"We hope you understand that there's nothing we can do at the moment," says the support email we just received from Aventurine, developers of Darkfall. Not exactly what you want to hear from customer service, is it?

Welcome to another issue of Massively's Community Detective, where we're primed and ready to take you into the trenches of MMORPG community and customer service. This week we've got full-blown battlefields complete with land mines, dismemberment, e-peen waving, and all the other things you've come to know and love about PvP. Yes, we're delving into the world of Darkfall, and if that's not enough for you, we'll also be heading for the heavens in a very different (but equally cutthroat) PvP sandbox called EVE Online.

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

Before we take the plunge, let's spend a moment to review our current methodology. A few things have changed since last week, both as a result of reader feedback and because the games currently under the microscope are quite different than Age of Conan and EverQuest II in terms of logistics.

Darkfall and EVE Online both feature one server (well, Darkfall technically features two, the North American and European shards, but for the purposes of this column, and for the time being, we're studying American servers). Thus, we don't have the opportunity to ask our questions and file help petitions on multiple server types (PvE, PvP, RP, etc.). That said, we do have the opportunity to interact with a much larger swath of the game's community in one sitting. Whether or not this gives a truer picture is open to debate, but it makes for an interesting comparison with last week regardless.

As before, our intrepid detectives create characters and interact at random with the player population, using everything from global chat questions, to personal tells, to pickup groups. We'll also file support tickets with each game's customer service system, gauging response time, resolution satisfaction, and intangibles such as professionalism and friendliness.

Darkfall
presented something of a challenge when we were deciding how and where to ask our questions, as the playerbase is rather fragmented despite existing on one shard. Each racial choice has its own alliance chat channel (as well as a trade channel) shared with other good/evil aligned races, and little to no interaction with opposing races aside from combat activities. As such, we created characters in each racial starter zone and asked our questions in each simply to get a larger feel for the community.

EVE presented no such problem. Even though there are four starting races in New Eden, everyone on the server has access to the same global help channel.

For Darkfall, we began with the following community question:

Before you harp on a seemingly silly question, consider that Darkfall's interface is markedly different from that of your conventional MMORPG, and not particularly intuitive for first-time players. To decipher the mystery of the screenshot, we created mirdain (light elf), human, and ork characters and tried our luck on three different occasions: a weekday afternoon, a weeknight, and a weekend.

The question was mostly ignored in the mirdain/human/dwarf chat; there was one response several minutes after we asked, despite the fact that numerous people were talking in channel at the time. There was a pretty lengthy discussion about spells and magic schools ongoing between several players, but whether our question was deemed too newbish to answer or was accidentally overlooked is unclear.

Our ork character fared no better, as he was also completely ignored.

For our second Darkfall question, we aimed for more of a direct response:

Given the game's group-centric design, it's no surprise that this one netted us a fair number of responses. Responses were immediate and the discussions pretty long-winded, with most players coming down heavily on the side of joining a clan ASAP, while a few dissenters insisted the game could be enjoyed solo. The evil racial chat (alfar, mahirim, ork) featured the longest discussion, while we received personal tells in the good racial chat (dwarf, human, mirdain) and quite a lot of helpful advice on selecting the appropriate clan.

A reference to male anatomy was unfortunately the very first thing that rolled across our chat box as we logged our initial test character into the world of Agon. This was followed shortly thereafter by colorful descriptions of everyone's mothers, and of course a veritable thesaurus of four-letter words.

All that said, the game's community isn't as toxic as you might assume. Yes, it is completely lacking in both political correctness and common courtesy at times (and moderation doesn't exist), but if our week-long session was any indicator, it also features a fairly decent concentration of knowledgeable players, a few of whom are willing to answer newb queries. It reminded us a lot of Xbox Live multiplayer chat, minus the high-pitched pubescent screaming and plus a whole lot of grammatical facepalms. The nice folks are around, but are often drowned out by the riff-raff.

We did have some trouble getting answers for one of the questions, as noted above, but as Darkfall is a PvP-game where every moment is an exercise in paranoia, we can't say for sure whether the cause was community unfriendliness or the nature of the game itself. We suspect a bit of both.

For CCP's EVE Online, our first community question was pretty standard fare:

Yes, it's a completely newbtastic question that many people probably answer for themselves while doing a little pre-purchase research. That said, we felt it was worth asking due to the polarizing effect that Incarna has on the EVE community. As we did with Darkfall, we asked on a weekday afternoon, a weeknight, and a weekend in order to get a good sampling. Unlike Darkfall, the game features a true global channel, and the client helpfully alerted us to the number of people viewing it at any given time (700-900 on the weekdays, 1000 and up on weekends).

Responses were immediate and varied, and in each time frame, the channel erupted with people interested in helping us out as well as a few people intent on messing with us.

Our second question was a bit more involved:

This one also generated a fair number of responses, and though only two players took the time to start a private convo (personal tell), the community made sure we got our answers almost immediately. During the weeknight period, the question spawned a lengthy discussion about forming your own solo corporation and also attracted a rather vocal troll who seemed determined to educate everyone on the evils of soloing in the multiplayer genre.

EVE's community offered few surprises. By and large it seems like a cerebral bunch that isn't averse to answering questions but also isn't inclined to do much hand-holding. Even though our first question was purposefully designed to be something of an irritation to vets opposed to Incarna, it was nonetheless answered in detail on every occasion. One player in particular was sympathetic to our newbness, offering painstaking instructions on right-clicking, leaving your ships, the lore behind escape pods, and a load of other related information.

Because it's EVE, there was also a player who delighted in feeding us false information about how to walk around the outside of your ship, kit out your human avatar, and generally do a lot of brain-bendingly awesome stuff that the game doesn't yet support. The only real surprise here was that there weren't more like him.

Following on from last week, our approach to analyzing these games is two-fold: community questions and customer service evaluations. For both Darkfall and EVE, we submitted customer service tickets using the provided support systems. Normally we'll submit one ticket per game due to the impracticality of submitting multiple tickets on the same account in a short time period. While our support issues are real issues, they are ones that we've manufactured in most cases. Occasionally we'll get lucky and actually have an in-game issue crop up (like last week's EQII quest advancement problem), but most of the time we're creating the problems in the interest of bringing our column to you in a timely manner.

For Darkfall, we decided to see how Aventurine handles equipment loss claims. We deleted a couple of inventory items and filed a support ticket asking for their reinstatement or some sort of compensation. We submitted the ticket around 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday and had our answer less than 10 minutes later. While the Darkfall team gets high marks for response time, the resolution wasn't what we hoped, as it was basically a politely worded variation on "tough luck."

Aventurine's customer service is spot-on in terms of responsiveness. However, it's quite rough around the edges in terms of accessibility and (at least in our test case) customer satisfaction. First off, we couldn't find any way to submit a ticket in-game. There may well be one, but after a half hour of fumbling around the game's slow-loading user interface, we gave up and tabbed out to have a look at the official website. The support option was readily available and efficiently presented here, and we filed with no further frustrations. There's also a nifty high/medium/low priority drop-down box that you can use, which, while probably for show, at least gives the impression that you have some control over your ticket.

We received an immediate confirmation mail, followed by the resolution and ticket-closing mail approximately nine minutes after submitting. "We took the time to escalate your request and we were informed that currently there is a no-refund policy of in-game items in Darkfall. We currently have no easy way of verifying even legitimate claims. We hope you understand that there's nothing we can do at the moment," says the resolution mail.

For our EVE test case, we initially chose to file a ticket stating that we couldn't leave our newb corporation (the game doesn't let you do this, i.e., you can't be unguilded, you'd have to join a player corp or form your own). We submitted our ticket in-game around 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday. We submitted a second ticket (on a separate account) a couple hours later due to the lack of any sort of confirmation or response on the first ticket.

The second ticket was a lost item simulation similar to the Darkfall test, only this time we deleted one of our ships (it was only a T1 frigate, EVE vets, so stop squirming). As of press time, we have received a response on the second ticket but not the first.

EVE surprised us in this case, as we've played the game off and on over the years and received fairly prompt responses to tickets on a couple of occasions. The good news is that the in-game submission process is first-rate. In fact, it really should be so easy in all MMORPGs. The bad news, obviously, is the fact that nearly two days elapsed without so much as a confirmation of receipt message. We finally heard back from GM Blanton at approximately 1:00 p.m. Monday with regard to the second ticket, and he helpfully restored our deleted frigate while providing a warning for future incidents. "Please be more careful in the future as this is not a service we can normally offer," he wrote. He also followed up with a final message after we updated the petition with our thanks.

As of press time, we have yet to hear anything on the first ticket. In CCP's defense, the account had a similar ticket opened on it almost a year ago, so it's possible they looked at it, saw the previous resolution (basically an explanation of why they couldn't grant the request), and figured that was good enough. If we had to do it again we'd choose a different angle, but regardless, it would have been nice to at least receive an acknowledgment that the ticket was filed.

While EVE's resolution (in the case of the second ticket) was great, the response time and friendliness left a lot to be desired, particularly when compared to the experiences we had last week in EQII.

In response to reader comments from last week's inaugural issue, we decided to add a feature to our community examination, namely, pickup group reports. As always, let's start with a quick look at methodology (and also note that this can and probably will change based on feedback and other factors). For our pickup group analysis, we attempt to join (or start) one during our normal community polling times: weekdays, weeknights, or weekends. Whichever instance proves most newsworthy is the one we'll put in print.

For Darkfall, we had a pretty tough time getting anything together during any of the time slots, finally settling on a two-man goblin-killing group based out of Monkfield in the human starter area. We were moderately successful, though we did lose a handful of gold and looted goblin weapons to gankers. Even so, a fun time was had and each of us learned something about game and group dynamics.

The game is ultimately slanted towards larger groups however, whether they be raiding parties or full clans, as there is only so much two people can do before they're steamrolled by a larger force. Also, you can draw your own conclusions from the fact that we tried for several hours over multiple days to get a group together. In our estimation, the vast majority of the playerbase is already in a clan and not really looking to group with newbs.

We fared a bit better in EVE, joining up with a couple of high-sec mining fleets on different occasions. Most of our time was spent fending off "rats" (NPC pirates that lurk among the asteroid belts), and we also got in a bit of time behind the mining lasers before splitting our haul with the group.

Grouping in EVE seems much more accessible when compared to Darkfall, and that's without availing ourselves of EVE University, the player corporation designed to acclimate newbs and train them on EVE's various systems.

We're out of time for this week. We hope you've gleaned some useful info about the community and customer service experiences in Agon and New Eden. Don't forget to reference the tables below to see the data we collected. Also check in with the column over time as we return to previously visited games to evaluate their progress. Finally, look for a new community feature, Forum Watch, coming soon.




* deleted item restoration request
** corporation removal request (unanswered) and deleted item restoration request (answered)

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 jef@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.