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.
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.
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!