For this reason, most MMOs today employ a beta program that is
open to the public. Star
Trek Online continued that trend with developer Cryptic
Studios and its own beta program. Things started off with a Closed
Beta on October 22 last year that was limited to several thousand
players in order to find and fix the most common critical bugs. STO
transitioned from Closed Beta to Open Beta on January 12, and
recently ended the Open Beta program on January 26.
Most video games today ship with multiple bugs, as a consequence
of the strict deadlines in the industry. Ship dates for games are set
months in advance, and developers and publishers can face hefty
penalties for missing those dates. As a result, many games ship with
bugs that are fixed with patches or expansion packs. This may save a
company millions, but also means that customer satisfaction could
take a setback amongst influential early adopters.
MMOs, on the other hand, typically go through a process of
continual improvement, not only on the server side, but on the user's
client side as well. A subscription model allows for permanent staff
to work on game play optimization for usage models that are
unanticipated. Certain levels or scenarios may grow more popular over
time, or exploits developed that must be closed.
DailyTech tried out Star Trek Online during the Open
Beta period, and noticed a marked improvement in gameplay during the
two week period. Load times and the number of critical bugs decreased
during this time, even with the number of players growing constantly.
Publisher Atari gave away over 100,000 Open Beta keys to its
partners, such as NVIDIA and gaming websites. Over half a million bug
reports were generated by the end of Open Beta through the in-game
bug reporting system.
However, there are multiple bugs that still exist. Not all of
these are critical, but do affect game play. One bug that kept
popping up was during the transition from a ground environment to the
space environment. The player's avatar is supposed to change from a
humanoid to a space ship, but sometimes it doesn’t quite happen
There are also some problems with Mission Rewards, in which a
Bridge Officer or in-game item is supposed to be added to a player's
inventory but isn't. In many cases it is just a matter of players not
looking in the right place, but this is an issue that we have
personally witnessed. In some cases, Bridge Officers with the wrong
ability set are added instead.
Perhaps the most critical bug left is with the in-game cursor,
which was completely invisible when I first started playing the game.
I had to switch to a windowed mode and select a software cursor in
the troubleshooting settings. This is a problem that has still not
been fixed in the company's Head Start program, which allows
customers who have pre-ordered the game to begin playing ahead of
Tuesday's official launch.
Pre-orders are an important way for a company to gauge interest in
a game. If a game is doing well before launch, a company may decide
to purchase additional servers in order to meet anticipated demand.
Most game developers bear a large upfront cost for game development
over several years, and often don’t want to invest too much in
hardware in case a game isn't as successful as hoped.
Unfortunately, the interest in Star Trek Online seems to
have caught Cryptic off-guard, despite the fan base of several
hundred million people. The company announced that it was
ordering new servers during Open Beta, but dropped connections are
still quite common. There are often problems logging in, retrieving
characters, and loading maps. STO servers have been down for
"emergency maintenance" at least a dozen times during the
last week as more gamers have started playing.
The good news is that it means the company is working on it, and
there have been several client patches to address numerous issues. We
often forget that even the mighty World
of Warcraft had numerous bugs at launch, and it took months
to fix the most glaring bugs. Ultimately, long-term subscribers will
wait it out, but others who
are watching may not have the patience.
Update Feb 3:
We have received the following from Cryptic Studios:"We just wanted to update you on our in-game server capacity status. Throughout Head Start we noticed the overwhelming response to the game and we are working on changes to further increase the number of people who can play Star Trek Online at any given time. Our current plan is to have these changes in place sometime this coming weekend. We will, of course, keep you updated on progress as it happens".