When is a gift not a gift?
This isn’t exactly an idle question. Recently, Star Trek Online began its 4th year anniversary. All well and good.
In previous years, one of the nice additions was the giveaway of free ships. For example, the 2nd year anniversary gave us a baseline Odyssey and Bortas’ class starship (depending if you were Starfleet or KDF). To get it, you participated in a very VERY short mission where you gave the prototypes their shakedown cruise (and shot at the other faction’s version. Can’t leave well enough alone, hm?). The 3rd year anniversary gave us the Ambassador or Kamarag class starships, and to get those you had to do a full feature episode. This wasn’t really seen as a bad thing; the playerbase as a whole loves feature episodes.
So as the 4th anniversary approached, it was expected to see a new ship as a reward from some kind of mission. And that’s where things get derailed a bit.
In the last year, Reputation projects became a thing in STO. Basically, it’s faction grind, much like you see in other MMOs (even if under a different name). One of the types introduces was the Event reputation, which allowed them to set up a grind for the Holiday events. This year, they added one for the anniversaries. The free ship-so to speak-was locked behind it. The kicker? The grind involves doing dailies in addition to the feature episode. Or spending lobi, a currency gained from lockboxes. I’ve spent more than enough space talking about those.
So in order to get your free ship this year, you have to grind daily for a couple of weeks. There’s some wiggle room, but probably not as much as one might like. This has also gone over about as well as you’d expect.
I think a part of it has to do with precedent. Grinding during holiday events didn’t bother us as much. The Winter Event had elements of that with their presents early on for a Breen ship, and the Reputation thing had been well established when the devs introduced the Summer event for the Risan race ship. But…the anniversary had been, for lack of a better word, pure. It was seen as a way of thanking the players for their continued loyalty to the game-for playing the game. And turning this into another event grind…well, it rubs folks wrong.
Never mind that the ship will have upgraded versions in the C-Store soon enough; that’s no big deal, as that happened with the Odyssey and Bortas’. Never mind that the grind involves beaming to the factions’ respective academies, and basically doing a set of five shell games (or chases) successfully, which is a fairly simple thing. The pain is mostly felt by people who can’t get on that regularly, or by people who try to get these on all of their alt characters.
I’ll take a moment to also mention that the devs really screwed up on the shell game. As it stands now, we have two methods to complete the mission to advance the event rep at the Academy. One is to do a shell game with a tiny Q, which takes about a minute or two to do. Or if you’re lucky, the Q will instead try to run like hell, and you have to catch him-which usually takes about ten seconds. So what some players have decided to do is just trigger a Q, and if it does the shell game, move on and try another Q. Which makes it hard for other players who are looking for a Q so they can finish their daily. If talking to a Q locked a player into finishing their game-whichever it was-before allowing them to talk to another, this wouldn’t be an issue. But then, if the devs hadn’t attached a grind to an anniversary ship this time, this wouldn’t be a problem either; I sure don’t remember this sort of thing happening last year, when the event was about fun instead of grind.
It seems that in a way, STO’s innocence has been lost. Everything seems to be about a way to grind, or a way to fleece customers from their money. Lockboxes and C-Store offerings don’t seem to be enough these days. Posts on the forums seem to imply that if something can’t be tied to bringing in money in a direct way, it just won’t get done; I know that’s an oversimplification, but that’s the way it’s taken. And it’s a shame, too, because it partially overshadows some very good stuff-like the fact that they gave away some C-Store items (low sellers, undoubtedly, but it’s the thought that counts) for free over a period of four days, or the fact that the feature episode released includes a Voyager alumnus voice-acting work, a lead in to the Next Big Thing, and is a generally entertaining mission to do.
I just hope that the powers-that-be behind STO realize that the game has to be more than just about “making money”; it has to be about the value for that money. The moment the player base decides that the money going in isn’t worth the value coming out will be the moment the game begins to die.
Which could, admittedly, be a statement applied to most of the MMOs out there.