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Abandon Ship

The topic I was discussing in my last entry — which marked the unheralded return of the Oddball Oddcast in a pared-down form — was not really done being hashed out in my head at the time I posted it. Shortly after I recorded those oh-so-scintillating 12 minutes of gabbling about the MMORPG Star Trek Online, I finally decided that I was gonna blow some walking-around money and get the “Original Series Bundle” through the game’s online store.

The “TOS Bundle”, as it’s called, would have given my in-game character the ability to walk around the original Enterprise bridge and interior, several classic TOS uniforms to wear, the TOS-style Type II phaser, and a classic shuttlecraft to…do something with, I guess. Maybe crash-land on a planet of big hairy trolls, or fly into the maw of a planet-killer. Even if I never would up getting much further in the game than I did during the beta, it would be cool for a little while.

However, apparently the makers of Star Trek Online are not very interested in taking my money, despite the incredibly big show they make of it. And this, I discovered, was only the first of many reasons why I now feel increasingly compelled to just stay away from this game.

The Star Trek Online store, as it happens, was unable to complete my transaction — despite four attempts over two consecutive days. I’d plug in a credit card and it would report that it was declined. This was despite the fact that immediately thereafter, I’d get an email from the credit card company thanking me for making a $1.00 purchase. (This was Star Trek Online placing an authorization hold on my card, which it did successfully each time I tried to buy the TOS bundle despite continually reporting that my card was declined.)

OK, I said. They offer a PayPal option. I have a little money in my PayPal account, so I’ll just use that. Nope! All the Star Trek Online store would agree to use PayPal for was to facilitate an electronic check, which would take a week to clear. Huh? Isn’t the whole point of PayPal to, you know…pay instantly? With your PayPal balance?

The first time I tried to buy this thing, I noted an announcement on the STO website claiming that the entire account management system was going to be taken offline for maintenance in about six hours. So I thought maybe they’d gotten an early start and decided that I would come back the next day to try my purchase again. Not only did that not help, but I also noticed a brand new announcement claiming that the game, website, forums and everything were all going to be offline for the next half a day. I remember lots and lots of this during the couple of months that I actually played the game around launch two years ago, come to think of it. Makes me wonder if all the pieces of this online enterprise (har har) ever run at 100% for longer than 24 hours.

Then I went to the game’s official forums to see if anyone else had reported problems buying things. One or two people were having the exact same problem, but their posts were from a few weeks ago and no one had answered them. While I was there, however, I became more disturbed by the fact that apparently, just one day before inviting me to try out the free-to-play early access program, the proprietors of Star Trek Online jacked up the prices on everything in the online store to vastly higher amounts than what they had always been. Of course this was done in lieu of the $15/month fee they used to charge everyone just for the ability to play the game — a fee that I understood, but would not in good conscience pay. Which means that the price hike was yet another fee that I could understand, but flatly refuse to capitulate to. Knowing the true cost of the goods that I was now being asked to spend $25 on, I could no longer spend those $25 — even when they had seemed worth it just hours prior.

As one final kick in the balls, the game has one of those infuriating “point systems” for currency where $1 does not equal 1 point (it equals something more like 80 points). Similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace, this forces you to top up your account with some bizarre obfuscated currency before you can purchase products. Somehow on XBLM I don’t mind it so much, but the STO guys set up their currency in batches that are clearly designed just perfectly so that you’ll have to buy a larger bucket of points than you want, especially if you want more than one item. The TOS Bundle I wanted? 1,600 points. Can I buy just that many points? No. I can buy 1,500 or 2,000. Great, so I will buy 2,000 and have enough left over for a spiffy Mirror Universe costume pack, right? No. Costume packs are now 440 points. After my 1,600 point purchase, I will have 400 points left in my bucket. I’d be short 40. And the minimum number of points I can buy is 500. All I need is another 50 cents worth of points, but to get it, I have to spend $6.25.

As Captain Kirk once said, “Well, double dumb-ass on you!”

So what do we have here? We have a game that goes down for maintenance constantly, which has just been sold and handed over to a different company than the one which developed it, with a business model that revolves entirely around an online store that is utterly incapable of completing a transaction. Somehow, the idea of donating even a dollar of my money to a venture of such poor stability makes every Red Alert light in my head go off like the Enterprise being ambushed by a hundred Borg cubes.

Despite the fact that I’ve been rewatching bits and pieces of Star Trek episodes lately and would really enjoy spending some time in a Trek-themed game (combining two of my passions, don’t you know!), I just can’t do it with this game. To keep banging my head against this wall would be to willfully ignore the fact that I hate MMOs, that I especially hate other random idiots whom you must invariably deal with in MMOs, I hate incompetent companies with broken websites and I don’t have even a smidgen of the time needed to really get any kind of meaningful progress in an MMO. I’d say that leaves “cool Star Trek geekdom” as the only factor remaining in STO‘s favor. To satiate that craving, I will settle for back episodes of the show itself.

Shortly after deciding this, I spent about an hour or two playing Skyrim and lapped it up with incredible glee. Although I am not normally a fan of the fantasy genre, this is my kind of game: Beautiful and open environment, lots of character customization, tons of missions and quests, compelling story, and it’s a single-player only affair. No dorkfaced preteens cussing through microphones past their bedtime.

Now that adventure games are making a bit of a comeback, especially on mobile touch-based devices where they are very enjoyable to play and easy to take anywhere, how about a return to the classic point-and-click Star Trek adventure stories like those of Star Trek 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites from the 1990s? Those are still the unsurpassed pinnacle of Trek games, in my opinion. (And yes, I’m still bitter that Secret of Vulcan Fury got canceled.)

At last, I have reached the point where it is now “couth” for me to get out of here for the day (and the week), so I’m leaving. Catch you on the rebound, clowns!

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