N.B.: (This will be a fairly long post - I hope that doesn't deter people from reading what I have to say )
How about having wildlife on planets, and an Exobiology track that we could pursue, where we explore and track down all of these lifeforms and discover new ones, for fun and accolades? Much like we encounter and fight random species in exploration missions, how about we discover and catalogue random lifeforms in exploration missions as well?
Planets in sector blocks can have fauna and flora on them,which we can catalogue, but which would obviously be pretty standard and easy to find. We can just pop to Vulcan and scan a Sehlat, for example. Targs, Warriguls, Attack Saur and such could be 'discovered' by facing them in combat, for Federation players.
Exploration nebulas would contain rare and new species, and be the real meat of advancing the Exobiology track. Finding these rarer species, either brand new ones or variations upon already existing ones (as depicted in the upcoming example - the 'Hamar Targ'), 'unlocks' them in the exobiology databse where we can then read all about them. 'Common' life would already be in the database; uncommon, rare, and very rare would have to be personally discovered/scanned/interacted with and would incrementally award more 'points' in Exobiology.
To help illustrate my idea, I made these images to show what I think it might look like if you were to go and discover a species:
You head to the region mentioned < (Clickable link to photobucket), Hamar Mountains (I realise my example would require Cryptic to create a 'Hamar Mountains' region on Qo'nos, but let's move past that for the timebeing).
Once there, you scan the area < (Clickable link to photobucket). The scan function could be expanded to find and list any flora/fauna/lifeforms, alongside anomalies, so that you don't have to waste time running around an empty map on the offchance that there's a species you haven't catalogued yet.
Hopefully this illustrates the basic idea I have for this.
The various nebulas could have a higher percentage of certain species - Delta Volanis would generally yield pretty standard/already found lifeforms due to its proximity to Sol System, and the Eridan Belt and Khazan Cluster are more likely to yield certain types of life attracted there due to the supernova and all the mineral-rich asteroids (or something to that effect) like Horta, and so on.
The B'tran Cluster could have a higher chance of spawning increasingly rare species and such because of its proximity to the Borg and Undine (what with the Borg and their transgalactic plane lifeforms, and the whole other dimension the Undine come from). There's a chance here for Cryptic's art team to show us all of their wonderful zoological creations! Worms, spiders, cats, dogs, non-carbon based...
But why limit it to ground maps?
The Exobiology Database might have information regarding cosmozoans; say there's an entry on a cosmozoan once seen in the B'tran Cluster - much like the earlier example, you can then go and explore the B'tran cluster (as part of your normal Explore/Chart the B'tran cluster missions) and in any of those missions you have a very small chance of encountering the cosmozoan(s) mentioned, much if not exactly like there's a very small chance of encountering a Breen Capital Ship in Deferi dailies.
Further to this, I imagine you could have 'Cosmozoan Sightings' missions every so often, much like diplomatic First Contact missions, where whoever is heading up the Exobiology section of Starfleet or the KDF, will have information on a cosmozoan that was sighted in a certain nebula by a trade vessel/some vessel unable to further investigate, so they're sending you:
When you encounter the cosmozoan < (Clickable link to photobucket), you have try and make contact with them (similarly to First Contact missions where you need to pay attention to the race's beliefs and customs, you need to pay attention to the Cosmozoan's actions and reply accordingly - much like the Deferi Captives mission where you can 'negotiate' or 'fight', and the Voyager episode Elogium). Here is an example of how that type of mission might play out:
All being said, I think Exobiology would help give the STO universe a feeling of life and being populated and alive, as well as serving the purpose of giving those often lifeless ground maps with nothing but 5 debris parts, life. The ones where we scan the gaseous anomalies? Catalogue them! Would be great to make a Season 5 focused on fleshing out exploration and the universe's population
Edit to add: just to apologise for haphazardly flipping between KDF and Starfleet UI in the screenshots, however I imagine the system would work similarly for both sides - even the KDF must want to meet (and then take advantage of if possible?) new life.
Pure_big_mad_boat_man had a really cool idea where KDF players 'hunt' cosmozoans - here's an idea of how that might play out - should be a tough fight:
1. Accepting the mission < (Clickable link to photobucket).
2. Encountering the creature < (Clickable link to photobucket).
3. Dealing with the consequences < (Clickable link to photobucket).
4. Turning the mission in < (Clickable link to photobucket) (either way you get your exobiology entry). In order to make the it replayable like FIrst Contact missions, there is a lame excuse that it's not the 'white whale' that he was looking for, which allows you to go out and hunt more of them next time you get the mission the first time you defeat it, you get a trophy or something to hang on your wall - one of its horns maybe?
Amazing work here, those sample screenshots look great. I was about to say that this wouldn't take long to do (based on the KDF example) but you showed my that it can be expanded greatly to a missions were you must interact and make decisions or not make decisions in order to progress along this line of feature.
That is a really great idea for exploration. It makes way toooo much sense. Why would any player want to recreate the fight or flight tension found in the shows? I wish you could design like twenty varieties of that idea and sell them to Cryptic for cash.
I like every bit of information that you have, but if only the can be persistent. what i mean by that is when you do your scans and you find something with is a much with something else you scan before, i want that related to it that way it make the game more rich. but apart from that good work.