As such, much like I did with Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online, I wanted to get a look at the game's community and customer service apparatus both before and after the payment model switcheroo. So how are the social aspects of the SOE-published title shaping up? Well, the customer service is pretty spot on. The community? Well, I'll be kind (for now) and simply say that it leaves a little something to be desired.
Sail past the cut to learn more.
Pirates of the Burning Sea currently boasts two servers, only one of which is American. Yes, this is a Yank-focused column for now, with all due respect to my friends across the pond. I created a couple of characters on Antigua, the lone U.S. shard that remains after a bout of server merges a while back. Using the game's global chat channels, I did a bit of community polling and research to determine POTBS's friendliness towards newbish players. Since the game features four factions (and separate faction chat, but no single global channel), I rolled up four captains to do my sampling, one each for British, French, Spanish, and Pirate nations.
In addition to my community questions, I also tested Flying Labs' customer service apparatus by filing a support ticket and measuring response time, friendliness, resolution, and follow-up. Happily, I actually had an in-game issue that required a ticket during the course of my play time last week (as opposed to the usual deleted item ticket that I employ when I don't encounter a play situation that warrants CSR intervention).
This week's community polling began with the following question:
As it's been over two years since I actually played POTBS, I figured my first question might as well serve the dual purpose of helping me write this article and re-familiarizing me with the game itself. Rare is the modern MMORPG that doesn't have global chat channels, and thankfully POTBS is no exception. The title features nation (factional), skirmish, and area chats, as well as the requisite local, society (guild), and group channels. I did my asking in nation chat for each separate faction as outlined above. I also sampled the various chats at different times and days of the week, in keeping with Community Detective tradition. Polling occurred on weekday afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Answers to this question were comparatively light based on what I'm used to from other games, and though I did receive a few personal tells and answers in global spread across the various time periods, the POTBS community was largely silent on this particular question.
For the second community question, I again turned to my inner newb:
This one was pretty straight-forward, and given POTBS's rather complex gameplay systems, it's not all that obvious even to someone who has played a ton of MMORPGs. As with the first community question, I asked at various times and in various chat channels. I got a bit more of a response to this one, with a smattering of global and personal answers. In contrast to the lively chat sparked by previous Community Detective question/game pairings, POTBS generated virtually no discussion.
The POTBS community surprised me. I can't really say what I was expecting; every game is different, but I wasn't expecting the cold shoulder. To be fair, there were a few helpful folks scattered about, and I did get all my questions answered (and also made a couple of friendly contacts that invited me along for "fleeting" and volunteered to show me the ropes over the long term). That being said, the community as a whole seemed noticeably less friendly than previous games' communities. In looking back over the first few months of this column, I would rank POTBS somewhere in the EVE/Darkfall neighborhood when it comes to the community (a little bit above Darkfall and a little bit below EVE).
My ranking system is necessarily vague as this is all completely subjective (and also representative of a few particular snapshots in time), but the feeling I got while playing the game was that of an outsider. Also worth mentioning is the fact that my questions seemed to be better-received when I initiated contact via personal tells rather than when I asked in global channels. I'm not sure whether the game's population is tiny and/or people just don't pay attention (or respond) to nation chat other than when they're looking for groups. Finally, it's also worth noting that the communities in the British, French, and Spanish nation chats were somewhat friendlier than their Pirate nation counterparts.
I had no previous experience with POTBS's customer service, and as I mentioned before, I had an actual issue that required assistance this time as opposed to a manufactured crisis. I was unable to advance through the "Man of Wealth and Taste" instanced mission that occurs soon after leaving the game's brief tutorial. In a nutshell, my pirate captain needed to run around and kill a bunch of bilge rat pirates who were invading his home port, then jump into a longboat and sail out to his ship to do battle with the rest of the invaders in the bay. I was unable to click on the longboat even after meeting all the objectives, so I filed a help ticket using the in-game /support command (which pops up an external browser window and directs you to a straight-forward submission form).
I received an immediate confirmation email summarizing my issue and directing me to the knowledge base resources. Less than an hour later, I received an email from GM Incognito, who asked me to run the mission again and update the support ticket while doing so. He went on to explain that a GM would come and assist me in getting through it. Upon logging in a few hours later to re-run the mission, I was able to complete it without any further assistance (perhaps re-logging fixed whatever issue was occurring, I'm not sure). In any event, GM support was prompt, and I'm assuming they would have simply advanced the mission for me in real-time if it hadn't worked itself out.
I have nothing but good things to say about POTBS's customer service. From the quick response time to the willingess to provide personal assistance in-game (as opposed to simply advancing my quest while I was offline and being done with it), it seems like the Flying Lab folks care about their customers and don't mind prompt interaction. I also received a follow-up email soliciting my satisfaction and inviting feedback, which goes a long way toward making the impersonal world of MMORPG customer service a bit more pleasant.
That just about wraps up this week's issue of Community Detective. I had a lot of fun in POTBS; it's one of those games that, were I retired and possessed of a lot more free time, I'd likely play quite a bit. As it stands, I highly recommend the game's customer service. As for the community, it's something of a mixed bag. There were definitely friendly faces to be found, but I had to look a lot harder for them than I'm used to doing in other titles. As always, your experiences may vary, and I look forward to hearing about some of them 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 email@example.com.