Community Detective Issue #23: Perpetuum

Welcome to the Perpetuum edition of Community Detective. Avatar Creations' mech-based sandbox MMORPG launched back in November, and despite being relatively new to the market, it has already had time to release a free expansion and a 15-day free trial as well as build itself a small but dedicated fanbase.

I spent the last couple of weeks tooling around the game's tutorials and early mission content as well as observing Perpetuum's community and customer service offerings. Due to the size of the community and the bare-bones approach to customer service, this week's issue of Community Detective departs from my standard data-centric format in favor of some general impressions. Join me after the cut to see what's happening on the planet Nia.

Perpetuum takes place in a distant sci-fi future when mega-corporations and ruthless pilots of enormous mechanical monstrosities are engaged in cutthroat territorial wars, resource exploitation, and a never-ending cycle of escalation and conflict.

If it sounds like EVE Online, that's intentional, as Avatar has clearly taken quite a few design chapters from CCP's indie sandbox playbook. There's offline skilling, mission hubs that function exactly like EVE's space stations, similar gear and fitting mechanics, and a vast learning curve that serves to gate the emergent gameplay behind a wall of complexity that can put off those unwilling or unable to devote several play sessions to figuring out how basic things work.

Perpetuum's UI is dense, highly customizable, and at times confusing, as are some of the game's early goals. The tutorials, like EVE's, are mainly exercises in reading lengthy text boxes and applying what you've learned. I say all that with a smile on my face though, as it's just what the doctor ordered if you're looking to sidestep MMORPG cliches (and you're taking a break from New Eden).

I spent the majority of my trial period in a little Arkhe starter bot (and later a Mark II upgrade) that scuttles along the ground like a mechanical crab. I shot a ton of drones, mined a lot of ore, and performed a handful of delivery missions in order to earn NIC (the game's currency) and get my bearings. I also did a fair bit of random exploring and found that Perpetuum serves up a pleasing mix of gritty sci-fi hardware and appealing atmosphere.

Community Case File - Perpetuum
All the while, I was interacting with and observing the community via my usual global chat polling methods. Once I'd asked my questions a few times on different days and in different time slots, though, it became clear that Perpetuum's community is pretty small and there was no point continuing to query the same folks. Luckily, peak hours result in a fairly lively global chat channel, so I was still able to collect some community impressions.

For my first question, I solicited a bit of help on one of the tutorial missions:

Community question - How do I advance the tutorial?
One of the first tutorial descriptions was a little vague, and I had trouble finding the particular drone I was supposed to target. Upon announcing my predicament in both the general and help channels, I received a few polite responses directing me to read more carefully. As it turns out, they were right, and I was eventually able to self-actualize and figure it out.

Community question - How do I earn money as a newb?
My second question was similarly practical, and I received several pieces of recurring advice ranging from transport missions to selling plasma to a nebulous "PVE" response. Ultimately I opted for mission-running.

Analysis
Though the community was very welcoming to me and other newbs, I got the feeling that there was much about Perpetuum I didn't understand and much that I wouldn't be told about prior to paying my dues and establishing myself as a long-term community member (or at least getting off the trial and unlocking the ability to join a corp).

This is, of course, no different from any MMO, except for the fact that community is everything in games like Perpetuum and EVE where even figuring out the UI often requires assistance from another player. Happily, this bunch seems to be devoid of some of the arsehats I've encountered in the global chats of the larger themeparks, and everyone is, on the whole, very helpful.

Unsurprisingly, Perpetuum's community seems to feature a high concentration of disaffected EVE vets and the occasional curiosity-seeker. In fact, the game's global chat features EVE-related discussions almost as frequently as it does those concerning Perpetuum. All in all it's a pretty amiable bunch, though, and there are generally around 200 souls in general chat during East coast U.S. evenings and weekends. During off hours, you'll see this number drop to around 100, give or take, but the good news is that there's always someone around to answer questions thanks to the round-the-clock GM presence.

Customer Service Case File - Perpetuum
I wasn't able to do my usual support ticket testing this week as Perpetuum doesn't currently feature any help ticket functionality. That's not as dire as it sounds, however, because the game does feature one or two live GMs patrolling the chat channels pretty much all the time. In fact, the first answer to my tutorial question above came from a GM, and these guys are pretty active in terms of helping newbs and engaging in discussion.

I didn't have any gameplay problems during my Perpetuum tour of duty, but if I had, contacting customer service (and receiving a response) happens much more quickly than in most of the other games profiled in Community Detective.

If you need a paper trail for your support issues, Avatar does offer email assistance, and GMs also read and respond to the game's forums with regularity.

Analysis
As I mentioned earlier, I don't have a lot of data to show for this particular issue of Community Detective because I opted to dispense with my polling after my first two sessions in favor of simply playing the game (and because Avatar's customer service is fairly informal). Hopefully these impressions have nonetheless managed to give you a general idea of what you're in for if you choose to explore the world of Nia.

Perpetuum, its community, and its customer service were all pretty pleasant experiences, and the game just might be what you're looking for if you like your MMOs on the complex side and you don't mind the substantial similarities to EVE Online.

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.