Star Trek Online, the MMORPG from Cryptic Games, has enjoyed an interesting launch. In the few months it's been out it's suffered criticism at the hands of both reviewers and, more importantly, paying customers. But it's also managed to garner a loyal fanbase that's currently spending an unhealthy amount of time going where no MMO player has gone before. Here, in a candid interview with VideoGamer.com, executive producer Craig Zinkievich talks frankly and openly about STO's successes and failures, and dishes the dirt on what players can expect from the next six months.
Q: Star Trek Online has been out for a couple of months now. What feature worked out best and what worked out least well?
Craig Zinkievich: Interesting. There are a lot of things in the game that worked out really well, that were risky, that ended up paying off. Space combat, pretty universally people like that, people think that's really cool. People enjoy the content. People get attached to their bridge officers, and the fact that you can swap in and out of your gear in order to spec yourself, activating different bridge officers at a time, a lot of those features worked out pretty well.
Things that didn't work out that well? Ground combat, still a little wonky at ship. There are a lot of things we're doing to address that, try to smooth that over, try to make that something players are excited about. The skill system is interesting, cool, but at launch it was a little opaque, to the point where some of the connections between the skills, the items and your abilities aren't as clear to the player as we could have made it. There are a lot of things we're doing UI wise in order to try and make that better. At launch the endgame: a little weak in terms of the content, what is there to do. But we've released the Borg Sector map, we've released two Special Task Forces over the last month, and we're going to be releasing another one next week. We're trying to address all of those shortcomings as fast as possible as opposed to launching and then ignoring the game for three or four months as we build another update. The goal with the live team right now is to get the biggest issues taken care of in the shortest time possible.
Q: When you looked at your forums in the days and weeks after launch, how did you react to it? How does the team gauge that opinion? Do you take it very seriously, or with a pinch of salt?
CZ: There are two different aspects of looking at the forums and what they mean. There's the side that is the purely emotional side. Everybody here on the team is so invested in this project. We had such a short time frame to develop in. Everybody down to the last member of the dev team I'm so proud of. They put their heart and soul into this project in order to try to get this out and make sure it is realised and something we can build upon as opposed to another vapourware MMO. After those long months of the team members trying hard, it is very difficult to take criticism. And of course forum type criticism is sometimes not the nicest phrased. It hits the team.
But at the same time, we get to see the positive things. We get to see the people who are really excited about it. So emotionally, you look at it and there's really nothing you can do. You can't emotionally take something with a grain of salt. Then, on the other hand - this is the greatest part of an MMO - we go to the forums and we look at that, and it's like, okay, this is what our customers want. This is what our customers are demanding. They want more endgame - let's focus on that. They want the ability to make the game a little bit difficult, they want the ability to have a death penalty, so let's look at those things and develop those things. They want ship interiors, they want more non-combat content. So all of those things we can look at and we can say, these are the people paying for the game, these are the people playing the game and liking it and are going to be here for the long term, let's focus on making them happy and keeping them around. So yeah, sometimes you have to wade through a little bit of vitriol. But you also look at that and say, okay, what is this person really upset about and how can we help the other people who are upset about it? What are the things we can do to address these issues?
Q: What was your reaction to press reviews and Star Trek Online's current Metacritic review score average (65/100)?
CZ: We knew that it was going to be a polarising game. Even through development we realised that some people were going to like it, some people were going to understand what we were doing and what sort of foundation we were laying for a long term-developed game. And then some people were going to look at it and just not understand it, or compare it to WOW (World of Warcraft) and MMOs that have been out for years and years. Some of the reviews were a little bit surprising. There were some things that we were like, but… but… that's not what we meant to do with that! But you have to look at a review and the things you're lacking in or the public sees you lacking in, your potential customers see you lacking in, and try to address those things. So yeah, some of the reviews were a blow, but some of the reviewers actually got it and understood what we were trying to do and realised what we did in the time we had to develop the project and where we could take this in the future.
Q: It's been well documented that you didn't have as much time to develop STO as other MMO developers have enjoyed when creating other MMOs. Would it be fair to say the game released too early?
CZ: It released when it had to release. We had a contractual obligation. The gears were in motion. I don't ever want to look at the time we developed the project in and use that as an excuse. To use that as an excuse for any of the places where the game might have been lacking or where the reviews had issues with the game - that is not my intention. That being said, the goal with an MMO and the cool thing about it, is to get it out there and then build it with the community, and to build it with the customers and make it into a game they want that game to be, and take that game in that direction. So we see the game evolving and changing after launch. That was our intention. We launched the game as a really fun game, and it has a lot of directions where it can go and a lot of things that can be expanded upon. So no, I'm happy with when we launched.