Archive for the ‘Star Trek Online’ Category
Well, folks, in about 16 hours Neverwinter, the latest MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World will be entering it’s open beta phase of development. Past this point there will be no character wipes, though, so for all intents and purposes, consider Neverwinter launched. After all, the difference between a soft open-beta and a full-on launch is just bug fixes and patches, which happen all the time in MMO development anyway.
So once the floodgates open, we can fully start enjoying our time on the Tarnished Coast in all the glory the Dungeons and Dragons setting can muster (without really being very Dungeons and Dragons). But, to be honest, I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve spent a long time playing in Perfect World and Cryptic’s other games, namely Star Trek Online and Rusty Hearts, and the trend I’ve seen is a little scary. Namely, that the psychology behind relieving the player of their money is getting better and better.
Now, I’ve lived around gambling for quite some time. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the great state of New Jersey, so all my life I’ve been less than an hour drive to one of the USA’s great gambling meccas, Atlantic City. And now, Philadelphia itself has started to becoming a gambling destination of its own, sprouting up a few casinos in the past couple years. With my fascination of human behavior, this has led to a keen understanding of how the casinos are able to pull the money out of your pockets so easily.
And with the rise of Free-To-Play MMOs and casual mobile gaming, I’m starting to see the same signs invade our hobby…
Seeing Others Win
Have you ever put money into a slot machine, and even if you’ve won just a few coins the machine started whooping and hollering like a banshee? This is 100% on purpose. The noise and alarms that arise from slot machines is both for your benefit (You won! Woohoo!) but also for the benefit of others around you (Look! That guy won!). The draw of seeing others win with lights and sounds is a signal to others that they can win, too.
In games that use subscription models, this acts more like a Skinner Box, pushing you forward to your next dose of positive reinforcement. In Free-to-Play, though, seeing others win is an impetus to get where they are, and spending money is the easiest way to get there. In Star Trek Online, for example, whenever a lockbox is opened and the top prize is given out, a message goes out to the entire playerbase that you have won. Every… single… online… player. And there is NO OPTION to turn it off!
Giving you the option to do so would seriously hurt their income, too. Seeing others win is the biggest driver of sales of the lockbox keys, which puts money directly into their pockets. With the odds of winning being as low as they are, and the frequency at which people are spending money on keys to open the boxes… they aren’t going anywhere. Lockboxes make them money hand over fist, and despite the loud complaining about them, the players keep buying them, hoping for the big hit.
Playing With Points and Not Real Money
When you want to start gambling at table games, the first thing you do is head to a table and drop some money on the table. These are then replaced with clay chips that are used at the gambling tables. Universal, and nobody thinks twice about it. But really, they should! Why chips? Why have tokens that represent money? Well, for one, the casino finds it easier to transfer money en-mass and little chips are easier than stacks of paper. But the biggest reason is that, in the players mind, those chips stop representing real money. They become a plaything, a toy used in the transaction of gambling. The most I’ve ever dropped on a single hand of blackjack was $60. In chips, that’s two green $25 chips, and two red $5 chips. This was very easy to do at the time. If, in order to play, I had to pull three $20 bills out of my wallet and bet them on ONE HAND of blackjack… the better part of my mind would’ve stopped me. Those three $20s aren’t just bills… that’s food, gas, etc. However, in chip form, there’s a disconnect between the chips and real money.
In MMOs, the same goes with store points. Most games don’t do this, but Perfect World’s Zen has a direct 1:1 correlation with the American dollar. 1 Zen = $.01. So $20 = 2000 Zen and so forth. So that big Andorian Kumari Vessels 3-Pack that’s 5000 Zen literally translates to $50! However, once those bills are transferred into points, they don’t go into the same category as cash in your mind. And with Star Trek Online’s Dilithium or Neverwinter’s Astral Diamonds, even these have a direct correlation with Zen, which has a direct correlation with real cash. They become just another game currency, and as such, they’re easier to spend as your mind treats them differently.
Comfortability and Keeping You Active
In older casinos, finding clocks is relatively tricky. There is, however, a new thought of casino design that since people have easy access to a clock themselves, changing the environment to hide the outside world isn’t the primary thinking anymore. It’s more about being comfortable. If people are comfortable and they enjoy their environment, they will spend more. Roger Thomas, the head of design for Wynn’s Resorts has essentially reinvented the modern casino. Now, instead of a cave setting, Wynn’s casinos feature sunlight, opulence, and artwork. The key here is that a casino is now an adult playground, designed to be so comfortable that you’ll want to spend more time in them seeking whatever pleasures are offered. More time, afterall, equals more money in the casino’s pockets.
The same goes with MMOs. The more time you spend in them, the more money you will spend in a Free-To-Play game. And so, the key is to make the players as comfortable and as busy as possible, with reasons to keep coming back. Comfortability is easy. Players like the familiar, and are too thrown off by the different. If they see mechanics that they’ve seen in other games, they’ll find it all very comfortable. My recent review of the game posited that Neverwinter is really just a blend of other games, not doing everything the same, but not really adding to it, either.
And then keeping players active is Perfect World’s modus operandi, something they have perfected. How many times have I logged into Star Trek Online to stay for a few minutes, only to end up staying for an hour or more? From Forbe’s exultation of the game’s Landing Page and timed events to STO’s real-time Doff system or Neverwinter’s timed crafting system (like Zynga’s multi-billion dollar strategy), giving you stuff to do and giving you reasons to come back is paramount, and they do it well.
So What is The Future?
Really, it’s not going to stop. With Zynga opening up real online casinos, and Perfect World using casino strategies in their games, it will just lead to a bigger and bigger industry. Casino psychology has been around for ages and is only going to get stronger. Although Neverwinter is taking the chance by not offering a subscription at all, they know the psych game well and so it’s not really a huge risk for them.
You will find me periodically heading into Neverwinter, and I will most likely periodically be spending money there, too. If the game is fun, I don’t mind it at all… but always in the back of my mind is that itch. That little voice that says “The House Always Wins”. So, I don’t see myself spending tons of time in Neverwinter, maybe just a weekend trip here and there.
Just like a vacation to the casinos.
Well, not technically time travel. More of an alternate universe type thing but, wait, somebody had time traveled and… you know. Nevermind. I’ll leave the mechanics of time travel to the Department of Temporal Investigations. Star Trek Online’s Third Anniversary event just recently ended this past week and currently I have been sucked back into Skyrim, but I wanted to comment on the anniversary episode a bit.
The real draw of this year’s STO Anniversary event, besides the Ambassador ship, more Q hijinks, and the new popper, was the brand new episode starring the voice talents of Denise Crosby reprising her role of Natasha Yar. For all the Next Generation fans out there, having any new Star Trek content is amazing, and just solidifies the fact that Star Trek Online currently is THE source for new (prime universe… I don’t count JJ) Star Trek content. However, the episode is… meh.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
First, from all the reviews and news surrounding it I was expecting an awesome mission that puts a lot of other missions to shame. It started out with a bang. Head to the Azure Nebula and investigate a possible temporal anomaly that the Tholians might have a hand in. Awesome. Once you head to the nebula you encounter the anomaly, but can’t seem to pinpoint it’s location. BAM! Yesterday’s Enterprise, one of the best Next Generation episodes immediately comes to mind, and that just gets the nerdy Star Trek juices flowing.
Upon entering the anomaly, your ship changes and the known universe surrounding you changes. Suddenly you’re a freighter captain in Tholian controlled space about to stop at a mining station. The station is filled with what can only be described as “Star Trek Online Over The Years”. Major characters you’ve come across through the series are interspersed in a waiting area and each tell their little alternate universe backstory. Franklin Drake, Section 31 guru, Va’Kel Shon, the newest Enterprise captain, the fantastic Obisek, the Reman freedom fighter, and finally, Tasha Yar. Sweet. From there the episode, in my opinion, takes a huge nose dive. In a nutshell, she tells you that instead of ending up back at Narendra III, she ended up in this universe at the same station you’re at. So… how did she end up at your time? Did she time travel? Did you time travel? But most important, why did the universe go back to normal in Next Generation if she never made it to her destination in the first place?! Alright, whatever, we’ll just chalk it up to “anomaly shenanigans”.
So you have someone create a scene to distract the guards and head into the maintenance tunnels. Using a map-it-yourself type system, a harken back to the days of Might and Magic, you make it through the tunnels, but not before discovering little asides placed for the Star Trek fans out there. (One that straight up bothered me is seen below. Cryptic… I assume you guys have a QA department, right? For one of the most iconic phrases in the entirety of Star Trek, could you at least have gotten the SEX of the BODY right?!!)
After the tunnels you enter a room with a view of the Enterprise-C being held in tow and panels that you command the others in your group to work on. I chose very poorly, not paying the most attention to which officers are better at fixing what messes, and this seemed to affect the outcome not one bit. Those little bars just filled up a little slower. It was at this time I realized Cryptic had really gotten their monies worth out of Denise Crosby.
Tasha. Did. Not. Shut. Up. In the hallway finally leading to the captured ship there were forcefields that needed to be taken down and at every forcefield, Yar had a snarky comment or two about how she could have got them down faster, or how she was so much more experienced. You know what, LIEUTENANT? From now on, address me as freaking VICE ADMIRAL! Cripes. For a security officer, you’d think Tasha would’ve shown a little discipline or something.
Finally, once on the Enterprise, you were launched into combat in an unknown ship that you’ve never flown before, with all kinds of confusion going on in your skill bars. How I survived is anyone’s guess. After a few waves of bad guys, a time-ship from the future shows up, lets the Enterprise traipse off to it’s fated demise to prevent a war with the Klingons (Uhhh… whoops. We really messed up that whole selfless sacrifice thing, didn’t we?), steals you and sends you back to your own space and time, where your own skill bars are thrown out of whack from suddenly captaining another ship. (Tip: Just set your Bridge Officers back to where they belong and it should correct itself. But seriously Cryptic, why aren’t the skill templates saved on a ship by ship basis?)
All in all, it was a nice walk down Star Trek Online memory lane, but the thrown-together feel, the lack of a solid backstory, and that I ended the episode being HAPPY that Yar was on the way to her doom led to this being a really less-than-stellar episode.
Eh. They can’t all be winners. You’ll get em’ next time, STO.
So, as I promised, I fully completed every mission of Star Trek Online’s Foundry Challenge #4. In this challenge, a player had to use the Star Trek Online Foundry tools to create a mission that had something to do with a 1000-year-old derelict ship and some mystery contained therein. I finished the last mission right under the wire, and got my vote in late Tuesday night. Now, I’ve played my fair share of these player-created Foundry missions, and there are some really talented authors out there. However, with all the good ones, you’ll also find ones that just aren’t quite ripe.
So, in that vain, this post is twofold: I want to show you some of the best of this past Foundry Challenge, as well as give some of my personal preferences for what *I* think makes a great mission.
What I Look For In A Good Mission
First and foremost, I like a good Story. Give my characters a reason to be there, and I mean a GOOD reason. At this point, the majority of players are at the level cap and are all considered Vice Admiral rank. So, give my character something worthy of a Vice Admiral! The standard kill ten Romulan variety missions just don’t cut it for a VA. Sisco, Picard, Kirk, Janeway, all the great captains we’ve come to know and love… yeah, according to Star Trek Online, we outrank them all. We should be giving THEM orders.
However, don’t get bogged down in just story. What makes the shows great, as well as most entertainment, is all about the Balance behind it. The serious is balanced with the comic relief. The story is balanced with the action. Since this is a primarily action oriented MMO, I would even err on the side of action over story, but not by too much. The forward movement of the plot should then rise and come to the climax, with a nice conclusion after to round it all off. So, if you have too MUCH story it ends up being a novel. Too little story, though, and it just feels like a grind. Find the right balance between the two.
Believability is another strong point of mine, especially when it effects the words coming out of my character’s mouth. As The Secret World shows us, having a silent protagonist is a good thing. From way back in character creation, most gamers have an idea of what their character is like personality-wise. It isn’t a stat that’s included (in Star Trek Online, anyway), but I can picture my character being the ideal of Starfleet. He’s dutiful, thoughtful, considers his words carefully, and tries to find a peaceful solution first if one is present. So, sometimes, it really grates my nerves when my character is forced through dialogue that I can’t picture him saying. Why would I insult a new species I just met? Why would I be having a tryst with a lower ranking officer, if I know it is against the rules? Why would I put up with snide, seditious remarks from my officers or allow them to berate each other? He’s certainly not perfect, but the way I picture my captain, none of these is acceptable. So if my captain is forced into these situations my willing suspension of disbelief shatters.
Detail. Large stretches of flat land aren’t that exciting. Nobody takes screenshots of boring grey structures, they like a little diversity and pop in what they’re seeing. A little flair makes the space feel full and alive. Also, I know I’m the LAST person to be giving this comment, but a little bit of spellchecking on the text wouldn’t hurt. I’m willing to let a few grammar and spelling errors slide, but when they start turning up in every single dialogue box, it just looks sloppy. Like a stain on a tuxedo, it’s hard NOT to notice them, especially if they’re everywhere.
Finally, Time. The rewards that we get for completing these missions is not a lot. When we complete three Foundry missions, we are given a stack of fleet marks, experience, and either a random leveled item or a decent chunk of dilithium. Compare this to any other mission or daily in the game. If it takes an hour to get the same rewards elsewhere, what is the draw of an hour long, long-winded mission that you have to go through 3 times for the same reward? There really isn’t one. The perfect time for a Foundry mission, in my opinion, is about 15-20 minutes from start to finish, and that’s with reading all the dialogue. That gives enough time where it’s not a cheat, enough time to give a decent story and exposition, have some combat, and see multiple locations, but still be resolved in a timely manner consistent with the rewards.
My Favorite Missions of the Challenge
My favorite mission out of the group, and it was close call, was The Twilight of the Gods by diogene0. When it comes to what I look for in a good mission, it had most of it down. It started off with a good reason why my Vice Admiral would be bothered being there in the first place, a rescue mission. If you can help, it doesn’t matter your rank, helping others is a civic duty.
You are sent to Pico VI, a not too friendly environment, and tasked with finding a crashed shuttlecraft. After a few run-ins with the wildlife you find the shuttle and, after giving assistance, you make the decision to continue on the shuttle’s original mission. This leads to an underground cavern filled with color, to space battles, to infiltrating a Romulan base. In the end, a plot that would’ve been a huge blow to citizens from hundreds of worlds is unraveled. Well done. It had everything from a compelling story, to decent combat, to interesting environments, to a worthwhile conclusion. Don’t forget the loot, too. I got some nice drops in there as well. The mission did have my character speaking a lot throughout the dialogue. However, what my character was saying wasn’t too outside the realm of possibility, and so it didn’t ever feel too unbelievable.
Other great missions, and ones I had a hard time choosing between for top honors were The Answer by Raptorwalker, Atlas by rickysmith1, and the winner of the Foundry Challenge, Relics by Kirkfat. All are very good efforts I highly recommend, definitely worthy of recognition.
P.S. – If you have a mission and want some input, all you have to do is ask (STO handle: @Ambrose99). I’d be more than happy to help. Also, I think that during the next challenge, despite having no real talent or knowledge of the Foundry system, I’ll be submitting my own mission. Why not? The more missions available to players, the better, and I’ll get to put my suggestions up there to good use.
P.P.S. – All of the Foundry authors put a lot of time and effort into these missions. Even if you didn’t enjoy it all that much, still give them a decent 100 dilithium tip. It’s the least you could do.
So, I’ve been writing a lot about a particular really big MMO lately, but even though Guild Wars 2 is within it’s opening weeks and is starting to fire on all cylinders, I find myself distracted. The game that I find I keep coming back to is none other than Star Trek Online. I can’t really explain it… maybe it’s because I love the Star Trek universe. Maybe it’s because I bought up a lifetime account ages ago that has fully vested, and so I get all the perks of a sub without actually having one. Or maybe it’s because every time I turn around, there’s always something new!
On Wednesday, September 5th, the Foundry Challege #4 Voting opened. To those who don’t know, the Foundry is Star Trek Online’s engine for making your own player generated content, and is just the ticket for scratching that Star Trek itch. I’ve done all the primary story missions and every Featured Episode series, so the Foundry is just the reason to come back and visit STO from time to time. I’ve only played one mission so far and that one was… interesting. Well, they can’t all win, right?
I highly suggest everyone go check out all of the missions offered and vote. Compared to other Foundry Challenges, it’s really easy from a player’s perspective this time. There are a total of 10 missions in the running, all focusing on the same basic premise of searching a newly discovered 1000-year-old derelict ship, and the voting booths are open until September 26th. 3 weeks to do 10 missions, where you get decent rewards for completing Foundry rewards like Fleet Marks used to help build starbases, or dilithium used to trade for the best equipment. There’s really not a reason NOT to do them.
To be fair, I’ve done a lot in Star Trek Online, but I still haven’t done everything. I’m not big on running group content, so the Special Task Forces are still a mystery to me, and I haven’t done much with the new starbases, but that’s because I never play enough to make a really worthwhile fleet member. I’m happy to just sit on a roster collecting dust. It’s my own fault, though. Being in a perpetual noob state tends to make other players frustrated, and the last thing I want to do is frustrate others, so I never really bother grouping. It’s what makes Guild Wars 2 grouping so nice. So I may never see some of the content or get the biggest or flashiest rewards… meh. That’s not why I play. I play Star Trek Online for two reasons: it’s Star Trek and it’s just fun!
A couple of other fun things for all those Star Trek Online players out there… as you see in the above picture: Free Monkeys!!! Okay, it’s not technically a monkey, it’s technically a Mugato, but still… look at how cute that thing is! Getting it can’t be easier, either. Just install the Raptr gaming tracker and play Star Trek Online until you reach the “Experienced” rating, and then claim your monkey! It lasts until December 3rd 2012 or until they’re all out of the 2700+ they have remaining, so I’d jump on it now if you want one. An easier solution is if you play Star Trek Online through Steam, just connect your Steam account to Raptr and all the time you’ve played STO through Steam should carry over. If you decide to check out Raptr, which I highly suggest, look me up!
Live long and prosper.
P.S. – Other fun Star Trek things of note, although Google is celebrating the 46th anniversary of the debut of the original series of Star Trek, it’s anniversary is really tomorrow, September 8th. A day early, but that’s okay. Well… it also premiered in Canada on September 6th… so maybe they’re just splitting the difference. Either way, it’s all good.
CNet also posted a nice question: If you could live in any one universe, would you choose Star Trek or Star Wars? Hint: Star Trek is winning with ~60% of the votes, including mine. It makes sense… teleporters, an idyllic and peaceful Earth, replicators, and holodecks beat a fancy flashlight and superheroes with magic powers any day.
I know I just posted an article on the how the MMO community can be a little negative, but as I pointed out, sometimes criticism is necessary. This is one of those times. I haven’t started seeing a trend yet, and maybe that’s because I just haven’t played as many MMOs to notice, but in Star Trek Online we’re starting to see content and missions hiding behind “time gates”. And excuse me for being so frank but they are a terrible idea.
A “time gate” is essentially a certain mission, dungeon, or other event that only happens at different times and only for a short period of time. A good example of this is the Vault Shuttle Event, in which you have five players, all in shuttlecraft, lead a mission into a space station known as the “Vault”. It’s the equivalent of a five person dungeon, but in very specific ships and runs at random times of the day.
I get it. If you have a specific event that only comes around at specific (and sometimes random) times, then your playerbase is going to spend more time waiting for those events to occur and the rewards given are going to not be as common and easy to acquire. This leads to completionist or loot-hungry players playing the game more often. More time in-game means more time playing, which means the possibility of those players spending more money. For a free-to-play game, players spending money is very important. See, I get it.
However, for players that do not have completionist tendencies to the point of disorder and aren’t as attached to one specific game, as I assume a majority of players are, this is not how games are approached.
Maybe the Guardian of Forever likes ‘Time Gating’! Get it?!! He’s the Guardian of Forever… looks like a gate… deals with time. You know what, just forget it…
Here is a possible rundown for this event: I fire up the game, check the missions that are available, see when the specific event I want to play is, stop playing, come back later at that time, find a group, and play it. Three big problems come up with this scenario.
1) I stop playing. For those of us with limited time on our hands to play games, if I shut down a game, there is little chance I’ll be opening it up again later on. I’ll play whatever game I have time to play now while I have time.
2) Come back later at that time. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing or what could possibly come up in between now and when the event is taking place! My wife could suddenly have a cheese fries craving, or a phone call from a friend with an extra ticket could lead to a Toad the Wet Sprocket concert in Delaware, or an impromptu campfire with s’mores, cigars, and whiskey. Every single one of these events has happened to me, and so if I’m playing a game, I want to play it now, not in the future.
Finally the worst, 3) Find a Group. Since these events seem to be at random times, scheduling to play the game with a group of friends or fleet-mates is a lot more tricky and so a lot of the time, playing the event would require getting into a pick-up-group. A pick-up-group is a group consisting of random players you do not know personally, and is one of the curses of the MMO world. Every once in a while you can get into a good pick-up-group that knows what they are doing and everything meshes well. Mostly, however, the group consists of opposite personalities, different playstyles, different response to authority, different experience, and different competency. So the pick-up-group has a much higher chance of failure. MMOs have different ways of dealing with the stress of pick-up-groups. Some offer more reward for being in them, some offer a convenient way to enter them, so when it fails you haven’t lost a lot of time, too.
By this time, my lungs were aching for air…
My idea (and as with any idea on the internet, please take it with a grain of salt) is thus: If you’re going to have time gated content to get the benefits that I described above, how about make the content soloable? If I’m playing, and it randomly pops up, I feel much more comfortable playing if it doesn’t involve other people. If I’m looking to play that mission specifically, 1 and 2 above still are in effect, but because it’s so easy to jump into and complete, I don’t feel as bad about missing the opportunity to play. Then, given a tiered reward system where the ones who play in groups get the best rewards quicker, I could still get the best rewards over more time. Not having to find a group to play it completely removes that stress, and then I would look forward to thinking “I wonder which random mission will be available tonight?”
As it stands now, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever play any of the time gated content in Star Trek Online. Every time I’ve been on since any time-gated content has been introduced just hasn’t been the right time and I’m not going to start scheduling my gaming time around the events. There are way too many great games that I could play right now that waiting for a specific time in a specific game just isn’t feasible.
I game on my time, not anyone else’s. Now, I’m not saying that I’ll never play it as there is always a chance… but who knows when that chance will be.
P.S. – It has come to my attention that over on Syp’s Bio Break, Casual Aggro has been nominated for the Newbie Blogger Initiative title of “Promising Star, General Games and Geekery“! Woah! To say I’m floored is an understatement. This is a very awesome and humbling nomination, especially considering all the other amazing bloggers that joined in as a part of the NBI festivities. Just to be nominated is an honor. Thank you to all of you amazing readers, I can never thank you enough. You all ROCK!
I love a good Steam sale. No, really, my collection is rather ridiculous. It was during one of these sales that I saw and picked up The Baconing, an indie title from Hothead Games. With a title like that, how could I not? It wasn’t until after I started playing it that I realized it was the third of a trilogy, where the first two were made by the legendary Ron Gilbert, creator of the Monkey Island series, which I also highly suggest picking up. Even without his genius, The Baconing is still a fun as heck game, and I’m now waiting for the first and second of the trilogy to go on sale so I can pick them up as well (C’mon Steam! Get on that!).
The 2D/3D effect is a killer art style.
After listening to the last STOked episode, I jumped into Star Trek Online and played a bit of the foundry. Personally, I love the Foundry. I haven’t created any missions myself (yet), but the creativity that other players come up with is amazing. The good stuff is a little tricky to find, though, so I mainly get my Foundry playlists from trusted sources, like StarbaseUGC, STOked, and finally Cryptic themselves. I’m glad that Cryptic has started promoting specific missions because then at least you know they are going to be good. For the record, I went in to play two missions specifically: ‘The Worst of Both Worlds’ and ‘Temple of Pah-Wraiths’, both made by Captain_Revo, and both are more than worth it.
Bajor never looked so… Borg-y.
Finally, I haven’t yet gone back into Lord of the Rings Online for the Spring Festival. I know, I know, I was just complaining about not having time for special events, but this one I will make. It’s on until June 11th, though, so I got plenty of time. I’m even considering starting a new character. I do like the Loremaster, but its not as up-close and personal as I prefer.
I consider myself a fairly decent poker player. I’ve played mostly Texas Hold-Em’ in friend’s basements, and also down at the tables in Atlantic City with the majority of times walking away with more than I started with. Poker teaches you, among other things, a lot about the sunk cost fallacy, or basically “the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it”. The key is getting a decent hand, and then pulling other players into a “sunk cost” trap while avoiding falling into it yourself. The sunk cost fallacy doesn’t just come into play in poker, but in life, too. Once you become invested, with time, money, and emotions in something, like say an MMO, it’s hard to detach yourself and think rationally about it.
However, we’re not just sheep. When a developer changes our game, we feel cheated, right? We feel that we’re paying for it, therefore we should decide what goes on with it! The changes they’re making are stupid! Any idiot can see that what they’re doing will RUIN the game! If this patch doesn’t change, I’m going to leave this stupid game and take my money elsewhere! – A post found after every set of patch notes released ever.
If a change is made in one of our favorite games, a game that we’ve invested a huge amount of time playing, and we don’t like it, instead of taking a look at what the game has changed to and either accepting it rationally or deciding to pass, we rarely make the right choice. I mean, these are MMOs! The whole point is that the game changes over time! I’ve seen time and again in forums and in the comment sections of articles a flat out lambasting of the subject matter or the author about why the game will fail because of a newly implemented feature and nobody will ever play it again.
Unnecessary. Really, its unnecessary. I’m not saying that criticism can’t be given to the developers about what players think should change, this is the whole reason why forums exist, but why does all the negativity and hostility have to go along with it?
How about the NEW ending?
If you can’t tell by now, I play Star Trek Online. When the game was released, the phrase “half-baked” was putting it mildly. The game was filled with bugs, had a very steep learning curve, and it seemed like you played the same five “random” missions over again. Eventually, the game went free-to-play and was bought up by Perfect World Entertainment. Believe it or not, this changed the game dramatically. Shocking, right? Lockboxes, time-gated content, multiple forms of currency, real money transactions, and huge grinds were brought along with it, something seen in pretty much every other Perfect World title.
Is it better? Is it worse? Arguments can be made for both causes, but the game is what it is. Its evolved far from the game that is was. This applies to every game out there: Take it for what it is, or leave it. I’m still a huge fan of Star Trek, and I will still play it and enjoy it. If you’re really that compelled to complain incessantly about how they are working on a new character model to go into the game’s store instead of a new endgame content, instead try to look at how much that really bothers you. If it bothers you to the point of rage quitting, then quit. Find some other form of entertainment that won’t make you turn red in the face at it’s mere mention.
We play these games to have fun. Plain and simple. If you’re not having fun, then why do you play at all?
Hey buddy! Cheer up!
The latest episode of STOked is not the most complimentary of the changes that have been made to Star Trek Online, and it shocked me. The whole reason why I joined the Star Trek Online community was because of STOked! It was because of Chris and Jeremy and the bottomless fountain of passion that they had for the game. They oozed excitement and wanted you to be excited with them. I read Massively because the passion is evident there, too, and I’ve stopped reading numerous other sites because they turned too negative, they lost the passion, they lost the fun.
Most changes that have been made to Star Trek Online since being bought by Perfect World have been to monetize and work in a formula of success that Perfect World has proven time and again with their other games. The developers may have their hands tied and may not have many choices when it comes to implementing these systems. Does it matter? I don’t think so.
What I see is a group of developers that have a huge amount of passion for their game, and they are doing everything in their power to not only abide by these rules, but also provide a product that is fun and they can be proud of.
The day that passion is gone will be the day that the game is no longer worth playing. With the developers that Cryptic has now, that day is nowhere in sight.
P.S. – I want to give a big ‘Thank you!’ to the always passionate Terilynn. She is always willing to lend a hand, and that’s an awesome quality to have.
Have you ever heard of a ‘Bag of Crap’ from Woot.com? A ‘Bag of Crap’ is an item that Woot sells for $8 and has 3 random items from their storeroom. Almost always, these items are going to be worth more than the $8 you pay for them, and getting your hands on one is exceptionally difficult. Over time, I’ve been able to grab 2 Bags of Crap. The first bag contained a paper mache mask, a piece of string, and an iRobot Roomba Floor Vacuum. The second one I opened? A nice red backpack, a car battery jumper, and an Egyptian cotton bathrobe. 100% worth what I paid for them. I’ve even heard of someone getting a 46″ HDTV in a ‘Bag of Crap’. A lockbox is a similar concept.
Lockboxes. They’re one of the new trends in online gaming today. Not to say they haven’t been around before, they’ve been very popular in MMOs all around the world for a long time, now. It has been only recently that they have started popping up in more popular MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, City of Heroes, and the upcoming Guild Wars 2.
To those that have never heard of lockboxes before, the basic premise is a locked box that drops as loot from standard kills, but the only way to open the box is a key purchased from the game’s store with real money. The contents of the box can be anything from potions and crafting supplies all the way up to other store content like cosmetic items, experience boosts, mounts, or jackpot items that you can’t even get on the store.
They don’t look that cuddly…
As Syp said in Massively’s latest Perfect Ten column, lockboxes are gambling, plain and simple. This is true. At their heart, they are a trade of real money for a chance at bigger items. However, I really don’t think they’re that bad. If I’m willing to spend money on a ‘Bag of Crap’, I’m willing to give them a try. Note: I do like to gamble from time to time. I’ve lived close to Atlantic City all my life and know more than enough on how casinos rope you in. The psychology is fascinating, but that’s getting off topic.
I’ve never felt compelled to open a lockbox before, but for the sake of experimentation, I decided to give it a try.
Star Trek Online Experiment
The first thing I did was purchase 4 Master Keys for 400 Cryptic Points. I then opened my inventory and quickly realized I didn’t have a single lockbox. I just hadn’t looted one yet, so I got to grinding. I was only looking to pick up 4 boxes, and I realize I could’ve just purchased them on the Exchange, but I wanted to see how long it took and how often they dropped. The truth was, it took me about 3 hours to find all 4 lockboxes. This may not be normal, but I found the drop rate to be relatively low.
Of the 4 boxes I ended up opening, all standard quality boxes, here is the breakdown:
Box 1: Special Requisition Pack – Deflectors and Armor and 2 Lobi crystals. The Requisition Pack contained a Rare MK X Neutrino Deflector Array - After opening the first box, I was disappointed. 2 Lobi crystals, which on the Lobi store, the items I would purchase are in the 30 Lobi range (with the big ticket items in the 300 range). 2 Lobi crystals, and a Deflector that wasn’t even close to an upgrade. I sold off the deflector for about 30,000 Energy Credits and went on to the next box.
Box 2: 10,000 CXP Bonus Pool and 3 Lobi crystals. – Only 3 more crystals? Aren’t these numbers supposed to be up to 100 Lobi crystals? Anyway, the Lobi crystals are really only supposed to be used as a consolation prize. The big thing here is the 10,000 Bonus CXP Pool. CXP is the experience gained from Duty Officer assignments to use for Duty Officers. This items is essentially the same as “rest” experience in any other game, and it adds 20% bonus experience to any CXP gained. Since I’m still pretty low level as far as my Duty Officers go, this is a nice boost. Its certainly not necessary to play as it would come over time, this just helps to speed up the process. The Cryptic Store prices this at 640 CP, so 100 points isn’t a bad deal. However, I probably would’ve never purchased this to begin with.
Box 3: Special Requisition Pack – Gambling Device and 3 Lobi crystals. – 3 more crystals. Okay. The Gambling Device, however… now THATs an item. Looking into it, though, it looks potentially game breaking. The device when used gives Increased dodge, +10% to critical hit, and +10% to critical severity. The best tribble I had only gave a buff of +2.5% to all damage and a +2.5% buff to shields. +10% to crit is ridiculous! Its called a “Gambling” device but there really isn’t any gamble. If it “fails”, it fails for about a minute. When it succeeds, which is about 90% of the time, it lasts for an hour. As far as I can tell, it is also possible to use this in PvP, too, which is utterly not fair. You add a huge critical hit chance to those lucky enough to get the item from paying store points? I’m waiting for the nerf hammer on this one.
PvP Wrecking Ball
Box 4: 10,000 CXP Bonus Pool and 2 Lobi crystals. – Another 10,000 CXP boost. Nice. 2 more crystals, though. They seem to be really stingy on these crystals…
Overall, I netted 30,000 EC (a lot, but nothing significant), 20,000 CXP Pool (C-Store equivalent of 1,280 CP), a Gambling Device that is killer for ground combat, and 10 Lobi crystals which I can purchase absolutely nothing with.
Did I win the big prize of the Ferengi D’Kora ship? Nope. Am I disappointed? Well… No. The Energy Credits are not important, and just playing the game will get you a ton of credits (I’m right now sitting at 4,600,000 EC, which is nothing in comparison to some players). The 10 Lobi crystals are relatively pointless. In the Lobi store I’m looking at either the Mastiff pup follow pet, 30 Lobi, or a Ferengi whip, 15 Lobi, neither of which I could afford. I also can’t trade the Lobi on the exchange to make a few extra EC, so the Lobi right now are useless. The CXP Pool is not something I would normally buy, because of its large pricetag in the C-Store. I will definitely use it, however, so this is a plus. Finally, the Gambling Device is well worth the trouble, although as I said, I’m expecting a nerf soon.
So there you go. It certainly is no ‘Bag of Crap’, but I will enjoy what I gained, so I’m calling the experiment a success.
P.S. – Here is a bit of the math, for all you interested out there. It cost 400 CP to do this experiment. This is equal to 1 month of subscription stipend, or 122,400 dilithium (D) (at the current rate of 306 D/CP). 122,400 D, at the rate of hitting the 8k D cap/day would take 15.3 days to acquire. Note: I’ve tried, and I haven’t hit the D cap once. Thats a lot of grinding. 1 Master Key you could purchase on the Exchange for 1,149,000 EC. This would equal 39 of the deflectors I acquired from 1 of the boxes purchased. 4 Master Keys would be equal to 4,596,000 EC, or about 154 deflectors. Or… $5. $5 will buy you 500 Zen, a Perfect World currency, which is equal to 400 CP. So, in Star Trek Online terms… $5 = 400 CP = ~ 15.3 days of grinding dilithium. Star Trek Online is free to play, and I applaud those who play it completely free, but expect one hell of a grind. Mathed!
One of the best things I love about MMOs are the in-game festivals. They, more than any other aspect of the game, say ‘Hey! THIS is what makes MMOs fun’. Sure, you have raiding, guilds, and chat, which you can’t find in single player games, but everything else in MMOs can generally be found elsewhere. Quests, yup. Bosses, yup. Lore filled worlds, yup. But its the in-game events that really stand out. You won’t find a Winter Festival in Mass Effect 3, or an Anniversary Celebration in Skyrim, or a Fruit Harvest Bonanza in Pacman, but you WILL find them in MMOs. And I can’t seem to keep up with a single one of them…
Guild Wars just celebrated another huge anniversary festival, the last one before Guild Wars 2 releases. I wasn’t able to get in game for even a small amount of time. Really, I have nobody to blame but myself on this one. I love Guild Wars, but I can’t stand my Paragon. Love the long range damage dealing and crowd control… but Pants! Pants! The class needs Pants! I couldn’t stand, after a while, the fact that I was essentially slaughtering enemies, bristling with spears, while wearing a mini-skirt! Freedom of movement, long distance running, I get it. But still… no matter how epic they make them look, I still feel a virtual breeze where there shouldn’t be one.
A bit chilly today, huh?
Lord of the Rings Online is wrapping up the celebration of it’s 5th year being open, and I was only able to make it in for one night… the last one. I still did a lot, collecting envelopes, setting off fireworks, riding my new Azure steed colored in silver and navy, picking up a map or two, but I certainly wasn’t able to take full advantage of the celebration. Even though they extended it! Ah well. Next time, LotRO, next time.
Dungeons and Dragons online also had a pirate-esque festival, where you explore an island and trounce the scurvy inhabitants to steal their hard earned treasures (wait… who is the real pirate here?). I got in for a night to try this out with my standing Tuesday night DDO group, and it was a lot of fun! As a recurring event, it will most likely be back again.
Finally, Star Trek Online, though not an anniversary like Guild Wars and LotRO, was having an event I’m the most disappointed on missing out on: The Second Foundry Challenge. Star Trek Online’s Foundry is an awesome tool that lets the players generate their own stories. Some are great, some are lame, some are downright exploits, but if you have the entire universe as your playground, having player made missions is a no-brainer. In an infinite universe, there are infinite stories. So how many of the entries was I able to play? One. Just one. It was pretty good, but again, I blame myself. My gaming ADD sometimes knows no bounds. However, a new Third Foundry Challenge is starting!! If you’ve ever wanted to tell a tale based in the Star Trek universe, the game is Free to Play, and you won’t find a better opportunity.
Hopefully, I’ll get around to actually playing it this time.
P.S – Also, Star Trek Online is currently having reruns of it’s Featured Episode series that will be going on until the end of the month, and I highly suggest you give them a try. Easily the best content I’ve played in an MMO to date.
What really drew me into Star Trek Online are the Featured Episodes. When I was younger, my father loved Star Trek and I, like the impressionable youth that I was, fell in love with it as well. When Star Trek Online released I won’t lie, I went immediately after work and picked up a copy. Like many other players who jumped into Star Trek Online in the beginning, I was not in love with the game. The graphics were great, the space combat was nice but repetitive, the leveling system was confusing, traveling was boring, and ground combat took way too long and wasn’t a lot of fun. So yeah, it had a rough start. I did not resub for another month.
A few months pass, and like clockwork, the community is up in arms about the half-baked release of the game. Their anger was well justified. Cryptic took one of the greatest IP’s in IP history, and was not living up to it at all. Throughout all of this turmoil, though, I noticed a ray of hope: communication. Unlike say, Blizzard, who rarely if ever communicates directly with their community (because why would they, their numbers speak for themselves), Cryptic studios needed to turn around to their audience and go, “Yeah, you’re right. We were pressured to release and we’re sorry about that, but give us time and look at what we can do”. In the few months after release I have never seen a studio communicate with their players as much as Cryptic did. Even to this day, I think Cryptic wins the crown of “Most Communicating MMO Company”. Even if what they were saying was fan service, it kept coming. Not only that, but you could almost hear the excitement and passion in their posts. The makers of Star Trek Online were really working hard to make the game everything it could be.
And then they released the Featured Episodes. This is where, not too long before I got married, I whipped out my wallet and plunked down the money for a lifetime subscription. The Featured Episodes harken back to the origin of Star Trek, the weekly television show. Emulating that format, the Featured Episodes consisted of a weekly installment mission that released every Saturday for 5 straight weeks. These series all stayed within a singular plot and told a story, and the best part is that it’s all sanctioned by CBS. Meaning any content released for Star Trek Online becomes Star Trek canon. Done. I was sold. The first real Star Trek canon since Enterprise (which I didn’t watch, really) and it’s in an MMO? Star Trek Online may have had its issues, but this was a genius move.
In the month of May 2012, Star Trek Online will be sending all the Featured Episodes into reruns, meaning that if you play the episodes during this time period, you’ll earn the special rewards given when they were initially released as well as extras.
May 3rd – May 9th: Spectres (The Dividians) : This was the second series Cryptic released and it involves a broken down space station, time travelling, gambling, and, of course, the Dividians. One of the missions released around Halloween and involves a crazy hologram gone haywire while exploring by only the single beam from your flashlight. Very nice.
May 10th – May 16th: Cloaked Intentions (The Romulans and Remans): By far, the best Featured Episode series Cryptic has done to date, from fighting with your shuttle inside a giant space station, being forced to fight in hand to hand combat in an arena, to invading a Romulan city! Plus, I think Obisek, leader of the Reman resistance, is one of the best characters created in Star Trek Online to date.
May 17th – May 23rd: The 2800 (The Dominion): The latest featured Episode series released revolving around the capture of Deep Space 9, the series includes huge space battles, the fantastic environments of Bajor, spacewalking on the outside of Deep Space 9, stopping prison riots, and making deals in the Gamma Quadrant.
May 24th – May 30th: Cold War (The Breen): The first series that Cryptic released has to do with a search around Defera Space for the secrets of the Preservers, the race that seeded the galaxy which gave rise to the many cultures of Star Trek. Puzzles, lots of daily missions, and battles against the Breen.
Missions that are similar to an episode of Star Trek are truly what gives Star Trek Online its charm, and why I think a lifetime subscription was one of the best purchases I ever made. I highly suggest that if you’ve never played the game, now is a great chance.
- The top picture is found on the Star Trek Online website and is owned by CBS Studios, Inc.