Massively's Community Detective: The customer service case files, Issue #1

"Glad you made it to Age of Conan, and please, please feel free to look me up if you need any further help or want a group." When that bit of purple private tell text scrolled through the chat box of of our newly created guardian last week, it was clear that we weren't finding what we initially expected when we set out to research the community in Funcom's sword and sorcery MMORPG.

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Massively's Community and Customer Service Investigations. Together we'll be examining all kinds of interesting factoids about both the community and customer service aspects of your favorite MMORPGs. If community is the heartbeat of this genre, we're here to take its pulse, and arm you with the information you need to make informed decisions when it comes time to look for greener pastures. Similarly, a game's customer service record can provide a gauge on everything from the professionalism of the overall operation to the health of the company behind it, and our investigations will put the system through its paces to bring you both hard data and analysis over time.

This week's issue examines two PvE-focused games, one large and one small, in the form of EverQuest II and Age of Conan, respectively.

Join us after the cut to see how the titles fared in terms of community and customer service.

First things first, let's take a quick look at our current methodology. With regard to taking the pulse of a game's community, our sleuths create characters and interact with players at random, both in global chat and in pickup groups. We ask a couple of general questions, recording the responses and the general feel of the conversation. Depending on the game, we'll conduct these surveys on multiple server types (American servers exclusively, for the time being) and at different times during the day and week in order to get a clearer picture of a title's overall community.

For SOE's EverQuest II, we began with a relatively simple question:

The answers varied by time of day and by server (we checked it out on both PvE and PvP servers, as well as on weekday mornings, prime time, and weekend prime time), but by and large they were friendly, informative, and welcoming on both Lucan D'Lere (PvE) and Nagafen (PvP). Answers were more detailed (and there were more of them) on the PvE shard, but on the whole both servers gave off positive vibes regardless of the time of day or day of the week. Multiple individuals on
the PvE server also took the time to correspond with us via tells to ensure we had gotten the message, whereas the PvP server replies were restricted to global chat and a bit more terse.

Our second EverQuest II query was designed to be a bit less newb-tastic:

Once again, we checked it out on two different server types and at three different times during the week. As with our first question, the answers were quite helpful and specific, with no judgment passed on our experience level, parentage, or overall intelligence. Both server types featured no-nonsense replies which came quickly via personal tells and global chat.

There were no real surprises when it came to the data gathered from EQII's community. As you would expect with an older and well-developed title, the community features knowledgeable folks, and many of those folks are quick to offer both advice and a helping hand.

For Funcom's Age of Conan, our first question was relatively basic:

As with EQII, we tested on multiple server types, in this case Wiccana (PvE) and Cimmeria (PvP), as well as the same weekday morning, prime time and weekend prime time hours. The Age of Conan community was by and large receptive and helpful, with particularly personal and detailed responses coming through on Wiccana. The Cimmerian community was more interested in debating American politics than answering newbish questions, and the replies, while accurate, were quickly lost in a barrage of liberal/conservative insults and associated bickering. Wiccana, by contrast, featured a handful of answers in global chat as well as four separate private tell conversations, two of which went out of their way to welcome us to the game and ask if we needed any additional assistance.

Our second Age of Conan question also dealt with the hotbars:

This question generated plenty of responses on both servers, and allowed for folks to put a bit more detail into their responses. The server response breakdown was similar to the first question, though there were a few more thoughtful responses on Cimmeria this time around.

Our Age of Conan data was somewhat surprising, and indicative of the kind of inaccurate perceptions that can occur if word-of-mouth is substituted for first-hand experience. Funcom's low-fantasy theme park is widely believed to feature a toxic community, and whether this is due to its mature content rating, its hefty doses of PvP, or some combination of the two, the reality is that our data shows a player base that is on par (and in some cases even surpasses) that of EverQuest II in terms of friendliness towards newer players.

Server choice does play a large role in determining your AoC experience, but even on the FFA PvP shard, no insults or derogatory statements were made in reference to our questions, and folks made sure we got our answers. It's also worth noting that non-game discussions (be they political or otherwise) have a way of cropping up often regardless of your server. Wiccana has its share of highly charged global cat fights, but generally less of them than Cimmeria in our experience. Age of Conan also features a very loose chat moderation policy due to its mature content rating. Argumentative discussions are more likely to occur in such an environment (as opposed to EQII), and the moderation is basically non-existent.

MMORPG customer service is, of course, entirely separate from a game's community. That said, we find it helpful to group the two experiences together in our analysis because it gives a clear picture of the total social experience in a particular title. For our customer service test cases, we filed one support ticket per game. Due to the nature of tickets being tied to particular accounts, it was impractical to test responses on multiple days (and with real issues) to the extent that we did with the community questions.

Our first EQII ticket dealt with quest advancement. One of the early quests in the Commonlands timeline outside of the city of Freeport tasks the player with finding a particular drop off of particular NPCs. The quest, Bloodskull Intentions, requires you to kill quite a lot of Bloodskull tower guards to obtain a set of their orders. After several days of killing hundreds of these mobs (and basically outleveling the area as a result) we filed a support ticket.

Approximately fifteen minutes after filing the petition we were contacted in-game by SOE GM-Dragonember. It was a bit of a surprising experience, as a small red dragon (similar to the player dragon pets) literally dropped out of the sky and ran at warp speed across the city street to stand next to our character. The GM was quite helpful, and the process involved nothing more complicated than selecting the quest in my journal, waiting a few seconds, and receiving the desired update ding. The support request was also followed up with an email letter to the account address soliciting feedback and satisfaction.

EQII gets high marks for both response time and friendliness. Our support ticket was filed at approximately 7:30 pm eastern on a Saturday night, and quite frankly we weren't expecting any contact before Monday, let alone the quick resolution that we received. The GM's demeanor was also quite friendly, and the follow-up email gave the impression that the company cares about the overall player experience, as it was a mixture of form letter and personal GM notes.

Our AoC support ticket dealt with a stuck character. We managed to get our newb marooned behind one of the walkways in Tortage, with no easy way of jumping or walking back out onto a normal path, and filed a petition to gauge GM response. The ticket was created at approximately 10:30 am eastern on a Thursday. As with EQII, response was on the ball, we waited no more than ten minutes before being contacted by GM-Karelthar, who promptly teleported our hapless newb out of his predicament.

AoC gets high marks for responsiveness, however, the personal touch displayed in EQII was lacking. Aside from the canned messages both acknowledging the petition and closing it, the GM was all business and not terribly interested in chit-chatting with us. This is not to impune the AoC staff; it was a professionally handled encounter, but in comparison to the EQII petition response, it lacked warmth and that little something extra that causes a customer to become a raving fan.

It's worth noting that Funcom also sent a post-incident email, though it was purely to entice us to submit performance feedback rather than to follow up and ensure satisfaction with our particular issue.

So, that's all the time we have to investigate this week. We hope you've gleaned some useful information about the human elements at work in both EverQuest II and Age of Conan. You can also reference the tables below to easily see the data we collected. This isn't the last you'll see of these two titles either, as we'll periodically return to games we've studied in the past to check up on both their community and customer service progress over time. Join us next week as we turn our magnifying glass on a couple of PvP titles: Darkfall and EVE Online.

* EQII customer service ticket: unable to advance quest
** AoC customer service ticket: stuck character

- special thanks to Daniel McFatter for the graphics

Join Jef Reahard every other week as he goes behind the scenes to file first-hand community and customer service reports from the front lines of your favorite genre titles. From Aion to Zentia, the Community Detective case files are an essential part of any game-hopper's research library. Suggestions welcome, care of
This article was originally published on Massively.