Community Detective Issue #17: Runes of Magic

Welcome to issue 17 of Community Detective (wow, 17, has it been that many already?). Anyhow, this week I figured I'd broaden my horizons a little bit. While I've delved into the free-to-play genre before with Global Agenda, Hi-Rez Studios' MMO shooter is not your average F2P title (there's no item shop, for example, and the game is one of a recent spate of MMOs to start off with a subscription and subsequently switch to F2P). This time around, I'm well and truly submerging myself in a "real" (i.e., from the ground up) F2P game, and the subject of this week's study is Runes of Magic.

Runewaker's fantasy world is nearing its second birthday, and the first year and change hasn't been without controversy. The game is published by Frogster in both America and Europe, and the German-based giant is often called onto the carpet by fans upset with its zealous forum moderation and alleged poor customer service.

How bad is it really? Well the community portion of the equation was quite good. On the other hand, the support experience wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination. As with all Community Detective pieces though, that comes with the disclaimer that this report stems from a very specific set of circumstances (i.e., your mileage may vary).

Runes of Magic Howling Mountains
For this week's foray into the world of Taborea, I opted to roll a few characters on the Artemis server. Artemis was consistently listed as crowded or full on the server selection menu (and I had a pre-existing toon there from a number of months back). I made use of multiple accounts for my testing, mainly because of the strange item shop setup and the fact that I couldn't get it to work right at first (more on this later).

As with past columns, I asked a couple of general questions in the game's equivalent of global chat. I also ran around the Howling Mountains zone talking to random newbs, but the majority of this week's community polling took place via the world channel. I asked my questions at different times of the day and on different days of the week to get a feel for the community on Artemis, and I also filed a deleted item ticket to test the in-game customer service functionality.

Community Case file graphic
To kick off the community discussion, I asked the following question:

How do I talk in global?
You might be wondering how I managed to ask this question in global, or why I would need to ask it all. Well, in what has to be a first in my long MMORPG experience, I couldn't talk in global chat at first because Runes of Magic makes you pay for the privilege. I had to spend a chunk of cash in the game's item shop to procure some megaphones (each one set me back 69 diamonds -- RoM's item shop currency -- and came with 25 charges, one of which was subtracted every time I typed in /y). For purposes of this column (which usually features a heavy amount of chatting over global channels), I needed to get several stacks of the megaphones in order to conduct my polling.

Anyway, I had to ask a few people around the Howling Mountains zone chat before I finally found someone who could tell me what to look for in the item shop. After I'd obtained this information, I launched some global questions.

Where do I get a mount?
The answers to this question were fairly stock (i.e., I was directed to the item shop and the game's wiki), and people were generally helpful regardless of the time of day or day of the week.

For the second question, I went with the tried-and-true discussion-friendly soloing question:

Is this game solo-friendly?
Answers varied quite a bit on this one as they always do, and a couple of lengthy discussions were spawned in the weeknight and weekend play periods.

Analysis
The Artemis community was pretty friendly overall, and I didn't run into a single troll or heckler during all of my polling periods (and that's a first in the history of this column). The global and zone chats are generally full of WTB/WTS advertisements, and there's also quite a bit of guild recruitment going on around the clock, but people were kind enough to answer my questions around all of the commerce-related chatter.

Interestingly, Runes of Magic seems somewhat immune to the growing troll epidemic that I've noticed in my regular titles. Age of Conan and Global Agenda have gotten particularly bad of late, as you can't go five minutes without some jackhole firing off the "WoW was the first MMO" or "why do they call it the Xbox 360" memes in global chat.

I didn't see a single occurrence of either of these infantile amusements (or any others) during my 10-plus days in Taborea. I'd like to say that's because the community is more mature than other MMO destinations. The reality probably has more to do with the fact that you have to pay real-world money to spam global chat, though, which is the only positive thing I can say about such a mechanic. Getting back to RoM's Artemis community, I'm hard-pressed to report anything bad about it. On the whole, it was very friendly, polite, and helpful.

Customer Service case file graphic
Frogster's customer service didn't quite measure up to the pleasant community experience. In short, it still hasn't responded to my help ticket, and consequently there's really no way to sugar-coat my situation. While I'll stop short of labeling the company evil and attempting internet blackmail, I will say that the experience leaves a lot to be desired.

I filed a deleted item ticket this past Friday at 10:00 a.m. EST, and as of press time, I've yet to get a response.** The in-game submission procedure is standard MMO fare and very easy to figure out, and Frogster also sends you an immediate confirmation mail as well as a mail offering a link and instructions for logging into its third-party help desk website. Runes of Magic uses Kayako to track support tickets, and while the software is simple enough to understand, it doesn't do you much good if your ticket goes unread for days on end.

**[UPDATE]: Frogster GM Tenmei responded to my help ticket approximately an hour prior to this article's publication. There was no resolution forthcoming, and the following message was accompanied by a link to a customer satisfaction survey:

"Thank you for your feedback on this issue. The information has been sent to the developers and they are working on a solution."

Compared to my World of Warcraft customer service experience (WoW being an MMO that Runes of Magic is clearly inspired by on multiple fronts), this is quite a change for the worse. Blizzard's community team responded to my ticket in-game and in very short order, whereas the Frogster folks have gone four days now with nothing but an automated acknowledgment and no resolution in sight.

Another facet of Runes of Magic that bears mentioning is the item shop. While this isn't directly related to customer service, I'm throwing it in here because it does relate to the overall user experience and could stand to be improved. In a nutshell, the item shop and the purchasing process is bizarrely unintuitive. I spent a lot of time googling and looking over the RoM forums because it wasn't readily apparent where I should go about purchasing diamonds (or why I had to use my cell phone to do so). Once I finally completed a transaction, the procedure for getting the diamonds to show up in my in-game item shop window was equally mysterious.

I'll admit that part of my frustration may have had to do with the fact that I have little patience for obscure interfaces, and I was also a bit put off by the fact that I had to spend money to talk in the game's global chat. So had I been in a better mood, the item shop transactions might have gone more smoothly. The other side of that coin, though, is that if you've got an e-commerce interface that results in even a little bit of confusion for a potential customer, you're doing it wrong.

Ultimately, a couple of relogs made my diamonds show up, and I was able to make use of my megaphones. The whole experience was something of a hassle, though, and I've never before used an online transaction system that forced me to enter my cell phone number and reply to a text message rather than simply inputting a credit card number.

And that's about all I've got for you with regard to Runes of Magic. The community was great, and it might challenge a few of the pre-conceptions some people have as to the "quality" of a F2P playerbase. The same cannot be said of Frogster's customer service apparatus, though, and due to the lack of a response over a lengthy period of time, I can't recommend it.

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**Frogster did finally respond to the ticket with a "we're looking into it" email just prior to publication.

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.