so familiar to so many fans.
Then, of course, there's the complaint that all space combat ends up with at least one of the ships exploding.
That being said though, the developers realize that everyone's perception of what Star Trek is, is different and that everyone has their own take on it so that pleasing everyone is an almost gargantuan and impossibly task.