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Just over a week ago, we learned that Star Trek Online had reached one million users right out of the gate - an impressive number and one for which Cryptic should be congratulated. There's no doubt that STO's success is at least in part due to the strength of the Star Trek license, gathering Trekkies new and old alike to live out their dream of being a starship captain. But is STO actually fulfilling those dreams, or are the developers making MMOGs from established IPs missing the point?
Do you remember the famous opening monologue to the series? "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its ongoing mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations... to boldly go where no one has gone before."
That's classic, right? It establishes the exploration and wonder that the Star Trek franchise was all about. Right there in the opening, you know exactly what the series stands for. It's a bit weird when you think about applying it to the standard mechanic of the MMOG: "To seek out new life and new civilizations, to kill them and take their stuff."
Death and warfare are something that Star Trek has never taken lightly - the destruction of one colony or one Federation starship is enough to bring tensions close to the boiling point. Captain Kirk rarely beams down to a planet with the intention of solving a problem with wholesale slaughter. In the film First Contact when Picard guns down the Borg in the Holodeck, his act is portrayed as something worrisome and almost reprehensible, a representation of his slide into madness when it comes to dealing with the Collective. In an MMOG, we rack up a higher body count every other mission.
It's true that Star Trek does have its share of action (albeit no word on if there is a quest to put our captain in a fistfight against an angry Gorn) but the franchise has always relied heavily on exploration and character interaction rather than ass-kicking combat. Unfortunately, that's what most modern MMOGs emphasize above all else.
Now, in all fairness, I haven't yet checked out Star Trek Online. Speaking with fellow editor Greg Tito (who has played the game), I came away with the impression that Cryptic was trying to appeal more to the Star Trek fanbase with missions that didn't involve being told to go kill 20 Romulans and take their pointy ears. But even STO still falls into the same MMOG routines in practice - you may get a mission to go explore a star system, but something invariably goes wrong and you need to go blow up an enemy starship or two. To Cryptic's credit, he did also mention a mission where you just go down to talk to people in order to resolve a dispute - very Trek.