Atari’s Customer Service

I’m the first one to bitch and moan at bad customer service, so it’s only fair to also draw attention to good customer service.

Last night playing CO I noted I had 3000+ points to spend in the cash shop. Woot!

Today I was over in STO land, and they were offering a deal on Atari Tokens. I wanted to buy some ST:TOS gizmos so I figured I’d spent some money. I ordered 2000 Atari Tokens.

I jumped into STO and it said I had 3300 tokens. Hmm. I checked paypal to be sure the transaction went through. It had. So I hit customer support. I was going to Open a Ticket when a “Live Chat” box popped up. I decided to try it, and a few seconds later I was IM’ing with Mike G.

One we got through the basics of me proving it was my account we were talking about, we started debugging the problem. He said he could see 2000 tokens being deposited in my account. I asked him why I was seeing the same 3000+ I’d seen last night. We went down the list of obvious things. Blowing away cache, trying a different browser, checking in game. Finally I asked him if they could credit me with 1 token just to see if my balance changed, and he left for a bit to see if that was a possibility.

When he came back I asked if he could see a running balance. He couldn’t, but he could see I’d gotten comped 400 CO points on the 28th and 2000 Atari Tokens today. The way he phrased that gave me pause. I logged into Champions Online and it said I had 5000+ points. Eureka!

It turns out that the free points I get from being a Lifetime Subscriber to CO aren’t usable in Star Trek Online. They’re CO points, not Atari Tokens. I apologized to Mike G for wasting his time; I’d never mentioned my previous balance was all freebie points from another game. He remained patient and helpful through the entire process and was very gracious in the face of my being a bit of a bonehead.

So once again, PBCAK (problem between chair and keyboard) but kudos to Mike G for working the problem (I talked to him for about 40 minutes before I realized my error) and never giving up!

MMO cold-turkey period ends

In the middle of last month I announced that I was taking a breather from MMOs. I had a pretty nice break, playing The Witcher, reading more than I usually do, screwing around with fun games like Battleheart on my iPad.

But I’m ready to jump back in and live an imaginary life to escape from this real one a bit. I just don’t seem to lose myself as much in single player games as I do in MMOs.

I’m such a screwball though… Rift early-launches next week, but this past weekend I kept running into positive talk about DC Universe Online, plus I watched a couple of episodes of Smallville which put me in a pro-DC kind of place. Saturday night, the day’s chores done, my head fraught with worry about my mom and finances. A cocktail or two to take the edge off and my willpower fading, fading… and BLAMMO! I purchased DC Universe Onlive via Steam. That damned Steam should be a controlled substance, I tell you!

Of course I still had to d/l it, and it was getting late and I still wanted to play something so… I’d installed Star Trek Online a while back (I’m a Lifetime Subscriber…I love me some Lifetime Subscriptions!) but hadn’t booted it up in ages. So I decided to play a bit of that and then d/l DCUO overnight.

I rolled a new Star Trek officer (a separated borg, ugly as sin) since I couldn’t remember how to play and jumped in. And wow, did I have fun!! It came back to me pretty quickly but it all seemed better than it used to be. I suspect a lot of the systems have been tweaked/polished/enhanced since launch.

So my borg (Hugh 342 – the 342nd Borg liberated since Data named the original Hugh) wants to return to being human more than anything. Via the cosmetic overhaul system in STO, he’ll be able to. But all those changes cost $$ of some kind that he still has none of. I’m looking forward to watching him dump all his earnings into getting Borg parts removed, his infected skin healed, his glowy eyes replaced with normal eyes. Part by part he’ll strive to become human once again.

I think the last time I played STO I mostly ran patrols, because I don’t remember having so much fun in these missions (they call them episodes in STO).

Last night, for instance, I did Hide & Seek (I think that was the name). If you’ve never played STO, here’s what this one episode entailed (going from memory here).
[spoilers for this very early episode]

I was sent to explore a nebula. I beam up to my ship, the USS Scintillate, and we zoom off to the nebula and find a Federation ship under attack by Gorn raiders. We make short work of these raiders, but the Federation ship is still in trouble; it needs dilithium crystals. So we fly around to dilithium mines to beam up crystals. Some of these are defended so we had to trade a few more broadsides. Bring the crystals back to the crippled ship, who now gives us the location of a refining facility where we can get the materials we need to explore deeper into the nebula. We head there, fight off the defenders of this facility, but can’t beam up the stuff we need because of the facility’s shields. To get rid of the shields we need to find the shield generator plant on an asteroid, and beam down bombs to disable the shields. The bombs are supposed to give the people in this shield generator plant time to escape (the Federation doesn’t blow up worker-bees, apparently). That taken care of, we head back and get the materials we need.

That lets us warp deeper into the nebular. There are “dense objects” that need to be scanned. More defenders pop up as we cruise through the dense gas. I’m loving the vortexes and eddies in the gas as we fly through it. We scan 5 objects and the last (of course) is a massive asteroid totally enveloped in mines, and with Klingons defending it. Battle ensues and soon there’s one less Klingon ship threatening Federation space. We use our phasers to target the mine fields until we can get close enough to beam down to the facility on the asteroid.

Once we get dirtside, we have to fight our way through Klingon defenders to get to a computer console. We start downloading data crucial for Starfleet, but that’s going to take time. While the computers talk to each other my team spreads out to defend the console from Klingons and their alien wardogs who’re beaming down to stop us.

Finally we get the data, beam out and then get the heck out of there. Episode complete! We get our just rewards from Starfleet.

All of that is ONE quest! And it told a neat bit of story along the way. I can’t wait to follow up the leads we got from that computer and learn what those dastardly Klingons are up to!

Fun stuff. More fun than I remember it being the first time I played. I think the difference is that I’m in no rush; STO will definitely be my ‘side MMO’ for a while now.

In the meanwhile DC Universe Online beckons.

Star Trek Online: Tentatively going where everyone else is

I bowed out of the Star Trek Online open beta pretty much as soon as I pre-ordered the game. I burn out pretty easily and didn’t want to grow a character only to have to start all over again.

So I haven’t been writing about the game, or even paying a lot of attention to it. Early access snuck up on me and I missed the initial rush and all the snark-inducing issues that launches always have. Tonight I finally got around to logging in. I spent some time making an “Unknown Race” and then ran through the tutorial. Then spent a lot more time messing with customizing the look of my ship.

Well, if I’m going to be totally honest, the very first thing I did was just sit and listen to the Star Trek intro music. That really takes me back.

I’m looking forward to playing STO at my own lackadaisical pace. I had been planning to play with a bunch of Twitter people, but honestly life right now (and for the indefinite future) doesn’t allow me to play any game seriously enough to ‘keep up’ with friends, and trying to would just be frustrating. Well, again, if I’m going to be totally honest I should say that gaming isn’t important enough to me right now that I’m willing to play that much. (And there’s a PS3 title coming out next week that’s going to distract me, too.)

I had fun tonight. The game ran great, tutorial wasn’t overly crowded. I’m a little disappointed on the options for head coverings for the Unknown Race options but otherwise creating my race was really fun. Wrote a little bio and everything. I’m paying attention to things more than I did in beta, and Leonard Nimoy’s narration blows away Zach Quinto’s, at least for someone who’s been watching Trek since the original series was in 1st run (granted I was really young, but I have a brother who was a teenager at the time).

Here’s my engineering officer. Full name: John Doe. Nickname: Chance. Species: Unknown. I was going for a vaguely reptilian feel, without making him an out and out lizard. And if you haven’t seen the game, don’t judge it too harshly from these shots. A lot of bump-mapping seems to be lost in the screen shot processing or something. In game his emblem and his belt gear look much more 3D.

Another Lifetime Sub decision

So Cryptic announced its Lifetime Subscription offer for Star Trek Online. The cost is ~$240 USD and you have to pre-order to take advantage of it, and order the sub by Feb. 1st (prior to launch), or so I’ve heard. They’re also offering a 1-year sub for ~$120 USD and again, you have to pre-order if you want to go that route. Both deals give you 2 extra character slots, and the lifer lets you play as a Borg.

Now let me establish a baseline. I am someone who considers Lifetime Sub offers. I’ve done 3 so far. One was a disaster (Hellgate:London ~$140 USD), one was a very very smart decision (LOTRO ~$200 USD) and one the jury is still out on (Champions Online ~$200 USD). Yes, I do like Champions Online, but haven’t played it much recently due to health issues, then Dragon Age: Origins, then LOTRO Siege of Mirkwood, then health issues again, and now STO Open Beta. And yet that’s kind of the point of why I like Lifetime subs. I don’t feel any ‘guilt’ if I go for long periods without playing. I’m not saying that’s logical (in fact it’s quite the contrary) but it is how I feel. I can just log in without renewing a sub and then feeling committed to playing for 30 days.

Anyway, so now I have the Star Trek Online Lifetime Offer to consider. I have pre-ordered the game so I’m eligible, so that won’t factor into my decision.


  • It fits in nicely with my other Lifetimes. 1 fantasy MMO, 1 superhero MMO, and 1 space MMO. That kinda feels like a nice distribution.
  • ST:Online doesn’t feel like a game I’d play as my ‘main’ MMO. Lifetime subs are a good fit (to me) for casual games that I want to dip into on an ongoing basis.


  • The eggs-in-on-basket issue. If Cryptic goes belly up, two of my Lifetimes go poof.
  • The lack of appreciation for customer loyalty. I would’ve liked to see Cryptic give CO Lifers some kind of discount. All things being equal, a player with Lifetime subs to both CO and STO is going to be less of a resource drain than 2 individual players, one of whom had a Lifetime sub to CO and the other who has a Lifetime sub to STO. So why not give the loyal Cryptic customer a break?
  • Price: Why is this more than the CO Lifetime Sub?
  • Most importantly, the game itself. It isn’t clear to me how they’ll sustain interest in STO over the long term. Space combat is the most interesting aspect to the game (to me) but every battlefield is going to look pretty much the same. I guess they could add variety in away team missions, but I don’t see those as the strong point of STO.

So as much as I do like the ‘security’ of having a Lifetime Sub to an MMO, I think I’ll be passing this time. I’d like to understand why Cryptic feels this sub has a higher value that the CO sub. And I’d like to have more of an idea of what the future plans for the game are. What will it look like in 16 months (assuming a $15/month sub fee, it’d take 16 months of being subscribed before the Lifetime started to pay off)? I have absolutely no clue what direction they want to take the game in (if anyone reading this can through me some links to educate me, I’d appreciate it).

And like so many others have said, the whole idea of having to buy a long term subscription before you’ve played the launched version of the game seems pretty sketchy.

Open beta: the double-edged sword

We’ve come to a time in the MMO genre’s lifespan where players expect and anticipate an “open beta” period. If an MMO developer doesn’t hold an open beta, we assume they’ve got something to hide. If an open beta period is too short we snark about the developer not really caring about our opinions because they haven’t left time to react to them.

The problem is that most of us players aren’t really beta testing; we’re sampling. We want to get into the open beta so we can play for free for a few weeks in order to determine if we want to buy the game when it launches (in some cases we’re playing for free with no intention whatsoever of buying the game). And the problem that follows is that we’re judging the game when it isn’t at its best.

This post is of course a direct result of the Star Trek Online open beta debacle going on right now. Cryptic has invited lots and lots of players into the open beta and the game is really suffering for it. On the one hand, I’m sure Cryptic is gathering a ton of data about where the net-code needs more polish and how much hardware they’re going to have to have on-hand to ensure a smooth launch. So that’s good.

But the bad news is that players are trying to play and having a horrific experience. I was actually laughing at how awful the lag and rubber-banding was when I created my first open beta character, but I’d played in closed beta so didn’t really need the tutorials, and I know this behavior wasn’t typical for the game. It ran much better in closed beta and I, being ever the optimist (HA!), am assuming it’ll run much better after launch, too.

But Joe Gamer, for whom this is the only STO experience he’ll know before deciding whether or not to part with his cash, probably isn’t laughing. From the onerous process of downloading the client to troubles logging in to not being able to move once you get logged in, the open beta experience is strongly urging him to cancel his pre-order and give STO a pass. And he’s telling his friends, who aren’t in the open beta, how bad the experience has been, so they’re canceling their pre-orders as well.

Now I’m not here to defend STO. I have pre-ordered but almost against my better judgement. But my issues aren’t with lag and performance so much as they are with the design of the game. I will say that you shouldn’t base your final judgement of the game on the horrible, broken performance of the open beta.

So what can game developers do? I don’t think they can completely fix the problem, but what would help is to offer trial accounts from Day 1. Let people sample, for free, the final, launched game. That would cut down on the number of beta testers who treat open beta like a preview program. This solution comes with the downside of a less robust stress test, of course. I suppose designers have to weigh the benefits of a good stress test against the lost sales of people getting fed up with the performance of the game in a crowded open beta.

You only get one chance to make a first impression though. I’ll speak heresy and suggest that a really bad open beta might do more harm to a game than a rocky few days at launch. Once a customer has handed over his $50 he’s apt to put up with a rough patch and keep checking back in until things get better (assuming that happens in days, not weeks). There’s nothing to keep a beta-tester around and once they walk away from your game, they’re probably never going to come back.

Willpower saving throw…. it’s 1. I fail

Surprisingly exactly zero people who know me, I’ve caved and pre-ordered Star Trek Online.

So with all my doubts, why would I do this? Because people I like are pre-ordering and I’d like to play now when they’re playing rather then try it later when they’ve potentially moved on (even if the game is better 6-12 months after release, which I assume it will be). Classic peer pressure!

I’m generally (more non-news incoming) a solo player, but STO space combat is much more fun in groups, even if they’re auto-formed PUGs. So again, I’d rather play early while population is dense than fly around an empty low level universe a year on.

I still don’t think it’s the kind of game that’ll hook me long-term, but I’m just buying it like I would a single player game, assuming I’ll play for a month or two and then move on.

If you take a strand of spaghetti and boil it for an hour, it’ll still be more firm than my willpower when it comes to sampling MMOs. I really thought I was past that, but as soon as my order was placed I just started grinning. New adventures await!

And as a worst case situation, I’ll be able to bitch about the game from a place of hands-on experience. How’s that for making lemonade out of lemons? 🙂

Star Trek Online: I want to believe!

Listen, I’m old enough that I watched Star Trek when it was in first run. I’m talking the original series, ok? And I’ve watched all the other series, even Enterprise (which I enjoyed very much, thank you).

I don’t give a flying fig about The Force… I want phasers set to stun and a full spread of photon torpedoes.

The very first computer game I *ever* played was a Star Trek game. It was played on a tty connected via an 110 bps acoustic modem (you dialed the other side, waited for the screech of the modem then jammed the phone’s handset into a couple of rubber cups on the back of the teletype) to a PDP-10 running at Stony Brook University. The tty at my high school had no display…everything was printed on paper.


And yet when I played the Star Trek Online beta, I came away disappointed. The away missions felt pretty generic to me. The non-combat missions that some have really enjoyed were, to me, fun to play through once, but as an altaholic I can see them getting really tedious the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time you do them since they’re basically dialog trees.

Space combat was fun but felt extremely derivative of every other Star Trek computer game I’ve played. It’s about energy management (shifting power to a certain quadrant of shields, and concentrating fire on one quadrant of the enemy) and pumping as much firepower as you can into the enemy. It’s fun…for a few hours. But over the hundreds of hours one puts into an MMO? I just don’t see it staying fun.

So, as much as I really really want to love the game, I had pretty much written it off. But then people whose opinions I value started pre-ordering. And they have me second guessing myself.

Now that open beta is here, and the NDA has dropped, I’m really looking forward to hearing what these people have to say about Star Trek Online. I’m fervently hoping that I just missed something during closed beta, which is entirely possible since the beta was only open maybe twice a week and I didn’t get in very often due to my schedule.

One awesome feature I do want to point out though, is “Open Groups.” While in your ship, you spend a lot of time in ‘warp space’ where there’s no combat, but then you have to (of course) drop out of warp to do battle. When you do you essentially enter a public instance…it might just be a random sector of space but often it’ll be a star system. If someone else is there, you can kind of ‘auto-group’ with them to do whatever mission is going on in that system. Being the anti-social prick that I am, this means I can get into a battle with other players and enjoy that experience without ever saying a word to them.

And space battles are much, MUCH more interesting and fun when its more than just you in your single ship.

Anyway, let’s go bloggers! Tell us about your STO beta experience!

[Update: Tipa is blogging at Warp 9! Check out her Star Trek Online posts.]