Massively's Community Detective, Issue #8: Fallen Earth


Welcome to another installment of Massively's Community Detective. This week, I pay a visit to a region decimated by economic and environmental collapse, widespread ignorance, and social anarchy run amok. No, it's not 21st century America but rather the fictional future-world of the Grand Canyon province as depicted in Icarus Studios' Fallen Earth. Travel forward in time with me to 2156 as we dodge plagues, mutated animals, and a big bit of nasty called the Shiva virus that lurks in the dark and dusty corners of the American southwest.

What exactly does this grim future hold? Is there hope for mankind? Have Facebook and American Idol died horrible, well-deserved deaths? Are Cool Ranch Doritos still available? Who cares about all that, we just want to know whether MMORPGs have great communities and good customer service, right? Fortunately, Fallen Earth fits both bills, even though each institution has its quirks.

Find out what's good, bad, and ugly about the game's social elements after the break.

Fallen Earth clone reboot interface
One of the first things you'll notice about Fallen Earth after you leave the tutorial instance is the enormous sense of scale. The world is one of the larger ones in the MMO space, and much like players in Vanguard, Fallen Earth's players are spread all over the map. Travel is also something of a throwback, as there is no "fast travel" to speak of, save for zoning between the large sector maps. Luckily the game does have global and regional chat channels (unlike last issue's Star Wars Galaxies), which made my info-collecting job a tad easier.

This week's methodology is pretty standard, as Fallen Earth features global help chat, which I used extensively to poll the community and get a sense of both its friendliness and helpfulness when it comes to newbs and their newbtastic questions. Fallen Earth also features a single server, much like earlier Community Detective subjects such as EVE Online and Darkfall, and it's much easier to get a clear picture of the overall community from these types of games than multi-server titles like EQII or Warhammer.

In addition to community interaction via chat (Fallen Earth is largely solo-oriented, so I didn't group as much as I have in past issues), I also tested the response of Icarus customer service representatives via the help ticket interface.

Community Case File graphic
Community polling began with the following question:

Where's the item I just crafted?
Fallen Earth's crafting system is unique, both because it is so pervasive throughout the course of the game, and because it basically allows anyone to craft anything if he's willing to invest the time. Time is an important but unobtrusive aspect of wasteland crafting, as Fallen Earth is one of the few titles that let you queue up a recipe and then forget about it until it's done, even if you go offline in the interim. One aspect of crafting that briefly baffled me (and might also be confusing for newbs) is the fact that you have to highlight the item in your queue and click "complete" before it is deposited in your inventory. It doesn't automatically show up upon crafting completion like you might expect.

I started out by asking a couple of random passerby in the newbie town of Midway, and when I didn't get a whole lot of help, I moved on to the regional chat channel. This wasn't terribly successful either, save for one chap who directed me to the global help channel, even after he'd answered the question. I made use of global help from there on out and asked the question at various times during the week including weekday afternoons, evenings, and weekends.

For the second community question, I asked the following:

Is this game solo friendly?
Given the eternal solo-vs.-group debate among MMO fans, this seemed a good way to generate discussion. Admittedly, it was also partially to satisfy my own curiosity as it's been several months (and several patches) since I actively played Fallen Earth. As with the previous query, I stuck to global help and asked at my traditional weekday afternoon, evening, and weekend time slots.

Discussion was fairly lively during the evening session, with upwards of 10 people bantering back and forth. The weekend and weekday afternoon periods were more subdued. I got a few tells, a clan invite, and a general consensus (mostly soloable with grouping required for only a handful of dungeons).

Analysis
Fallen Earth's community is quite welcoming in almost every respect. I got all my questions answered, almost immediately, regardless of the day or time. After a few play sessions, you'll start to see some familiar names, as the same regulars hang out in the /help channel to offer their services along with the Hazmat team (volunteer player helpers) and the occasional Icarus GM. Cozy is the only word that really comes to mind; Fallen Earth, for all its grandiose game-world size, feels like a small town where everyone knows your name.

That said, there is the occasional RTFM individual. You know the type I mean; if you dare to ask something that might've been covered in paragraph XIV, section 28 of the FAQ, they're going to let you know about it. I'm not sure what it is about some folks that makes them hesitate to help people, but I ran across a couple of these guys during my wasteland polling. By and large, though, Fallen Earth's community is one of the best I've sampled in terms of friendliness and helpfulness, right up there with SWG's Starsider and LOTRO's Landroval.

Customer Service Case File
Icarus customer service has a fairly decent reputation, and I decided to put that to the test via the traditional method of support ticket testing. I filed a deleted item ticket using the /support command, which pops up a fast-loading in-game browser window pre-loaded with the Fallen Earth knowledge base. Submitting a help petition is as easy as clicking the "ask a question" button on the far right, then filling in the prompts.

My petition, concerning a deleted starter armorcraft kit, received an immediate acknowledgment email, followed by a GM response less than an hour later. It contained the familiar "we can't restore a deleted item" refrain, but unlike many of the responses in games we've surveyed thus far, the email also featured detailed instructions on how to go about replacing the item with a better one via Fallen Earth's auction house, tradeskilling, and NPC merchant systems.

It should be noted that players can also contact Icarus GMs in the game. The process involves opening the social menu (the "o" key by default) and filtering the minimum and maximum player levels to 51 and 100, respectively. Next, select "any" from the "county" drop-down box and you'll likely see one or two level 65 players. These are your online GMs, and they can be contacted via private tell just like a player. I elected not to bother them this time around, preferring instead to probe the help ticket apparatus. My next trip through the wasteland will feature some one-on-one GM interaction, as the GMs are notoriously helpful and quick to muzzle rebellious denizens of the help channel.

Analysis
Fallen Earth's customer service, while not providing the resolution I'd like, does get high marks for responsiveness. The acknowledgment and resolution responses were timely and concise, as well as informative regarding an alternate solution to the problem. Icarus gives the impression of caring for its customers even when delivering a negative response, which goes a long way toward generating good will (and repeat business).

That concludes this week's trip to the wasteland. As always, share your own experiences in the comments, and let me know if you have questions or ideas for return visits to Fallen Earth as well as more of your favorite MMORPGs.





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.