“Oops! We !#%$@ up!”

I debated even posting on the subject, since it’s quite possible that within 24 hours of the post, all might magically be made right.  (You laugh, but it wouldn’t be the first time…)  But I felt that there was enough here to post on it anyway.

It involves Star Trek Online, the Delta Rising expansion, and the concept of consequences.

I’ve remarked in my last post about the issue involving leveling from 50-60; specifically how the new content didn’t actually technically offer the skill points needed to advance a level, how you would have to grind other stuff to make up the difference.  I remarked that this wasn’t so different than how it used to be in the early days of the game, but was effectively displaced by the “1 episode/1 level” idea that seemed to creep into the design philosophy of the game-and how this return was a jarring one.

So, surprise, surprise, people were going to find a way around this.  The best way to experience the content smoothly, they felt, was to power-level.  This involved taking teams of ships on the Elite setting, finding the best xp per level of effort ratio, and grinding that mission repeatedly until they got to level 60, and then playing the content without interruption.  On the face of it, I don’t really have issues with that-and despite what some forum goers are saying, I don’t really believe Cryptic/PWE cared about that side of it.

But, there’s a bit more to the story.  You see, one of the things that the expansion introduced was “Captain Specializations”; you could unlock abilities every time you leveled (or something along those lines-I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how that works out).  There were more abilities to unlock than there were levels left, but you could still unlock them even at max level-skill points you would have gotten to advance a level got applied to the progress needed to unlock a new ability.  But eventually, after presumably a long, long time, you could unlock all the abilities.

And that’s where Cryptic/PWE made their mistake.  After you unlocked all the abilities, instead of getting a new ability point, you would get Dilithium.  The same Dilithium that is used to purchase/create the high-end gear…or exchange for Zen, the PWE cash-shop currency.

So it’s not hard to figure out why, a couple of days ago, the sector block where the mission was located (that effort/skill point ratio I mentioned earlier) mysteriously was locked up, without a word as to why.  People just couldn’t go into the sector block.  (God help the folks who were just trying to run missions as low level Romulans….)  That was when word of the exploit started spreading.  But nobody commented upon it until yesterday, after a patch went in which turned off the Dilithium gain mentioned above, and apparently also nerfing the skill point rewards at assorted difficulty levels.

The official post goes something like this.

The development team became aware of a potential leveling exploit on Wednesday morning, and after initial investigation decided to shut down access to the maps that were being used by the exploiters in order to perform a deeper investigation.

We uncovered some bugs in the game that were definitely not intentional and that could be used to level at a rate significantly faster than anywhere else in the game. Fixes to these bugs are going live today that should remove the exploit. Details of the changes can be found in the release notes.

While many players participated a little in the exploited maps, very few really took advantage of it to excessively level characters. We identified this small number of players, and we have removed the excess levels from these characters.

We apologize for the inconvenience of closed maps during the investigation and for the bugs that led to the scramble around those maps.

~LaughingTrendy

Now, it’s hard to have sympathy for the “small number of players” who ruthlessly took advantage.  It’s one thing to level up to the point where you can play the new content without having to stop and get interrupted by grinding.  But it’s another thing to max everything out and start cashing in the Dilithium-and potentially wrecking the Dilithium economy.  Particularly since Cryptic/PWE rely upon that sort of thing for their own profits.  There was no way they were going to let that go on for long.  They way they dealt with this was heavy handed, though-locking the entire sector block instead of shutting off missions.  Maybe that’s as granular as they could get-maybe that was the only way they could stop it.  Maybe.

Of course, things don’t end there.  It seems that a whole lot of people are now reporting having lost specialization points-significantly more than this “small number of players”.  It seems that if you were even in Tau Dewa at all, you were a suspect-and got stripped of points if you happened to be at level 60 and had an excess of those points.  I imagine that the intent was to slam the folks who had maxed everything out-but there was plenty of space for folks who had legitimately gotten a number of skill points beyond level 60.  And they got slammed too.

Granted:  there’s every possibility that a lot of the people protesting this are exaggerating.  I know-the idea that a forum goer may offer information with no proof that it actually happened?  Inconceivable!  But…even if they are protesting innocence too loudly, that’s still a larger volume than a “small number of players”.  And if that’s the case, the devs have gotten really heavy-handed with their hammer.

There is no way to know, of course, if something harsher hit those small number (like, say, bans), but I imagine we’ll never hear about it.  What is apparent is that Cryptic/PWE handled this very badly-especially if some of the claims on the forums are true that this exploit existed and was reported on the test server-and allowed to go live anyway.  And given their actions over recent months, the lack of player trust in their word has become more and more apparent-and incidents like this isn’t going to help.

Full disclosure:  this event didn’t impact me one bit.  I’d seen things in zone chat about groups going to the mission involved here, but hadn’t put it together as being power-leveling; I remember thinking that it was odd that there’d be a full team looking to do that one specific mission.  Makes sense in hindsight.  My path to filling in the blank spots in the leveling path doesn’t give me heaps of skill points-and I’ve never been so glad that I tend to take my time on these things.  It’s not hard for me to imagine being in the same boat as others hit with the hammer.

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