The Problem with STO Lockboxes

Star Trek Online has, in my admittedly biased opinion, gone downhill in several ways. The stories are wonderful, the characters and familiar voices induce geekgasms, and in many ways it’s a wonderful game; but there’s a lot that, in recent years, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The foremost has to be the way that Cryptic has set up lockboxes.

lockbox_blog_020712Lockboxes are currently randomly dropped from destroying enemies in STO’s missions, both space and ground. They often have wonderful prizes inside, from some simple consumables to weapons to even ships. The ships are often the most coveted, exclusive to that type of lockbox only, and hardest to get. Thing is, every time you open a lockbox, it’s random what you’ll get; you could open one or two and find that awesome super-rare ship you’ve been hunting for, or you could open a hundred and never get a ship at all. It’s all determined by an RNG. Some items, like the special Lobi crystals currency, are guaranteed to be in them, but how many crystals is random. The ships, though, and the higher rarity items, are not guaranteed to even drop at all from a lockbox.

This wouldn’t be so bad… If not for the fact that the only way to open a lockbox is with a special key, which costs 100 Zen in the cash shop or can sell for hundreds of millions of Energy Credits in the exchange. Sure, you can just buy zen for Dilithium, but the price for Zen in Dilithium fluctuates based on the player made market. And even when you have a few keys, the lockbox rewards are still determined by an RNG. So it doesn’t matter how much time, Dilithium, or Zen you spend.

lockboxThis, to me defeats the purpose of the dilithium exchange and the whole concept that Cryptic was pushing that players who want to get things through spending time playing instead of spending real money would get fairly rewarded. No one’s being rewarded fairly; it’s just an overglorified slot machine. I understand wanting to give players rewards in lockboxes, but lockboxes in their current incarnation basically make a lot of things in the game unbalanced and unfair.

b018ec67214c8de420ab42f945980eb31359050634A F2P player will have to spend weeks upon weeks of grinding for dilithium, for several hours per day, to farm enough dilithium to get enough keys to have a decent chance at getting the item they wanted in particular, with no guarantee of ever even getting it. A player spending money can buy keys relatively cheaply, but because it’s an RNG, there’s no guarantee fo how much he’ll need to spend to get that one ship he really wants.

The only “legitimate” way to bypass the whole lockbox system is with the Exchange that uses Energy Credits (EC) instead of both Dilithium and Zen. Buy a key from the C-Store, then sell it on the exchange for several million EC. Then use that EC to buy the ship you want from someone else who’s selling their duplicate on the Exchange. Personally, I consider this entire method a waste of time, because if the lockboxes were well balanced and worth using as they are, this bypass wouldn’t even exist.

Now, remember my mentioning Lobi Crystals? They’re a special currency only available in lockboxes, and which can only be spent at the Lobi Store on items that are also exclusive to the Lobi Store. All lockboxes will drop some, the only thing that’s random is the number of Lobi Crystals you’ll get. Personally, I think that having these rare ships only as completely random drops out of lockboxes isn’t working. It makes more sense to make them also as purchases in the Lobi Store; that way even if the ship you want does not drop from the lockbox, you aren’t totally SOL and can still work your way to the one you wanted. I’m okay with there being some randomness to getting these ships, but not when that randomness is all there is and it alone determines whether you get those ships or not.

I get the need to have a cash shop. I get the idea behind lockboxes. I think both can be fun and useful, if done right. But right now, the lockbox system is hugely unfair and  just an unbalanced mess.

STO – Improving Reputation(s)

Blog Post Screenshot 001Before anyone misunderstands, no this isn’t about STO’s reputation with players as a game or about trying to “save” the game. The game doesn’t need saving, it’s already an amazing and successful MMO. This is about their planned improvements/additions to the game’s Reputations system. STO is adding another Reputation to the game in the new expansion coming this May. Frankly, I consider this a good thing, and honestly feel that their moving many rewards into the reputation system is a smart move. That said, the reputation system is in desperate need of a lot more of these reputations.

I really feel that making the whole game based on these reputations is a much smarter idea than what they started with. I’d like to see them put in a Starfleet reputation for FED players, a Klingon reputation for KDF players, a Neutral Factions reputation, a Borg Invasion reputation (to separate it from the Omega Task Force reputation system), a Cardassian/Bajoran/DS9 reputation, a Mirror Universe reputation, a Breen reputation, a Deferi reputation, and I’d like to see the Events reputation evolve¬† to a Featured Series reputation and a Fleet Actions reputation (this could reward players with Fleet Marks and even Fleet Ship requisition items similar to those in the C-Store), among others. Or, alternatively, they could take their current Commendations XP tracks and change each of them into separate reputation branches, each with it’s own “projects” for rewards that were previously only rewarded as mission rewards, then just adjust all the current mission rewards to instead offer various different reputation marks for whatever of those CXP reputations most fits that mission. Most current mission rewards could be fairly easily swapped to special marks/commendations for these new/alternate reputations, and PvP rewards could also be swapped over to this system as well.

If you ask me, it’s just a smart direction to take Star Trek Online. It makes adding new rewards into the system easier, and allows for seasonal rewards to be slotted in and out of the system with ease. It also makes re-playing older missions more worthwhile for many players, because they’d be re-playing not for obsolete items, but more reputation marks towards the gear they want. From what I’ve seen and experienced, the new reputation system has made a lot of things more interesting to play and even replay, even more interesting than simply adding Dilithium to mission replay rewards. I’d much rather they swapped out all the old-style quest rewards with a reputation system, then took the old rewards and made them available through the reputation projects. It’s been rather successful so far, and most players keep wanting more reputation tracks and projects to be added to the game. I think that this system could even be applied to the games crafting system, using various anomalies instead of marks to put towards a crafting project. If they could implement a way to have specific or even custom weapon/item bonuses as more expensive crafting projects, I think a lot more people would both craft and would farm for anomalies in missions. Add that to being able to re-play older missions for CXP marks, and you’ve just turned 75% of the game into worthwhile replay for most players.

I have a sneaky suspicion that this is the direction STO’s dev team is probably going, and I think that others in the industry may go that rout as well. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see; if ‘m right, we probably won’t know for another year or two, at least. Until then, I’ve got some Omega marks, New Romulus marks, and soon event marks and Nukara Strikeforce marks to be earning. Quapla’!

If everyone wins, then nobody really wins – bringing failure into MMO PvE Questing

Woah.. Big uglies… But don’t worry, failure doesn’t exist here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success and failure in PvE content in MMO games. Specifically, there really isn’t any. Not really. We all just simply succeed; even dying isn’t a failure any more. We just keep re-doing the quests until we finish the task. So are we really succeeding?

In the latest Captain’s Log on (written by the amazing Terilynn Shull), a fellow by the name of Dunnlang had a large response and made a few interesting points about what he felt were desperately needed improvements. This one point especially Continue reading