The queues have been in terrible shape since the launch of Delta Rising back in October of 2014. A confluence of game changes hit the F2P community hard, resulting in among other things, a massive drop in the number of players in the public queues. While we can argue where they went and why (or if the numbers reported are even accurate), the bottom line is that the public queues offer only a fraction of the numbers of players pre-DR.
The original queues were part of the fabric of the community. As I learned how to play on my own, the queues offered a place to learn with the community as a whole. Some players took the opportunity to teach others; others took a more vocal view on those who didn’t pull their weight in a run. Regular players used call-signs to identify themselves (LF4M Stark Powered ISE), and those private queues filled in seconds. At the end of the day the queues – both public and private – were active and full of regular players. It was not uncommon to see 400 players in ISE alone on a Friday night, back when ISE was actually a thing you could play. Today you’re lucky to see 20 in an ISA, let alone 100 in all of the non-event queues combined.
I’m not saying that the public queues are dead – many players still use them and have fun. But the queues today are a shadow of what the game once was.
The players who stayed with the game after Delta Rising began to congregate more and more into private chat queues. With fewer public queues active, the chances you’d have to carry 3 out of the 4 players was much higher. Playing with like-minded players was easier and in a game where the grind is optional – why waste your time?
Where a public queue would start in minutes (or seconds), you are more likely to see a queue start and then immediately fail when the selected players don’t start it.
Being invited into private queues were to a certain extent a badge of honor, and you knew that you would be playing with people you didn’t have to carry. They were willing to pool their knowledge to make themselves better.
This exodus of the DPS-capable meant that fewer players were helping the general public. This isn’t to say that players stopped training others, or that you couldn’t at certain times get into a game, but the number of active runs dropped significantly. Coinciding (ironically) with this move to private channels was a rampant and unabated increase in potential DPS. I’m not suggesting that the increase to DPS was to offset the difficulty but it further developed the divide between the haves and have-nots.
Yes DPS isn’t everything, but having knowledgeable players available in public queues certainly is.
The community was shrinking. Fewer skilled players in the public queues made them more difficult; higher instances of griefing and leeching were recorded, and with the added changes to ships and gear – the problems with the public queues metastasized. The shrinking queues further drove players into factions.
What were the queues good for?
Originally the STF queues were integral parts of each seasons releases. In some ways these STF’s were the penultimate battle in a story line, or a key event which could sway (in principle) the outcome. They also acted as a way for players to ‘play the game’ for rewards while waiting for the next episode. Three levels of difficulty and potential rewards increased the number of times you’d be willing to play it. They were a clear requirement for the best gear, and then they became integral for the reputation system. Over time players developed strategies for winning and shared those through YouTube and websites, and as we became elite-capable, more channels evolved specifically to cater to this growing audience.
STF strategies were taught at all levels. Any player could with the right coaching make it through even the toughest of queues. No Win Scenario carried with it the ultimate visible badge of honor – ‘Kirk’s Protege’ – something many players yearned to earn. I was one of them and proud of earning that title in the days before FAW spam became the norm.
STF’s were a major – if not the most important part – of the community.
Post DR the queues became even more mechanical – how quickly can I complete this for the maximum reward. Difficulty was raised to a point where no-one would play. Additionally Star Trek Online reduced the rewards, only to reinstate most of it later after we vented our frustrations. They cut the harder ‘Elite’ content for fine-tuning, only to have that content languish in the Twilight Zone. The reversions were too little, and they came too late. The experienced community left the public queues to seek dps-jamaharon in privacy with like minded players and while we struggled to grind our way to XIV, the public queues slowly began to dissolve.
How do you fix something that technically isn’t broken, but rather a victim of overall changes to the game itself? Unless you’re running a special event like the recent ‘The Breach’, or it’s a new STF connected to the most recent season, players are simply not queuing up publicly in the numbers they were before.
Part of the problem is that we’re not seeing active players like we were in 2014. I don’t have the quantitative numbers to support that comment – just screen shots of the queues themselves. If you’ve been a player over the past 5 years – you know what you have experienced.
Each quarter, the topic of STF changes are discussed, the most recent interview on Priority One with Captain Gecko is a great example. Reducing the number of queues, increasing rewards temporarily, or pulling them as regular content with the intent of bringing them back seasonally have been openly discussed. Where and when such changes appear are anyone’s guess as it doesn’t appear to be a priority with Star Trek Online. What’s more problematic is that any changes appear to be thought out as what improvement can be made with the minimum amount of effort?
The Breach – An Experiment
By their own admission, the return of the Breach was an experiment.
For the casual weekly player the mission offered a decent return in reputation marks. For the regular daily player there was an added bonus at the end in additional dilithium AND an Admiralty card. For players with 1-2 characters it was a workable promotion with a decent outcome.
I certainly hope we’ll see it again in the future.
One thing The Breach forced me to do was rethink my ships layout. I had become complacent, not looking at what I could do better, or what skills I could utilize to be more effective. And it’s in that aspect of The Breach that I am very thankful and excited for the upcoming skills revamp. Change in STO can be good and this major effort has involved fans and devs at a level we’ve never seen before.
For some of us it was also an act of self-induced grind. We didn’t need to run all 11 (or more) alts through it. I did, and yes I played more STO daily than I have in months. The rewards were worth it. I had the time available, although it took a scheduling sheet in excel to chart my progress. The downside is that I really never want to do it again. No matter what the rewards may be in the future, the day of me doing everything on every alt is officially over.
But – that grind was my choice, and not a requirement to play the game. Time was always an issue for me. Other players found holes and used these to shave off 2 minutes at the start. Even after fixing the map in the last week, new opportunities cropped up to shave off additional time. As the entire team benefited, I’m hesitant to call it an exploit. I certainly didn’t mind saving the time due to someone else and the mission was no-less difficult. But shaving 2 minutes per run saved me a half hour a day 😉
After 160-odd runs I came to the conclusion that leeching was still a very real problem, that inexperienced players tried joining advance and elite runs with NO knowledge of what to do far more often than before, and that regardless of the quality of the STF (The Breach is amazing), people will do ANYTHING to save time.
My only real complaint? Add a fracking CD timer.
5 things that would help improve public queue participation:
1.) Add Accolades that MUST be accomplished before you can access the next difficulty level for that STF.
Normals – Must be completed 10x with all the optionals before you can cue up to Advanced. At the 10x completion you’ll get a bonus amount of dilithium and an accolade. This would allow you to reintroduce accolades that have gone missing over time for things like costume alternatives for reputation gear. It would be viable for regular and occasional players while forcing players to become aware of how to complete them successfully.
Advanced – Must be completed 20x with all the optional requirements before you can queue up to Elite version of that queue. You’ll get an additional dilithium reward, a special Admiralty Card and a title of ‘One of the Elite’
Completing 5 different STF queues at the Advanced level will open up all Elite queues automatically. This will get you an additional dilithium reward, and the title of ‘Survived with Sisko’
2.) Make Elites rotate – but not as special events, but as a ranking system earned only through PUBLIC STF’s.
The only way you get into an Elite is based on whether you’ve successfully completed the previous requirements and accolades at normal and advanced. All elites open – regardless of previous STF choices once you successfully complete five different STF’s at normal and advanced.
Basically: You earn the right to play an Elite.
After beating a PUBLIC Elite STF for the 20th time – you gain a unique star beside your name. Completing 5 different Elite STF’s (20x each) you would max out as a 5-star elite player. Playing Public Elites would HAVE GAME VALUE beyond grinding, and give those players who could/can do them a title not necessarily driven by DPS but by skill and experience in playing the game.
Heck – we might even differentiate between ground and space. “Thrax is a 5-Star stf’er in space, a 3-star stfer on the ground…”
Yes, you could still make private matches for Elites for the regular rewards – but for ranking (getting the stars), you must use the public queues.
Two Elites will be offered weekly – and for one week only – to be replaced with another two the following week. Schedule these in the calendar. Each time you successfully complete 5 that week, add a dilithium bonus and a random item drop.
Suddenly the public queues become something of value to every player.
3.) Continue giving us Breach-like special events. Yes, this was a great idea. But I would say extend this treatment to ANY STF that requires more than 10 players as well.
The larger team STF’s have always been fun when the player base was larger. There was a time when The Big Dig had 3-4 running at the same time! By making these STF’s event driven, you can run 1 per month or quarter without STF-grind fatigue and encourage players to come back.
4.) Add an in-game client-side parser that displays your total dps, broken down by weapon and heals. Make it’s public view optional.
Cut the bullshit – If you’re going to place an emphasis on escalating damage potential, we should have at least a standard method of measuring it in-game WITHOUT being forced to download a third party program. Make it easier for everyone involved!
Heck – go one step farther and add a ‘ build-test’ STF. No rewards, but a way for players to test and retest their builds against a variety of opponents.
Third party apps would still have their place and purpose for the DPS leagues. I’m not suggesting that the in-game parser would replace them.
5.) Add back the No Win Scenario – not technically as a STF – but as a requirement to advance in your promotion to the next rank.
If you’ve read thus far – please hear me out on this idea. It’s a doozy. This would only be enforced with new characters. Existing character could still run it for the rewards and accolades.
At each rank level increase, players would have to complete a ‘graduation test’. Upon reaching the next rank they would return to Starfleet Headquarters to run a version of the No Win Scenario.
The new ‘No Win Scenario’ would come in 6 versions, and would encompass historical events on both the ground and in space. Each would be designed to be completed with the equivalent level of gear and ships provided.
- Lt: Atmosphere: Fighters are chasing escape pods in the upper atmosphere. Rescue the escape pods before time runs out. Choose who lives or dies. Accolades for saving everyone before you die.
- Lt Commander: Ground: Relive the Battle for Kamtchaka 3* – you’re overrun by Jem Hadar soldiers – hold your position or die. Accolades based on your tactics chosen.
- Commander: Space: The classic rescue of the Kobiyashi Maru. Seriously why haven’t we added this already? STO feels empty without it!
- Captain: Ground: Historical re-enactment of the taking of P’Jem Monastery. Stop an Andoran attempt to take the monastery, or help them uncover Vulcan treachery. Offer two different accolades based on the direction you choose.
- Admiral: Space: Borg Hive – still scary after all these years 😉
- Vice Admiral: Diplomatic No Win Scenario – negotiations with ground and space elements. Stop the second invasion of Bajor by a Joint Cardassian / Breen invasion. Contain ground elements, force back an orbital bombardment, and finish the mission with a successful negotiation on DS9.
Completing each would allow you to proceed to that rank. It can be completed with or without help. All of these missions would be available as STF’s as your rank improves so that you can practice and improve.
*pulled Kamtchaka 3 name out of my ass – no idea if it’s a real event. Sounded cool.
My goal with this post is to see how something (STF’s) that is so integral to the game can be improved without necessarily rebuilding it from the ground up. To build value in using the public queue system without forgoing the private missions, while extending a helping hand to new players. And most importantly – provide a means in game to build on your personal reputation in a visible way.
A lot of these ideas have been discussed before on Reddit and in other channels – If I’ve stolen your idea – leave me a note in the comment at the bottom and I’ll happily give credit 😉 I will however claim The No Win Scenario idea I first suggested in the State of the Game twitch cast a month ago, and I’ll happily suggest the hell out of it
My Two bits
Updated: added abbreviation chart below. For a full list of STF abbreviations – please visit Reddit for more guides 😉
- CD Cool Down timer for abilities, and missions
- DPS Damage Per Second, in thousands for space, in hundreds for ground
- DR Delta Rising, season name
- DS9 Deep Space Nine
- F2P Free to Play
- ISA Abrev for Infected, Space, Advanced
- ISE Abrev for Infected, Space, Elite – currently no longer available in-game.
- LF4M Looking For 4 More (players)
- NWS No Win Scenario – no longer in the game
- PESTF Public Elite STF – a channel to help organize STF runs
- Stark Powered A shameless plug for a player no longer in the game
- STF Special task Force
- STO Star Trek Online