The Star Trek Online Conundrum of Tier 6

Star Trek Online, Pathfinder

I find myself jumping back into Star Trek Online a lot lately, but it hasn’t entirely been for fun. Maintenance gaming, I guess is the best description I can come up with with how I’ve been playing. Gaming for the future, maybe? Chasing carrots, definitely, but the carrots aren’t really leading to meals.

I love STO. Picked it up at release and have played off and on for the full 5 years it’s been out. When the decision came through that they were going to start making “Featured Episodes” and coming out with episodes on a regular basis, this solidified the game for me. As a Star Trek fan, this was about as close as I’d come to seeing new Trek. That day, about a month before my wedding day, I signed up for the lifetime sub (and if my future wife complained, well… it was before the wedding so it didn’t count. She said yes, she knew what she was getting herself into!).

Over the years, I’ve stuck to one character and only a handful of ships. Only with recent changes to the game have they made switching ships a much less painful task, so I only stuck to the Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit, the Solanae Dyson Science Destroyer, and just recently the Pathfinder Long Range Science Vessel. Remember Voyager? Essentially that. What can I say, the Intrepid-based designs are just really sleek, streamlined, and sexy. So sue me.

Star Trek Online, Dyson Science Destroyer

The Dyson Science Destroyer, looking rather epic.

The Retrofit and Dyson are considered Tier 5 and are the ships I spent the most time in. The Retrofit was free for me, but after the Free-To-Play conversion it was considered a pay ship. It was an Endgame ship, though, and held it’s own as more and more Tier 5 ships were released, every new ship bearing a pricetag ranging from $10-$30.

This is how Star Trek Online makes it’s money: ship sales. You want to play the endgame content, buy a ship. Or you could grind for it, but really you’re paying to keep your sanity in this case. Ships, then, differed in your preferred playstyle. Science/DPS/Tank and all the mixtures, Tanky DPS, Sciency DPS, Sciency Tank. Each ship also had some hook that differentiated it. For the Retrofit, it was an Ablative Generator, the future-plating seen during the final episode of Voyager. Tier 5 ships are Admiral Tier, and hundreds of thousands of players supported the game in this way. All Tier 5 ships also are relatively equally balanced. This way worked well, from July of 2010 through October 2014, the release of Delta Rising, when it was announced they would be moving forward to Tier 6.

Tier 6 ships bring along with them a host of fun things. More power, more abilities, more customization, more hit points, leveling up your ship, special earned passives, etc. Fantastic. I went ahead and used my stipend points and bought the first ship I’ve ever used zen to purchase, the Pathfinder. All the fun new stuff, along with an upgraded Intrepid? I can dig it.

Star Trek Online, Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit

The equivalence of walking away from a large explosion.

But this is an MMO.

In MMOs, there is the unspoken rule that any improvements below when the improvements start becoming harder and harder to acquire is not important. Leveling gear is only meant to be held onto until you pick up an upgrade 20 minutes later. The new Tier 6 ships are easy to acquire, all you have to do is bust out the credit card or run one of the latest events. The Tier 6 upgrade, though, effectively makes all the Tier 5 ships, all the ships paid for by players, just another piece of leveling gear.

Tier 5 ships are just fine!‘ they told us. All the story content in Delta Rising can be completed with a Tier 5 (which it can), and you don’t *have* to upgrade to continue enjoying the game. Well, no, of course we don’t *have* to. But this is an MMO! Acquiring the best gear is a huge part of why we all play! They know this, though. They know the psychology of MMO players just as much as we obey it. If there is a huge upgrade to a key piece of gear, and it is within our reach, we will go after it.

Even throwing on the band-aid of a store token that can upgrade all Tier 5 ships to a Tier 5-Upgraded level is just a cover. The Tier 5U ships do not have the ability to add specializations, they do not offer extra passives, all they offer is just a buff to your ship’s hit points for $10. The token just gives your Tier 5 ships the ability to hold you over until you can get the Tier 6 you want.

All of this obviously did not sit well with a lot of players. Expansions in plenty of other games usually turns all your hard-earned gear into leveling gear again, which is fine, but not when you paid $20 for that gear. And then we were supposed to be fine with a $10 band-aid that still did not put us on par with Tier 6?

Star Trek Online, Delta Flyer

The Delta Flyer, flying in a timed race. Original, right?

I’m not going to say that Cryptic dropped the ball on this one, this was obviously a very calculated move for the future of the game. If anything, they’re holding onto the ball real tight. This whole ship upgrade thing, though, put a bad taste in a lot of players mouths. Will Cryptic do this again for the next expansion? If I buy Tier 6, are they just going to make Tier 7 and invalidate another purchase? Hate to say, but I think a lot of trust from a lot of players was lost on this one. Which is a serious shame because the story in Delta Rising is easily some of the best the writers have written yet, a real fine display of Star Trek’s iconic grey storytelling.

Personally, with my lifetime sub, I wasn’t affected much. I just bought the Pathfinder using stipend points. My two longest running ships, though, the T5 Retrofit and the T5-U Dyson, unless they come up with other uses for old ships they can effectively be mothballed. Using them when I have a Tier 6 is kind of pointless.

Because really, what MMO player is fine with just using leveling gear?

//Ocho

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6 thoughts on “The Star Trek Online Conundrum of Tier 6

  1. I dunno, Tier 5-Upgrade is still perfectly fine. Tier 5 is perfectly fine for that matter. Tier 6 ships aren’t fantastic in and of themselves, though I’ll admit I had a blast leveling up the Dauntless, which is the one ship I thought I’d hate. But I mostly use the T6 ships just to level up and unlock the starship trait so I have it if I need it. Otherwise my RP ship is still an Intrepid.

  2. I’m still using my t5’s as well (actually, I’m still using t4’s a lot of the time too). But I do like all the little extra fiddly bits. I think to me the only grinder was that I couldn’t pay the 10$ to upgrade any ship, just the short list of ones they approved. I’d love to be able to use my Support Cruiser (Ambassador) – but it doesn’t merit the list.

    Unless of course, you have the fleet version. Which brings me to the point of this comment. STO was already headed this way. It headed this way when it made it impossible to lay hold of the best ships in the game without joining a very large (and usually uncaring and rotten to the core) guild/fleet. And when they went from making special events a special scripted mission and instead making it a special scripted mission and at least two weeks of grinding if you wanted to enjoy the special rewards from that event.

    Lockboxes I’m fine with – its a tax on foolishness. But boxing options out just because I’m a solo player or because I didn’t buy the right ship, the one you thought I should be flying at end game? That is a foolishness unto itself.

  3. Not playing Star Trek Online, but I think this applies to all MMOs (as you mentioned). When acquiring better gear is a goal (and I haven’t found an MMO yet where it isn’t), being able to buy it with real money instead of getting it through in-game playing removes the fun. There’s a word for it: “pay to win”. It largely took the fun out of it in LotRO (e.g. you could buy health potions from the shop that didn’t have any cooldown, so you could theoretically make it through every raid even if you’d suck and/or had no gear) and from the sounds of it it would do the same for me in STO. The way cash shops are implemented is so important for the enjoyability of a game. It really affects how I look at the game as a whole. In LotRO I detest the Store, in SWTOR I’m fine with the Cartel Market (they only sell cosmetic “extra” things, and you can even sell and buy them on the in-game player market).

    • Pay-to-win, huh. Well, of course it’s pay-to-win if you’re looking from that perspective. However, there are ways of attaining these ships through in-game play, meaning anyone can attain them without paying a real dime. One’s a grind, the other isn’t. And the ship, though being one of the factors of play, is far from the only factor. There’s the 20+ pieces of gear you put on your ship and their quality, all game attainable, there’s your bridge officers and their quality, their trained abilities, which can have different rarities, and your own specialization and abilities, what traits you’ve slotted, and your own character build. And that’s only space combat… “Win” is very subjective. I mean, I “win” because I bought a lifetime subscription 5 years ago, right? I certainly didn’t pay extra for the T6 ship. I have a friend who plays LOTRO and he uses his monthly stipend points to buy those potions. Does using points attained through paying a subscription mean that you “win”? Or is it only a “win” in comparison to a non-subbing player?

      Now SWTOR, where you have to pay to unlock the ability to equip purple items, pay to get equal rewards from Flashpoints, pay to revive yourself the same as others, pay to even add skillbars and customize your UI… that’s somehow better? It’s only better if you subscribe, if you pay. This is a lot more egregious case of “Paying to win”, imo, a heck of a lot worse than STO. (http://www.swtor.com/FREE/features)

      So, okay, to be fair then, let’s put SWTOR and STO on the same level, and say you pay for a sub for each. Well, then, in that case the new Tier 6 ships just cost stipend points, which you attain naturally through your sub. SWTOR’s sub allows you to play the game without being held back. SWTOR’s sub also nets you a stipend of coins as well, which you can use to purchase those cosmetics. STO’s stipend points also allow you to purchase cosmetic extras, and on top of that just playing the game nets you the ability to earn even more store points. Sorry, you know I respect ya Rav, but from an equal subscription’s perspective, making a case of Pay-to-Win falls a little flat.

  4. Oh wow, I seem to have hit a nerve by calling the above example (for as far as I understood it), pay to win. Not my intention.

    Clearly you have another understanding of what pay to win is than I do, which is okay. But let’s leave that term out for now, since there are obviously a lot of emotions attached to it that I had no idea of. I had meant to use it to clarify my argument, but it looks like it did the opposite!

    What I was trying to argue (and I had the impression we both agree on that) is that what an in-game store offers can affect how people feel about a game and, in extension, their trust in the creators of it. From a personal viewpoint, I dislike it when items that are best-in-slot or otherwise vital for optimal gameplay can be bought in the in-game shop. Even if it’s an item that can be acquired in-game through a lot of grinding it will still create negative feelings for me, because it diminishes the value of play time to me (and it gives me the feeling it might stimulate the developers to make in-game grind heavier to sell more items). If you are F2P you are pretty much left to how the gaming company tries to generate income (after all, they need to get money in order to sustain and develop their game some way), but if you are subscribing to a game, you are already supporting the game. I then don’t want to feel obliged to buy items from an in-game store (even if that can be done with points acquired through subscribing). I hope I’m making more sense now.

    Just to be clear, I have no feelings of “SWTOR is superior to STO” or anything of the likes, in case I made that impression. In fact, I’d probably dig STO if I had more time (and wouldn’t be more of the one-MMO-at-a-time type), since I’m a huge trekkie.

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