EVE Spotlight: An interview with GM Guard

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EVE Spotlight: An interview with GM Guard
EVE Spotlight is a new bi-weekly feature in which we interview prominent members of EVE Online's player community or development team. Twice each month, we'll be shining the spotlight on a player or developer who has a significant impact on EVE to highlight the efforts of EVE's most influential people.

It's an inherent part of MMO development that certain employees must take on a very visible role in the game's online community. This is especially true in EVE Online as developers are encouraged to communicate with players through the forum and write detailed devblogs on what they're working on. In that sense, GM Guard needs very little introduction. Along with GM Grimmi and others, Guard has been a very public face for GMs in the community for as long as I can remember. While Guard has made huge contributions to EVE behind the scenes as a lead GM, he's probably most well-known for his role in CCP's internal band Permaband. He has now moved on from the GM team to become EVE's new Community Developer.

The role of GMs in any MMO is pivotal, and yet they so often come under fire from players who don't get the response they're hoping for or who have to wait too long for an answer. Many EVE players are also unaware of the procedures for escalating petitions, reporting exploits, contacting internal affairs or other important activities. In this EVE Spotlight, we got together with former Lead GM Guard to pick his brains on these topics, find out a little about CCP's support division, and ask about Permaband's next song.

As part of Permaband, Guard began his foray into music with the debut of HTFU at the 2009 Fanfest and continued with this year's showing of Keep Clickin' at the 2011 Fanfest. When it came time for me to pick out a single video that really sums up GM Guard, the choice was easy to make. HTFU is an iconic song that has been essentially adopted as a company anthem. I should warn you that this song is absolutely, completely unsafe for work as it contains swearing throughout. For those of you viewing from an appropriate venue, the video has been embedded below in HD:

Massively: What was your role as a GM? Can you tell us a bit about what you did in that position?

GM Guard: The GM team is segmented into various groups that each has its specialties apart from the constant of answering petitions from customers. I was a Lead GM and manager of a group called Infogroup, which focuses on training, quality auditing and information flow within Customer Service. I also dealt with what could be called "controversial" petitions (cases that were far outside the norm), handled customer complaints regarding service and took care to have some leftover time for impromptu projects that didn't fit anywhere else and needed attention.

"The logs show nothing" has almost become a catchphrase in EVE. Why do the server logs sometimes not show anything out of the ordinary when the player experiences technical difficulties?

"The logs show nothing" is a meme in its own right by now, but it isn't something we ever really said. The logs show plenty and are always improving. Our reply would sound more like "we can't verify the issue you are describing with our server-side logs" with more detailed explanations of why that is. Common issues like temporary network problems are especially hard to verify server-side and are probably the main cause of this gap between the verifiable and the unverifiable. We are working with Team Gridlock, our premier experts on latency, to better record individual lag without jeopardizing performance at the same time. So even if our policy remains that we don't reimburse for unverifiable losses for the sake of overall fairness, we are working on bridging the gap.

A lot of players don't realise they can escalate a petition if they believe the current GM isn't handling their cases correctly. Can you give us some details of how escalations are handled and when they should be used?

In essence, a player should always escalate his petition if he feels his case is not being handled correctly or if he feels he is not being heard and his issues not addressed properly. It's not a "second roll of the dice" if the result is not to one's liking, but if in doubt, it is a customer's right to have a Senior GM take a look. We don't want to miss anything, and we'd rather spend a little extra time on the case than leave the customer with any nagging doubts.

Sometimes GMs are put into the position of authoritatively giving advice on game mechanics that they don't fully understand. Is anything being done to tackle that problem, or should these types of case be escalated?

EVE is complex, and it would be difficult for any individual to be an absolute authority on how to address every possible situation that could arise. To counter this, Customer Support operates as a bit of a hive mind with emails and questions free-flowing constantly. Further, we try to maintain consistency through perpetual training and regular quality audits. Of course, mistakes can happen, and in the quest to provide quick service, someone may speak without full certainty. In those instances, players might choose to escalate the petition or ask for a second opinion.

Under what circumstances should a player contact the Internal Affairs department, and how would he go about doing it?

Internal Affairs is occasionally confused with petition escalation, but in fact it serves a whole different purpose. The Internal Affairs team is a separate team tasked with monitoring all in-game activity of staff members and their integrity when it comes to EVE. If a player suspects a CCP employee of wrongdoing or corrupt intentions, he is encouraged to contact internalaffairs@ccpgames.com. Arkanon, who heads the team, hates cheaters with a passion and would have his own grandmother fired if she were an employee of CCP and got her priorities mixed up. Neither of which is the case, but you catch my drift.

If a player wanted to apply for a job as a GM, how would he go about doing it? Any tips for people interested in getting into that part of the industry?

We actively recruit from the playerbase. Who better to work on improving the gameplay experience than people who know the game well and are as passionate about it as we are? Working in Customer Support is not only a good job in its own right but also a great way to get your foot in the door if you have aspirations of breaking into the industry. There are constantly new challenges and room to grow, and we have very little staff turnover apart from people moving to other positions within CCP. Helpful, hard-working people of strong character can apply on our jobs page.

What kind of discretion can a GM exercise in judging a case? If a player is abusive in a reimbursement petition, for example, are GMs allowed to deny his request without consideration?

We try to be tolerant about abusive language and ignore it unless it really goes out of bounds. People get angry and we understand that. We have rules to protect our staff from abuse, so I certainly don't recommend testing the waters in that regard, but we also don't want swear words to be an excuse to cease communication. Communication is the solution to most problems, after all. Regarding a GM's freedom to judge, sometimes a case turns into a judgment call. No policy can cover all scenarios, and that's where we look to precedents and tradition also. A GM has some freedom in interpreting the various rules and policies, but when there's doubt, that's usually when a few GMs huddle around and come to a mutual conclusion.

You're well known for Permaband's awesome (and absolutely not-safe-for-work) music video HTFU, and at Fanfest you presented a second song named Keep Clickin'. In hindsight, do you think EVE players would have responded better to the second song if it had been more based on EVE and development at CCP?

Without a doubt we would get more hits with a more EVE-related theme. We knew we would be very unlikely to reach HTFU popularity levels with a second song. HTFU is our anthem, after all, and a darn good song even if I say so myself. Keep Clicking is a bit of a meta joke, and the lack of clicks compared to the last video is kind of funny (at least to us, but we live on a rock, mind you) now that story shows how the band is all preoccupied with itself and lost in a haze of ego and internet money. But we always talked of a trilogy at least, with Guard going back to the roots after completely losing himself over a few internet clicks. Maybe a Fanfest anthem is in order? Who knows, maybe we'll even have enough songs one day to publish a whole album of internet space hop.

I heard that you've recently been poached from the support team to work as the new EVE Community Developer. Can you tell us a bit about this new role?

This is a new role for the EVE Community team, so it's still a bit of an unmapped road, and I'm excited about the opportunities for trailblazing. I've joined forces with Christian "Wrangler" Danhill to co-manage the team. As the Community Team Manager, Christian focuses more on the administrative side of things, while I get to be like the fun, crazy uncle who devises creative ways to energize and entertain current and future EVE players.

Is there anything you'd like to get the word out on?

My favorite food is lamb, and what I have in my pockets right now is a pair of keys and my phone. I just want to get that out there. I think the people deserve to know these things. But apart from that I just want to urge everyone who hasn't played EVE to grab a free trial, try our character creator and take your complimentary rookie spaceship for a spin. The game is amazing, but what really makes it tick is the best player community in the world, hands down.

Thanks for interviewing with us!

It was my pleasure.
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