Community Detective Issue #21: Star Trek Online

Be gentle with me, Trekkies, for I have a confession to make: I've always found Star Trek to be pretty unwatchable. Whether it was because of the low-budget sets or the drunken TV writers prone to cramming every episode full of nonsensical techno-malarkey, I boldly went to another channel.

Logging into Cryptic's Star Trek Online a couple of weeks ago, then, wasn't something I was looking forward to. I'd penciled it into the Community Detective schedule a while back and frankly put it off several times. I'll do it eventually, I kept telling myself.

Upon logging in, I found that STO's source material is the worst thing about it, and in fact the game itself is quite well-made and a ton of fun (particularly the Foundry; I'm completely in love). In fact, I normally leave games behind when a particular issue of Community Detective is in the books, but with STO, I find myself logging in more and more each day during my off hours. I've renewed my sub beyond the free 30 days, and thoughts of the lifetime option have crossed my mind. Enough of all that, though; you're here to find out about my community and customer service experiences, amirite? Warp past the cut and we'll get started.

Unlike a lot of other games profiled in this column, STO doesn't give you a server choice after you've logged into your account. Cryptic's title is heavily instanced, resulting in a game world that can feel smallish at times, but that also puts its playerbase in close proximity via a collection of zone copies that Starfleet captains can switch between at will. The game also features a handy global chat (well, it's handy for the purposes of Community Detective; if you're looking for Star Trek immersion or mature behavior, you'll probably want to avoid it a lot of the time).

Community Case File banner
If you're new to the column, let me recap: My usual modus operandi is to make use of an MMORPG's global chat channels to interact with the community at large while playing through the game. Often times I also join random pickup groups to get a snapshot of a game's community on a smaller scale.

Additionally, I also file customer service tickets to gauge a company's response and response times. In STO's case, I asked a couple of global chat questions over a period of several days and time slots including weekday afternoons, weekday evenings, weekend mornings, and weekend evenings. Due to Cryptic's decision to attach your global account handle to your characters' names in chat channels, I also made use of two accounts to reduce the chances of my fellow players becoming annoyed at the same guy asking the same questions throughout the week.

For my first community question, I asked the following:

Can I respec my skills?
STO's skill system had me scratching my head at first, and despite reading the descriptions of things like starship attack vectors and close-combat training, I was unsure as to what would best serve my budding Tactical Officer. Luckily, the game does provide for skill respecs, and the details of where, when, and how much were helpfully provided by the denizens of STO's global chat.

Regardless of the day or time of day that I posed the question, I was answered right away by a number of helpful folks. Several individuals also sent me personal tells to make sure I understood, and I received a few friend invites and one fleet invite as well (fleets are the STO equivalent of your traditional MMO guild).

There was very little trolling related to my first question, which was somewhat surprising due to the number of 4chan-esque memes and general silliness that permeates the game's chat channels.

For my second question, I opted for one that normally kicks off all sorts of interesting discussions:

Is the game solo-friendly?
As it turns out, the answer is a resounding yes, and I was made aware of the fact that many players spend the entirety of their Starfleet career all by their lonesome. Due to the game's bridge officer/pet system and its scaling content difficulty, group play is entirely optional in most respects.

For some reason, the trolls came out to play for this question, and though I did receive some thoughtful and intelligent responses during all of my query sessions, I also got plenty of gems like "only if you have a Wookiee co-pilot!" and of course "lulz, it's an MMO, why would you want to play solo?!"

I also spent a couple of hours in pickup groups over the course of my two-week command, and though they were all fun (and mostly successful), player interaction in this phase of the game is a mixed bag. STO is another one of those titles that has adopted a variation on the public quest mechanic. Entering a mission zone that features other players working on the same mission will automatically place you into their group (unless you specifically disable this feature in the game's options panel). While the mechanic is useful for tough missions -- or for upping the difficulty and rewards of more pedestrian missions -- you never know whom you'll be matched with.

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Ultimately, I'm pretty pleased with the STO community. Questions are usually taken seriously, and many people went out of their way to help me get acclimated as a newb. PUGs are hit or miss, particularly when you're thrown into them rather unexpectedly upon entering a mission area. I had several that featured other newbs, and all of us had a great time blowing stuff up and ooohing and aaahing over the game's visuals. I had just as many, though, that featured completely silent chat channels and rapid group disbands upon mission completion. In these cases, it's easy to feel like you're intruding on someone else's game session, and the whole enterprise is quite awkward.

Finding a fleet/guild looks to be remarkably easy, as there is always someone recruiting in the public channels (and the organizations are varied enough to offer something for powergamers and roleplayers alike).

Customer Service Case File
For my STO-flavored customer service experiment, I had a real issue (as opposed to the ones I occasionally contrive for testing purposes). Early in my Starfleet career, I was keen on checking out the bridge and interior of my ship yet was unable to do so due to the grayed-out "visit the bridge" option on my game menu.

After poking around the game's help screens, I finally decided to submit a stuck character ticket. Though I wasn't technically stuck, Cryptic's in-game help doesn't offer any space for elaborating on your particular issue. Clicking the question mark button on the menu to the right of your minimap will take you to the help interface, and you'll be presented with several options including account support, bug reporting, and GM help. I chose the last one and jumped through the submission hoops.

As it was late on a Saturday night, I didn't wait around to see what happened. The following day, I noticed that my character had been moved to another portion of the Earth Space Dock zone and I had a followup note from GM Halvedar documenting my issue. I was also able to beam to my bridge at this point.

Analysis
Cryptic's customer service isn't bad; in fact, it's noticeably quicker than that of many of the games I've profiled over the past year. That said, I would like to see a bit of space for entering details pertinent to your help ticket. As it stands now, you're forced to choose between several canned situations. There was also no out-of-game email confirmation or followup, which, while not a huge deal for cases like mine, does leave a little something to be desired when compared with the customer service departments at Sony Online Entertainment and Blizzard.

And that's about all I have for you in this week's issue of Community Detective. STO was a very pleasant surprise in several respects, and despite what you may have heard courtesy of the vocal anti-Cryptic contingent that hangs around many MMO forums, you could do a lot worse when it comes to a fun sci-fi themepark MMO.

I don't know whether STO has a really large population or whether the fact that the game groups all its players onto a single "server" makes it seem busier than it really is, but regardless, STO teems with player life (and most of said life seems rather intelligent and willing to help out). The game's customer service, while not spectacular, was more than adequate in my particular case, though I'll be interested to see some of the comments from those of you who haven't been quite as thrilled.

Community questions and customer service stat table
Join Jef Reahard every other week as he goes behind the scenes to file first-hand community and customer service reports from the front lines of your favorite genre titles. From Aion to Zentia, the Community Detective case files are an essential part of any game-hopper's research library. Suggestions welcome, care of jef@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.