As a long-time fan of Star Trek, I was eager to get into the open beta test of Star Trek Online. This Massive-Multiplayer Online game developed by Cryptic Studios
has been in the making for years and offers nerds the chance to engage with this fictional Sci-Fi universe on a scale never before seen. Response to the open beta has been literally overwhelming – with the game’s pre-sales topping charts at retail outlets and through Steam’s online distribution platform.
It might be a video game, but the execution of this beta test speaks volumes about how all software development firms should deal with open customer feedback phases. The industry seems to have accepted that the wisdom of the crowd is an excellent tool for honing the final product, and a beta test period is a great way to get that feedback. Here are some lessons learned from Star Trek Online – both good and bad.
First the bad. Make sure you are more than prepared to meet the demand your release is likely to generate. Star Trek Online’s servers have been overwhelmed by the number of beta testers looking to get into the game. The game’s executive producer has since said that demand for the beta exceeded his wildest expectations. But it shouldn’t have – this game has been developing an online community for well over a year and the Star Trek brand has a large and dedicated following.
While the servers are down or players are getting disconnected constantly, or experiencing high amounts of latency, the real work of the beta can’t be accomplished. If the game can’t be played, players can’t find the bugs it contains to report them. And this game is definitely full of bugs – most glaringly obvious is a glitch that occurs after you beam down to the ground from space. Instead of your humanoid avatar, your spaceship appears on the ground for the first several seconds.
So lesson #1: be ready to support your users.
Now for the good. Cryptic Studios has thought out an excellent communication strategy for gathering feedback. Players are able to submit tickets in-game for bugs they find and developers will respond to them. There’s also an open forum for users who want to discuss issues on the Web site too (which is handy when you can’t connect to the game). Even better, Cryptic Studios has been well on top of direct communication with users. The executive producer addressed the server overload issues and shared the studio’s plan to solve the problem.
Lesson #2: have an open and active communications strategy.
Brian Jackson can be found in Star Trek Online under the user name Reaction_Jackson, piloting the U.S.S. Schadenfreude.