Before you read, this is just me taking a guess multiple times for fun, but it is likely that this is how stuffs works:
The thing is, even if players can't test something on tribble it goes on there anyway since the system Cryptic uses to release their versions usually goes through tribble. I will take the guess that Cryptic has four builds (they probably have more than that but for simplicity...), Holodeck, Tribble, Redshirt and Internal (although Cryptic has stated before that they use Redshirt internally when it is not out to the Public, when this happens they wipe the redshirt version and transfer the current tribble onto it then they wipe tribble and place an internal build onto it), they can choose to either start at Internal and progress out, which catches bugs better, or to accelerate it higher in the chain to Tribble or holodeck, therefore reaching everyone faster.
It is much better to only add things ealier in that chain, otherwise it can lead to nightmares linking code together, or at the very least inconvience when those programmers could be doing something else. Even if it wasen't the case, Cryptic would have to bring down the servers just to add a flamethrower when they can just add it next week (which would waste developer time and inconvience a lot of players). Even if those players can't wait for that flamethrower.
There are test NPCs at DS9, although they do only carry the equipment that is for the next season (that season still stays on tribble for a while even if it has been released on holodeck).
</NOT_A_GUESS> I know its not that funny, although I have this little belief: lame jokes are perhaps the best kind of joke since you laugh not only a little bit at the joke itself but also at the lameness (I am calling it a joke since I can't find the proper word, also this reminds me of the moment when someone said to delusional Tu'vok: if you put it like that, its not even funny at all)
As for why the rep system is not just boosted up to tier 5, it is perhaps because the devs don't want to mess with the database storing player info since they already have a system in place for transfering gear to players directly or via NPCs. Who knows it could be as simple as select icon to use for gear, enter amounts for stats to be boosted, enter rarity and enter how the item should bind, go. Then the program automatically enters this information into the database when given to a player. Also since systems would be in place to prevent players from getting more than one item due to lag on a server manually entering those entries in a database could require checking other databases or logs or who knows what.
Well, the thing is, nobody has tested the new Plasma Flamethrower in a while.
Last I heard it was still a work in progress when it was removed from the test server.
So it could still be flawed.
I'm uncertain if it's still acting like this, but get the Romulan specific plasma pistol (can't remember what it's called, but it's distinctive, so is easy to find, look under ground gear, plasma weapons) from the Dil store and check out what it does.
The first time I used it, the beam emission hardpoint was at my feet, not out of the barrel of the gun!
Another player tested it too and discovered the same thing.
And that uses a similar mechanic to the Plasma Flamethrower, charge based firing.
Obviously that should have been tested before putting it on live, because any decent tester would have noticed that in seconds!