MMORPG Theory and Low-Cost ideas to turbo-charge STO.

A little bit about myself before I begin - I've been an avid gamer my entire life, from those "Free 100 Demo Games" CDs of the late 80s/early 90s to flight simulators to the dawn of MMORPGs. I've been playing MMORPGs since Everquest, have tried many, and have learned much.

What I come here today to provide, is an overarching description of what I have personally found to be the death of MMORPGs - and a few ideas which I believe are not only relatively low effort (because I respect the fact that there's only a limited amount of engineering resources in the real world) but would also provide an incredible value for the time invested.

Please keep in mind that I intend nothing negative to come out of this - I love Star Trek Online, and I feel that the features and systemic improvements Cryptic has made to it since I started playing over 3 years ago have been outstanding. If it weren't for that fact, I wouldn't be inspired to share these ideas - but the developer blogs that have been showing up on the launcher lately are logical and seem very like-minded so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Okay, so fundamentally MMORPGs suffer from three seemingly-unavoidable pitfalls which I can tell also exist in STO not only by playing the game myself, but also by reading the forums here and discussing with other players in the game. They are as follows:

1. Repetition/"Grindiness" (The most effective way to get what I want... is to do something I don't want, 100 times in a row.)
2. Obsolete Content (No matter how many things are added to the game, players only spend time in 5-10% of the content.)
3. Isolationism (A person's reputation is meaningless - there's little if any incentive to communicate with and/or respect other players.)

As I'm sure some of you can appreciate, the players themselves can both create or fix these problems - but they're often not guided into fixing things, because the alternatives are simply too efficient. Countless times I've seen people put hours of effort into "the ultimate farm" or "the ultimate ship build/gear" and simply ruin the game for themselves (AND others...) because they get bored immediately after finishing said pursuit and stop playing - making sure, of course, to trash Cryptic in various ways on the way out. Meanwhile, all the time they spent AFKing their way through PVE queues to the suffering of others, or streaking swiftly by that poor little newbie in a -real- Galaxy class starship (You know - the level 30 version...) without even bothering to say "Hi" does nothing good for the experience of others in the world around them.

But you can only lead a horse to water - you can't make it drink. It took me no longer than 5 minutes to find a thread on here, wherein one player is upset that a mission is too hard, and then another comes in and laughingly describes the entire game as trivial. At no point did someone just say "The Hazard Emitters science skill cancels out Borg shield drains." which would have instantly solved 90% of this person's problem. It's no wonder to see why a developer has a tough time placating both of those groups of people with the content they design. Unless...

... you provide a simplistic incentive for the players to do it themselves. The key elements here are a focus on rewards-only, carrot-based incentives such that nobody is feeling "punished" by anything, and also mechanisms which are inherently dynamic - if players want something their own actions will prove they deserve to get it. Self-accountability for players to create a positive gaming experience is key.

So without further ado, here's some starter ideas - in no particular priority order:

1. "Seek out new life, and new civilizations". Some of the most fun I had back in Everquest was the forming of master-apprentice relationships while leveling up, and then once again after I had reached the top. STO doesn't really have this, but there're ways to put it in. For starters, give a significant bonus to any veteran player who successfully completes an Episode mission with a new player. One of the captains has to have a maximum-level character on their account, and the other must not have a maximum-level character. Further, the account which does not have a maximum-level character must be of a suitable age, by either time or level, to discourage veterans simply creating "ghost" accounts to extract the reward from. This should encourages people to mingle with those who are still up-and-coming in the game, have a lot to learn, and might benefit from the experiences of a veteran player. It also provides incentive for experienced players to take some time to get to know new players - something which presently does not exist (and honestly, in most MMOs, it still doesn't...). Further, the bonus may only be claimed once per unique pairing of accounts. This would help prevent exploitation of the feature by two close friends, and/or abuse of strangers by heckling one person to continue running missions over and over. For each uniquely new person you meet, you are rewarded. And so is the new person, who is now actively being sought out by people who really know what the game is about.

2. "Sometimes you want a diplomatic solution". Reward players who communicate and cooperate, and that should be some deterrence to the efficiency poison that is an AFKer/bot. Cryptic already has a feature, where when someone plays an Episode mission in a team, sometimes a vote/poll option comes up on what to do next. Add this feature into PVE queues, with the result being a significant reward given to every member of the team if and only if they unanimously agree on what course to choose. It's extra - so if you can't agree, the rest of the mission's success and rewards does not depend on it. It's also anonymous voting, so you won't know/can't hassle someone who decides they want to just keep to themselves and not communicate. But, for those of us who socialize and help one another, this would provide a nice little "thank you" to encourage a more positive experience in the community. For example, halfway through some future PVE mission the NPC in charge can go "We've come across a fork in the road - do we pursue X through the nebula, or attempt to cut off Y by going through the asteroids? Going through the nebula will provide us a lot of gaseous R&D materials, while going through the asteroid belt we could collect metallic ones. Since both options are dangerous, if we can't all agree then we'll just go to warp and try to intercept them in the next system." After a few failed attempts to cooperate that everyone is sure to run into, this should slowly evolve into a situation where social and responsible players will form quick friendships over simple solutions. For instance, in the previous example, "Hey, I could really use Rubidium... but if you need Z-Particles, well, do you have some Rubidium we could trade? I'll give you the Z-Particles I get for it if we go through the nebula." "Sure" "Okay cool, let's do it." Quick aside - AFK players and bots can't communicate with other players. So the more significant this bonus is, the less incentive there will be to AFK through PVE queues. Also, after a few encounters where players do find other reasonable players - guess what, they'll be making their own premade 5-man teams and playing missions together to reliably get the bonuses. Presently, there isn't enough incentive to take the time to do that - for a lot of people it seems - but this should help out with that problem.

3. "The best way to get dilithium is Crystalline Catastrophe Advanced - 4 times a day!" Content repetition sucks. That said, Cryptic's developers don't have unlimited time to constantly re-tune things and make new stuff. Furthermore, there already is a ton of cool stuff to play - "meta"-gamers just ruin it by quickly identifying the very best one in terms of efficiency... and then promptly make that all they play. Solution? Make it impossible to pin down the best thing to do by dynamically changing what the best thing to do is. Assuming Cryptic can gather statistics on their PVE mission queues, they should do so say, once per week, and identify the 6 or so least-played missions. I say 6 because of the 40 or more missions there are, I only ever see 6 with a "Wait Time" at all - indicating to me that those are all that get actively played. So yeah, identify the 6 least-played missions that week, and then significantly boost their rewards for the following week and spotlight them. That should be more than enough encouragement for people to mess around playing missions they haven't done or that weren't previously "worth it". Further, any missions which remain on the spotlight for more than one week in a row are true candidates for re-balancing if even a significant reward boost isn't enough to get people to play them. The others, however, would get played once they have the bonus - immediately making them more popular, and in turn deactivating their bonus for the following week in favor of whatever else wasn't getting any attention. This one is big, because I have literally heard a friend tell me "I"m not playing the game anymore because I'm tired of only being able to queue up and play Crystalline Entity over and over..." I'm sure they would've loved some of the other missions if there were enough players queued up to reliably run them.

4. "Mission Successful! You've been awarded 4 Whatsits and 8 Polytechnothingies." One of the greatest things about this game is the enormous amount of raw materials that one can use to develop a character. It's also one of the most daunting to new players. There is no simple solution to this problem, however one of the things that vexes even me is whether or not other players consider something valuable or not. More than once have I encountered a situation where some purple-quality item that I thought looked pretty amazing was worth only 4000EC on the exchange... while a stack of some food commodity I thought was worthless, could've netted me 1million. This is very frustrating, and, while there are some players who I think do enjoy checking the exchange frequently and gaming the market, most of us find spending the time building a search on every item we can trade is... less than enjoyable. I have a far more comprehensive idea for a "Bidding" section to be added to the Exchange, complete with a control scheme that would make it seamless, but I stated earlier in my post that I would restrict suggestions here to only ones that I saw as a low-development effort and I do not believe such an idea fits in that category. However, if the servers were set to simply run a scan on the Exchange and update the lowest price per unit for trade-able items, then display this value in say the mouse-over tooltip... I think that this would be extremely helpful to everyone. It wouldn't have to be updated constantly either, even just a weekly estimate would be very helpful. Newer players wouldn't accidentally throw away items which could help speed them into the ship of their dreams, and veterans wouldn't accidentally horde items which they couldn't even give away for free.

Well that's it for now. If you've actually gotten this far, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read and consider my ideas. I am open to any and all feedback and again, remember - my goal is to be positive and improve the game.

Thank you.