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.
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.
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?
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?