Welcome to the Eorzea edition of Massively's Community Detective. I've been spending a fair bit of time in Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XIV of late and have finally managed to collate some data on the game's community and customer service apparatus. Those of you looking for a ranty review of Square's much-maligned epic probably won't find what you're looking for here, although I'll occasionally offer a bit of side commentary on my in-game experiences to go along with the usual community questions and support tickets.

Without further ado then, let's jump into the Age of Adventure.

Ul'dah camp
Before I dive into the details, let me give a quick nod to this week's methodology. Final Fantasy XIV is a strange beast of a game and necessitated some shifts in my usual data collection approach. It boasts a number of servers and communities, and I elected to focus on one of the more populated shards for this initial look at the game. I rolled two characters on the Besaid server, spending a good bit of time in and around both Limsa Lominsa and Ul'dah. For my community questions, I made use of the game's spatial chat, tell system, and linkshells to poll my fellow players. Due to the lack of true global channels (that don't require an invite) and the lack of noteworthy responses in spatial, I've eschewed the usual concluding data table in favor of giving you my general impressions on the community question responses.

Additionally, I submitted an in-game GM petition and a help ticket on Square's support website, both designed to test the game's customer service system.

Community case file graphic
This week's community interaction started with the following question:

How do I change my resolution settings?
This may sound like a silly question to ask of a game community, but due to a few of the bizarre departures from conventional design present in FFXIV (like external-only configuration controls buried in the game's install folder), there really is no such thing as a stupid question. As per Community Detective tradition, I asked this question at various times of the day and week, concentrating on weekday afternoons, evenings, and the weekend. I also asked it in spatial chat (a 50-foot radius around your character), /shout, and in a few linkshells that invited me.

Answers in spatial and /shout were virtually non-existent, and it wasn't until getting into a linkshell that I began to realize the enormous differences between the community setup in FFXIV and the majority of other MMORPGs.

For my second community question, I opted for a more gameplay-related topic:

Where do I sell my wares?
While this was also a seemingly simple subject, once again the normal rules don't apply in FFXIV. As our own Eliot Lefebvre recently pointed out, Square's market system is an unmitigated disaster, and new players will no doubt have a few head-scratching moments of their own as they attempt to wrap their brains around the game's obstacle-filled approach to commerce. I used the same methodology as before in regard to days, times, and chat channels. This time around, I received a few answers in spatial but again, the majority of replies came via linkshell.

Analysis graphic
Final Fantasy XIV's community is an interesting construct. At first blush, you might think it's comprised of some of the most unfriendly, solo-focused MMO players in the short history of the genre. As it turns out, this has more to do with the game's goofy design than the community itself. Those poor souls flitting around and attempting to communicate in spatial or /shout are likely to be turned off (at least initially), as responses are few and far between despite the large number of players rushing about the game's hub locations. Joining a linkshell -- the game's guild/chat channel hybrid -- is almost mandatory for connecting with your fellow players and tackling FFXIV's learning curve. You can take part in up to eight linkshells simultaneously, and they function mostly like global channels do in other games.

Despite my inability to get any definitive answers to my questions via spatial chat, it wasn't a complete loss. More than once, I was approached by random roleplayers (mostly around the camps and aetheryte locations that seem to be social hubs) who initiated some fun exchanges that I was loathe to break with OOC questions. Also, during my time as a fisherman, I met several kindred souls who shared my affinity for particular fishing spots and who (when not angling their way up the progression ladder) took the time to congratulate me on level-ups and the like.

Customer service case file graphic
Seeing as this was my first real attempt at an online Square-Enix title (I don't count the multiple Final Fantasy XI trials that failed to hook me over the years), I had no idea what to expect in terms of customer service. To test it out, I elected to file both an in-game petition and a support website ticket.

The in-game support menu is fairly robust and accessible via the support desk link on the main menu tab. You'll be presented with a menu listing four options: FAQ, general questions, feedback, and report. The first one is pretty self-explanatory and needs no elaboration. The general questions tab will link you to the external support website, which is where you'll need to file account-related petitions and the like. The feedback button also directs you to the above link and suggests a number of forms for certain types of feedback submission. The report button is subtitled harassment, bad names, RMT solicitation, and stuck; clicking it opens up another window with a "GM Call" button.

I managed to get my character stuck in the world geometry a short way outside of Camp Black Brush and made use of the GM Call button for assistance. After a short wait, my plea for help was addressed by a live GM. I also filed a support ticket on the aforementioned site, which, after a bit of menu-hopping, directed me to a live chat interface. The agent was prompt and courteous and handled my ticket in an efficient manner.

Analysis graphic
I can't classify Square's customer service as anything other than first-rate. For the in-game GM petition, the response time was under 20 minutes, which seems a bit on the high side for urgent issues but is still pretty good for a newly released game straining under the weight of curious tire-kickers and packed servers. In addition to the prompt assistance, GM Alantinka was quite chatty and personable and ended our conversation by soliciting performance-related feedback.

GM AlantinkaThe website support ticket experience was similarly smooth, and Square should really think about streamlining its initial account creation process (an absolute abomination of unnecessary steps, confusion, and general unfriendliness) to match its website support system. After logging in with your master account, you're free to click the "contact" button and fill in a few brief blanks, after which you'll be connected with a live help chat representative. GM Nicole was just as pleasant and helpful as her in-game counterpart, and my issue (quest advancement) was resolved in a matter of moments with very little fuss.

If I had to find one thing to pick on with regard to Square's customer service, it would be the lack of an email trail to track your open tickets (and ticket history). There are buttons for both on the support website, but SOE's methodology of sending you mails at each step of the process seems like a little less work for the customer.

That about does it for my first foray into Eorzea's Age of Adventure. Despite some of the forum rancor you've no doubt read pertaining to Final Fantasy XIV's gameplay and level of polish, the community and customer service are actually quite good as far as MMORPGs go. The former takes some getting used to because of the game's unorthodox design, but the latter is on par with the best that the genre currently has to offer. Until next time, I'll see you in the wilds around Ul'dah, and don't forget to weigh in with your opinions in the comments.

Fishing

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.
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