ZAM interviews Star Trek Online executive producer Dan Stahl about his new role at Cryptic, and what he plans to bring to the development table
By now, most Star Trek Online players know that Craig Zinkievich—the man who faithfully served as the MMO's executive producer since its infancy—decided to resign last month, passing the torch to Cryptic Studios' Daniel Stahl. Zinkievich explained that he needed a break to spend more time with his family, and reassured the community that STO couldn't be in better hands. Stahl was formerly one of STO's high-level producers and author of Cryptic's "Engineering Reports" before he officially claimed the throne as the MMO's new executive producer last month. "He's got the love of Star Trek [...], he’s got passion for games, he's got his finger on the pulse of the community and if you guys ever thought I was excited about the potential of what Star Trek Online can become when you saw my interviews, just wait until you get a load of Dan," Zinkievich wrote, praising Stahl. "It's scary sometimes. Really."
ZAM decided to catch up with Stahl last week to talk about his new position and what it means for the MMO, the community and the future of STO's development. We learn about his love for message boards and community interaction, as well as his philosophy on hot topics like the C-Store (Cryptic's micro-transaction revenue model) and the possibility of STO adopting certain "free-to-play" trial options. ZAM also asks about the new content released in Season 2 last month, such as the popular "weekly episodes" and the neutral Deferi race. Check out the full interview after the jump, and visit ZAM's Star Trek Online portal site for more news and game information.
ZAM: So Daniel, what distinguishes you as Star Trek Online (STO's) executive producer? In what ways will the community notice a difference throughout the coming months, whether it's noticed in-game or on the message boards?
Daniel Stahl: Prior to working at Cryptic Studios, I would spend hours on the City of Heroes forums where I was always impressed with how often "Devs" would post and respond to player discussion.
Once becoming an employee, I felt it important to continue that philosophy. I found myself posting on the Star Trek Online forums regularly and realizing that players always have a lot of questions. This led me to begin posting regular updates on the production of the game that I labeled "Engineering Reports." After posting a report, I would take time to read through comments and respond with as much information as was available.
Now that I'm EP, I find myself on the forums at all hours of the day with even more authority to say "yes we are going to do that" or "no, you're crazy!" It is refreshing how frank the discussions can get sometimes.
While some will point out that the forums represent only a subset of the players, I find our interactions on the forums invaluable to the continued development of the game.
ZAM: In an interview you mentioned that your favorite part of STO is the "ability to level up, customize and play as both a Starship in space and a Captain on away missions." Does this mean the community can expect more aggressive PvE development in the future?
Stahl: My comment was more in line with the fact that Star Trek content can span a wide variety of gameplay elements. On any given day you can find yourself all over the quadrant running missions in a variety of environments instead of being stuck grinding rabbits in the slums until you level and move on to somewhere "new."
The benefit to that is when we do add more PVE missions they are not limited to any specific location. Each new mission can bring both new space and planetary locations with entirely new environments.
In regard to more PVE development, we are starting the first series of weekly episodes in late August and with the promise of a new mission ever week. Considering that an average Star Trek mission can span multiple locations, that is about as aggressive as you could imagine!
ZAM: In the same interview, you admitted a little frustration regarding STO's initial representation of exploration; do you have any plans to build a new mechanic around this aspect of the game, similar to the way Season 2's "Federation Diplomatic Corps" relates to non-combat gameplay?
Stahl: When we all envisioned exploration, the common visual was that you'd be able to point your ship in a direction and keep on going to see what's out there. While we had this vision as well, we failed to deliver on it at launch. What you ended up with is a small box where you fly around and go through random doors.
The team is committed to addressing this. We really want to see exploration be about going into deep space and seeing how far you can get from home before the crew gets homesick. You can look for us to start delivering a new vision for exploration in Season 3.
ZAM: The player community has raised more concern about Cryptic's in-game C-Store recently, claiming there are too many "valuable" items being added, now more than ever. You replied in the official forums, writing "I believe that we need to do a better job at offering alternative ways to get items in game." Do you anticipate the C-Store can be balanced to satisfy the majority of customers, despite Cryptic's need for this additional revenue?
Stahl: While I wouldn't go as far to say we "need" the additional revenue, having the revenue certainly helps us maintain a larger development staff which allows us to put new content into the game at a faster pace.
Most (if not all) of the items that we've put for sale in the C-Store were direct requests from consumers asking for items such as "make this ship I'm a huge fan of" or "I wish I could have more costume slots."
Our release notes show that we are constantly adding new features and content to the game, and with the C-Store we have yet another tool to bring one-off fan favorite items into the mix. We feel that there is a good mix of free updates in relation to items in the C-Store and will continue to evaluate to ensure that we making what fans want. At the end of the day we want to deliver the goods that players feel are worth their subscription and microtransaction dollars.
ZAM: Another remark of yours inspired heated debate across the blogosphere; in this forum post, you speculated about the viability of combining free-to-play elements with STO. Have bloggers blown the issue out of proportion by suggesting that STO might adopt a "pure" free-to-play revenue model, as opposed to a lower-tiered, trial-based system similar to Warhammer Online? Care to set the record straight?
Stahl: In that post I commented that converting a game to "free-to-play" does not seem like a "worst-case scenario" to me. Since that post several other games have announced that they are considering or currently converting to a microtransaction model.
While Star Trek Online is a subscription based game, it is clear that the entire MMO industry is keeping a close eye on where consumers find value. I personally am very curious to see how the "times are changing."