Captain Gecko’s Letter on Reddit.

Four days ago, Al Rivera responded to many of the fans and critics regarding Star Trek Online in a personal post on Reddit.  You can visit the original post here.

We chose not to respond.  His comments speak volumes.  His post was personal, heartfelt and puts into perspective the difficulties and complexities of managing a great IP like Star Trek Online.

Here is his post in it’s entirety.

Hi, This is CaptainGeko (I dont spell my name using GeCko). So if you saw a Capt Gecko (or any other spelling of the name) it isn’t me. I don’t play STO using that name. I play anonymously. If you want to verify this is me, you can check my twitter account @CaptainGeko. I’ll tweet a link to this reddit.

I am not the content lead, the systems lead or the executive produce. I am the Lead Designer of STO. That means in one form or another, I am responsible for all aspects of the design of the game. I am not responsible for the art, the code, the web, the marketing or even the business of the game – although I do work closely with all those involved with those departments. We all collaborate to bring you the game.

Building a Free to Play MMO is no small task. Its a huge challenge and, for the most part, Cryptic studios is blazing a trail, along with Perfect World, on how to deliver a FTP MMO. There are lots of different models. Some companies will, say, charge for content or expansion packs. STO does not do that. We rely on microtransactions to keep the lights on and bring you this game for free.

Let me say one thing that is very important to me. I love Star Trek, and I love Star Trek Online. If you listen to any of the podcast I go on, such as Priority One, STOked, G&T show, Podcast UGC, Trek Radio, and more, I hope you will get a sense of the passion and respect I have for the IP and the Game. I have been a trekkie since I was probably around 5 years old. My sister introduced me to TOS and all sci-fi. I have seen every episode and every movie multiple times – even before I started working on STO. And I have been working on STO from the very beginning – almost 7 years. I was one of 6 original employees on the projects. I have put a lot of my life into STO. It is my art and it has forever changed me. I’ve been at Cryptic Studios for 12 years now. Before STO, I worked on Champions, Marvel, and City of Heroes and City of Villains. Before Cryptic, I worked on the Sims Online at Maxis, and before that, I was at Sega.com/Sega soft where I worked on 10SIX, Vigilance and I was involved in the online aspects of a few Dreamcast games.

If you are reading this, you probably are more than an average fan. So I assume you like the game. As the Lead Designer, most design decisions come through me one way or another. Not all the decisions are mine. Like any business, STO exists to try to deliver the best product we can and to get as many people to play as much as possible, and in turn, earn money for the company. As with any game, I realize there are parts of STO that some people don’t like. In also know that most people who play STO love the game. If you are reading this, I am going to guess there are more things about STO that you like then there are things that you don’t like. If you didn’t, that would be strange – I would imagine you would stop playing and stop reading forums and reddits about it.

I sometimes read post that people don’t like me because of something in the game. That’s ok, it comes with the territory. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt my feelings, but I have been in the industry long enough to understand things like that are typically only said because someone love the product you are working on or wants more from that product. So in a weird way, even when someone says something mean, its sort of a compliment. Hey, I love my I-phone, but I have more than once cursed the company and the leaders of Apples for the product. Although I love my I-phone, it’s not perfect and it still sometimes frustrates me. But I get it – humans made it, humans use it. I am still glad for it and admire those who made it.

When it comes to the business, I have a boss just like everyone else, and he has a boss, and so on. Not everything we do is my decision, but I stand behind everything we have done and I am proud of it. STO is the best game I have ever had the privilege to work on. I hope you love the game as much as I. I suspect there are some here that may even love it more than I. At Star Trek Conventions, I meet some wonderful people who love this game. I have met wonderful fans, men and women, children and adults, people of all races, creeds and colors. I met a young boy who showed me pictures of his STO themed bar mitzvah. I have met people who have dedicated countless hours making videos and podcasts dedicated to STO. And I have even met a couple who lived in different countries, met on STO, and then got married. Those people make it all worth it.

I guess the main point I am trying to make is that I know not everyone loves every aspect of STO, and sometimes I am the scapegoat for that. That’s OK. But remember this – If there are design aspects of STO you dont like, I am probably in some way responsible for that. I am sorry you dont like those things. But on the other side, if there is something you love about the game (the story, the systems, the ships, the characters, the missions, the items, the enemies, the Star Trek-iness), I probably had a lot to do with that too. And so did a lot of other talented people. I hope there are more things you love about STO then there are things you don’t like. And if you are on this reddit, I am guessing that is true – and that makes me happy. I will always strive to bring you the best Star Trek experience and the best game we can possibly deliver. I appreciate every one of you and I hope you will all play for a very long time.

LLAP

Al “CaptainGeko” Rivera

13 thoughts on “Captain Gecko’s Letter on Reddit.

  1. I would actually like to hear your thoughts of this letter.
    The threat that sprung up around this letter in the STO forums, presented some very… “interesting”… responses for some of the players.

    So… how do you see it?

    Like

  2. To be honest I’m torn.

    On the one hand having to please stakeholders who don’t actually use or understand the product, and on the other, an attempt to please a dedicated user base who have wildly different impressions of the game. I don’t believe he was successful.

    He’s caught between his employer and Trek diehards.

    I have reread the letter many times, The marketer in me sees an attempt to assuage the core neutral fans that he had little choice in the changes. He posted it on Reddit because the audience is generally more accepting. And he gave them cats 😉

    Posting outside of the corporate bubble comes at a cost. If this was a planned action, that is to say the marketing team suggested it, then the intent was pure disingenuous spin designed to calm some. If it was a private attempt by Gecko to achieve the same goal, then he’s placed himself in the cross-hairs at work and he’s really not in control of whats happening at Cryptic. Both ideas scare me.

    Clearly something is wrong. I would suspect the negative press is having an effect and that there is something to what I and many others believe, that players ARE leaving the game because of the changes. The numbers on Steam are not an accurate representation of the size of the player base, but it can give us a view on the trends. Raptr shows 200K installs of the game with only 15K in active players and those numbers show a general decline in the past seven weeks.

    My impression is this. They had good revenue numbers with DR, but it came as a one-time shot in the arm as those player likely to spend have already done so. Players have left the game making the job of realizing those growth numbers in the next quarter an unlikely probability. I would not be surprised if there was a management change at Cryptic within 6 months,

    Lootcritter

    Like

  3. First I want to apologize:
    For the long rant,
    For practically hijacking you blog,
    But…
    There are things that I feel must be said, and from your answer I have the feeling that you will actually read my point, and give it a serious though.

    You mentioned you are a marketer – well, in the “real world” I’m a strategic analysis.
    As the drek began hitting the proverbial fan in the STO forums, around this whole DR thing, I just couldn’t prevent my self from “applying my trade” on the whole situation…

    I am not saying I’m right and everyone else is wrong – i’m just trying to give a new perspective…
    So here are my 2 cents:

    Yes, something is wrong – but I would argue that it is not the XP/grind issue (which is the one major issue in the forums), and to understand what I’m talking about, we’ll have to take a new perspective:

    From all the dev-blogs and publications Cryptic did up to DR, they presented the captain specialization system as a continuation of the leveling system:
    – ” even after the character has reached level 60, allowing players to continue feeling a sense of progression long after they have stopped leveling up.”
    – ” Specialization Trees will be the main way you will develop your character past level 50, and they will open up new ground and space abilities as you progress.”

    Based on this, what the player base understood was “Ahha! So you reach level 60, and then you move to a new level system, and keep leveling in the specialization system”
    But the amount of need XP for each Spec point is so large (160,000 XP – higher then you need to move from lvl 59 to 60), and the player-base is so used to leveling so easily, that tit became frustrated – “why do we need to grind to max out the spec point?!” “re-evaluate XP rewards!”

    DR has a problem, but it is not the grind, and it is not the XP –
    It is FAULTY ADVERTISING by cryptic, which led the player-base MIS-UNDESTANDING what the captain specialization (“Cap-Spec”) system is:

    – The Cap-Spec IS NOT a new leveling system, design to “kick-in” once your reach level 60.
    – The Cap-Spec is and “ENDGAME, LONG-TERM REWARD SYSTEM”, designed to give players a long-term target to work for, as an incentive to keep playing the game.

    Why do I think so?
    Let review several points:
    1. Until DR, when you reach level 50, that was it, there was no where to go – you could run the STFs, play the exchange for the better gear, do the Dil=>Zen=>Zen ships circle, but eventually it was all the same. And the player-base complained about it and asked for more endgame content.

    2. Every few month we had a new season, There was a peak in activity for about 2 month, and then the game would drop back to activity level which were before the new season – becuase once every one “zipped throw” the new contented, we were back to point 1 – all the new stuff “ended”.

    3. When cryptic introduced the new Cap-Spec system – they could have let you pick only one specialization of the 3, and then “you want to respec? Sure! We have a token – 500 Zen!” – They didn’t. They let the player the freedom to Max-out everything.

    4. When Cryptic setup the Cap-Spec system they announced the system would cap at 60 points. Why 60? 1 primary spec with 30 points + 2 Secondary spec with 15 = 60 points total. They intended to present new specs over time, and they wanted to prevent players from hoarding points for future specs BEFORE these new ones are introduced. BUT, the said that when you reached the maximum you’ll INSTEAD get dilithium reward, until the new specs are introduced (when the Cap would be raised, as done in the upcoming command spec…)

    5. Cryptic has really invested in the new specializations – and I mean REALLY invested – the new powers are good-fun, everyone wants to use them. It gives diversity of play. Assuming that you and your friends didn’t maxed-out the system, then every one of you allocated the point differently, getting different results.
    And cryptic is INVESTED in the new system – They are PROUD of it.

    All these points, joint together, brings me to the follow conclusion:
    The system is intentionally XP demanding – cryptic is trying to increase the amount of average amount of players playing the game in-between updates. They want veteran players who left, and only visit once in a while (“just to play the story”) to come back – and stay.

    The high XP demand is designed to prevent players from “zipping throw” the content, “Max-out” the Specializations, and leave again – the concept was that people play their favorite content, and suddenly get a new Spec-point –
    “Ha! I got a new point! Where do I put it? I need 2 more for the new ship trait! I HAVE to log in again tomorrow”
    And when you finally max out the system, until a new specialization is introduced, you still have incentive to play in the form of dilithium rewards (this was removed after the Tau-Dewa meltdown – but we’ll get there…)

    This is what they want – to keep you playing the game.
    If you assume that for each hour a player is in game, there is a 1% probability that he’ll spend 1$, then if you get 100 players in-game for a full hour, statistically, you MADE 1$ – this is what they want – to have as many players playing the game at any given time, and to keep this level stable as high as possible, for a longer time.

    * The Tau-Dewa Melt-down:
    Yes, there was a bug, and yes, tribble-testers reported it – so why wasn’t it fixed for launch? – Deadline.
    Cryptic was on a deadline – Oct. 14th – and whoever was in charge (D’angelo, Rivera and others) were convinced that they communicated the idea of a “Long-Term reward system” clearly – Everyone would understand the system is for “long-term use”, come for the DR content, and increase their playtime over the long run because of the new “Cap-Spec” system.

    But when the player-base, who as I claim, misunderstood the system as a new leveling system on which you need to get to the final level (the 60th point), tried to do so, players discovered getting the 11th point (the one after level 60) is VERY hard.
    Wanting to get it all NOW, they search for an “efficient” source of XP – and they found the Tau-Dewa bug…
    And max-out all 60 points in 2 days… and began farming the Dilithium reward.

    The mere fact, that EP Steven D’Angelo, a man who AFAIK made a point out not posting in the STO forums (unlike his predecessor) posted a lengthy explanation in said forums, which by now were already getting toxic, should point you at the level of seriousness the Tau-Dewa problem was for the company.
    And the systematic removal of points from players further solidifies my idea of the “Long-Term Endgame Reward” idea:
    The system, designed as a device to increase in-game activity, keeping players engaged for several MONTHS, was being beaten in TWO (2) DAYS!
    Something had to be done – and it was.

    *-“Come see the great Argala Starship Parking lot, open 9-to-5… to-9… to-5, Pacific Standard Time”
    The Argala System – this is where the player base is right now – at least this is the impression you get from reading the STO forums.
    And if you’ll fly to Argala, it does look like a starship parking lot in sector space.
    Because everyone is grinding for Spec-points.

    And all I can say is – “Have you all gone mad?!”
    Is THIS is why you’re here? Don’t you have a better game to play?

    Let me ask you the unspeakable question: “were does it say you HAVE to max-out the specs”
    If all I wrote up to here did not made you budge from you position even slightly, then let me give you another perspective:
    We currently have 2 primary specializations – Intel (combat) and the upcoming Command (team-buffer), And 2 secondary ones – Pilot (space – maneuvering) and Commando (ground – combat).
    These are 90 spec points
    Let for a moment imagine that by the of 2015, they’ll add another primary Spec – a “debuffer”, and 4 more secondary Specs – Space “Gunner”, Space “Engineer”, Ground “Healer” and Ground “infiltrator”.
    These are additional 90 points (30+15+15+15+15)
    That’s a total of 180(!) Spec points – or in other words, you can either grind Argala for eternity, or go and play the game.
    And let me just remind you – you can only have 1 primary and 1 secondary Specs active at any given time.

    *-“The Metrics”
    Recently Captain Geko interviewed at one of the podcasts and said that “the metrics are excellent” – and got the player-base pissed.
    “we are grinding, and he thinks everything is great”,”all he cares about is the metrics”
    The problem is that by grinding, the player base is feeding the metrics.

    What are the metrics – the metrics measures: of average player in-game time, of content usage, of currency usage etc. – and of the number of spec. points generate for players.
    All these measures have targets – and if all measures achieve their designated targets, everything is fine.

    As the player-base is grinding, activity is up, and spec-points are generated at the desired target – so yes everything is fine.
    Now, If the player-base will leave Argala, and start playing the game, suddenly the metrics will show the activity is “on target”, but players are generating significantly less spec points
    “This is a system we invested in! but the players are not using it – actually they play the game, but the content they like to play doesn’t get the XP fast enough – May be we need to increase XP rewards…”
    This is what you want – isn’t it?

    This is why if the player-base wants any chance of change – they must stop grinding, and start playing the game.

    Again, sorry for the “hijacking”… and the l-o-n-g rant…
    CX

    Like

  4. And one more thing – about the steam chart.
    I saw it pop-up here and there, and every time it was the same thing – people just cut the segment from Oct. onwards and say “it’s a trend of decline – the game is dead”
    It’s either due to lack of understanding, or just “shoddy journalism”

    This is the link to the full graph:
    http://steamcharts.com/app/9900

    You can see the ups and down I mention around each expantion (the highest peak, in May 2013 is Legacy of Romulus)
    But, the chart shows the peak number of players each month – but as I noted, what we should look at is the AVERAGE number of players.
    These figures are in the table below the chart – and it might be a little too early to tell, but base on the figures for December 2014, and the “last 30 days” the average number of players in-game (per hour) is just under 1,800.
    Compared to that, the “slack time” (between expansions) average players per hour figures, which was closer to 1,700…
    All the “doom-talk” is somewhat unfounded…

    Like

  5. Great reply and I completely agree with you. Originally had a long-ass reply, but i mistakenly touched the steam link LOL.

    I agree that Cryptic failed in communicating their intent. I agree they dropped the ball with a launch that while flawless to them, left problems in the game that exacerbated the impact of the changes.

    If only they had delayed the launch a week. Who knows.

    The game isn’t doomed, but players have most definitely left. I’m still here as are many ST fans who are addicted to this game.

    Any objectionss to me upgrading your comment to a full post?

    Like

  6. Upgrading to a full post – Please do!!!

    My goal is to start a serious discussion in the community about this grinding issue, because I am starting to feel this is may be the start of a problem which, if both sides keep their positions, may actually be what kills STO in the end.

    I only ask to review any edits you may wish to make to my text, assuming you do.
    That is, of course, aside from grammar corrections, as English is not my “mother tongue” (- is this the right expression?), and I have written the original post around midnight (my local time), and have already found several grammatical errors…

    I’ll may just add 2 additional points – Regarding the last issue, that Cryptic will only see the problem if people stop grinding, and start playing the game, and the rate at which Spec points are generated would suddenly drop considerably:

    1) It is vital that people stop grinding and begin playing the game (and not just rage quit) because this would raise the flag on the Spec points issue, but keep the activity level “in the green” – THIS is what will que Cryptic to the fact that the problem is XP gaining rate, and not the “usual whining” of the players.
    If people would simply rage-quit the game – both index figures would drop (activity and spec points – and a whole lot of others…) and the overwhelming change would obscure the cardinal problem to the players – which is the XP gain rate.

    2) If people think that this is “nonsense” – I would like to refer you to the R&D system:
    From the start people complained that the material prices of the R&D system were too high, and that the R and VR materials were very hard to get – I was very rudely surprised to discover that that advanced ques R&D reward boxes were not guaranteeing VR materials.
    And suddenly, Cryptic patched the game, and VR material requirements dropped from 3 to 1 (66%), R material requirements dropped from 8 to 5 (37%), UC and C material req. were also reduced, and now Advanced ques GUARANTEED 1 VR material.
    Why was it suddenly fixed? not because of the forums, but because after seeing all the community complaining about the R&D system, the figures from the “metrics” show that the usage of the R&D system was considerably lower the Cryptic intended it to be.
    They have invested far too much in the system, and in other systems which depended on it (i.e. Mk XIII/XIV gear items), to just let it die – so they fixed it(!).

    All I’m saying is that the same thing would happen here.

    But – and this is the “big but” – all this is based on the assumption that this is a real problem, and that just like all the forum poster assume, they represent the majority of players.
    I have accepted this assumption as true, but we will never actually know if this is true, because cryptic would never tell us…

    Like

    1. Just a small clarification –
      When I ask to review any edits you mat want to do to my text – I was assuming you basically intended to “cut & paste” my text directly.

      If you meant to use my ideas in a new post by your own making – No problems!
      If I’ll have any comments correction – you’ll hear from me 😉

      My goal is as I stated above.

      (would appreciate a credit as a co-conspirator… :))

      Like

      1. My plan is to cut & paste directly – crediting you fully. I may format it slightly, but the content and the post will remain unchanged.

        I’ll look at it after work tonight.

        ty again

        Like

      2. OK,
        There are quite a few gramatical errors and “word-switches” (I.e. “an” instead of “and” etc.)

        I’ll be happy to proof it for you, and maybe edit in the additional points – thing is, I’ll be able to do it only tomorrow (~24 hr), it evening on this part other globe, and unfortunately this what too long of a day 🙂

        Feel free to do it yourself, but if you’re interested, just tell me were to post the proofed text.

        Thanks

        Like

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