Movie/Television IPs and AAA MMOs – Star Trek Online
It’s not a secret that often when a movie or television property is made into a video game, the result is mediocre at best and a complete flop at worst. I’ve often wondered if this is because there’s a thinking that goes on at video game publishers that when you have a licensed IP you can cut back on the development and allow the product to make money based solely on the strength of marketing and popularity of the source material alone. What happens though when this mentality is transferred to a AAA MMO game? I believe we’re seeing some of that right now in the latest installment of the ongoing controversy that is Cryptic’s Star Trek Online.
Star Trek Online has had a rocky start already with the players. The original promises were largely scaled back to an experience that was 90% Federation, 99% solo gaming and 100% space combat at the beginning. The second of the initial two factions the Klingons were a tack on, with no quest content of their own and only pvp to skill up and move on. The initial reviews were mediocre to good, nothing exceptional considering the hype that was generated around the game. Since that time much has been added to the game to make it more fleshed out, some of it welcomed by players and some of it not. The latest news is something that has the players up in arms for what I think are some very good reasons.
Cryptic announced they would be setting up an Advisory Council made of players to be the liaison between the community and the developers, an idea that has seen some success when implemented in other games. Unfortunately Cryptic’s announcement has invited much criticism from the players, centered around how the choice of council members was made. It seems, according to Marcom Manager Ivan-Cryptic:
“The first batch of participants was a starting place decided upon by a social networking firm that works for our folks at Atari. They gauged interest, received responses, and settled on a decent place to start the effort.”
In EVE Online, the Council of Stellar Management is an entity made of five player representatives that are voted on by EVE players, and accountable to the community via a message board on the official website. Terms are limited to 6 months and the satisfaction with the program is high among the players. Cryptic decided to take another path, namely hiring a marketing/social networking firm to choose the Council. No regulations were announced about how long these people would be speaking for the community and no mention of any procedures put in place to see that they’re accurately representing the views of those in the playing community. It’s bad form and inviting trouble when you try to place a set of players over any others and that’s exactly what’s happening now.
What bothers me most though is that Cryptic seems to be less interested in what current players have to say and more in what will bring other people from the larger Star Trek community into the game. It’s a short sighted way to think and doesn’t really show concern for retaining their current population. Here’s another quote from Ivan-Cryptic later in the thread:
“… maybe we could find a better way of approaching them. Like, maybe we could speak with people who run Star Trek conventions, other Star Trek fan clubs, Star Trek exhibitions, etc. Maybe we’re already doing exactly that.”
Are those the people you need to talk to about changes you’re going to make to your game? I normally don’t listen when people are hysterical about things but the claims of the council in Star Trek Online being just a “PR stunt” ring a little truer given statements like that.
What do you think about the marketing of Star Trek Online, is it neglecting the players who are currently playing at the expense of trying to bring in more? And how do you think this relates to Bioware saying recently that the upcoming Star Wars: TOR MMO must reach 1 million subscribers to break even on production costs? Would love to hear what you have to say.