Thursday, January 14, 2010

The other point of view on STO

Common Sense Gamer Darren is back from a blogging break, and he likes Star Trek Online. Nevertheless he has to resort to an analogy of an awkward highschool date with acne turning out to look like a supermodel 20 years later to explain his attraction. Quotes:
"The ship combat is a bit awkward to deal with in terms of camera and movement, but everything else about it feels bang on….at the very least, the ship combat that is in there right now is a great starting point for STO to grow from. Land combat is the black sheep, but why wouldn’t it be since it is Star Trek and we don’t see land combat that often in that universe….it’s all about the pew-pew in space."
"Technically speaking, the game needs some work. Keep in mind, that it is open beta…the FIRST day of open beta…so I expected the usual gremlins to pop in and say hi. Lag, disconnects, stutter-like gameplay, unfinished content. We’ve been through this song and dance before and we will again. Some are making conclusions based on this and again, we’ve seen that kind of behavior from gamers before too….but I’m thinking they will wish they stuck with the awkwardness at the end of the day."
I've read other comments along similar lines, saying "Admittedly STO sucks for the first 10 levels, but it gets better after level 12 (or some say 20)". Not having played STO past level 12 or 20, and not being in the possession of a functioning crystal ball, I can't say how Star Trek Online will turn out in the long run. Maybe in half a year all the technical problems will be gone, and people will be extremely happy with Star Trek Online. Or maybe not.

From the point of view of both a reviewer and a potential customer, I would still say that *even if* Star Trek Online would improve a lot in the coming months, and play much more interesting in the higher levels, that sort of design / business decision has serious flaws. For the review I simply didn't have the opportunity to play much more than I did, as I only got into the closed beta late as a Fileplanet subscriber. And then of course you want to publish something when the NDA drops, not 3 months later when maybe there are less bugs and the game improved, but nobody wants to read a review of the game any more. I checked various blogs, and game sites, and the reviews on several of them were obviously based on even less play time than mine.

But it isn't just reviewers with real or imaginary publishing deadlines. The majority of players reacts in exactly the same way: Test the game in the open beta, or buy it and play the first free month, then unsubscribe if the game didn't live up to whatever you hoped it would be. A "the first 10 levels suck" design, and a release date prior to "when it's ready" are creating a barrier to entry that a lot of potential customers won't get past. If I had absolutely nothing else to play, I might stick with a flawed game and hope it improves over time. But the number of games to choose from is still growing at a fast pace, so chances are that a game which makes a bad first impression won't get the opportunity to make a better one later.

Of course that is somewhat superficial, and by not testing every game long enough I might have missed some really good ones. For example I hated the original tutorial of Fallen Earth in the beta so much that I never gave the game a real chance, but lots of bloggers report it is in fact a good game (and apparently they even redid the tutorial completely). But as long as I'm having fun with whatever else I'm playing at the moment, me having missed a game is the loss of the game developer, not my loss. Thus I think that the MMORPG industry really has to think their business and design practices over, and make a bigger effort to create games that are fun from the first minute you log on, and run reasonably well. The "it's just the beta" excuse isn't really working well in the open beta three weeks before release. You'll only end up with bad reviews and cancelled preorders, which are going to hurt the game for a long time.

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