Why I think they might actually have gotten it right.
Firstly, I was really worried when I found out the end game for STO would be PVP-centric. That just doesn't really work normally for any number of reasons which I wont go into just yet.. Traditionally if you look at all the major (even minor) MMO's out there that have tried, you'll see that they have generally failed or aren't entirely PVP based.. Eve Online being one that hasn't failed and does really well, but I believe that's largely due to being the only game in it's market. By and large however, PVP only games just don't do that well with the masses..
I believe that there are 4 primary reasons for PVP being problematic in most games:
PVP allows Player X to have an immediate and often negative impact on Player Y's game play experience. This means that Player Y could possibly have his game play impacted by another player in such a way as to prevent him from enjoying or even advancing in the game. Removing the "fun" from the game for Player Y entirely.
Good PVP and Smart PVP are two mutually exclusive concepts. "Good" PVP is playing against another person where things are evenly matched in terms of player skills, character skills, gear, etc.. The fight is even odds and could go either way and as such, is a "fair" fight.. "Smart" PVP is employing any tactic that would give the player any form of advantage over the intended target -- fairness doesn't enter into it. In fact the more unfair the fight is, the better. Since most players always try to play smartly, the target of that doesn't have fun.
Everyone loses eventually, and most players lose most of the time. This is simply math and has been proven time and again. In any PVP engagement, you will eventually lose. And most players, yes you too, lose most of the time. It's a mathematical inevitability. People don't like to lose as it's not fun.
Character skills and gear out weigh, player skills and gear every time. In most PVP games it just about always pans out that the higher level and better equipped character will simply dominate the lower level character, regardless of the players skill or equipment. So no matter how awesome you are on your level 45 warlock, that level 50 paladin will simply slaughter you while watching TV and eating some pizza.. not fun.
Why are these things bad? Well first of all you might have noticed I used "fun" in each point. Games are first and foremost about fun. If you aren't having fun then most likely you're not going to play very long.
I think someone at cryptic looked at these facts and made the right decision to make PVP opt-in only. Let's look at each issue in turn;
The first one can actually punish a player, just for playing the game. They might be having fun mining asteroids for example, wanting nothing to do with other people only to have their experience tainted by someone else.. I think most hard core PVP players completely miss the fact that what is fun for them, isn't the same thing as what's fun for everyone else and games are first and foremost about fun for everyone. STO has made PVP an opt-in system so that you must knowingly go to the various PVP zones in order to do any form of PVP. If you don't want to, you don't have to.
This opt-in methodology also largely solves the second issue. You can't be gate camped or ganked or griefed by a roaming pack of players in the regular world.. You must go into the PVP area where you acknowledge the possibility and most likely will bring your own posse..
If you know PVP is opt-in, then you wont mind losing on occasion. STO makes the PVP very "Zerg" like in that if you do lose, you just respawn and off you go again.. So really dying a lot doesn't matter all that much. So who cares if you lose more than you win.. It's still fun!
And so far the ship buffs/abilities and stats don't really seem to matter. In my lowbie T1 Miranda class ship I was able to take out T2 ships in PVP. I don't know if this was due to my better understanding of shield and power management or if my equipment was better or if I was a better player.. Or if I was just lucky! But right now it seems like player skill actually matters a great deal more than everything else..
I think it could work here..
A lot of folks are bitching about not having open realm PVP though and those people irritate me..
Their primary complaint is that they should be able to attack any other player at any time.. And they always gloss it over with reasons why it would be canonically correct in a Star Trek universe..blah blah blah..
Let's be clear; the only people that would disagree with the opt-in PVP system are the PVP players who are the ones most offended by the notion that they some how do something "unfair" by attacking people that aren't as skilled, have no desire to participate, or who aren't in anyway ready for the PVP conflict they are suddenly thrust into without any option. Simply put, they are griefers who enjoy ruining other peoples game by taking out the easy target.
I'm an old school PVP player from EVE online. I have also PVP'd in EQ and WoW so I know where I'm coming from here.
In EVE when I went into a fight, I made damn sure it was going to be a fight I was going to win or at least had a good chance of winning. If I didn't think it would go my way, I would unass the AO ASAP.
If I was going to steal jet can's (Yes I did that..) I made sure my target was someone I knew I could steal from without being instakilled. When camping a gate in EVE I wouldn't do it alone, but rather would bring a whole crew -- why? 'cause I wanted to win!
It's just smart PVP -- don't engage in a fight you can't win. The same notion is employed by modern day generals when waging war.. Don't play fair!! Smart PVP will never be fair if the PVP'er knows what he is doing. A fair fight will get you killed every time.
There are a lot of players though who will never want to be apart of that world.. they want to play the game to have fun, and not PVP and they should be allowed to do so. For them the fun is playing against the system and NPC's.. It's the same reason why raiding end game bosses in WoW and EQ is fun.. It's the challenge of beating the system.. Whether you, the hard core PVP'er, agree is completely immaterial.
Thus when you attack them unprovoked in systems that allow for that, they rightly call you a griefer because you're interrupting their fun. I have griefed in my time, and been griefed.. so I understand..
The game designers in STO have rightly realized that it's an absolute imperitive to make the game fun for as many people as possible, and to do that PVP must be opt-in. It's the only way to keep the largest portion of the population happy.
The simple fact of the matter is, if you attack someone who doesn't want to be attacked then you're negatively affecting their game play. And the larger picture is; Doing so will in many cases drive those players away from the game, which means now you're negatively affecting the developing studio's bottom line. "Carebears", a term I hate, are by far the largest segment of the market and keeping them happy keeps the game afloat.