Looking Back At Advice on a Star Trek MMO

Way back in the dark mists of January 2008 Eric Heimburg, who was Perpetual’s Lead Systems Designer on Star Trek Online back before that company folded, wrote a few points out to Cryptic / whoever might get the Star Trek MMO. With Cryptic’s STO launching just a few short months away in February 2010, I thought it was interesting to compare that advice with what has since been announced. Please read his article – and it is an interesting one, as is its follow-up – for a better perspective on Eric’s experience than I’m going to cover here.

Star Trek Corset

This Star Trek uniform is non-canon and thus an affront to the every true Trek fan.

Advice #1: Don’t try to be too true to the license. and Advice #4: Ignore the fans.

Reading into these points of advice, I see this covering some “remember that you are making a MMO, not a Star Trek simulator, so don’t abandon MMO conventions too easily” territory. And this is good advice.

A lot of people have the attitude that since STO is using the Star Trek IP, it needs to follow it exactly. This just isn’t true. The highly successful new “Star Trek” film basically threw out every bit of existing Star Trek lore barring the character names and it didn’t hurt the franchise at all. (Side note: personally I thought the film was over-rated, but that’s another issue.) Instead, “Star Trek” just focused on making a fast-moving action film with a clear story and the box office was very good, so dumping decades worth of lore had little impact on its success.

So, although there have been some complaints of terms like “tanking”, “DPS” and “support’ appearing in STO trailers, the reality is that STO has to appeal to existing MMO players as a whole, not just Trek fans who might also play MMOs. Love or hate the holy trinity terms, they are basic role definitions for combat in MMOs, so not having them is a red flag to all those players who want to better understand the game. Now, an STO ‘tank’ might not be the same as a World of Warcraft ‘tank’, but simply having the concepts there make it more acceptable to a lot of MMO players.

To date, it appears that Cryptic is following this advice. They certainly want to give the title a Star Trek flavour, but they are setting out to make a MMO first. How well it all plays is only going to be known during open beta, but this is going to be more important to the title’s success than if the lore is followed 100%.

Also, regardless of what Cryptic did, there would always be a group who felt that it “wasn’t Star Trek enough”. This isn’t an area where everyone can be satisfied with the outcome.

Advice #2: Make a fun game loop first.

The ‘fun’ won’t be known until the title hits open beta, but Cryptic has indicated that they have episode missions and procedurally generated content. This at least seems that they are trying to make the core of the game feel Trek-ish in its game loop.

Advice #3: Don’t try to make the ground and space games at the same time.

Cryptic is making the ground and space games at the same time, as seen here. Advice ignored.

Advice #5: Don’t go public too soon.

Star Trek: Expendability

Is an extended testing period really an expendable for STO?

Although STO has probably spent two years in development at Cryptic, here is where I feel the need to go, “Hmmm … yeah … well …” as this would seem to be a large trap that Cryptic are heading towards. STO’s closed beta looks like it is going to only run for about 3 months while open beta is going to be 1 month (January 2010) and then STO launches. That’s an awfully big rush out the door.

I’m going to write a longer piece on Champions Online’s beta, but a key thing it needed was longer server up times and longer testing. If anything, STO is getting a shorter testing period than Cryptic’s other MMO and it would be hard to say that ChampO didn’t have a good number of issues to deal with at launch that more testing would have helped smooth out. STO could easily fall into the same hole. Regardless of when STO is launched, there will always be players who will say it needed more time, but only having such a short beta period limits the ability to actually change game features according to testing feedback.

Of all the pieces of Eric’s advice, it is this last one that was probably the most important – launch it right and spend the time required to get there. Unfortunately, it appears to be the piece of advice that Cryptic isn’t paying attention to.

Guess we’ll see at launch if this was the wise thing to do… or not.

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