Star Trek Online: Red Alert Controversy
Developer’s Cryptic announced this week that the various Red Alerts that are currently available continuously in Star Trek Online would hence forward, only be available to players on the weekend. Their official explanations was as follows. Starting this weekend, Red Alerts are moving from being always available to being special weekend events, with improved rewards! When these Red Alerts are live, you’ll be able to earn 35 Marks of your choice every time you play, with no cooldowns to prevent you from getting back into the action. These Task Force Operations will return to the galaxy regularly, as the groups of invaders do their best to take control of the four quadrants of the galaxy. As with any change of this nature, it has not been met with open arms by the STO reddit community and the official forums.
Red Alerts are spaced based, five player PVE events that can be joined either through the in-game queue listing facility or via an onscreen “distress call” while travelling is certain areas of sector space. They have a simple set of objectives, culminating in a capital ship fight, that have to be achieved in a ten-minute period. There are several varieties of Red Alert, themed around the Borg, Elachi, Tholians and the Tzenkethi. Once completed the player received 480 Dilithium ore and a reputation mark package that allows them to choose from a selection of factions. Red Alerts up until this change have been on a 30 minutes cooldown. However, many players consider them a quick and convenient facet of the game. If you are pushed for time they provide a quick fix of gameplay, they are also convenient for testing a gear build, and naturally they are a very useful means of earning marks for full reputation and rep related gear projects.
It has been noted by the STO community that this change to Red Alerts has come shortly after a recent announcement via the Priority One podcast, that PVE queues per se are having a random Task Force Operation added to them. One of the biggest problems with these group PVE activities available in STO is that some, unlike the Red Alerts, only offer a specific kind of reputation mark as a reward. There is a very strong game meta in STO with regard to builds, leading to certain reputation gear being more popular than others. Hence some group PVE events available in the queue manager are continuously busy and finding a five-man team is not a problem. Conversely, for the others the opposite is true. You can join a PVE queue for Battle for Procyon V, which only offers Fleet and Temporal marks as a reward and wait all evening for another 4 players to join. Because of this Cryptic feel that introducing an optional random Task Force Operation that offers enhanced rewards and quicker cooldowns will help resolve the problem.
Unfortunately, there are cogent arguments to be made that such a facility will have quite the opposite effect. Those players with more time available may well be happy to endure the caprices of random queues. After all, reputation marks of all types are useful. However, those who have less time at their disposal, seeking specific rep marks will find themselves even less likely to find a group in a timely fashion. Plus, there is the issue of the reduction of choice. Although the proposed random queues are optional let us not forget the removal of the convenient Red Alerts. And players are also concerned about the commercial ramifications that could come with this change. The reputation mechanic in STO is getting an additional sixth tier added to it in the months ahead. Naturally this will require further rep marks to achieve. Yet it is being added at a time when the opportunity for earning such marks is being altered; or as some players see it, restricted. Will the in-game store be offering purchasable rep marks in the foreseeable future?
As ever with F2P games, there is scope for game content and systems to be subordinate to revenue generation, rather than putting quality and player experience first. I can see how developers Cryptic do not want to introduce the expanded rep system only to see veteran players complete it too quickly due to stockpiled assets. However, I as a player do not want to find my progress in the game go from an equitable pace to a tedious grind. The potential of a cash store workaround also concerns me. It remains to be seen whether this debacle will encourage Cryptic to change their current course of action. The game is still in a very good place overall at the moment with both console and PC versions doing well. The tie-in with Star Trek: Discovery is certainly a marketing boon, so it would be a shame to see the game commit an act of self-harm. As ever with the MMO genre, it’s a question of wait and see, although I think a response from Cryptic and some clarity would go a long way.