I've heard Star Trek Online described somewhat critically as a pay-to-win game, but what mechanics do they use and how drastic are they? Is it simply like League of Legends or Team Fortress 2 where paying can get you things faster but ultimately have no effect? Or is it at the other extreme where the gameplay is severely limited (where you can go, unable to get items of equivalent power, etc)?

Can I play STO without paying and enjoy it, or am I always going to be a second-class player, in the shadow of those who dump cash into it?

  • Short answer: I've clocked over 120 hours in STO, and haven't bought anything of substance yet. (I plan to, simply because... I've clocked 120 hours into this game and should probably support it). Particularly in PvE, you can get along just fine without spending any money at all. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 21:37
  • STO is probably the only big MMO that is NOT P2W. You can practically get 100% of the stuff payers do. I'd gladly explain in detail when possible (answers seem to be restricted).
    – Overmind
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 11:52

7 Answers 7


Some of the mechanics used that count as pay to win:

  • the best ships are 'Fleet' versions of the main top tier ships. They can only be acquired by buying several tokens (aka fleet modules I think) from the cash store, and you have to do this per character not per account

  • There are many other ships which are only bought through the cash store, each of these usually includes a special power that gives you an ability not available via any other means. These are usually implemented as 'modules' that can be transferred to other ships

  • A number of special ships can only be acquired by opening lockboxes with keys bought from the cash store (although it is technically possible to buy keys via other means). In addition the chance of one dropping is very low and possibly not genuinely random

  • Dilithium is used to fund many purchases or required as part of the payment for many items. While it can be acquired in game there is a cap on the amount per day. If you need it quicker than that then you have to buy it from an exchange that use the cash store Zen points

  • Account level services are only available trough the cash store - costume slots, character slots, inventory space, bank space, etc. Although this is about on par with other f2p MMOs

Overall STO is a good game that is badly hampered by a free to play model with very strong pay to win elements. While it is possible to enjoy the game as a free player you will be distinctly disadvantaged compared to someone who invests a lot of money.

If the PVP wasn't almost completely ignored by the developers the PVP players would spend all their time complaining on the forums about the pay 2 win features.

  • If it wasn't f2p I couldn't play at all at this time. So, I wonder how that can be called "hampered". Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 4:53
  • 'you have to do this per character not per account'... the ultimate kick in the nuts!
    – Daft
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 17:05

Paying money gets you better star-ships faster. And some of these star-ships ARE much better than what you get in-game.

Star ships can also be earned through in-game grinding namely grinding dilithium and converting it to ZEN points. ZEN points is what you can buy with real cash.

However there's a cap how much dilithium you can convert daily. Also the exchange rate of dilitium <--> ZEN points may fluctuate. It can go as high as 320 dilithium for 1 ZEN point and as low as 130 dilithium for 1 ZEN point.

End game ships go for around 3000 ZEN points.

In short, you'll be a second-class player if you don't dump cash into it. That's the way Cryptic has designed STO to be pay-to-win or F2P if you want.

  • 4
    I down voted because you give a heavily biased and not objective answer, calling STO "pay to win", when it is not. A Game is pay to win when there are no other means to get a certain items that are stronger than anything that can be acquired through playing the game.. All items can be achieved through gameplay. Paying just gets it faster. That is not pay to win. That is a normal business model.
    – user28015
    Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 17:36
  • 6
    There's no standard defined meaning as to what pay-to-win means. Your definition differs from mine. Both are valid. People that pay cash to get the end-game starships faster will always have an advantage for a long time over people who go trough the in-game grind routine. Pay-to-win in my book. Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 22:07
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    I play it. Have yet to "dump cash into it". And I enjoy it quite a lot. Of course, I'm obviously suffering from the delusion that you play for fun, and not "to win"... Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 4:50
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    Nobody's saying you can't play it and have fun without paying. They are saying that to compete at the highest levels, it is somewhere between extremely implausible and mechanically impossible for free players to be on a level playing field with paid players.
    – PeterL
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 19:13
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    "Pay to win" isn't a biased opinion, it's a clearly defined concept where there are FUNCTIONAL items it's impossible to get in a reasonable time frame without paying. LoL (the other example given) allows you to get any champion within a few days of playing, the "extras" are not gameplay related, they're just pretty skins etc. STO on the other hand has items which can ONLY be purchased, Fleet versions of the top tier ships. These HAVE to be purchased and are the best items available. Therefore, it's pay to win.
    – Jon Story
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 12:25

I'm somewhat confused by the misleading answers given and perhaps the questions aren't clear. I have played STO since it came out and paid to play for 2 years before taking a break. I now play for free but had a huge starting advantage in QUICKNESS OF GATHERING ONLY! The Game truly IS free to play. It may take longer through grinding the capped amount of dilithium, but there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that you would EVER have to pay real money for EVER! I wanted a top tier ship, so I grinded the dilithium, converted it to Zen and bought the ship. Now I grind for the Zen to buy the models for the fleet versions. It's that simple. If you have the time to play you never need to pay!


Here is how the cash system works in STO and why IMO this game is not pay to win:

There are three major currencies in the game, Zen, Dilithium, and Energy Credits. All three can be obtained without paying real money. At level 50 you can spend about 2-4 hours per day accumulating dilithium ore. You can convert up to 8000 ore into 8000 refined dilithium per 24 hour period. The refined dilithium can be converted to Zen via the dilithium exchange. Therefore all f2p players can acquire all paid items simply by playing the game and investing significant amounts of personal time (2-4 hours per day).

Don't have personal time? Then you have the option of paying. Paying supports game development and enables free users who don't want to or can't pay to enjoy the game and everyone gets new future content as a result.

If STO is pay to win then all F2P games are pay to win.

  • Doesn't really answer the question in the title, does it? Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 23:16
  • 1
    @deutschZuid It answers the question in the body though.
    – badp
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 8:44
  • @badp It does. I am not disputing that point :). Would've marked this as "not an answer" otherwise :). Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 9:29
  • Since there are per-day caps, don't we need to know how many days it would take to match buying in-game currency? By another post, best case scenario 8000/130 = ~62ZEN.. 3000Z (per end-game ship)/62Z (per day) = ~48days/ship. So best case scenario, a month and a half of 2-4 hour days for a single end-game ship. I'm not familiar with other aspects of the game (multiple ships? do ships become obsolete?) but hopefully these numbers will help others who are more familiar
    – PeterL
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 19:18

In STO paying money gets you ZEN, which can buy you space ships that you couldn't usually buy, but are still your level. It also can get you minor visual changes. The entire game is F2P, but if you pay money, you can get a larger inventory and start a fleet. So paying wont really get you into a much better position.


Its completly the opposite, its not at all Pay To Win, Yes you get a better ship when you pay , BUT its not all THAT much better, its also about skills and playstyles, and certainly for the PVE stuff you don't NEED the ships that cost money, the freeships do their job. The Klingons have "worse" ships the the FED and still they rock in PvP.

Just go play and have fun, and if a ships comes out that you like go buy it , but not with the intention that you now have payed and your uber but just because you liked it.

I bought for the first time the andorian escort, because i have a andorian captain i think it completes my setup. i don't expect to go out and shoot every klink i see. ;-)

  • 2
    The advantages that bought ships provide comes in the form of universal consoles. An absolute requirement for PvP.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 20:09
  • I like the random caps throughout your answer... are you angry? are you shouting at us? lol, who knows??
    – Daft
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 17:10

Here's a simple solution, for ya, when STO first came out, we needed to pay, like any other mmorpg. I ranked up the vice ad, then took time off for a year, when I came back, I was on a free to play account, with my gold membership in hold till I decide to pay to play, there's not much change from paying to play or free just a couple of quarks for seasoned gold and platinum players like XP buffs, and earning extra items from dailies, cause of my gold member, but that's if I want to pay a monthly fee again, as for C-Store stuff it's not paying a month just a simple once fee to get its stuff on your toon out just like any other Mmorpg.

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