Gaming Devs Gone Stupid

Awhile ago I wrote that I hoped for the best with Dan Stahl no longer at the helm over at STO. Turns out my hope was misplaced.

STO announced last week that they would be removing Exploration from the game permanently, and shifting any and all active gameplay tasks related to it into the (passive) duty officer system.

Literally every screenshot I have ever uploaded here comes from Exploration clusters and missions.
Literally every screenshot I have ever uploaded here comes from Exploration clusters and missions.

Want to explore strange new worlds? Hell no. You think this is Star Trek or something?

Have a roleplaying group and want to run a random mission together as the basis of your roleplay? Hell no.

Only have a half hour to kill, but want to enjoy some time in STO? Hell no.

The crazy thing is that they are not replacing this source of content. Their only suggestion is to play player-made Foundry missions. But those are an hour or more of gameplay, and someone else is writing the story for you.

Even crazier is the reason – new players might be turned off by this content. Um, 1) there are very few new players coming in at this point. 2) New players are pointed expressly to the storyline missions and new group content. And in a slightly related 3) Nobody is complaining about the extra content. Nobody.

Why, oh why, would you remove content from the game (without a replacement)? Content that people enjoy and that nobody is complaining about? Content that is in no way unbalancing to the rest of progression or anything else?

This is strike two for STO (strike one being the continuing addition of ridiculous Transformers battleships). At strike two, we are at the point where you get no more of my money.

The only thing I can say at this point is thank God I didn’t buy a lifetime sub!

The Bridge is Getting Crowded

Okay, not so much like that.    More like this:


As you can see, I have something of a plethora of bridge officer candidates.  What can I say, I have have a hard time saying “no” to virtual applicants.


I could sell off the extra ones – but they are worth so little, and there are so many of them on the exchange, I’m not sure its worth the time it would take to list them.  But then again, inventory space is always at a premium for a pack rat like myself!


The other option is, of course, upgrades.  Because the officers are so cheap, laying ahold of one to train the “rare” mark II or III version of a skill is relatively simple.  Not to mention that if you have a buddy who can train that skill as a player character, they can train the bridge officer and then trade them right back to you!  No, the real reason to upgrade is the passive attributes, which are greater at each level.


Even then – I’m not sold.   After all, for the best efficiency, you need an entirely Saurian/Borg/Human bridge crew (only these three races grant passive bonuses to space combat), and a ground crew that is all but those three races – usually with nothing but Betazoid Science officers.  And I’m just not into that.  Not only am I a big fan of Jacques Ellul (who famously noted that Efficiency is currently humanity’s true god), but I’m a roleplayer.  I’m not here for the stats, people.


Long story short though, it is pretty sad.   Here is what I currently have in my slots vs. what is available…



1 x Purple, 1 x Green, 1 x White     vs.     5 x Blue


1 x Blue, 1 x White     vs.     2 x Purple, 5 x Blue


1 x Purple, 1 x Green, 1 x White     vs.     2 x Purple, 7 x Blue

Given that without spending Zen, you get a standard of 10 officers, with the ability to purchase new slots at $1.25 a pop, up to maximum of 54, according to the wiki.    Which I’m not keen on doing.


So, the TL:DR of all this is simple.   I have to be willing to say goodbye to some old friends if I want to upgrade.  As a roleplayer, and a pack rat, that’s a double whammy.   How do I give up the science officer I started with 45 levels ago, who has been with me through thick and thin and still functions just fine!


I probably need to just put my big boy pants on and fire some peeps.   Because I’m betting other players don’t have this issues like this…


Nor, I’m betting, did Captain Picard.

Another Toon Hits the Cap

As I mentioned yesterday I believe, I was getting close –


Energized with the power of Fifty…


And now I have a character at level cap on both the Starfleet and Klingon Defense Force sides of Star Trek Online.  It took me a while to get into the groove of the KDF side.  And I’m still not entirely there.  The dark tones make everything dim and illegible, and the ship bridges are horrifically red-lit (along with then entire UI – wish I could fix that).   Clearly I’m not much of a Klingon person – which explains why my character and my entire Bridge crew is made up of anything and everything but Klingons.  And…why I haven’t completed a single mission on the KDF side of the game outside of the introductory epidsode.


Yep, I literally leveled from 23 (or 22?) to 50 using nothing but the Duty Officer system.  Granted it would have gone a lot faster if I had been running episodes, but why bother when I could spend the time working on my main character while leveling this alt in the background?   The Doff System as it is called by most in game, is a prolific source of Skill Points (XP – the green double chevron).  Take a look:


Lackey…go forth and improve my skill!


Yep, that’s a regular, common duty officer on an assignment that is only uncommon (and thus fairly regular) in the system.  Generally, with a decent sized pool of Doff’s, you can rake in at least one such assignment every day.   To give you some perspective, that’s the same reward I would otherwise get for completing a full on Episode mission, which takes aroudn 45min to an hour to play.   But I got that while offline.   And it gets even better.  With an uncommon officer and an uncommon assignment, about 10% of the time you will get a critical success – resulting in this:




Now we are talking.  Even more amazing is that Cryptic has said that they are working on a mobile gaming component that would allow you to upkeep your Doff assignements through your phone.   Personally, I have no problem with this.  I enjoy being able to go back and do the missions at my leisure, with a full suite of abilities at my disposal, and my full set bridge crew in place for RP and story writing opportunities.


Some people have expressed distaste in this though.  The ease of leveling certainly makes one wonder “why bother at all, just give it to me at cap” – but I do think the little bit of work you have to put in, if nothing else, acts as a kind of tutorial and learning grade (not cliff a la EVE) to get familiar with the game.  The other complaint is that it makes some of the ship selection rather useless.  But truth be told, there is not a huge difference between the ships you have at, say, 20 and the ones you have at 50 (that you really got at 40).   While I haven’t tried it myself (but intend to this weekend) I’ve been told reasonably skilled players, with appropriate ranked equipment, can utilize those lower tier ships with no problem.   Remember that in STO, weapons and gear are modular on the skeleton of the ship – the only difference is in total hull hit points (which is modified by damage resistance plates by level) and number of weapon slots.  And these vary only by one or at most two slots between the tiers.  So I believe that’s not an issue – if there is a lower tier ship you enjoyed (and you don’t want to join a fleet and get the level 50 version) you can still play it with success through any missions.


Which leads me to the thought – why is it that more games don’t focus the core of their attention on endgame rather than the leveling curve?  And why box certain areas into certain levels only to see them deserted again?  When players are willing to camp out and play 20 hours a day to cap within a week on the staunchest and steepest of leveling curves – why bother?  Make a nice easy slope (with say a  two month expectancy for the average player) and then give everyone lots of goodies at the end.  That makes sense, right?

Lifetime Sub Sale Is Enticing

STO is rapidly approaching the 1000 veteran reward mark for its lifetime subscribers, and had been promising a new ship to go with it.  But they did one better.  Not only are there new ships (a new Heavy Destroyer for each side, more on that below), but they put up a sale on lifetime subs and went one better – anyone with a lifetime sub will now instantly receive all the veteran rewards, regardless of join date.


The sale itself is for $200 instead of $300 – which knocks it down to what is pretty much the industry standard these days.  So in that sense, its not too much of a deal.  But the game seems to be in good shape, with no danger of going anywhere anytime soon, and to be honest, dropping a lifetime sub any lower than that almost defeats the purpose of the monthly sub.  At $200 you really only need 13 months to get your money’s worth out of it.   Given that I’ve been playing the game regularly for the last 8 months, and haven’t hit any sort of ennui or dissipation of interest yet, and am in fact on the verge of getting a second character to 50, with a third on the way…it still seems like a great deal to me.


There has been some blowback on the Veteran Rewards going out instantly.    From a business perspective, it is certainly the way to go – nobody is going to buy a lifetime sub now only to wait 1000 to get their hands on the new ships.  So it kind of had to be done.  Still, I can understand the angst there.


Beautiful! From Jason “Vektor” Lee. The image hotlinks to his website.


As for the ships…boy are they sweet.  A cruiser/escort hybrid, they both look great.  The Starfleet one is actually one of the runner ups from the “design the new Enterprise” contest.  Its gotten mixed reviews but I absolutely love it.  I’m not wild about the “modes” – a little too Transformer-ish to me (I had the same problem with the Voyager’s variable sweep nacelles), but the overall design is great.  Its a fresh take on the elements while looking aggressive and sharp at the same time.   And to be honest, its the real sell for me.


Getting that ship, which I would already be paying $25 for, means I’m really looking at less than a year to recoup my loss.  Not to mention there are a couple of things in the C-Store I still want, and since Gold Sub status pays out $5 a month in store credit, I will save that money in Game Cards over the next year as well.


On the other hand…there is a tiny part of my brain wondering if this is a good idea.  I mean, it looks great to me, but pull back the camera a little and I’m paying out $200 for a F2P game that is two and a half years old.  They say the devil is in the details, but this time I’m thinking its the other way around.

…And then I found myself on the Final Frontier

Space.  Old Space.  And I have loved every minute of it.


Space is bigger than I remembered it.


I’m becoming more and more convinced that MMO’s life cycle requires a dose of “aging” much like wine or cheddar cheese.  If so, perhaps we can hope the whining over TOR will, in the end, benefit it.  I certainly hope so, since I’ve poured out my fair share of it.


We come in peace (Shoot to kill)


Until then, yes, even with the casual fun that is Guild Wars 2 and the World of Tanks (.)8.0 public test, I’m spending every free moment of game time in Star Trek Online.  I even went and joined a Fleet.  The biggest and best I could, so that I would have plenty of people to play with.   Because playing with friends is fun.


Birthday Bucks $$$

My wife’s grandparents sent me some money for my birthday, which was very kind of them.  They are also very old school, so they expect a thank you letter.  But they are actually kind of funny about it – if you don’t send a thank you card, your next birthday present will be a boring and/or tacky shirt or sweater of some sort.  The year following, you get another chance, and so on.  I love it.

So, naturally, I messed up last time, and I don’t want to do that again.  So as soon as I got the money in the mail I sat down and wrote out the following Thank You Card, which I dropped in the mail today:

“Dear Grandparent In-Laws,

Thank you very much for the birthday wishes and the gift of money!  I have used some of the money to purchase a new spaceship for myself, and am thinking I will use the rest to buy a new shirt for Sunday mornings.  Thank you!

PS – See enclosed photo of new ship.”

Wish I could be there when they open it!

The Apocalypse is Upon Us!

Yeah, I said it.  First it was Brad McQuaid re-emerging as a developer with Sony.

Now, this, from Dan Stahl, executive producer of Star Trek Online:


The key decision to move STO to F2P over the last year was crucial to our current success and while it was painful along the way, ultimately sets us up for the future. It really makes me wonder if other games such as SWTOR wished they would have launched F2P as well, because converting all the systems over to a new business is a huge challenge.


Yes, that’s right ladies and gents, you heard that right:  Cryptic (the studio that got sold off) and Star Trek Online (the MMO that flopped like the left ear of the Easter Bunny) are concerned about the long term survivability of Star Wars: The Old Republic.  If anyone had told me a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.  But today it not only sounds less than insane, it actually sounds right on the money.


Truly, this is 2012 kinda stuff happening around here lately.

And then, before I knew it, I was a Captain…

I’ve been playing STO again for something like 13 days.  And by “playing” I mean that I did the “2800” series, which is like five or six “episodes” (quests, if you will), and one additional episode from the series I was on when I last played over a year ago.  Outside of that, I’ve done only dailies and rotated my duty officer assignments around playing my other games.

And in those 11 days, I have gained more than 10 levels.  In fact, I had planned a post on “what ship should I choose” – because I was not sure if I wanted to branch out and try cruisers, in part because I intensely dislike the Defiant (errr…”Tactical Escort”) and I’m not a huge fan of the Intrepid class either.   But after some consideration, I realized that 1) I was going to hit Captain long before I thought I was and 2) for $6.25 + some leftover Cryptic points from my pre-order and some survey I did, I can purchase the Long Range Science Vessel Refit, aka the Bellepheron, aka the “USS Voyager, only much cooler looking.”

To Boldly Go...and Look Awesome While We Do It

And given how much fun I’ve had in the game and that its kinda my secondary game fix now, $6.25 a month was not a bad investment.  That gives me about 500 Cryptic points a month to play with, enough for 1-2 cash shop purchases.  I say “about” because you can also trade some of the in game currency into Cryptic points (at a rate of about 4 a day at my current pace) giving me another 100 or so points a month to work with.   For $4 less per month than I was spending on World of Tanks.  How about them apples?

So, as of tonight, this Captain will have a new ship.   Now if  I could just come up with a good name

The Dilution of the F2P Market

So Age of Conan has tossed its hat into the ring around the Free to Play paradigm.   And yes, I would like to play it for free, thank you very much.  But…

The Age of Free To Play

I am struck all at once by a peculiar sort of conundrum.  Eighteen months ago I was bouncing subs like nobody’s business.  I had two subs running concurrently and those often changed from month to month based on what I wanted to play.  So in general, my annual MMO subscription budget is $360 a year.  That seems like a lot, but since its pretty much my only form of entertainment (and since at least $160 of that each year comes from birthday/Christmas money), I guess its not too bad.   Still, it is a lot when my wife looks at the bills, and so that was my cap, and indeed, my limiting factor.

Now though, I enjoy what we all do – the ability to play a game for less than $15 a month.  Indeed, when I boot up the compy tonight, I could play Everquest 2, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Lord of the Rings Online, or Champions Online…all for free.   And that doesn’t include other already F2P favorites of mine like World of Tank or The Reincarnation or Minecraft.  All of a sudden, my limiting factor has shifted.  Before it was money, and now, it is time.

You see, with two subs a month, and changing each month, I played only two games at a time, for at least a month in duration.   And this was okay, because MMO’s require some continuity.  Now though, I can play anything anytime.  And continuity is my problem, not theirs.

Long story short, all this lead me to a thought…

Does this mean that the more high profile MMO’s go F2P, the less successful they all will be?  Or more poignantly,  does this mean that those “lesser” games that enjoyed a new lease on life as F2P creations will now hit a back burner as other, formerly “greater” games turn F2P.  Granted, this designation may not apply to Conan – YMMV.  But the question remains.  I guess time will tell.  But my hope is that the many virtual worlds I have explored and come to love will have long lives ahead of them for years to come.  And if the pool gets to crowded, some of them may get pushed under to make room for the new guys.

Coming Soon to an F2P Market Near You!

2010 Predictions Review

I see others are reviewing their 2010 predictions.  As I said, I totally missed the boat on this last year, but it was a fun exercise.  I recommend to you other peoples predictions ahead of my own.  Nonetheless, here you go.  First up, my five predictions…

Five Predictions…

1.  Despite the obvious interest and backing they could generate, no on will announce work on a Transformers or G.I. Joe MMORPG in the coming year.   Which is probably fine, because if the movies are any indication, their ability to completely trash the IP is unparalleled.

Yeah, this was kinda off the cuff, but its true.  And I was right.  The closest we came to anything was a Transformers shooter.  Yuck.  Give me a cell-shaded 80’s style Transformers MMORPG and I would be a lifetime subber in a heartbeat. 

2.  Bethesda will finally…officially… announce their Elder Scrolls MMO.  Also, this is a hunch, but…it won’t be set in Tamriel.  I know it would make no sense not to use their established IP, but…companies don’t always do the smart thing.

Maybe?  A new Elder Scrolls game is coming – finally.  But the company will not comment on if its an MMO or not.  Which is odd.  If its a single player game – why did it take four years to announce it – five to launch it?  And just what the hell has your online division been doing for the last several years while all this has been going on?  One thing I did for sure get wrong here – this will be set in Tamriel, specifically in Skyrim.  On the flipside, if we have dragons returning, we could be watching for a cataclysm-style reboot (no I won’t capitalize that – they weren’t the first to do that).

3.  SWTOR will not be released in 2010.

Yep.  Back then there was a debate about whether TOR would drop in fall of 2010 or spring of 2011.  We now know it will be spring of 2011, and I feel, we can even confidently narror that down to April of 2011.  This has been a deep investment for Bioware, and by all the Beta accounts, the game is in balancing and polishing time right now.  So there will be no need to delay.  The sooner in their fiscal year BW launches this, the greater their return at the end of the fiscal year.  Anyway, nothing awesome about this one.  When in doubt about an MMO release, err on the side of “later.”

4.  WAR will finally announce what everyone has been waiting for – more races and classes.  I’m betting Wood Elves and Vampire Counts.

No.  WAR continues to believe that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread as is, despite evidence to the contrary.  And what would bring others into the game, is in face keeping people like me out.  Fallen Earth is starting to move in this same direction (“PvP at the expense of everything else”) and its  going to push me out of that game eventually too.

5.  EVE will finally get ambulated.  They won’t have a choice – its time to step up to the plate, or let STO own a patch of the space mmo business that they don’t have a flag already planted on.

No.  It might would have happened if STO had created more of an impact on the market.  Still, for all the banging on STO, its holding its own, and it continues to offer something other MMO’s don’t – periodic, free PvE content updates.  Still EVE is headed this way.  I’m not sure why.  Ambulation makes zero sense lore or game wise, that’s for sure.

So that’s, uh 2.5 out of 5 if you count the Elder Scrolls maybe as half correct. 

As for my Mosts:

My most anticipated release of 2010 was entirely correct.  There really wasn’t any other MMO I was looking for in 2010.  And I did dip into the year long sub so I have played it off and on all year.

My most anticipated failure will take some time to pan out.  I still think Cataclysm is the high water mark for WoW.  And I see some early reports that this might be true.  The hardcore players I know blew through all the content within a week.  And now they are bored and restless, again.  One of them started a new race/class combo – and is halfway to cap already.  One of them is asking me about EQ2X, and the other is giving up his sub in favor of Call of Duty action.  Which is why MMO’s trending toward PvP is insanity.  Why would you want to compete with juggernauts like CoD that can not only whip you ass with numbers, but can put out new games faster than you could ever dream of doing so…

My most anticipated beta didn’t hold.  I have been in the Rift beta – and I’m still trying to figure out if the NDA has been lifted or not – if you have some insight let me know, I’d love to tell you alllll about it – and would love a spot in the Star Wars beta, but those are rare as hens teeth apparently.  And there is no real evidence that the Secret World even *has* a beta yet.  I think maybe Funcom dropped their teaser trailers a weeee bit too early.

My least?

My least anticipated releases held as well.  I really have no interest if there is no RPG element.  Industry dudes:  learn it, love it – or die by it.

My least wanted game death, fortunately did not come to pass.  If anything, it got alot of love this year.  With Pirates of the Burning Sea going free to play, it  got a new lease on life.  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even gotten a chance to play it yet.  I guess I need to give it some love as well.  Expect a PotBS post or three later this month.  In fact, nothing really got a plug pulled on it this year did it?  Even Alganon managed to chug along despire the hellstorm it went through.

And finally my most watched game of last year was Heroes of Telara, which got a rename as Rift.  And it was indeed my most watched game of 2010.  And I really want to tell you about it.  Alot. 

So in about a week, I’ll lay out 5 new predictions, and a new set of most and least.  We’ll see how 2011 pans out m’kay?