Ahhh, auto racing. Though it's been around in video gaming form for as long as there have been video games
, it's a rare beast in the MMO world. Yeah, you've got your Test Drives,
and for the simulation gearheads in the audience, your iRacing
, but that's really about it if your preferences skew toward realistic vehicles and locales.
Enter EA's NFSW
(no, that isn't "not safe for work"), a free-to-play arcade-style racer that debuted in July of 2010 and brought the long-running franchise
to massively multiplayer fans. Multiplayer racing is nothing new, of course; series like Forza Motorsport
and Gran Turismo
have been setting the console (and realism) standard for a decade now, but PC multiplayer racing is something of a niche market. If my enjoyable NFSW
experience is any indication, that's too bad, and I'd love to see the sub-genre expand.
While the gameplay and customization options can't compare to the complexity and sim-aspirations of something like Forza
is a great little time-killer that offers just enough graphical oooomph and instant fun to merit a few minutes on your lunch break here or an hour while the family's watching TV there. I spent the last couple of weeks careening my way around NFSW's
urban environment on my free accounts and in a variety of cars, and I'm happy to report that NFSW
is an enjoyable game despite an awful community. Oh, and EA's customer service ain't half bad, surprisingly enough.
To check out NFSW's
community, I did my usual trick of rolling up a few characters and polling the local chat channels. This time around, I didn't have to pretend to be a newb like I do in games that I've played before. I was -- and still am -- a NFSW
rookie, even after two weeks of illegal street racing. As such, I trotted out a couple of questions that newbs might want answered.
One of the great joys of all the racers I've played to date has been the ability to spin your camera around your ride. Car porn is why a lot of gearheads waste time and money on these games, and I was dismayed to find that I was unable to use the mouse to ogle my little newbie Mazda (and later my decidedly more macho Dodge Charger). As it turns out, this is by design, and you're left with pressing E to get a quick reverse angle view when you tire of looking at your vehicle's backside.
My second question was more gameplay-centric and was basically the equivalent of "what's the best PvP class" in a more traditional MMO.
It pains me to say that NFSW
is one of the worst MMO communities I've experienced to date. This is only partially due to the unfortunate zoning system, which segregates users into 50-odd copies of the city and severely limits global interaction (and the whole massively multiplayer feel, to be honest).
I never did manage to figure out how to swap instances at will (despite a few minutes of forum research), and so I was stuck with whatever random group of folks I happened to load in with as a result. Most of the time, these random folks weren't keen on English, and I encountered an interesting mixture of Russian (easily the predominant language), Spanish, and a couple of other dialects I can't even begin to identify.
Fortunately English was the order of the day in most of the instanced racing events I entered, but unfortunately, the majority of the conversation was ghetto-fabulous smack-talk that I gladly left behind on Xbox Live some time ago.
On the rare occasion that someone did deign to respond to one of my questions, I received intentionally unhelpful advice (one especially worthless chap suggested a keybind for rotating my camera, and being the newb that I am, I tried it out and promptly found myself exiting to the desktop).
There were a few moments of sportsmanship ("gg" after a race and things of that nature), but by and large you'd be hard-pressed to find a more juvenile collection of wannabe gangstas than I encountered during my two-week stay.
If the community was one of Community Detective's
worst, EA's customer service apparatus was one of its best (I know, I know, EA must've paid me a small fortune to spout such nonsense).
I didn't have any cause to call for an in-game GM this time around, but I did file a help ticket via the web-based support system
. After each instanced race, you normally get a few reward items like special power-ups that can be used in the next event. Despite confirmation messages that I was receiving said rewards, I was unable to activate them in subsequent races and didn't fully understand how to manage my power-up inventory. I accessed the support site via the game launcher (there's no help button inside the game client) and proceeded to fill out the intuitive form.
My ticket was submitted around 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and I received an immediate email confirmation with a listing of all the pertinent information. By 5:00 p.m on the same day, I had a response in hand from a GM named Stephen. While he didn't directly address my problem, he did offer up a complimentary code for free power-ups and a free purchase from the NFSW
cash shop (good for car rentals and reputation/cash accelerator buffs).
By my next play session, the problem seemed to rectify itself and I was acquiring and using power-ups normally. Despite EA's reluctance to discuss my particular issue (which very well could have resulted from my lack of familiarity with the game), I've got nothing but good things to say about the company's response times and its willingness to give customers a little something for their trouble.
Speaking of time, that's all I've got for this week. Join me in a fortnight for another snapshot of MMORPG communities and customer service.
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.