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Massively's Community Detective, Issue #3: Aion

Jef Reahard

"There is currently a wait of about five days from the time you sent your request. We will continue to do all we can to reduce the wait time." So says a portion of the support email we received from NCsoft over the weekend while preparing the notes for this week's issue of Community Detective. Five days? Five days! Well, the good news is that the debacle had a happy ending. The bad news is that the wait, and a few vocal community members, colored our current perceptions of Aion.

Welcome to another issue of Massively's Community Detective. This week we're changing up our format just a bit to focus on a single MMORPG. Aion goes under the microscope today, and the PvPvE title skews a bit more towards conventional MMOs than last week's EVE/Darkfall duo.

Before we dive into the world of Atreia, let's reiterate the column's purpose, as well as outline our current methods. Fly past the cut for more.

If we had to describe the Community Detective series in one word, that word would be snapshot. The column is designed to capture particular instances in a game's community and customer service life and, when taken individually (i.e., the weekly issues), the column isn't meant as an exhaustive analysis. Think of the reports as individual instances that could (and did) happen to any newish player at any given time. Some games will come out smelling like roses; others will look less professional than they probably are (everyone has bad days).

This one-shot weekly format is why we will be returning to each and every game on the list on multiple occasions and, over time, building up that exhaustive body of research and examining clearly observable trends. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's quickly examine our methodology as we tackle Aion.

As mentioned, we've decided to examine one game per week, mainly due to space and attention span considerations. Last week's pairing was heavily edited to ensure that it remained readable and relevant; there was an abundance of research and both EVE and Darkfall provided more than enough material to be the sole focus of the column. For this reason, we've decided to narrow our focus to a single title, at the expense of having a second title for comparison. That said, comparisons can be drawn with similar titles covered earlier. For example, Aion is quite similar in design and execution to both EverQuest II and Age of Conan, which we examined in our first issue.

Unlike last week's titles, Aion features multiple servers (though no differing server types such as PvE, PvP, or roleplay), so we're back to the challenge of sampling a playerbase dispersed over a wide area. We decided to draw from two different servers, Israphel and Zikel, as well as from both factions on each server. For those unfamiliar with the game, Aion segregates its two factions, Asmodian and Elyos, in every way possible. Opposing players can't talk to one another (save through third party add-ons) and have no interaction with one another outside of PvP combat.

We set up shop on our servers of choice and sampled the global chat, the pickup groups, and personal tells in order to bring you a snapshot of the game's current community. Our community interactions (or attempts, in some cases) took place at varying times throughout the week, including weekday afternoons, weeknights, and weekends (all Eastern). We also probed NCsoft's customer service apparatus by filing two petitions, one each on separate game accounts.

Community Case File -- Aion
We began our community study with the following question:

What is the best PvP class?
Israphel's Elyos community responded in force to this one, with several long discussions involving anywhere from 10 to 15 individuals on average. The chatter was concentrated in the weeknight and weekend research times, with very sparse discussion coming in the weekday periods. It's also worth noting that several people went out of their way to give misleading information.

Zikel's Elyos community was markedly less vocal during the same three time slots, with a bare minimum of discussion and a few comments. Israphel's Asmodian community also responded emphatically, with much of the discussion centered around particular classes (assassins and gladiators), and a healthy amount of debate amongst 10 to 20 individuals depending on the time slot. There were also quite a few jokers in this particular community (I lost count of the number of times someone told me to roll a deathknight, for example). Zikel's Asmodian community was more of the same, although we did receive a couple more personal tells (as well as a guild invite).

For our second question, we aimed for a bit less controversy and a bit more definitive information:

Where's the best place to level at 20?
The Elyos on Israphel weren't too interested in responding to this one. Global chat featured a couple of curt "go to KHQ" responses in the evening and weekend time slots and not much else. Zikel's Elyos population featured a few more responses, none of them particularly inviting or bursting with details.

Israphel's Asmodian contingent was pretty friendly during the weeknight session, tossing out a couple group invites and dispensing some helpful advice. The other sessions were hit or miss, with few responses. The Zikel Asmos were fairly unremarkable in all the time slots; a few people gave advice, but we were mostly ignored. It's also worth mentioning one chap who went out of his way to tell us how stupid we were for not being able to follow the quest-lines.

Our community questions paint a picture of a playerbase that is generally helpful but also possessed of a fair number of folks who might best be called colorful. While our initial PvP class question generated quite a lot of discussion (as we expected), we didn't plan on our progression-based query being largely ignored. It's interesting that this happened across both servers and all time slots, and when compared with the number (and more importantly, quality) of responses we received to similar questions in previous theme park games, Aion's community comes up a little bit short this time around.
Also worth noting is the significant number of jackhole types who delight in giving false information, baiting their fellow global chat mates and generally contributing to the slightly hostile feel of the game. Given that it is a PvP-centric title once you leave the lower levels, this isn't altogether inappropriate, but it bears mentioning since Aion straddles the marketing line between hardcore gankfest and light-hearted PvE grinder.

The game's global chat is also inundated with leet-speak, PvP posturing, and for newer players who haven't yet given their ignore lists a workout, gold-spammers. This stuff happens in all MMOs of course, but it seems worse in Aion because the LFG channel is used for the vast majority of all global communication. The helpful folks (and those actually looking for groups) are often drowned out by all the noise.

Customer Service File -- Aion
As with our previous columns, community polling is only part of the equation. We also tested Aion's customer service ticket system by filing multiple support tickets on separate accounts. Our first ticket, filed in-game as an Elyos on the Israphel server, went into the queue just after 4:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. The submission process was somewhat confusing in terms of selecting the appropriate category for the petition, so we described our deleted item situation in the comment space provided and hoped for the best.

Upon confirming our submission, we were greeted with a nifty result window showing the number of people ahead of us on the waiting list as well as an approximate waiting time of five minutes. This turned out to be quite the optimistic estimate, as we didn't hear anything further from NCsoft for over 48 hours. At approximately 7:00 p.m. Friday evening, we received a mass email from GM Peldor informing us of the aforementioned five day waiting period. Finally at around 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, we received a second email detailing the successful resolution of our petition, and we found the item in question restored to our inventory.

While waiting on the first petition, we filed a second deleted item ticket on a separate account at approximately 12:00 p.m. (noon) on a Saturday. As with the first ticket, we received the in-game confirmation and waiting list information (which were exactly the same as the first ticket from several days prior, causing us to wonder about the tracking system). The following morning, shortly after receiving our resolution to the first ticket, we received a similar email follow-up from GM Anthony letting us know that our second ticket had also been successfully resolved.

Aion's customer service was a decidely mixed bag this week. While both the tickets were eventually handled to our satisfaction, the elapsed time (particularly on the initial petition) was quite long. NCsoft alluded to this in the first mass email, blaming it on the chaos generated by the recent server merges and the resulting flood of petitions. It will be interesting to return to Aion at a less hectic period in the game's life to see whether NCsoft manages to tighten its response times. To NCsoft's credit, it did seem to improve as the week wore on, as the second ticket was handled much more quickly than the first. Also, the end result in both cases was customer satisfaction, which shouldn't be understated given the experience we had last week with a similar situation in Darkfall.

In terms of follow-up and friendliness, there isn't much to recommend Aion. The email correspondences were quite short and business-like, and there was no email follow-up (at least as of press time) in either case. When compared to the personal attention we received in EverQuest II a couple weeks ago, it feels like Aion has some work to do in order to deliver a first-class customer experience.

The PUG Report
This week's PUG report sees Aion in its element, as it is easily the most PUG-friendly of any game covered in our series thus far. It should be noted that some of these data were collected on a double XP weekend, and therefore it's safe to assume the player population was probably a bit larger than it would be normally. Even so, some of the data were collected during the work week prior to the onset of the XP bonus, and groups were plentiful then as well.

No matter what time of the day or what day of the week we played, it was quite easy to get into a level-appropriate pickup group. Elyos groups on both Israphel and Zikel were in abundance, and we got in on Fire Temple, Krall, and KHQ groups within minutes of asking in global chat. Asmodian groups were available, but seemingly not as numerous, particularly on Zikel. Even so, we still managed to see Fire Temple groups, rifting parties, and high-level Dredgion PUGs going off with regularity, regardless of the day and time.

Basically, if you can't get a group in Aion, you're doing it wrong, particularly now that the server merges have swelled the population. The Dredgion groups usually want prospective members to meet certain gear requirements, but in our experience the level 20 - 30 dungeons and the rifting parties take anyone and everyone.

That about wraps up our Aion snapshot, and we hope you've armed yourself with a bit of extra information if you're thinking of earning your Atreian wings. Aion is a very group-friendly game, despite the fact that its community seems to be a little rough around the edges. Similarly, the customer service is acceptable but certainly not outstanding in our particular case. Feel free to share your experiences and suggestions in the comments, and we look forward to seeing you for next week's issue.

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

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