Well, the writing was on the wall, and now the wall has blown up. Perpetual’s spin-off company P2 is basically dead. They no longer have a game team; there’s just some web-developers remaining now. My condolences to the devs who lost their jobs in this mess. I hope you bounce back, and I hope your new job is better than your last!
Rumor has it that Cryptic has picked up the Star Trek IP. If true, that’s great news for the franchise, as they’re a seasoned company with talented people. Good luck, guys! But as I talked about earlier, Star Trek is an extremely difficult IP to work with. I want to give the new team some advice gleaned from my time working on STO. What’s better than free advice from the internet? Nothing!
Advice #1: Don’t try to be too true to the license
You’re going to need to watch every hour of Star Trek television and movies ever made. That’s a given. You won’t like about half of them, because only insane people actually like all of Star Trek. But as you take notes, you’ll find yourself trying to nudge things into the nooks and crannies of Trek, so that your game fits just perfectly. It makes us designers feel so clever when we make a design fit existing canon. But you have to watch out: that can easily become a straight jacket.
You’re gonna need loot. Now I know, we never saw a Starfleet officer rifling through the pockets of people he shot. And at Perpetual we were struggling hard to find an “IP friendly” way to deal with this problem. There are some solutions, but honestly? Just make the loot appear on the damn ground and people can pick it up. It’ll be fine. You just don’t have time to make every aspect of your game ultra-canon-friendly. You have to pick your battles very carefully.
You’re gonna need interesting races. Only a few of the Star Trek races are any good for MMO’s. Vulcans, Trill, and Klingons are great choices. You can easily come up with a half-dozen racial advantages for these classes. For the rest of the universe, you’re going to have to scrounge around, and make stuff up. I mean, Bolians, Ferengi, Cardassians, Andorians: these are all basically humans with back-stories and funny make-up. What you need is racial features that enhance the game’s core gameplay. So embellish!
For instance, the TV shows told us that Bolians have extremely acidic digestive systems. So embellish this; give Bolians an acid bite or something. A few hardcore fans will cry foul, but trust me: when Vulcans get nerve pinching and mind-melding while Bolians get a +5 bonus to barbering, you’re not gonna see a lot of Bolians in the world. Don’t be limited to what we’ve seen on TV. Think of it this way: there’s no way to prove that Bolians don’t have an acid bite. They just haven’t gotten around to using it on TV just yet.
Advice #2: Make a fun game loop first
You’re in uncharted waters. You have a really tough IP to work with. Things like killing, looting, and inventory all feel a little awkward to fit into the world of Starfleet. What’s your first order of business? Figure out your core game loop.
In WoW, the game loop is:
- Talk to NPC, get quest
- Run to location
- Kill monsters, collect loot and XP
- Run back to NPC, get reward
In Star Trek, the game loop might be exactly the same, if you’re okay with stretching things a bit. But you might also add “surveying the area” as a core loop element, or add a fun negotiation mini-game. (Good luck! That’s a hard one to do, but totally worth it if you can.)
The point is this: you’re going to make 1,000 quests and 900 of them are going to be very similar. Figure out why those 900 quests are fun. That’s your game loop. (The other 100 can use unusual game loops, much like WoW’s fetch-and-gather missions or escort quests.)
Advice #3: Don’t try to make the ground and space games at the same time
I suspect this one will be pretty obvious, if you’ve been watching all the other attempts at doing both games at once. But just in case you haven’t gotten the memo: do the ground game first, and get the space game out the door 18 months later. It’ll feel really strange without space, and some people will call you nasty names. But you’ll have a source of friggin’ income and you might not go broke. It’s the only way to get through this massive IP.
Advice #4: Ignore the fans
Now I don’t mean you shouldn’t try to make a game that is fan-pleasing. And you should absolutely do market research (with a reputable research firm, not some dumb internet poll). But you need to ignore the fan sites. Two reasons why:
- they all want very different things from Star Trek, so you won’t be able to please even a decent portion of them,
- the people who bother to post on Star Trek MMO fan sites are already going to buy your game. They may bitch about it at the top of their lungs, but they will buy it and play it.
Make a game for WoW players who kinda liked Star Trek. That should be your target audience. Trust me, it’ll be fine.
Advice #5: Don’t go public too soon
You’re going to need about 3 years to get this game out the door. Down deep you know this to be true. You aren’t going to say that publicly, of course, because that isn’t what your money guys want to hear. Officially, you’re going to say that you’ll leverage your core competencies, reuse existing infrastructure, and rely on some of the most brilliant people in the industry yadda yadda. I just hope you don’t believe that. It’s a nasty trap to fall into, because it leads to disappointment.
No, what will happen is that you’ll say it’ll be out in 18-24 months, and then you’ll delay it two times and it’ll ship in 30 to 36 months. That’s okay. It’s a hard game. And if you didn’t have core competencies and all that, I’d predict that you couldn’t do the game at all, ever. So you’re still way ahead of the curve.
But you don’t want to be talking about this MMO for 36 months. That’s 36 news blurbs your community guy needs to write. That’s 36 clever screen shots or mock ups. That’s 1095 days of fans screaming why isn’t it here yet I want it now. These are people who’ve already been waiting for years, too. They’ll wear themselves out.
Be smart. Start talking about the game 18 months from now. At that point, there’ll still be time to make modest changes to the direction based on player feedback, but you’ll have already gotten the core of your game plan underway. You’ll be able to use the feedback to improve the game, rather than being bombarded with too many details too early on.
And good luck, guys! I’m counting on you to break the curse and actually ship a Star Trek MMO. (I promise to buy a copy.) But I do hope you have a healthy respect for the difficulty of what you’re undertaking. As Worf once said, “Only fools have no fear.”
PS – Now I’m seeing rumors that it’s not Cryptic after all. If that’s the case, and some inexperienced team has picked up the IP, well, I hate to say it, but you’re pretty much doomed. But hey, maybe I can help you plan something achievable. My consultation fees are very reasonable. :)