12 February 2016

Star Trek Online: Why I Think It’s Broken and Why I’ll Keep On Playing

Star Trek Online is celebrating it’s 6th Anniversary this month. But the celebration has soured for me. I was in from the beginning. Before it was Free-2-Play. Before it was free to download. I had purchased my copy through Stardock’s Impulse Gaming Platform and dove head first into the first online, PC game, I had ever explored or played. I was 46 years old. I had a step-son who was playing W.O.W., and that was all I knew of the online gaming universe at the time.

Over the years,I have tried to be supportive. I even kept up a monthly subscription when it went F2P. But after the first year of that, I found myself closing my subscription and going the F2P route. There were too many bugs, too many discrepancies in the games economy. Accusations flying around that the PvP folks pulled the strings or the ones who held subscriptions did, that F2P people were ignored. The few perks paying a subscription fee suddenly didn’t seem worth it.

All of that side, the past few two years have seen it;s ups and downs. I don’t claim to have a clue how well the game is doing over all. They are a few who claim STOL is going down, or already has gone down and just refuses to see the light at the end of the tunnel and walk towards it. Me, I want the game to work. I want it to last another six years. I love Star Trek. I am invested in this game in more ways than just money

Because since I started playing STOL, I have made friends through the game and they have showed me other games. I’ve played many. I’ve always come back to STOL, because it is my first true love in gaming and there really is nothing else that can replace the whole Star Trek experience for me like STOL does.

Sadly, though…and finally…I find myself starting to drift from the game. I don’t need to list all the in game issues or go on about the things that should be fixed , or what’s wrong with this and that. It’s not the game that is broken. What’s broken is the intent to take a widely, deeply loved, and cherished franchise and make something out of it that should be truly magnificent and wonderful and leave no player hoping that another company will come along and get it right because THIS ONE should be right.

A week ago, on what has become an almost nightly event, STOL was DDoS-ed (attacked). Granted, these attacks are not the fault of STOL and I honestly don’t know if that is the main cause for these nightly crashes. So, while it was down,  I looked to the forums to see if anyone, meaning DEV, had posted what was going on this particular night. I stumbled across a thread titled

 “Frequently Created Threads (F.C.T.)”.

 This thread was put up by one of the Moderators and it basically listed F.T.C.’s (I am using the abbreviation only because the poster did so in the title?) that would not be permitted anymore because

 “The team constantly sees questions that get asked over and over again, even when developers have responded”

and so

“Any threads created about the topic's below will now be closed with a link to this FCT.”



I can understand and appreciate this. I’ve been part of enough forums that I have seen this happen and if it drives me nuts, I can only imagine what it does to the Moderators. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with their choice of handling it.

Reading the thread, I counted approximately 14 closed topics. Some were familiar, some were funny, One seemed petty, and some may even be deemed necessary, all depending on your point of view. But there was one that really got me. I read it over and over to be sure I was actually seeing what I was seeing.  It concerned players constantly requesting that the DEV’s design custom interiors/bridges for the ships.

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An entire game based on one of the most well known franchises world wide that knowingly will be dependent on that specific fan-base for it’s bread and butter and NOT your typical gamer (How many like myself picked up STOL , having never played a PC game before in their entire life, just because it was Star Trek?) and the developers are saying

“Building custom bridges takes longer than a couple of days. Something like the Suliban/Andorian/Tholian Bridges, were each 5 days of Environment work from me.”

and

“Then it needs design time to hook up any intractables, doors, etc.”

“etc.?!?!?!!?”

They are basically saying that they don’t want to do there jobs. That’s how I took it,  because designing these things ARE their jobs. The paragraph I read is telling me they are drawing a line in the sand as to how far they are willing to go to give the player the full experience. Forget that a lot….A WHOLE FREAKING LOT (because the game would not exist and no one would be getting paid) of people pour ridiculous amounts of money into this game on a daily basis. We’re talking hundreds of dollars per person to purchase these virtual ships at $30 a pop on upwards and over $100. If you have never gamed, you would probably have a mind-numbing headache if you only knew how much a lot of gamers are willing to fork out to play any of these games. I have run across gamers who have spent thousand-O-dollars to play STOL. Thousands. If you game at all, you know what am saying is true in almost any online MMO similar to STOL or WOW. I even caught myself trying to justify spending twenty dollars on a ship I really wanted, when twenty dollars is a lot of money to me.

But forget that. Forget the money. Forget it. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist and you don’t need one red cent to play the game or do anything in it. You can advance and have all the best that is available for FREE. But keep that one part in mind….

all the best that is available

Because, in the thread I read..in that one paragraph, it has been spelled out that their is a line and you will basically get what you get as long as they don’t find it too much trouble.

“we could have skimped on Risa more, and built an interior, or done what was done, and skipped the interior which would have served little purpose anyway, and went with beefing up Risa.”

This is something I would expect to hear from the guy painting my house or the guy who does my lawn. “Well, it was either edge the lawn along the driveway or use the leaf blower to clean up the clippings and edging takes like an extra 40 minutes….”  I must be truly naive to believe that graphic artists and game designers are doing what they really LOVE to do and that you couldn’t begin to stifle their creativity or need to see something all the way through and make it amazing.

I can only read this one way. Maybe it’s just me. But what I am reading, interpreting, understanding, is that I will never get the full experience. I will never count. That my desire to play a game rich in Star Trek cannon, detail, ambiance, etc., will never fully be realized in this particular game. And it starts me to looking closer at the game, at the re-used, re-purposed graphics and designs. Things that should be unique to a faction or race used somewhere else, I can only assume, because designing something fresh would take to long.

If I had the talent any one of the STOL artists/dev’s had and it only took 5 days at most to design a bridge, I would design bridges for free and offer them up to STOL or the players  in a DC package if possible. If I had their talent and could get paid to use it,  I’d be in freaking heaven and demanding they let me do the bridges in my spare time. I just can’t imagine what it must be like to be so gifted and talented and to get paid for it, paid to do something you love and say ‘we could have skimped’ here and done that there but we didn’t want to cause it takes 5 days more.??

This is really very simple. All the bitching and moaning from the players that goes on and on can be summed up in one phrase. “The devil is in the details.” Yes, it makes it harder or takes longer, but it’s the extra detail and effort that makes it…and in this case, could go a long way in quieting a lot of people. It’s one thing when you think you don’t matter and a whole other thing when you’re told you don’t matter. It’s the latter that makes you look a whole lot harder at what’s in front of you and if it;s worth the aggravation. Appearance is everything and here it applies figuratively as well. If the detail was there to begin with and the love the player has for that game was expressed by the artists/dev’s hand or touch, ti would go a long way to changing a lot of bad impressions.

I don’t know much when it comes to what it takes to put together a game like STOL. When I compare it to other games, my friends who are more in the know will explain to me that this game is built on an older engine, and that game has that because of whatever….all stuff I don’t really understand.

But I do understand some things.

I do understand, from one paragraph, that the folks behind STOL have decided that the customer really is not all that special. The fan, the Trekkie, if you will, the hardcore gamer who has come to expect more because they know it can be done is not that special. And never will be.

***  (You know, as I write this, I keep wondering in my mind how many people have lost their jobs because they said something took too long, or how many businesses went down, how many PR Reps held their positions when they went before the press or public and just said ‘We didn’t want to go the extra mile cause it would have taken five more days’. I mean, it’s STOL who sets the schedule!! We’re not sitting out here going ‘Whattaya mean five more days for the ship!?!!?! WTF? WE gotta wait five more days?!?!!?” when we DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THE SCHEDULE IS!?!?!)

Even when they know themselves they can do more, do better, if for no other reason than the fact that they already designed a dozen bridges and have shown us interiors that make us drool, they will not go that extra step.

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I do understand that this has to make just about anyone who plays the game and even an outsider who just reads that one paragraph wonder where else they will cut corners or to paraphrase, ‘refuse to go where other dev’s have gone before’.

And finally…I KNOW…I know that there are other players…and I’m sure an overwhelming majority of players like me that if asked would say ‘You need another five days to do the bridge? Sure. No problem.” 

The real question is, how long can STOL wait, really wait to make that bridge? Because I’m sure there is someone out there who is not only willing to make the bridge…they’ll put a fucking gold pressed latinum cup holder on the captain’s chair.

I happen to be unemployed right now. I’m on disability and I can’t even drive from chronic pain and medication. So, gaming has become an unexpected hobby for me. I also get to socialize with some amazing people. Three guys in my fleet went in and bought me a decent graphics card and power supply after I poured out money I really didn’t have on what I thought was my first real gaming computer, only it wasn’t. Like I said, I don’t know everything and I know very little in other instances. I was embarrassed to find out I was bragging over a PC that wasn’t anything near what I thought it was. But it was STOL that brought me together with these guys. And STOL has given me hours and hours of enjoyment and distraction from my pain. I spent years dreaming of having enough money to buy a lifetime sub of STOL. Sometimes that’s all we get, though. And like my dream of ever having a lifetime sub, my dream of the game being better than it is, being what I know it can be, seem to be far and away out of reach.

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