Live long: check, prosper: check
Whether you're a Trekkie or not, it's hard to deny the appeal of a space-faring MMO that blends ship-to-ship combat with on-foot exploration. That's the driving force behind Star Trek Online, the massively multiplayer galactic expedition from Cryptic Studios (known for the superpower-centric City of Heroes and Champions Online). Today marks the game's three-year anniversary, and a lot has changed since launch--a transition to a free-to-play model, loads of additional content, and an explosion in the playerbase.
To find out more how about how far STO has come--and how far it can still go--we asked Daniel Stahl, executive producer on STO, about the space-faring journey thus far. Read on for a look at the next generation of Star Trek Online...
GamesRadar: Which Season update are you most proud of?
Daniel Stahl, executive producer: The three major updates over the last year have been instrumental to the continued success and growth of the game. When we added Free-to-Play option for players, we established our philosophy that all Captains should be able to experience the full game without purchase.
Our continued strategy is to ensure that anything in game may be obtained if you simply play the game. It ensures a quality experience without pay-gates where the in-game trade economy allows the community to share in everything the game has to offer.
GR: What successes do you hope to repeat in future updates, and which areas of the game still need to be addressed?
DS: The success of our updates has been due to the strong collaboration we share with the Star Trek Online community. We not only listen to feedback and entertain fan-driven proposals, but we have enlisted some of the best community authors who continue to create compelling new missions that rival our own.
While we cant immediately implement every suggestion we do a decent job of prioritizing what the game needs next in order to maintain a healthy MMO. This last year, the top priority was End-Game and Guilds. In the coming year we will be addressing what roles Factions, PvP, and the Foundry will play as the game expands.
GR: What are some of the most impressive projects to come out of the Foundry update? How have players surprised you?
DS: Prior to the release of the Foundry, we were concerned that discussed user-generated-content would take the path of least resistance towards exploitation. We hoped that a community of authors would arise and establish the Foundry as a premier tool for creating Star Trek fan-fiction, but it remained to be seen.
What has impressed me most is how organized and creative the fan-fiction community for Star Trek turned out to be in Star Trek Online. With numerous Foundry podcasts and an ever flowing release of well-constructed episodes, the quality of the Foundry Spotlight missions has surpassed expectations. With episodes like Vulture Wheel, One Too Many, and First Cause, Then Effect, the Foundry community has shown that creativity is not confined to the development team. We look forward to seeing what great missions will be made this year.
GR: If you had to pick a favorite, which do you prefer: the space combat, or on-foot missions? Why?
DS: It is hard to beat space combat in Star Trek Online. It feels like Trek and is a source of constant fun. That said, it is great that you can take a break from the front lines and beam down an away team for some ground based missions.
So while I favor space combat, whenever I play my personal character, I find myself queuing for an equal amount of Space and Ground events. A good round of Starbase Incursion on the ground is a lot of fun.
GR: How do you balance content aimed at max-level players versus those who are just now getting into the game?
DS: Our first commitment is to the health of the game for existing Captains. That is why weve focused a lot of energy over the last year to beef-up the events and progression at the maximum level. Now that weve introduced end-game system such as the Fleet Holdings and Reputation, we will continue to support these systems with new Holdings and Reps moving forward.
That is also freeing up some time for us to go back and address the early parts of the game in the coming year. We will be making some significant strides to expand our offering for new players over the next few updates. Therefore, we plan to continue to balance content and features for new and veteran players moving forward.
GR: What kind of plans do you have lined up for future Seasons and Episodes? What can Tasha Yar fans expect?
DS: We are going to continue to expand on the events that have transpired in both the Romulan and Omega Fleet reputations by advancing the storyline forward for the game. We will delve deeper into how the Iconians have been manipulating the galaxy and set the stage for how it will impact the existing war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
A big question to be answered is what happened to Empress Sela at the end of Cutting the Cord and how will this impact politics in the Beta Quadrant. If youre a Tasha Yar fan, then youll also want to check out our Three-year Anniversary celebration for a few surprises.
GR: Are there any unexplored concepts you want to hit in the upcoming content?
DS: Absolutely! We have a long way to go until we will consider this game to be anywhere close to our expectations for what an all-inclusive Star Trek Online game should be. We have a solid foundation but there are many concepts still left to explore such as how crafting, PvP, factions, exploration, diplomacy, and the Foundry play into the expanding design of the game. We have dabbled in all of these concepts but we need to deliver a robust design for each of these systems over the next 3 years.
GR: How has transitioning to a free-to-play model strengthened the game? Do you think subscription-only MMOs are even viable in todays market?
DS: We definitely do believe that subscription games are viable in todays market because it is easy to forget that most existing Free-to-Play games also offer a subscription. Star Trek Online has a very healthy and active subscriber base as well as a vast number of lifetime members. Adding a F2P option brings in another audience to the game that wants a different way to play. Together these two models can work side-by-side to improve the games overall appeal. However, it would be difficult to imagine releasing a solely subscription game in todays MMO marketplace. Having a F2P option forces the game to stand on its own quality. If a consumer isnt willing to play the game for free, then you could imagine them not wanting to pay for it either.
In my opinion, the quality of the initial offering is how F2P has strengthened MMO development. Your game must be fun as a free game. When you are paying an initial fee or an upfront subscription, you are more tolerant of the game, but when it is free, there is nothing to keep you from hitting the uninstall button immediately. You live or die based on whether your game is good or not to a free player. This philosophy has greatly improved our internal development ideals at Cryptic Studios and has led to great improvements in our games plus the well previewed upcoming Neverwinter title.
GR: Which playable race has proven the most popular? Are there any races that need a little more love, from either the players or the dev team?
DS: Playing a human captain is by far the most played species under the hypothesis that many want to play their own version of the crew members we watched on the TV shows or the movies. There are many other species in the Star Trek galaxy that all deserve love and to be incorporated into the game. Our goal is to get as many of the species into the game over time as we possibly can. Heck, we even have Pakleds in our game for the few and proud that love to play them. They like to make things go.
GR: Whats been the most memorable moment of the past three years of development? What do you look forward to in the next three?
DS: The most memorable moments of development are when we get together as a team to celebrate the fact that we are building Star Trek. Every Monday morning, we meet and show screenshots and discuss what we saw in game the previous week. It is a great reminder that we have some of the best jobs on Earth and we are lucky to be working with such a stellar IP.
The next three years are going to shift our focus away from the launch of the game, and forward towards where we want to expand and grow. We are having some remarkable success and we are eager to explore where this game can go. It will be a great journey and one that we look forward to sharing with fans.
GR: Out of curiosity, whats your take on Faster Than Light, the indie game which many have likened to a Star Trek sim?
DS: As a gamer, it is great to see how Kickstarter is bringing great ideas to market. FTL is a prime example of how an under-represented game genre can win fan support and find great success through word of mouth and crowd funding. It really is a great time to be a gamer. It is only going to get better.
GR: Thanks for your time! Anything else youd like to add?
DS: Thank you for taking the time to help us celebrate three years of Star Trek Online. If any of your readers are Star Trek fans but have never played STO, theres never been a better time to start. Live Long and Prosper!
Are you currently the captain of your very own starship? Looking to explore the uncharted recesses of space? You can start playing STO for free at the game's official website, then let us know in the comments which Star Trek episode you want to see recreated in the MMO.