Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My predictions for Star Trek Online Free to Play (F2P)

    It's a reasonably known fact that Star Trek Online is going to be going Free-to-Play (also known as F2P) sometime in 2011. Since it's the middle of October, that means it's probably going to happen soon. Obviously, I can't review what hasn't been released yet but the developers over at the website have been kind enough to share their development process in regular journals. There's also a lot of play-testing going on I am not a part of.

    So, this is actually a review of the semi-educated gamer who is just going to give his thoughts on what he THINKS he's going to get.

    Take it with a grain of salt.

    1:] More of the Same: I have heard some pretty wacky theories about what Star Trek Online was going to be re-released as. My favorite was the idea that the developers were dumping the entirety of the current MMO and rebooting it like Star Wars: Galaxies was cashiered in for Star Wars: The Old Republic (to simplify what happened there).

    I think this was always the wishful thinking of those who hated the game and wanted something vastly different from the get go.

    At heart, everything I've read so far indicates that Star Trek Online is basically going to remain... Star Trek Online. It'll have the same graphics, game-play, starships, and missions as before. There's just going to be the obvious change you're not going to have to pay for it anymore.

    Since the very beginning, a lot of games have been begging for a transformation of Star Trek Online from a starship-based game to a character-based game where you and your friends could all work on the same starship. Suggestions have ranged from having NPC captains to each campaign taking place in a different sector with travel done off-camera.

    Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen.

    Star Trek Online is going to remain a game where you're the captain of your own starship and you fly around the universe blowing **** up.

    For better or worse.

    2:] A Trail of Gold Coins Leading to the C-Store: My father is a lifelong businessman from the time when it was actually possible to earn a decent living in America doing hard work (novel concept, I know).

    One thing he instilled into me from day one was the fact that "you get what you pay for." In the case of Star Trek Online Free to Play I'm sure we're going to find a staggering amount of gamers frustrated by the fact there's going to be better stuff available to people willing to buy it in the C-Store.

    For those unaware of what a C-Store is, I ask why you're reading an article on Star Trek Online, but the short version is it's a store for in-game content like new shirts for your crew or in-game loot of one type or another.

    Likewise, I'm sure that there's going to be missions and content not available for the F2P crowd which will be available for cash subscribers.

    For example, I'll be entirely unsurprised if there's a "Terran Empire" campaign where you and your buddies can hop over to the Mirror Universe to fight the EVIL Terrans with the climax being facing down an evil version of your own ship captained by an evil version of you.I'd also be totally unsurprised if this content was only available for people with a paid-for "Gold" subscription.

    That's just business.

    3:] The Bonuses from the C-Store will remain largely meaningless: This is an odd little factoid that I'm sure many fans will disagree with but I don't think the post F2P "C-Store only" equipment will be particularly good. Sadly, for $200 bucks real-cash you won't be able to purchase your own V'Ger with planet-destroying superweapon at Lieutenant level.

    (Awesome as that would be).

    My reasoning for this is because F2P is basically an extended demo. They want people to become intrigued enough by Star Trek Online  to become invested in the property. People live, breathe, and die Warcraft and STO will never have that. However, they can have people who will make this a regular part of their day if they don't have to worry about paying every month. You don't want to scare those very same customers off by making it impossible for them to be competitive.

    In the end, they're just going to be tiny things that will make it easier for you in-game like an extra 5.5% shield regeneration bonus or extra 10 points to your phasers.

    4:] The Developers are going to artificially lengthen game-play: One thing that has been especially controversial is the introduction of the Dilithium System.

    You won't be able to get a new ship, the object of every Star Trek Online gamers' fantasies, until you have refined a certain mount of dilithium. Say 200,000 dilithium crystals or whatever to get the Sovereign-class ship when you're flying around in a Galaxy-class ship. Furthermore, there will be a maximum amount of dilthium you can refine each day.

    This, of course, is a marked change from the previous system where you receive a new ship every time you go up in rank. I can understand what the developers were thinking with this. This is meant to draw out game-play so you can stay at a certain power level a lot longer than you might normally.

    Overall, I think this is going to be a mistake and will bite them in the butt. Ships are things players love and if they introduced a hundred more ships into the game that everyone could get by going through a ridiculous quest line, there would be people lining up in droves to collect them. I, myself, wish I'd been able to keep my Klingon starship from the Doomsday Machine adventure. I can just see my heroic Federation PCs piloting around a Romulan warbird or Borg Sphere.

    Okay, maybe that would be silly but I expect this to be amended. They'll introduce repeatable quests to farm refined dilithium and we'll probably get the equivalent of Chinese Gold Farmers offering to trade refined dilithium for cash. Hell, they say they're not going to sell refined diltihium in the C-Store but you know people will demand it who just want their Sovereign-class ship.

    I expect there will be a greater emphasis on crafting and other time-consuming activities in game so that gamers can be expected to pour more of their time into Star Trek Online.

    5:] Player vs. Player will continue to get the shaft: I have a confession to make, I don't play Player vs. Player (or PVP).  I don't really have an interest in measuring my skills against those who equally enjoy my hobby.

    I think part of the reason is because I suck.  It doesn't matter what game, I always turn it down to "Easy" and leave it there. Yet, a lot of games thrive on matching their players' skills against one another. Halo wouldn't be Halo if not for teams of red and blue shooting the hell out of one another.

    Unfortunately for PvP enthusiasts, I'm not getting the impression that this is an area that the developers are particularly concerned with. I'm fairly certain Player vs. Enemy (or PVE) is the market that they're trying to court. I.e. Solo Gamers.

    I'm sure that a few bones will be thrown their way but I don't think that they'll be receiving nearly the same attention as other groups.

    Sorry, guys.

    6:] The content will continue to remain largely Federation-based: One thing that has always bugged a lot of Star Trek Online fans is that the Klingons get screwed in terms of content. They get only a fraction of the adventures that Federation players get and the majority of the game-board, so to speak, is Federation. Plenty of their adventures are adapted from Federation content and seem to be in a haphazard manner from the complaints I've heard.

    (Is it true that some Klingon missions actually end with "Hail Starfleet"?)

    Sadly, the statements about the Klingon Faction lead me to believe they'll actually be moved to becoming a "sideshow" as opposed to something you're expected to believe is a reasonable alternative to the Federation. I expect the eventual Romulan Faction will be treated much the same way and any Cardassian Factions that are created.

    Sorry guys.

    7:] New adventures will continue to come in a trickle rather than a wave: The thing I want most out of Star Trek Online is more content. I've still got a couple of campaigns left in the Undine, Devidians, and Borg but I'm eventually going to run out of adventures to do.

    Personally, I hope the developers at STO will continue to release a steady stream of new campaigns to keep me interested. I don't take much to be satisfied but this is what I'm really hoping for most. More content and less bland "Go into System X and shoot down 6 squadrons of Y type of starship" missions.

    8:] Shooter mode won't blow anyone away: I love Halo, Mass Effect 2, and Killzone. However, they're  designed around the idea of your character lugging around machine guns and plugging away at enemies until they go down. Phasers are inherently less violent, even with addition of miniguns to them. Likewise, I suspect they're just adapting existing adventures as opposed to creating content specifically around shooter-mode's perspective.

    Call me crazy, but I think it's unlikely the new "shooter" mode is going to revolutionize Star Trek Online's game play. I do hope, however, it leads to more ground-based missions.

    9. Starship Interiors are going to remain generic: One of the biggest complaints about Star Trek Online's starships is the fact that they're not really "yours" the way the Enterprise was Kirk's. For the longest time, they didn't even actually possess interiors other than the bridge. There's nothing to do in the Engine Room or Crew Quarters but at least they're there. I appreciate that change, because it gives me an added sense that I "own" my starship.

    Sadly, ship customization doesn't appear to be high on the list of the developer's goals. I would totally decorate the **** out of starship with large-scale interior customization options. I'd make Ten Forward have a Ferengi bartender, give it a Hawaiian feel, and the Captain's quarters would have a holographic fish-tank with a shark in it. Oh and while we're at it, I'd like an armory where I can store trophies from all my various missions plus those weapons I want to keep but don't have any more use for.

    Plus, I want a space unicorn.

    Anyway, I don't mind too much that I'm going to be Captain of a vessel I can't customize to a ridiculous level but it would have been nice.

    10. The Flag Officer ranks are going to be expanded: The problem with tying rank to level means that eventually you're going to run out of ranks to promote your character to. I think players are going to get more than a little suspicious when the developers introduce "Grand Admiral Five Stars" to the game. Personally, my suggestion is that the Flag Officer ranks should be expanded to 20 levels each. I don't think this is going to happen but I wouldn't be surprised if they're expanded to level levels each like the other ranks. This is a good thing in my opinion.

    Basically, Flag Officer should be when your character is free to go exploring whatever the hell he wants to do in the Star Trek Universe. There should be less pressure to try and move your way up through the ranks. Honestly, I wish that was the case with the Captain rank because I'd love to see player characters have the option of simply refusing to become a Flag Officer and continuing indefinitely as a Captain.

    That just seems more of a Star Trek thing to do.

    Overall, I'm not sure how accurate my predictions will be but I'm still pretty excited for F2P. I enjoy Star Trek Online and hope to continue playing it for months in the future. Still, that will require more than just bells and whistles to keep me interested. I'm going to need something substantive to chew on for anything more than the most causal gaming experience.

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