Prior to moving forward, however, it's always fun to take a look back (particularly at this time of year). Join me after the cut for a year-end recap of 2010's most memorable case studies.
Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars Galaxies from the list, which is a crying shame because those two titles feature a pair of the most inviting communities in online gaming.
Anyhow, enough of the apologetic qualifiers -- to the list we go!
It's hard not including Blizzard's behemoth in any community-centric list that takes itself semi-seriously. Aside from the fact that the game's community is the largest in the subscription genre (and depending on whom you talk to and how they spin their numbers, possibly the largest period), the game is also noteworthy for the various subcultures that have sprung up on its many servers. One such is the notorious lot on the Moon Guard server, and I paid them a visit earlier this fall to see what all the hoopla was about.
The community simultaneously earned its unsavory reputation and featured quite a few folks who seemed to buck the stereotype, illustrating that there's really no substitute for first-hand experience when it comes to evaluating an MMO.
Blizzard's customer service was exemplary, both in terms of satisfactory resolutions and speed/polish/professionalism. The fact that the company passed an unscripted customer test (in the form of one of my accounts being compromised) was further proof that there's Blizzard customer service... and then there's the rest of the crowd.
Icarus Studios' Fallen Earth provided one of the more enjoyable soirees in the short history of this column. The two-week stay was over far too quickly for my liking, and the game's insular community feels like one of those small towns where everybody knows your name (and they're always glad you came). I did run across a few know-it-alls who berated me for asking questions that could be answered via some proactive forum research, but by and large the Grand Canyon wasteland features one of the most desirable communities I've experienced in an MMO.
Icarus customer service was a mixed bag. Response times were great and the overall attitude was positive, but ultimately the CSRs weren't able to solve my problem, and consequently, I can't rate the experience as highly as the community portion of the case.
Mythic's RvR opus boasted a surprisingly friendly community, at least during my particular test run in early August. Since the game exists for one reason and one reason only (PvP), I was more than a little shocked to find low levels of snarkiness and high levels of maturity and insight. I sampled the populations on the Volkmar and Badlands servers, and both boasted veterans with a vested interest in answering newb questions and generally rolling out the welcome mat. This treatment stood out in sharp contrast to other PvP-oriented gaming communities explored earlier in the summer (notably EVE Online and Darkfall).
Unfortunately for Mythic, the superlatives didn't extend to its customer service apparatus. Whether it was the fact that simply acknowledging (never mind resolving) a help ticket took a whopping four days, or the absence of communication aside from form emails, the experience left quite a lot to be desired on all fronts. Mythic community manager Andy Belford subsequently contacted Massively to protest the piece, and his take on my findings was included with an update to the article.
Ah, Global Agenda, such a paradox. On the one hand, I'm an unrepentant fanboy. It was the only title I'd never played prior to featuring it as a Community Detective case file, and it's the only one that I'm still playing on a daily basis after featuring it. The game itself is stupidly addictive, but egads, what a community.
Whether you're into racial slurs, homophobia, or any other kind of male-dominated locker room depravity, you'll find it in the city chats (and occasionally the voice-enabled merc matches) of Hi-Rez's MMO shooter. Like the community in any game, the GA community does feature its share of upstanding and helpful folks. That said, the signal to noise ratio here is so absurdly skewed towards the profane that it's hard to ignore it unless you come to the game with a pre-existing set of friends (and keep in mind that this is coming from someone who thinks swearing is a fine and under-appreciated art form). It's too bad, as Hi-Rez has a gem of a game on its hands, but one that is desperately crying out for a dedicated moderator or two.
If Fallen Earth's community was small-town friendly, Vanguard's bunch is downright familial. While that may sound creepy on the surface (depending on your family of course), I mean it as the highest form of compliment. With apologies to the terrific communities in SWG and LotRO, Vanguard's single-server mash-up is how MMORPG communities should be.
Helpfulness? Check. Friendliness? Check. Willingness to group with anyone at the drop of a hat? Check. SOE's troubled fantasy game has all of these community qualities, not to mention a mature playerbase that is light years removed from the daycare centers of WoW and Global Agenda. The only problem is the numbers. Vanguard's community is small (and by most accounts, getting smaller), due to the game's rocky history and the fact that all the original servers have been condensed into a single remaining shard. Check it out while it lasts if you haven't already. Given the way the industry is headed ("action" MMOs and an eternally transient population enabled by F2P), Vanguard is a dying breed in terms of both gameplay and community.
On the customer service front, SOE is at the head of the class. In fact, out of all the 2010 case studies, only Blizzard can top SOE in terms of friendliness, response time, and positive resolution. All of my tickets were answered and followed up on in great detail, and the SOE CSRs even managed to restore two deleted characters while they were at it. That's a far cry from the "sorry, we can't do that" refrains that most companies trot out when you ask for a simple item restoration, nevermind an entire avatar and all its trappings.
And that, as they say, is how we do that. Thanks for reading Community Detective in 2010, and be sure to join me on the other side of January 1st for more insights into the world of MMORPG communities and customer service. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.