This week my fleet was "stolen." Everything that we have worked so hard in building over the past 14 months was taken away by one person, a person none of us knows, and we were forced to begin anew. The lessons here are hard, bitter, and frankly embarrassing to discuss, but they are important to learn from, and I hope others use the advice to avoid our fate, regardless of whether you're in a fleet in Star Trek Online or a guild in some other game.
At first, I was extremely reluctant to write about our fleet's destruction because I didn't want the person who accomplished the task to get any attention about his deeds take some sort of perverted delight in being referred to in this column. As I told my coworkers here at Massively, when I thought about the idea of writing about it, the lyrics of the song "You're So Vain" kept running through my head.
Luckily, I belong to a fleet that is made up of amazing friends, some of whom are as close as family, and all have supported me and my efforts here at Massively. In addition, my coworkers at Massively voiced their combined opinion that the lessons that might be learned by our readers were far more beneficial than cowering behind the idea that someone might be enjoying himself a little too much while he reads this. So, Mr. Wanker, while "you probably think this column's about you," the rest of us can move on and learn how to avoid my fleet's fate as well as opine on what Cryptic Studios might be able to do to ensure that nothing like this ever happens to another fleet.
Caspian Division's best feature was probably also its downfall. We're extremely nice people; we trust each other. We don't just take pride in our diversity; we truly, honestly and passionately celebrate it, and we try to represent the spirit of Star Trek, so our members come from every walk of life, gender, age, race, religion (or lack thereof), sexual preference and identity, and physical ability/disability. As long as you like the game, don't mind that we use foul language on our Ventrilo channel, and can tolerate the fact that sometimes we take a half hour to decide on what our characters should wear in a mission, then you're welcome to join in our fun.
One of our founders was a man of this character. He helped the fleet grow and expand and become the virtual Cheers of STO. Due to changes in his real life, he found himself no longer able to play STO, so beginning a year and a half ago, we heard from him only when he was within an area that had decent Wi-Fi.
Because we cared for him so much, we left his account active in the fleet and in his role as fleet leader. Not once did we ever think that he would be so careless as to lend out his password or let himself be hacked. (Let me clarify this now, he denies emphatically that he shared his account information with the person who stole the fleet, but we have no proof he was hacked, either.) Either way, our inaction was an error.
Last Thursday morning, those of us in the U.S. woke up to find that our characters had been kicked from the fleet. Every active leader had been demoted and then removed from the roster. Every other member, down to our newest recruit, had also been kicked. We could not locate the fleet on the lists, and we were all left to wonder what the heck happened.
It quickly became apparent that our fleet website was still operational, as was our Ventrilo channel, and we gathered quickly to discuss what happened. To be honest, we were stumped. Every single current member whom we knew of had been kicked, all of us, from both our Federation and our Klingon fleets.
That's when the conjecture and accusations began. It's a human failing, to assume the worst of others when evidence is shaky, and it's the reason the U.S. justice system is built to assume innocence until proof shows otherwise. We erroneously jumped to the conclusion that one of our current members might have pulled this off, so we were twice as embarrassed when we realized he couldn't have. I don't think our apologies will ever be enough, and he's a remarkable man for having accepted them at all. He was also just as hurt as we were when he found out he had also been kicked from the fleets.
Finally, one of our leaders was able to reach the aforementioned founder to speak with him. It was then that we realized that it was his account that had likely provided the opportunity for the seizure. While he steadfastly denies even having the game on his computer, he seemed to realize that an acquaintance of his (someone who had on frequent occasions boasted to him about his ability to hack everyone in the game) might have done something, but for what reasons, no one really knows. Our founder reached out this alleged hacker, who then had the audacity to tell us that he had indeed used the leader's account, kicked every single member of the fleet, and would be "holding it for ransom," but no real terms were ever mentioned, and again, no real reasons for the alleged hacking were verbalized.
However, the moment word got out about our fleet's destruction, the STO community showed up en masse. Members from Jupiter Force, SSC, Priority One, SSOG, Stonewall, and so many others (far too numerous to name but are just as important as those who were named) began to send relief supplies, energy credits, words of support, offers to help, and even offers for temporary memberships to their higher-tiered fleets so those of us left to start over could do so with tier 5 gear.
When I wrote in last year's Why I Play that the community is the reason I play this game, I meant it with every fiber of my being. The entire community (excepting Mr. Wanker, of course) has proven once again why it is the finest example of what The Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry, admired so much about our species: its boundless positive potential.
- Openly communicate with your membership and ask the same in return. If a player plans on leaving the game and becomes inactive in the guild, bite the bullet and kick the account from the group. If the person returns and is still considered to be a member (even a leader) in good standing, that rank can be re-established much more easily than an entire home area can.
- Keep your list of leaders to a working minimum. If a member whines that he needs to be a leader, then he/she doesn't need to be a leader -- it's as simple as that. Anyone who can't tolerate authority certainly doesn't have the maturity to wield it.
- Don't let yourself or your fleet/guild become the victim of your own "road to hell." Being too nice and leaving room open for those you care about can potentially lead to the evaporation of the guild's assets. Set rules, and more importantly, adhere to them at all times.
- Remind members to change their passwords, not to share their account with anyone, and all of the stuff we think everyone should already know about online security. Then say it again.
You bet there can. Many games automatically demote leaders who go inactive, while still others put guild leadership up for vote on a regular basis or require multiple votes to approve demotions. But such hurdles would likely ruffle the feathers of the more dictatorial fleet leaders in the game. As much as some people loathe the idea of letting supreme power out of their hands, the fact of the matter is that a more diplomatic system must be put into place in order to protect the virtual assets of those who contributed to amass them. People are spending real money on Zen-to-dilithium here, and their investments must take precedence over the feelings of individuals.
Personally, I find it ironic that it takes a minimum of five people to even start a fleet but just one person can demote his/her fellow leaders and destroy the work of hundreds. Cryptic needs to implement a technical hurdle that forces fleet leaders to vote on the demotion of another leader. If just that one simple safeguard had been in place last Thursday, Caspian Division might have had its bank wiped out, but at least it would still have a tier 4.5 starbase and a tier 2.5 embassy. A bank can be filled easily enough with anomalies and other items, but all of that time, dilithium, and real money can never be regained.
Caspian is emotionally stronger than ever. We are taking this in stride and are already moving forward with tier 1 of our new starbase and embassy. We've reduced the number of fleet leaders to avoid overexposure to the unlikely but nonetheless all-too-real possibility that someone will try this again. We've made incredible friends and have tightened our alliances with other fleets, and the greater STO community has already become stronger for it, just like Gene would have wanted. We rise above.
Oh, and Mr. Wanker? Your song's over now.
Until next week, live long and prosper everyone!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.