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First Anniversary Interview

William Murphy Posted:
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A year may only seem like a short amount of time to some folks, but in terms of game development a lot can happen in 365 days. What have you and your staff learned about the STO audience, and how will you adapt your strategies going forward?

Dan Stahl:

We’ve learned a lot about our audience because we communicate a lot with our audience. It is one thing to look at the back end data and reports and make decisions based on play habits, but quite another to actually get in game, play with players, talk to them and discuss their ideas on the forums.

Listening to what players have to say is important to our team. There’s a quote by Max De Pree that says, “We do not grow by knowing all of the answers, but rather by living with the questions.” Star Trek Online is growing because we are living with the questions and taking to heart what players say about the game and really debating what is at the core of the issue. That is why constructive criticism is far more useful than rude commentary. At the end of the day, the right to be heard doesn’t automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

Really listening has helped us prioritize the tasks ahead of us and ensure that our strategy moving forward is on track with player expectations. We recognize that we can’t wave magic wands and give everyone what they want instantly, but we can continuously discuss the questions at hand and navigate in the right direction.


What’s on deck for year two? A lot of year one in the MMO world is spent getting your bearings with a live product. But year two, if you’re fortunate enough to make it that long, is when big expansions and additions usually start to surface. What do you guys have planned for the year ahead?

Dan Stahl:

Those are some interesting external observations in that they certainly generalize what other MMOs have done in the past, but I’d argue that every game has the right to be different. What rule says that a game has to have an expansion surface in year two? Personally, I think that might be tied to business models that are specific to the game in question. Certainly Cataclysm follows World of Warcraft’s business model of releasing new content as paid expansions, but does that mean that Star Trek Online has to follow suite and release a paid expansion 3 years from now? Our plan is to focus on releasing new content and features continuously as we have since launch. I see no reason to ask our users to wait months or years for new content and features while we work on a paid expansion that will release sometime in the future. Having the ability to update the game regularly is more nimble and allows us to grow with the community instead of waiting to see what they’ll think of our expansion when it comes out.

In the next year we are going to introduce updates to Ground Combat, including a new over the shoulder targeting mode. We are going to introduce a new crew mechanic that will allow players to micro-manage the individual duty officer assignments on their ships. We are going to be releasing the Foundry which offers powerful mission creation tools to our users which can use existing in game locations and tie directly into the actual game mission journal. We will be adding more Feature Episode series, add more ships, more costumes, more antagonists, more locations to visit, and a wealth of other additions which we communicate on a regular basis in our Engineering Reports.


Player-created content is the big headline for STO in 2011. How’s that project coming along? It’s a lot to undertake, that’s for sure, and needs to be pitch perfect upon release so that players can jump in right away and take advantage of the toolset.

Dan Stahl:

It’s easy to be skeptical of User Generated Content tools. In one way or another, many of us have had experiences using some sort of tool that was billed as an awesome way to add or mod our favorite game. Personally, I’ve always found modding tools to be more complex and frustrating than I wanted them to be. I’ve had great ideas that I wanted to turn into a Neverwinter Nights campaign, but boy was that not easy to do. I’ve got some great mods I’d like to make to Civ, but man I’m not enough of an artist to create the unit textures and models I need. Ultimately I end up frustrated with the toolsets available and end up playing other people’s mods.

Seeing the Foundry in action, I’m hopeful that we’ve made a huge step forward in both usability and flexibility when it comes to player generated content. Early indications from beta testers are positive and we’ve seen some players who have never made a mod or touched a development tool, create compelling and high rated stories on our Foundry Beta Server.

To ensure the tools are moving in the right direction we take the extra step to actually call customers using the toolset and get their direct feedback on how their experience is going and what we can make better.

By adding the features that players want most, we feel that the Foundry is going to be in awesome shape when we put the first beta version on Holodeck in the coming month.


Thanks so much for your time, and congratulations again on hitting the one year mark! Do you have any parting words for our readers about STO and 2011?

Dan Stahl:

Thank you for taking the time read this and sharing your opinions with us. The team works a ton of hours putting a lot of love into the game and we’re thankful that many players are returning to see what the good news is about.

Our goal is that through hard work and continuing to deliver on our plans, the game will continue to grow and evolve in the MMO space. We look forward to 2011 and beyond.

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.