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Captain's Log: Per-character C-Store services ruin everything ever

Ryan Greene

Geez louise! It's time for another installment of your favorite Thursday Star Trek Online column, Captain's Log. Despite the lovely weather, the final volume of awesome, that crazy-good movie and a parasailing donkey, everyone seems to (still) be talking about one thing: the C-Store!

In last week's Captain's Log, we glanced at micro-transactions in STO on our way to discussing the game's future in an increasingly freemium world. Readers had plenty of comments to share ... and that was before Cryptic Studios dropped a hydrogen bomb in the form of new per-character services. Players erupted late last week, and the flames are still burning in a forum thread more than 115 pages long.

I would be remiss to gloss over the controversy, so let's examine why folks are so upset at Cryptic this time. It's not as if much else is happening in the pre-patch lull, amirite?

The C-Store

To recap, the in-game store attached to STO is pure evil. Not really, but for some people, that's not a stretch.

Cryptic charges a subscription fee for STO. In the U.S., that runs from the $15 I pay per month to a $78 package for 6 months, or the $300 lifetime subscription. That's all well and good -- the subscription model for MMOs has been around since the dawn of sliced bread.

What makes people's wickets all sticky is the inclusion of micro-transactions, in which Cryptic puts certain items or services aside for purchase. So if you want, say, one of those playable Federation races I mentioned last week, you'll need to cough up an extra couple of bucks for Cryptic Points to be spent in the C-Store.

Is that so wrong?

Some people get upset about the general double-dipping feel of the C-Store and other stores like it. But is it really that awful? Since last week's discussion, I've been considering some other areas of life that charge you one fee but encourage you to pay others for nicer stuff.

  1. Cable TV -- It has earned my loathing for so many other reasons over the years, but I cannot recall ever begrudging my local cable company the right to charge extra for premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime. Then again, they're called premium because they offer awesome content not available elsewhere.
  2. The gym -- Sure, you can plunk down a horrifying amount of money to use our sweaty rowing machine and contract exotic foot fungi in the sauna, but you want to join that advanced hip-hop groove class? Yeah, that'll be an extra $25. But then you've got people telling you how to exercise, which is pretty premium, right?
  3. Airlines -- Paying extra for checked baggage. Pillows and blankets. Headphones, drinks and tiny bags of pretzels. The current state of air travel in the U.S. is the closest analog to in-game cash shops that I could think of. You'll still get to Albuquerque without a pillow, but for an extra $3, the trip could be infinitesimally less uncomfortable. Some people will rent that pillow and shrug, while others will refuse and roll their eyes.
Two rules for succesful RMT

As with that flight to Albuquerque, dissatisfaction with the C-Store usually remains at the level of minor hullabaloo. That's largely because the items for sale satisfy two major requirements.

  • Requirement the first: No game-changers!
Micro-transaction items are "supposed" to be relatively trivial perks that offer no tangible benefit other than, like, the happiness of buying that thing you wanted. Playable races and starships you pay for should be just like the races and ships you don't pay for, except in looks. And such services as extra character slots and name changes offer no inherent in-game benefits.

  • Requirement the second: You can nickel-and-dime us, but don't you dare dollar-and-five us!
Micro-transactions should be priced carefully to achieve a seeming of reasonable value (unless you're from Russia). Many C-Store proponents, for example, say that while they'd rather get that pack of costumes for free, the price is pretty decent when you get those costumes for your whole account. Once the price creeps -- or leaps -- higher or the accessibility of the item drops, you've got trouble, mister.

The early signs of real trouble appeared as Cryptic started violating that first requirement. The company decided to add pre-order bonuses, which are designed to confer in-game benefits not available otherwise, for sale in the C-Store. And then Cryptic added the Dreadnought Cruiser, a $25 starship that boasts a unique weapon type and a cloaking device. But that wasn't what tipped the proverbial anger cow.

Per-character services?

In a nutshell, Cryptic violated that second requirement, and that's why everyone is so flip-flappin' mad at them. A week ago, the C-Store started selling three new services, allowing players to purchase additional starship, bridge officer or costume slots. Players launched into a frenzy when they realized those were per-character services, not per-account services.

The folks at Cryptic violated the rule of reasonable value. For 400 Cryptic Points, or $5, you could buy two slots for additional starships ... on a single character. Unlike paying 240 points to unlock a Borg bridge officer for all Federation characters on one account, the new per-character services were deemed wildly overpriced for the service rendered.

Adding salt to the gaping wound was the fact that Cryptic sells the same extra-slot services on its Champions Online C-Store for the same price, but those are per account, not per character. Oh, and Cryptic quickly changed the costume-slot service to apply to the whole account, but kept the other two character-based.

The other reasons

Yes, players are wholly justified in their annoyance with Cryptic over this. Blammo, I said it. Charging $5 for per-character services that appear in your company's other MMO as per-account services is bollocks, plain and simple. Were I the sort to take more than a passing peek at the C-Store -- and we established last week that I am not -- I'd be peeved, too.

But the core issue of double-dipping isn't the only reason people are mad, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can all chillax a tad.

Poor communication -- The forum thread announcing, and then denouncing, the C-Store additions has reached triple digits in page length, but I could count the number of official Cryptic responses on a hand or two. I don't know why the folks over there are keeping their traps shut, but the silent treatment isn't working.

Crypt1c suxx0rz!1! -- People love to hate Cryptic. If not for the per-character services, players and spectators alike would all be hacked off about something else instead. That's just the way of the universe.

We're bored -- I wonder if this would be such a big deal had Cryptic not delayed Season 2 a few times. Players are gnashing their teeth waiting for all the new content, and with little else to talk about, many of them have joined the mob flogging Cryptic for the C-Store slip-up.

It seems clear to me that Cryptic has to do at least one of a few things: change the new per-character services to per-account services, as they did with the costume-slot service, apologize firmly (if not profusely), and release Season 2 already. Unfortunately, no one at Cryptic has given any signs that the first two will happen, and this weekend's Tribble test-server event guarantees at least another week of waiting for the big patch.

Anyway, I don't have any more time to spend on such foolishness. I'ma go squeeze in an episode of True Blood before my cardio exersplosion class. Meet me back here in one week, where we'll celebrate STO's 6-month anniversary -- assuming the forum rage hasn't consumed the planet by then.

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