Star Stable: 2 Years in, Massive Disappointment

Savvy NightbergThis comes at an odd time. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we should be celebrating all that we are grateful for. It’s become increasingly obvious to me that there are some that don’t actually know what that word means or at least when it should be applied. And, Star Stable Entertainment isn’t an American company. They don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving. I can’t put this off any longer. This is my eighth post about Star Stable in this blog and as, once again, my post got a little long,  I’ll be breaking it up into three parts for readability.

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular. I have endorsed this company resoundingly before on this blog. I can’t do that anymore based on their business decisions. This is an opinion of someone who has been in business, gone to art school, knows what it takes to make a game, and is an avid gamer. For those reading this who love Star Stable, please be polite in the comments. This isn’t a personal attack against them or you.

I don’t know how many of my followers have noticed or even cared, but it’s been about a year since Becca and I have posted anything to do with the Star Stable Diary. Life has been busy. She has a full time job. I had been trying to sell my book to agents and then had to shift gears to self-publishing. The Star Stable Diary became one of those things that fell to the way side. When we stopped, both Becca and I had been playing Star Stable for about a year. Now, we’ve been coming up on two years of playing and have realized that we really can’t continue with the Star Stable Diaries.

There is one very important and extremely frustrating reason for this. The plots are not progressing. The game’s story isn’t moving forward. As a writer, and a person who plays a game for story, maybe you can imagine how intensely frustrating and disappointing this is as a creative person and as a customer. I bought this game based on how previous updates were 2 new horses a year and focus on story quests. Yes, I looked at their update history before purchasing the game. I made a decision based on that history, hoping or thinking or believing foolhardily that the history would also determine the future.

In the last two years, instead of focusing on advancing the dozen plots they already had in place that haven’t been at all resolved from when the game opened five years ago. SSO has decided to instead open up 3 new areas, add new horses every four to six weeks, graphically make over key areas, create a rather useless app for smartphones and android os, add a function to the game that has no game play purpose whatsoever, switch their coding over from Direct X to Open GL (which may have lost them a good portion of their player base due to the fact this is a hardware issue and they’ll need new computers they can’t afford) and essentially add another twenty or so plot lines that may not be resolved in the next decade.

And I might have found a reason for this, in an August 2016 interview with Kidscreen, the very end of the article includes a quote from Rich Maryyanek, a partner and chief marketing officer with Big Tent Entertainment (who is now working with Star Stable Entertainment?). He says “The girls come into the game for the horses,” notes Maryyanek. “But the reason they’re spending so much time and money is because of the relationships and storylines.”

Actually, Mr. Maryyanek, it is the other way around. See without a plot, without a story, there is no point for anyone to play the game no matter how many horses or map expansions or clothes items that SSO adds to the game. An MMO isn’t about your gear. It’s not about your ride. It’s about the PLOT. The QUESTION is, does SSO and now Big Tent Entertainment know what a MMO is? Do you know how to make one? Do you have a complete story and plot? And if you do, why aren’t we getting more of it?

You can read the article for yourself here: http://kidscreen.com/2016/08/30/online-game-star-stable-gallops-into-licensing/

One of these unresolved plot lines involves yet another major non-player character and puts him out of our reach and it has been implied it will take 3, if not 4 quest trees to free him. (If they don’t add more kinks into the process.) One quest line they’ve added to the game involves a non-player character as the star and instead of giving the player control of this character for a short amount of time, they player sits through what is essentially 3 five minute quests where they must passively watch. Of the main plot line they started when they first opened five years ago, within the last year there was an update on the plot that actually used non-player characters to tell the player to be patient and wait! This takes time! (And as a player, I want to tell you that I felt patronized when they did this. Instead of doing this they could have added a substantive update. I do not like my feelings trivialized by telling me what I should do or feel.)

They know this is a problem. But they refuse to either hire the people they need or focus enough to fix it. We don’t need over 150 horses in the game. To play the game you need two horses. Your starter horse and a pony for the very few and I mean very few pony quests. All other horses are superfluous and are blatant money grabs. The best way for this game to make money would be to continue their story and keep their long term (lifetime) players. Lifetime players are the ones that will give more money if they feel the product is worth their time. If not, they will drop it and not come back.

Now, the response by players to other players who want more story tends to range between “It takes time.” (A stance that Star Stable takes in every passive aggressive Facebook response.) Or, “If they do all the plot then the game will finish faster.” Honestly, if that is the case, then either the players or Star Stable don’t have enough imagination. I am a writer. Add more villains. Add time travel. I don’t know, expand on the locations they already have that they’ve never even touched story wise? (Forgotten Fields, Dews Farm…) And I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of the map. Longevity is only going to be an issue if you don’t publish more story, because without more story, the old players will leave and there won’t be enough new players coming in to support the servers and the whole thing is going to collapse. (It would be interesting to see what the ratio of free players to paying players are as well and who is saying what and who of the paying players have multiple accounts.)

Perhaps one of the worst decisions they’ve had in a while is the decision to add spiders and snakes into the game. Spiders and snakes being on every top ten fear list that I’ve ever seen, sometimes as the top two fears listed. (Along with fear of the dark, heights, clowns and lightning.) The game no longer feels like a safe place for those who have those fears. This is a game essentially for children. It should feel safe!

Graphic makeovers, place makeovers, horse makeovers, stable expansions, a new “random” fashion market, random pet & horse sellers. All of this stuff takes a lot of work. And the players, who are playing for new content, see all this work going into parts of the game that don’t add value in terms of story, in terms of time invested. When a player doesn’t have story quests to do or things to craft or in essence a reason to continue to play the game. They stop.

Sure, there are players that are happy with what I feel are becoming more and more blatant grabs for cash from SSO. Horses, pets and markets that stay in place for a week all encourage the player to spend money, real money, to have that “exclusive” content. Supposedly on average the US players spend $122 dollars a year on gear and clothes. $122 dollars of real cash. That’s more than the game costs for lifetime! On items that don’t do anything. (And thus why I save my weekly allowance of star coins from being a star rider and spend my Time earning in game gold to buy clothes and gear. I refuse to put more money into an unfinished game.)

Let me be real for a moment here, if the game says that a store has exclusive content. I take that to mean brand new never before seen designs. Not color ways of items that I can get at the Mall. Those aren’t exclusives. Those are just… color ways. Sure the “exclusive” item is orange and the ones at the mall are black and brown. But if I need that item and I can’t get the exclusive then I’ll just buy the black or brown

version. Then I won’t need the orange. (Their fashion store system is a mess as it is, and being a fashion person I know it can be fixed. I’m not going to do it unless someone pays me.)

And this is just the tip of the iceberg on “Exclusivity.” More Tomorrow…

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