Star Trek Online: New Ships, Old Prices
Yesterday saw a lot of new content come to Star Trek Online. First off, we saw the start of the eighth anniversary event and the opportunity to earn a Bajoran Interceptor. There’s also a new featured episode; Scylla and Charybdis which further explores the Tzenkethi story line. And then there’s the release of the new Discovery lock box, which ties STO into the new Star Trek: Discovery television show. New lock boxes, means new ships. This time round there’s an opportunity to win a Tier 6 Crossfield-class Science Vanguard which boasts a formidable array of stats. Judging by the discussion on the official STO subreddit, the new vessel seems to have been very well received by the player community. The universal console, Mycelium Ambush, when activated temporarily disables ships weapons and transports the vessel forward. It then releases an energy pulse, impeding the engines of nearby enemy vessels while enhancing your own starship's weapons. After a few seconds, multiple torpedoes are launched, and your starship's weapons are disabled again in order to transport back to the original position.
Now considering that the new Discovery lock boxes have only been available for 24 hours, it would appear that many players have been stockpiling keys in preparation for its launch. Subsequently, despite being a rare drop many players have acquired the new Crossfield-class Science Vanguard and they are readily available on the exchange. The price is currently around 620 million energy credits, which is a tidy sum. The ship has also turned up for sale on third party websites available for sale at $125. Furthermore, the arrival of new ships has not depressed the prices of older vessels. Both Kelvin timeline ships are still holding steady at 260 million energy credit and the jewel in the crown of STO, the Tier 6 Constitution class Cruiser remians over 1.5 billion energy credits. So far, the economy adjustment that was anticipated by the introduction of the re-engineering system has yet to happen, although it is still only early days.
The problems STO faces with its in-game economy are really no different from many other MMOs. Frequently, the accumulation of wealth becomes a meta game in its own right. LOTRO has a similarly skewed game economy with everyday items that can be easily gathered, priced extremely high. This is not through supply and demand, but simply because such prices can be charged and paid for. Because gold is simply created in MMOs, rather than linked to any other sort of economic resource to base its levels, it doesn’t take long for hyperinflation to occur. Hyperinflation is detrimental to new and returning players. It can often lead to the auction service becoming the exclusive province of the virtually super rich. Hence we see the introduction of money sinks to try and remove surplus capital from games. These may be auction house fees, non-craftable consumables or housing fees. However money sinks seldom return a game’s economy back to a state of normality.
Cryptic have adjusted the in-game economy of STO several times over the last eight years. It is now far harder to earn energy credits, the games primary currency, than it was four years ago However, the damage is already done and there’s an immense amount of currency in circulation, often stockpiled by power players. The game’s crafting and upgrade system is also a contributory factor to hyperinflation. Until recently, if you craft and upgrade a ships weapon for example, there has been no control over which modifiers are added to it. Hence players would sell on items that didn’t meet their expectations. These items then flood the in-game auction house at inflated prices, as players seek gear with the attributes they require. The new re-engineering system is supposed to make obtaining the modifiers that you desire easier. It will allegedly level the playing field and make players less reliant on crafted items for sale on the exchange. Cryptic hope that this system will ultimately depress prices and eventually lead to less superfluous items entering the game’s financial ecosystem.
MMO economies are strange and esoteric beasts. Despite external factors created by developers, designed to slow and divert wealth creation, it is frequently impossible to slow player progression and dampen their enthusiasm. MMO gamers often rise to the occasion and embrace grind rather than capitulate to it. I suspect that it will take a considerable amount of time before we see any major change in the STO economy. Furthermore, the re-engineering system may well remove the surplus of crated items on the exchange, but I cannot see it impacting upon the prices of rare Tier 6 vessels. If someone is prepared to pay 1.5 billion energy credits for the latest and rarest of ships then the prices will remain as they are. The only other alternative is to make such items bound which would then incur a new set of problems, along with a great deal of player outrage. So for the meantime it is simply a question of watching and waiting to see in what direction the STO market goes.