I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge Star Trek fan. My love of the franchise began in kindergarten with The Next Generation and lasted all the way until I graduated college with the final season of Enterprise. Growing up, I always knew that there would be a new adventure in the 23rd century waiting for me. It was a great hobby and over the course of many years I got to meet a lot of my favorite series’ actors at comic and sci-fi conventions.
After the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, there has been a drought of new Star Trek material to feed the fans. Aside from J.J. Abrams’ “NuTrek” movies and the continuations of book series, Star Trek has been absent from modern TV screens. There have been some great fan produced web-series like New Voyages, Phase 2, and Axanar hitting the media in the past couple of years, but “official” Star Trek has been missing from network television.
Star Trek Online Saves The Day
Fans were eager to hear news that in the mid 2000’s that Perpetual Entertainment was developing an new IP based on Star Trek called Star Trek Online. Its promise was to create a fully interactive MMORPG based on the Star Trek universe. Artwork was released for the game showing examples of what players were to expect. I actually put in a for a concept art position with the studio while I was still in college. That shows the level of excitement that I had for this project.
Unfortunately, Perpetual Entertainment went out of business, leaving the Star Trek IP up in the air. Cryptic Studios and Atari would later buy the IP with their hopes of getting into the growing MMO market. Atari put up the rest of the funding of the game and allowed the Cryptic design team to finish the project and release the title. Unbeknownst to Atari was the fact that a studio has to constantly put in money into an MMO game after release. Atari expected after launch that it would receive its profit and not have to allocate funds to keep the game running.
The initial launch of Star Trek Online (which had now turned into a third person starship and land-based action game) was greeted with mixed reviews and criticisms. The player base was split into two factions: the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The Klingon Empire was first conceived as a solely PVP-based faction and had little or no PVE value. It was only after some player complaints did Cryptic put in some additional missions for the Klingon factions.
Trouble In Paradise
The game initially used a subscription-based model akin to World of Warcraft. However, in early 2012, the game became free-to-play after Cryptic was purchased by Chinese based Perfect World Entertainment.
PWE has a reputation for pumping out substandard video games mainly to the Asian market. These games consist mainly of microtransactions, needless grinding, and time-gating to keep the player base hooked on the product. With the purchase of Cryptic Studios, PWE had a foothold in the American video game market.
One of the first things to be introduced into the game following the purchase of Cryptic was the lockbox. A lockbox is an in-game item that can be opened by the use of keys that the players can purchase via the in-game store. The lockbox may or may not contain something useful for the player, such as a rare item or even rarer starship. Players complained about this new mechanic, comparing it to gambling. PWE’s reply that was the players don’t have to purchase keys or open the boxes at all. But seeing that the best in-game items can only be obtained via lockboxes, many players ponied up hundreds if not thousands of dollars via keys.
Soon, starships of varying kinds started appearing in the Zen Store. These ship bundles could cost the player anywhere from $10 to upwards of $150 for complete packages. That’s $150 for in-game items: the asking price for 2-3 brand new games on other systems!
I’ll be the first to admit that I fell for this, hook, line and sinker. I dropped an easy $200 on lockbox keys in order to get enough points to purchase a Jem’Hadar battle cruiser for one of my characters. I was fortunate enough to get a Jem’Hadar attack ship, Cardassian Galor Cruiser, and a Ferengi Marauder. Other players spent thousands of dollars and saw very little for their investment. Yes, they were given other in-game items, but the cost to the player was already paid. There are no refunds in Star Trek Online.
Boldly Ripping You Off
A more recent example of how PWE likes to take advantage of its players is the latest expansion, Delta Rising. In Delta Rising, the game got its first level cap increase ever, all the way up to level 60. You could also explore the new regions of the Delta Quadrant. However, many players had questions about their ships. The majority of the ships level 50 players had were attuned to that level. With the introduction of new levels, the players found that their previous starships, equipment, and gear would not scale.
Cryptic’s answer to this really pissed off the players. In order to keep using the ships that you’ve already paid upwards of $25 for, you now had to pay an additional $5 to upgrade their scale to level 60! Yes, that’s $5 per ship, per character. Say you had three characters from each faction (Federation, Klingon, and Romulan) and had multiple level 50 ships. You would have to play upwards of $100 to $300 to bring those characters up to the new level cap. And naturally, ships found via lockboxes were automatically upgraded. This practice further incentivized the players to buy lockboxes and spend more time and money on the game.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I uninstalled the game and never looked back. I realized what a waste of time and money this game is and how it’s a shameful mockery of what Star Trek is supposed to represent. PWE and Cryptic are taking advantages of a fanbase that is so thirsty for new Trek that they blindly pay these crooks thousands of dollars to give them something that vaguely resembles the franchise they love.
The naysayers may argue that everything in-game can be purchased via the dilithium exchange. However, the time invested into the process of converting dilithium to Zen accounts for hundreds of man-hours running the same material over and over again. What is this process called in gaming? Level grinding.
Perfect World Entertainment represents everything that is wrong with the free-to-play MMO market. Star Trek Online has become a product run by a soulless off-shore company that wants nothing more than to rob its consumers with shiny products, broken promises, lame gameplay and shady business practices. I, for one, will never give them another cent.