Captain's Log: The advisory council and fan service in Star Trek Online


Hard to port! Disruptors on full! Fire the tachyon beam! Oh, hello again. Welcome back to Captain's Log, Massively's weekly -- y'know what, hang on. These Cardassians are being a real pain in the toukas. Yes, Ensign, some torpedoes would be fabulous right about now. And you wonder why I haven't promoted you.

Sorry about that. This is Captain's Log, where I administer your weekly dose of Star Trek Online news, analysis and meaningless conjecture every Thursday. At least until the Massively overlords relegate me to the spice mines of Kessel. Oh, wait...

After discussing Season One and the joy of Fleet Actions, I have two items on this week's agenda. First, I thought I'd introduce myself! It's silly to read the Captain's Log without knowing who the captain is, right? After that I'll discuss STO's hot topic du jour, the Advisory Council, and whether fan service will kill or save Cryptic's spacefaring MMO.
This is Your Captain Speaking
I've been your captain a few weeks now, so it's high time we got a little better acquainted. With that in mind, I've prepared a handy dossier!

Name: Gil
Rank: Captain
Race: Bajoran

Role: Science Officer. I chose the science path for two reasons. First, I love the color blue. No, seriously. Second, I tend to heal in other MMOs, so going science in STO seemed like a no-brainer at the time.

Current Command: U.S.S. Bob Wiley. Yes, that Bob Wiley (a bar of gold-pressed latinum to anyone who gets the reference). The Wiley is an Exploration Cruiser, my first in that line. The turn rate makes me miss my old science vessel just a tad, but she's a fine vessel all the same.

Favorite Content: I tend to favor Patrol and Exploration missions. If I don't have a lot of uninterrupted play time Federation-mandated leisure time available, I love to hit up a nebula or a new sector, help out a civilization or two, and be on my way. Story missions have many great moments, of course, but they're often heavy on my least favorite content...

Least Favorite Content: Ground combat. I dread the very notion of going planetside. The tedium of phaser zapping is unrivalled in my eyes. I'd rather review the historical tapes of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E's encounter with Praetor Shinzon every day than beam down to another asteroid base or besieged colony. Why do I even keep red shirts around if I have to hold their hands on every away mission? I mean, really.

Future Goals: I need to join a fleet! And I need some levels. Oh, and I want to breed a Tribble that leaves all my enemies open to Exploit attacks at all times. If you, o faithful readers, can help with any of those or would like to chat, you can usually find me enjoying the happy hour specials at Quark's.

Trouble in the Wind
Moving right along, let's discuss STO's latest bit of controversy: the Advisory Council. Cryptic announced last week the formation of "an informal group of Star Trek and gaming fans who have been tapped to provide input on the development of STO." I suppose Cryptic thought that was the next logical step in their loud campaign of caring what players think about their game.

To say reactions were mixed would be awfully charitable. The official thread spans more than 125 pages of vitriol, confusion, ambivalence and, occasionally, applause. Despite some support, the response has been overwhelmingly negative.

All the hoopla reminded me of a concern I've had since STO launched. Will an emphasis on fan service kill STO, or save it?

Fan Service Will Kill STO
At launch, STO's content struck many as thin and repetitive. The Federation had an interesting storyline, but no endgame to speak of. Klingons got PvP and nothing else. But in his first, oddly confrontational State of the Game Letter, executive producer Craig Zinkievich promised many wonderful additions to come. New factions! Starship interiors!

Then something on the Dev Tracker Twitter feed caught my eye. It linked to a forum post (which I apologize for being unable to locate) in which a developer explained he would do his best to readjust the spot in which nacelle pylons connect to the hull of a particular class of Cruiser. Unfortunately, he said, the need for interchangeability in ship customization had trumped perfect accuracy in that particular instance. But he promise he was working on it.

My initial reaction: This is the sort of thing Cryptic needs to work on? Ground combat is painfully dull. The endgame was non-existent at that point. Klingons were (and still are) barely even second-class citizens. But developers were focusing on pylon placement and new factions? It sure seemed as if Cryptic was pushing for breadth instead of depth.

Another big-time MMO launched in a less-than-complete state, despite its promises of vast fan service and awesome content. Warhammer Online cast a wide net but never delivered a lot of the content it had offered, including new factions, different capital cities and a worthwhile crafting system. And the game never recovered.

I see Cryptic slipping toward that same quagmire. Zinkievich seems to tout broad fan service over improvements to current gameplay. And at least some of those players outraged by the Advisory Council see it as just another means of serving fanboys above all others.


Fan Service Will Save STO
On the other hand, fan service is arguably the best thing the game has going for it. I'm not a Trekker, per se, but I've seen every movie a million times. And I adored Deep Space Nine. So it's fair to say that the IP is what hooked me.

So maybe it makes sense for Cryptic to lead with what they've done best so far. If the joy of flying around in an Enterprise lookalike and zapping Klingons with brightly colored lasers is your main draw, then why not highlight your plans for starship interiors? If playing as a favorite alien brings the subscribers, then why not promise more beloved alien races in the near future?

The trick is to balance that fan service with quality gameplay. Cryptic haven't gotten there yet, but they have made strides. The new missions, Fleet Actions and quality-of-life improvements in Season One were a big step forward. And the Advisory Council has the potential to help Cryptic move STO in the direction it needs to grow and improve.

Or it could end up being a very small Star Trek convention, an echo chamber of shallow pandering at the expense of deep gameplay.

I ask you, readers: Is fan service hurting or helping STO? Is the Advisory Council a good idea? Am I completely wrong about everything, including ground combat?

This article was originally published on Massively.