Community Detective Issue #19: DC Universe Online (PS3 edition)

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Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird... it's a plane! It's a disgruntled PS3 MMO player about to throw himself from the top of the LexCorp tower due to a lack of support options! Never fear -- the Community Detective is here, but unfortunately I can't really save the day. What I can do is give you the low-down on my experiences with DC Universe Online's rather pedestrian PS3 customer service and support apparatus.

If you'll recall from last issue's look at the PC DCUO client, I found that the customer service was actually quite responsive (as it has been in all of the Sony Online Entertainment MMOs profiled over the history of this column). DCUO's PC version fell down when it came to usability, UI, and community/grouping issues, but at least its customer support ducks were in a row.

Read on after the cut to see why the same can't be said for the console version.

This time around, I rolled a villain on the PS3 Relentless server and spent a tad over 10 hours busting heads, collecting costume pieces, and generally making a nuisance of myself at the expense of the good folks in Gotham. Much like I did last issue, I actually had a lot of fun playing DC Universe Online, and the game's brawling, visuals, and sprawling recreations of Gotham City and Metropolis are every bit as enjoyable as they are on the PC counterpart.

Unfortunately, the UI is also every bit as cumbersome, and it even features a unique quirk or two (like the substantial interface lag that shows up when tapping R2 to scroll through menu screens). Also, despite a considerable amount of playtime, I just never felt comfortable with the steps necessary to fire off special attacks on the console version. On the PC, for example, making use of my character's taser pull ability is as simple as spamming the "1" key. On the PS3, you have to hold down L2 and press the square button, and the extra step just doesn't feel right. I can't really chalk that up to my being a PC elitist either, as console titles account for a large slice of my gaming diet. Your mileage may vary of course, but for me, the best word I can use to describe DCUO on the PS3 is awkward.

There are other annoyances too, chief among them the lack of any way to take screenshots of your gameplay unless you're keen on investing a couple hundred bucks on a third-party video capturing device and going through the hassle of hooking it up to both your HDTV and your PC simultaneously. To be fair, this isn't a problem unique to DCUO; most PS3 and Xbox 360 titles afford you with no way to natively capture your gameplay (despite the fact that both systems feature ample hard drive space).

Control and interface issues aside, this is a community-focused column, amirite? So what were my experiences with the Relentless community? At the risk of sounding like I'm picking on SOE, this game's console community is hamstrung by chat mechanics that are even worse than those in the PC version (yes, it is possible).

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In a nutshell, I've never felt so utterly alone in an MMO as I did while playing DCUO on the PS3. Sure, I saw players flitting about often enough, but in sharp contrast to the channels on the PC client, the global /shout channel on the PS3 is largely silent. I went entire play sessions without seeing any conversation, whereas my experience on Virtue and Vice was more akin to reading a real-time stock ticker due to the constant barrage of questions, answers, team-up requests, and the like.

I'm assuming that the reason for the PS3's collective community silence is not a lack of players but rather the horrid chat interface that requires either a USB keyboard plugged into your PS3 (and then stretched across the room to your couch, eww), a bolt-on keyboard mini-controller (which I opted to try out), or the hunt-and-peck monstrosity that is the in-game keyboard interface. For the uninitiated: Any time you want to use text chat in DCUO (like, say, to form a group), you'll need to hit the select button on your PS3 controller, which will pop up the chat keyboard and cover your entire game screen.

If you have a USB keyboard or mini-controller keyboard attached, you're free to type away. If not, you'll need to move the analog stick to each letter, select it, then click the start/enter button to send your message. The few times I did see chat in the game were variations on caveman leet-speak, probably because it's just too much of a pain in the rear to type anything else.

So basic text communication, arguably the community backbone of MMOs everywhere, is a real challenge in the PS3 version of DCUO. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I did not try out the game's voice chat, as I don't have a PS3 headset and I had already spent close to $100 on this review ($60 for the game and $35 for the controller keyboard add-on). Voice chat would no doubt make things easier, but here we're back to the problem I touched on in the PC article (namely, voice chat isn't ideal for every situation, nor is it even desirable for many gamers).

Were DCUO simply an action brawler with multiplayer lobby elements, I wouldn't harp on the chat functionality (and by extension, the community) this much. SOE is marketing the game as a full-blown MMO, though, and the lack of basic MMO chat functionality is strange at best and unacceptable at worst.

Customer Service Case Files
DCUO's PS3 customer service is basically non-existent when it comes to anything other than the console hardware. Yes, you read that right. In fact, there were several reader comments to this effect on this column's previous issue that prompted me to shell out the cash and take on this multi-platform examination in the first place. First and foremost, the PS3 version doesn't have any connection with SOE's excellent web-based customer service help because your console account is tied in with the Playstation Network rather than SOE's Station Account. In fact, going to the help page on the Station website results in a rather disheartening pair of links for PS3 "support," as well as an 800 number.

To test the customer service apparatus, I first filed a support ticket using the Playstation Network website. My issue was a real one (as opposed to some of the manufactured cases I sometimes do in the absence of an actual customer service issue) in that I was getting disconnected from the game fairly frequently during one of my morning play sessions. Submitting the ticket was pretty painless via the PSN web interface, and a day later I was contacted by a service rep named Eberardo M. who offered a few network troubleshooting tips. Ultimately, the issue smoothed itself out over the course of the week, and after the first day, I had no further disconnects.

I also wanted to test Sony's response to an in-game issue, and again I had an actual problem for customer service to chew on. In trying to complete the Seduction of the Innocent quest, I found myself permanently stuck on four out of the five bribed rookie cops that I needed for completion. After two days and over 50 attempts at getting an update from the appropriate mob, I'd had enough, so I went looking for a GM to help me with the quest. As in the PC version, the giant in-game help button is non-functional and simply gives a web link. I did submit a request via the submit feedback option, and though it did result in a "bug submitted to database" message in my chatbox (unlike the PC version, which featured no such confirmation), I received no response.

I opted to call the support phone number listed on both the Station website and the PS3 forums, and after a few minutes of menu-diving, I managed to get a live rep on the line. Unfortunately the PSN support line is exclusively hardware-related, as the polite but insistent phone rep explained, and there was nothing he could do in terms of in-game support. He directed me to contact SOE, and when I told him that SOE directed me to contact the PSN support line, he offered his condolences.

While the whole exchange was exceedingly polite and the Sony rep went out of his way to empathize with me, it was clear there's no in-game support structure for the PS3 version of DCUO, so any game-breaking bugs, quest advancement issues, or griefing instances will ultimately need to be worked around until Sony decides to offer services comparable to that of its PC Station Account program.

And with that, I'm out of time for this week. At the end of the day, I'm hard-pressed to think of a compelling reason to recommend that anyone play DCUO on the PS3 (unless he lacks a PC). If DCUO is, as SOE hopes, the flagship product when it comes to console MMOs, it's my contention that the breed simply isn't ready for prime time. Clearly game companies stand to gain a lot by expanding the MMO market away from the PC, but if this title is any indication, customers stand to gain very little aside from a half-baked MMO experience. Thanks to those of you who brought the PS3 issues to my attention, and feel free to share more of your experiences in the comments.

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.