« All Business | Main | Ilinx on Loch Modan »

Sep 19, 2005

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c022953ef00d834591e9769e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Run for your lives!:

» Opera from I Loathe The Undead
So it seems that Opera has finally made their browser free. Congratulations to them for joining the rest of the world. Alright, alright. Im not going to hate too much. Ive been trying Opera out and I must admit that I like it more tha... [Read More]

» consolidation loan student from loan student
Loans Home Equity Loans - Home Mortgage Student Loans [Read More]

» Hollywood Creative Directory from Directory Online
Contact information for the film, television and new media industries. [Read More]

» Do You Use Software to Monitor Your Kids Online? from ontact 'World
ontact 'World News Tonight' for a Story [Read More]

» Momentum Change? Heat Still in Charge from Wednesday night,
out loud, the Heat players couldn't even get the ball in bounds in the allotted five seconds. Well, OK, maybe they [Read More]

» Fever strikes down Ronaldo from Ronaldo has given
has given the team another scare after missing Thursday's training session with a fever. [Read More]

» Dispute about auto parts imports, WTO, and China’s economic policy. from In the end,
generations of cars that can compete internationally. Therefore, foreign car companies must be kept out of China’s [Read More]

» PRWeb Experiments with First Consumer-Driven Press Release from to successfully
this release. (PRWEB Jun 15, 2006) Trackback URL: http://prweb.com/pingpr.php/U3VtbS1Qcm9mLU1hZ24tU2luZy1JbnNlLVplcm8= [Read More]

» The Heat Is Dissipating Quickly from 'We're not worthy?'
O'Neal is missing. If you find him, please return him to AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami before [Read More]

» Court postpones hearings of Telenor's suit vs VimpelCom from Aug 1 (Prime-Tass)
-- Russia's Moscow Arbitration Court on Tuesday postponed until September 4 hearing... [Read More]

Comments

1.

A few other links I found while poking around about it:

- http://www.thottbot.com/index.cgi?sp=24328
- http://wowaids.ytmnd.com/ (note the AIDS language)

I asked around on my server (Shadow Moon) and so far most people seem to just go "huh?" so I don't know, maybe it hasn't hit here yet, I missed it, or we are all just too busy watching our PvP'ed backs ;)

2.

It takes some doing to beat the boss in question, so not every server will have a guild that has "accomplished" this yet.

3.

It hit Ironforge on Agrammar about 3 nights ago. It got me when I flew in from Loch Modan, but I rezzed in Tinkertown and all seemed to have returned to normal at that point. Lots of chatter in the chat windows about it though.

4.

There's a fun little bit of machinema up about it here: Ironforge Calls Out For Healing.. I've written up my own brief appreciation of machinema's hybridity and sense of urgency on my blog.

5.

Actually, I think it's a great example of unintended consequences. In the NYTimes article maybe a month back, one of the highlights of MMORPGs was that there is no disease.

And now here we've got this! It's awesome. =)

6.

I've been waiting a good portion of the weekend to see what Terranova would say about this.

This affected Ironforge on the Suramar server for about 20 hours over the weekend. Resulting in severe lag and a great deal of upset in the playerbase.

Generally describe by players as "the plague". Corrupted Blood is a 3 second duration dot, which jumps to nearby friendly PCs flagged the same as carrier. It did NOT affect NPCs, with the exception of players pets.

It was clearly unintended to ever reach outside of the instance due to the short duration. And quite likely took a significant degree of effort to spread there. In addition to the inital effort a small number of people invested significant time and effort in keeping the plague alive. They made use of non-combat pets (which cannnot die) to keep a strain alive when other players left range. They made use of healers to sustain an individual who could carry the disease around the city in high traffic areas, particular the bank, auction house, and the griffin.

At least on my server there was no visible effort by GMs to do anything to contain the problem, and nothing but an automated response was made to tickets concerning it.

After the first couple of hours even most of the people who had initially enjoyed the event found it to be a tiresome grief element. Particularly players who's primary interest in market gaming via the AH.


I'm not sure how anyone could take this as an inspired game design. If it were inspired they would have had the tools to deal with the consequences properly instead of fumbling around ineffecually while losing customer trust.

Deaths on Suramar numbered in the hundreds, I personally have screenshots of skeletons piled waist high in parts of the auction house. The biggest disappointment wasn't that it happened, but that Blizzard was so incapable when it came to dealing with it.

7.

From my screed: "Habitat Anecdotes", first published in 1988:


Disease

One of the more successful "games" we invented for Habitat was the disease. There are three strains currently defined:

  • Cooties
  • Happy Face
  • Mutant (AKA The Fly)
  • We only were able to test Cooties with live players, but it was a hit. It works like this: Several initial Avatars are infected with a "Cootie" head. This head replaces the current one, and cannot be removed except by touching another non-infected Avatar. Once infected, you can not be infected again that day. In effect, this game is "tag" and "keep away" at the same time. Often people would allow themselves be infected just so he could infect "that special person that they know would just hate it!" Every time the disease was spread, there was an announcement at least a week before, and for at least a week afterward it was the subject of major discussions. One day that the plague was spread, a female Avatar that was getting married got infected 1 hour before her wedding! Needless to say, she was very excited, and in a panic until a friend offered to take it off her hands.

    Some interesting variations to try on this are: Touch 2 people to cure; this would cause quite a preponderance of infected people late in the day. The "Happy Face" plague: This simple head has the side effect of changing any talk message (word balloons) to come out as "HAVE A NICE DAY!"... can you imagine infecting some unsuspecting soul, and him saying back to you HAVE A NICE DAY! ??? ESP and mail still work normally, so the user is not without communications channels. The Mutant Plague: The head looks like the head of a giant housefly and it has the effect of changing talk text to "Bzzz zzzz zzzz". We think these all will be great fun.

    This story was republished in 2001 in True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier

    8.

    You gotta love systemic effects. Beyond disease and the tag-type games Randy prophetically talked about (much!) earlier, this remains a major untapped vein of MMO gameplay -- one that actually takes advantage of the massively multiplayer aspect of the games rather than sticking to gameplay half a step from single-player-land.

    The side issue here raised by Thabor is one of response: The biggest disappointment wasn't that it happened, but that Blizzard was so incapable when it came to dealing with it.

    So incapable? It happened over the weekend and appears to be gone today (I believe?), and affected at most a tiny portion of the player base. Given that systemic incidents like this are all but inevitable no matter how much you test -- some issues simply cannot be foreseen until they occur in the wild -- what should a MMOG operator's response be? Given the nature of the software, what's a realistic standard to which operators should aspire when something like this arises?

    9.

    *cough*

    10.

    Maybe it was a strain of bird flu spread by those mangy, scraggly Griffons?

    11.
    So incapable? It happened over the weekend and appears to be gone today (I believe?), and affected at most a tiny portion of the player base.

    It happened during peak hours, and endured for 20+ hours affecting hundreds of players on my server alone. There was no announcement of the problem by CS, there was no accouncement of the end of the problem. To exacerbate the issue the people most affected by it would be lower levels, or newer players. And thats not even taking into account the severe lag and connection issues many people experienced later, which may have resulted directly from the pile up of bodies.

    At a minimum it could have been resolved by kicking and or short term banning of the 4-5 people who kept it going through the night. Considering how quick Blizzard has been to ban people for actions which don't even impact other players, that hardly seems unreasonable. There action could have ranged anywhere from warning, and banning to temporary closing of the instance, along with a server restart.

    Either way the the most important points are that they communicate the problem, take action, and communicate a resolution. None of which happened here.

    You can go ahead and judge severity based on the percentage of the playerbase. However, it would be good to keep in mind people are more vocal about negatives than positives, and much of WoW spread now seems to be attributed to word of mouth. Do you really suppose that this would be amusing to casual or new player?

    12.

    Actually, one of the reasons I had presumed it was a software glitch, not a planned plague or a griefing incident (is that the consensus on what the plague was now?) was that the night before, all the NPCs had suddenly vanished from Agrammar. Bothersome because I was looking for flights, but the general consensus was that the NPCs must have gone on strike. After about half an hour of that, they reset the server -- union negotiations were apparently successful and Agrammar came up again.

    13.

    I hope it is coincidence, but it sure seems to me that acts of griefing are usually tolerated by Vivendi, until the uproar gets too vocal. Another example is the original position they took with rooftop camping in the Neutral towns.

    Makes me think that some folks at the Irvine offices of Vivendi are griefers at heart themselves.

    14.

    It happened during peak hours, and endured for 20+ hours affecting hundreds of players on my server alone. There was no announcement of the problem by CS, there was no accouncement of the end of the problem. To exacerbate the issue the people most affected by it would be lower levels, or newer players.

    All due respect Thabor, but this is the kind of raving that happens a lot on game-specific boards, and which devs are wise to take with a truckload of salt. Even if this did affect hundreds of players (which may or may not be the case), that's still a tiny portion of the overall playerbase even on a per-server basis. Moreover, given that this primarily affected places with high traffic by very high-level characters, the chances that many low-level or new players were involved is miniscule.

    Frankly, I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill.

    And thus my question: sure this is annoying and frustrating to those who have to endure it (albeit for less than a day), but what's reasonable in a case like this?

    Communicate the issue as quickly as possible, sure, but that likely would have been today at the earliest. Fix it quickly, which I imagine the WoW devs are doing. What else?

    The unfortunate fact in any service business is that you're never going to please everyone; some small percentage of people are inevitably -- and rightly or wrongly -- going to feel slighted. Given this, what's a realistic, viable standard for customer service and technical support in a world-class MMOG?

    15.

    "Moreover, given that this primarily affected places with high traffic by very high-level characters, the chances that many low-level or new players were involved is miniscule."

    Actually, if this problem affected Ironforge and the auction house then it probably involved a whole bunch of low level and new characters. There's no doubt that Ironforge has the highest population density of any location in the game world.

    "The unfortunate fact in any service business is that you're never going to please everyone; some small percentage of people are inevitably -- and rightly or wrongly -- going to feel slighted. Given this, what's a realistic, viable standard for customer service and technical support in a world-class MMOG?"

    The problem with Blizzard is that they're a game company trying to run a customer service department, a job for which they're woefully unprepared. Normal adults are used to a relatively high standard of customer care and are apt to be irritated when confronted with the type of customer service usually associated with the gaming industry.

    The best solution in my mind would be for Blizzard to produce the game and then license it to some national ISP, which presumably would already have a large customer care department in place and trained. That allows Blizzard to stick to its core competancy--making games.

    16.

    I'm not particularly interested in slagging Blizzard or any other MMO operator. Running an MMO is probably the most difficult online service there is -- I'd say most difficult entertainment experience, but I have a pretty good idea that the Disney folks go through more than we do.

    I at least can't imagine any ISP doing a better job than Blizzard (or Sony, NCSoft, Mythic, etc. -- even EA); the commonalities between running an online service and running an online persistent world game are just too thin. And ISPs are hardly known for their CS skills as it is.

    But anyway, this still doesn't answer the question: what is a reasonable standard for customer service by MMOG operators when some unexpected systemic (if not wide-spread) bug crops up? Complaining loudly about these companies is lazy. Thinking about what's practical and preferable is more difficult. And neither remotely approach the actual difficulty of running an online game-service.

    So maybe we could put some of the collective brain cells here to work on something more worthwhile than whining about how Blizzard has done you wrong.

    17.

    "I at least can't imagine any ISP doing a better job than Blizzard (or Sony, NCSoft, Mythic, etc. -- even EA); the commonalities between running an online service and running an online persistent world game are just too thin. And ISPs are hardly known for their CS skills as it is."

    Actually I was thinking about something along the lines of AOL, or possibly Earthlink. Sure WoW has a million customers in NA, but how does that compare to AOL? 20 odd million? The point is that game companies are notorious for their poor customer service, and MMO companies (even WoW) have a tiny fraction of the customer base that an AOL does. So far as the commonalities go my thinking is that you're supporting users of a software package. Does it really make a difference if it's a game?

    And really, why should MMO developers be expected to branch out, away from their core competance, into something like customer support? Setting up and running a customer support department is not an easy or simple task and it involves proficiencies in areas which do not overlap with game development.

    In final response to your question I would say that that MMO's should offer the same level of customer support as similar subscriber services. What that level is is well understood--in very specific terms by the professionals who set up and run customer care departments but also in general terms by ordinary consumers. I don't think the question of what constitutes "good" customer care is at all a complicated one. The real question, in my mind, is _how_ you achieve it. Does it really make sense for MMO developer X to spend huge amounts of money hiring CS people and then training them, setting up a department, paying consultants, etc.? What if the game bombs, like the Matrix Online did? At least the risk associated with a bomb can be mitigated if developer X is licensing its product to an established company which already has a large and established customer care department.

    18.

    Thabor>You can go ahead and judge severity based on the percentage of the playerbase. However, it would be good to keep in mind people are more vocal about negatives than positives, and much of WoW spread now seems to be attributed to word of mouth. Do you really suppose that this would be amusing to casual or new player?

    I'm a casual player. I take shit from my guild for being the slowest leveller they have; I've been playing since July and am still only level 23. And I think this was the most interesting thing to happen in months. (ok, so I'm an academic too, sure that helps...)

    Frankly, I've been really bored by the fact that the social/emotional/exploratory elements of the game I enjoyed so much at first are not part of the "official" reward system of the game. The grind is really tedious; I'm tired of go-here-do-that-pick-up-those-bring-them-back-to-Ashenvale-and-I'll-offer-you-another-quest.

    I really wonder at a mindset which is so wedded to the premises of levelling in the game, so content to continue in "normal" existence as the programmers have delimited it, that a sudden outbreak of the ebola virus appears as an annoying roadblock to progress rather than a communal tragedy or even as a cosmic joke. Then again, I'm on an RP server, and I may not understand the impact this would have on a PvP server.

    19.

    Thabor >Do you really suppose that this would be amusing to casual or new player? <

    I’d say that dying once to “The Plague” would be fun. Dying repeatedly isn’t. A nice fix might be to make players who caught it once immune to further attacks, except in the Hakkar instance.

    Mike Sellers > Given the nature of the software, what's a realistic standard to which operators should aspire when something like this arises? <

    I think they should aspire to having some responsible devs working on the weekend after a big patch. That’s when most players will be hitting the code for the first time, and that is when something is likely to break. People working hard to perpetuate the plague might be a CS issue. But someone on hand to change the code, even if only nerfing the DoT for a few days, would have helped. And that’s beyond the reach of CS reps. Providing some alternate Auction Houses to break up the crowd in Ironforge would also help, but that is a different problem.

    20.

    >> Thabor wrote:
    >>
    >> The biggest disappointment
    >> wasn't that it happened, but that Blizzard
    >> was so incapable when it came to dealing with it.
    >
    > Mike Sellers wrote:
    > So incapable? It happened over the weekend
    > and appears to be gone today (I believe?)

    It is amazing to me how often "weekend" or "holiday" is used as a justification for Yet Another Example of Blizzard's horrendous customer service for WoW.

    Here's a news flash to anyone running an online game: you don't get weekends and holidays off. Those are the days you need MORE staff and MORE people working MORE hours.

    > Mike Sellers wrote:
    > Given the nature of the software, what's a
    > realistic standard to which operators should
    > aspire when something like this arises?

    I would say a realistic standard for ANY online game is to fix or remove the problem within a couple of hours, not a day+.

    Given the fact that Blizzard is making upwards of $2 million a day, I'd be inclined to lower that standard to minutes rather than hours.

    It would have been extremely easy to simply deactivate the debuff and shut down that encounter until it was fixed in a more permanent way.

    Blizzard is definitely capable of it. They've banned people more quickly for doing things like legitimate use of guild powers to "trivialize content" (aka: avoid 5 hours of mindless trash mob killing just to fight 1 boss).


    > Mike Sellers wrote:
    > Moreover, given that this primarily affected
    > places with high traffic by very high-level
    > characters, the chances that many low-level
    > or new players were involved is miniscule.

    I take it you have never played WoW. Ironforge is the most heavily trafficed area for players of ALL levels. You can check the video linked from the original story to see corpses of hundreds if not thousands of players on a single server, over a short span of time.

    $230 per year ($50 for the game or annual expansion + $180 in month fees) * 4 million players = $920,000,000

    That is almost 1 billion dollars.

    ONE.

    BILLION.

    DOLLARS.

    That is not even counting sales of merchandise, collectors editions, etc. (and yes, on the flip side they don't get the entire purchase price of the game- but these extra factors pretty much balance out).

    That isn't enough money to have enough people on staff around the clock to resolve things like this rapidly?

    It isn't like they need a separate fix for each server. They only have to fix the problem once.

    21.

    I think the main issue was the DoT that came around. The plague didn't last long, but it did damage that could do some serious problems to players.

    Over in EQ2 land, we had a plague event about right before the first adventure pack hit (around the beginning first quarter of the year or so?) Now THAT was annoying. It didn't actually DO anything, but the sheer fact that it NEVER went away (because the "Cure" for it was a level 50 raid zone with a VERY long quest path and an insane boss on par with horror stories from FF11 or old school EQ) infected even NPC's and was impossibly annoying to see (because some people relied on visual clues from their characters to cast spells and actions, and having a plague that constantly made you retch and shiver was not cool)

    I think it should be a good thing your "plague" only lasts so short and doesn't take a game wide quest to complete. *Shakes head*

    22.

    Hellinar said, I think they should aspire to having some responsible devs working on the weekend after a big patch.

    Yeah, that makes some sense. Getting devs to work around the clock or even be on call after the crunch leading up to a patch is going to be very, very difficult... but I can see your point. Patches are a deployment like any other, and so aren't any more fire-and-forget than any other.

    Michael Hartman wrote: I would say a realistic standard for ANY online game is to fix or remove the problem within a couple of hours, not a day+.

    On what basis do you see that as realistic? Preferable, sure, but realistic? I can think of any number of issues -- especially emergent ones like this -- that could easily take longer than that to find, much less resolve and deploy.

    I take it you have never played WoW.

    You're mistaken. But in terms of the scale of the problem, I think you're speaking either without knowledge or without taking into account the scale of the servers (yes, including who spends time in places like Ironforge and/or who was affected by this bug). From what's been said, it's clear this issue affected a few hundred people on some (not all) servers, and was over before the large majority of people knew it was there.

    That isn't enough money to have enough people on staff around the clock to resolve things like this rapidly?

    No. You can't just throw money at any technical problem and just make it go away (a fallacy commonly held by players but one that's utterly erroneous in practice). Large, complex, commercial software products (games or not -- though games are in many ways a worst case) do not work that way.

    It isn't tenable -- even with a billion dollars in gross sales -- to say that every tecnical problem is going to be fixed within an hour or ten hours (though this one appears to have been resolved within 24 hours anyway). And to lewy's earlier point, it sure isn't tenable to turn over a core piece of the business like this to an ISP with no experience in dealing with CS issues of the complexity that occur in a MMOG (btw, doing so would not mitigate risk in the slightest; if you're game is going to bomb like MXO, having outsourced your CS sure isn't going to save you).

    Earlier lewy said, I would say that that MMO's should offer the same level of customer support as similar subscriber services. What that level is is well understood--in very specific terms by the professionals who set up and run customer care departments but also in general terms by ordinary consumers. I don't think the question of what constitutes "good" customer care is at all a complicated one.

    I disagree, but I'd be interested in hearing some examples of what you say is a well-understood, uncomplicated area with specific standards. From what I know this remains a poorly understood area with many complications and variances between industries. If it was simple or well understood we wouldn't see large professional groups feeling their way in the dark on these issues. So I'm not sure what 'professionals' you're talking about. Do you mean those who run CS for banks, hospitals, cable TV, airlines, rental cars, grocery stores, DMV, other MMOs, or something else? We daily accept many different levels of customer service in different contexts because different services are, well, different.

    Personally, I think having a bug like this fixed within 24 hours is pretty much top-notch for our industry now. If they'd been able to disable the bug (or the instance) within a few hours that would have been better -- but that's also hindsight; in some cases the origin of the bug might not be at all apparent early on.

    In terms of improving customer service, I have to wonder what if any lasting effects there are from a bug like this. I can't really think of any. So beyond a few people (maybe 0.1% of the player base if we're being generous) having to endure this (and then complain loudly about it) for a day or so, is there anything left for CS to clean up? And is there anything else that can be learned from this little tempest?

    23.

    "And to lewy's earlier point, it sure isn't tenable to turn over a core piece of the business like this to an ISP with no experience in dealing with CS issues of the complexity that occur in a MMOG"

    Frankly, MMOG's don't seem all that complicated to me--at least no more so than the normal run of the mill for computer problems. A network issue is a network issue--does it really make a difference if the program that can't connect to the internet is a game or a business package?

    "(btw, doing so would not mitigate risk in the slightest; if you're game is going to bomb like MXO, having outsourced your CS sure isn't going to save you). "

    No, I'm not talking about outsourcing--that is still equivilent to hiring your own customer service department. I'm talking about licensing the product to an organization which already has a server farm and a customer service department. This, after all, is precisely what MMO's already do in foreign countries.

    "I disagree, but I'd be interested in hearing some examples of what you say is a well-understood, uncomplicated area with specific standards. From what I know this remains a poorly understood area with many complications and variances between industries. If it was simple or well understood we wouldn't see large professional groups feeling their way in the dark on these issues. So I'm not sure what 'professionals' you're talking about. Do you mean those who run CS for banks, hospitals, cable TV, airlines, rental cars, grocery stores, DMV, other MMOs, or something else? We daily accept many different levels of customer service in different contexts because different services are, well, different."

    Not at all. In fact I would say that in all of the examples you listed there is only one glaring exception--MMO's. For each of the previous examples you can call a customer support line and speak with another human being, who will make some attempt to assist you in a timely manner. With MMO's and games in general phone contact is the exception, rather than the rule. One simple improvement might be a toll free customer service number which customers can call. I've noticed that in all too many games the support number is a normal long distance call, and given the waits involved that often implies a substantial phone bill. World of Warcraft, for example, lists a customer support number in the 949 area code. On the other hand with each of the examples you listed toll free numbers are the rule, not the exception.

    In fact the process involved in setting up call centers and other support infrastructure is well understood and there are numerous standard industry practices and measures. It's an easy bet that the vast majority of call centers time calls, for instance, as a gauge of efficiency.

    So far as the specific bug in question goes I think the real issue is that a small group of rogue players were able to exploit a coding flaw to degrade the play experience of other customers. Blizzard's customer service really gets an F for two reasons: first, getting information out of them is like squeezing blood from a rock and second, because customer service is inconsistent. Just from the posts above we can see that on one server CS reps tried to quarantine diseased players (unsuccessfully) while on another the only response was a canned message.


    24.

    "That is almost 1 billion dollars."

    Actually it's not even close. Blizzard licenses WoW to third party service providers in places like China. Those companies bear the expense of serving WoW for domestic consumption and pay Blizzard a licensing fee for the privilege.

    What further complicates issues in China, where a good chunk of that four million number comes from, is that the exchange rate make a $50 box fee and a $15 monthly subscription fee prohibitively expensive. What's more it's likely that most Chinese customers play in internet cafes, and I've heard at least one rumor that Blizzard allows said cafes to download the client for free.

    25.

    I’m with Mike on this. I’ve never put together a CS dept for an MMO, but I have put together CS and CS outsource stuff in a range of other sectors in my days as a telco bod.

    CS costs can easily kill the profitability of a business. For a given level of service commitment increased complexity increases cost. MMOs are waaaay more complex than, say, banking applications. This is both at an abstract level i.e. they are both bits of software but a MMO has more transaction types than a banking application e.g. construct a matrix of all combat possibilities in WoW taking into account player, mob, level and attack – big matrix; now set up an scrip for a call centre to work through the problem – if you can do this well you should probably be consulting for banks. In addition to this though there are the many types of actor relationship involved, with a bank this is pretty simple customer (type), account / transaction (type) and bank (yes there are a few more), in MMOs they are way more of these, and people might have a lot of different belief about the type of relationship they are in which will alter things e.g. does ‘guild mate’ count, if so when and in what way.

    Also even in non MMO business, if you are in the UK, try calling a human these days, or at least try calling a human that has a good grasp of English – its getting harder. Where ever you are, try calling Amazon.

    There’s this great thing called CRM – customer relationship management. Often it is in fact a euphemism. What it means is, provide the appropriate i.e. minimum level of customer service to a given customer segment. Segmentation is an art. In banking it used to be things like current and strategic value i.e you can treat most customers really badly as they don’t earn you that much and where are they going to go anyway, but there are those that will earn you a lot more, those you look after.

    Translating this to MMOs and WoW, how many players are going to run based on the level of CS support? Sure it could get terrible and they would leave in droves, its about working out the minimum.

    What MMOs do not seem to have got, and this is something that Constance has talked about, is that the strategic value is in Guild leaders – those you should support well, and its worth it.

    26.

    *****Actually I was thinking about something along the lines of AOL, or possibly Earthlink. Sure WoW has a million customers in NA, but how does that compare to AOL? 20 odd million? The point is that game companies are notorious for their poor customer service, and MMO companies (even WoW) have a tiny fraction of the customer base that an AOL does. So far as the commonalities go my thinking is that you're supporting users of a software package. Does it really make a difference if it's a game?*****

    Ouch ... The market I know best currently is the Aussie market (though I'm rapidly learning about the UK market since moving out here) and I have to say that I'd far rather have the MMO developer/publisher run CS than an ISP. The largest ISP in Australia (Telstra) is notorious for its garbage CS, and most of the smaller ISP's are almost as bad (with the exception of a few bright lights, who unfortunately would not be large enough to handle a customer base like WoW's, even if limited to the Aussie customers).

    And AOL being held up as a good choice? I wouldn't touch them personally.

    27.

    I wonder how much of this is a matter of setting expectations and establishing culture in a VW.

    As in the real world, there is a fine line between unrealistic expectations and poor performance--we are seeing the horrific consequences of the latter in the Gulf Coast of the US right now. And a political debate is raging over whether the current mess in Iraq is the result of the former or the latter.

    In a VW, governments often claim omnipotence--it is part of the price you pay for authoritarianism. Thus, players have certain expectations in return for the lack of power they have over their virtual world.

    I wonder if it wouldn't be more prudent to develop a culture more tolerant of anomalies and unexpected behavior--BOTH on the part of developers AND players.

    As I prefaced, there is a fine line there and much potential for abuse and neglect of critical responsibilities. But there is also potential for changing the nature of the relationship between player and developer from a confrontation to a collaboration.

    This is not just idle theory.

    I know that in Terra we managed, purely through social and cultural means, to make "bugs" something players worked with us to solve--and, because of their belief that we were in that boat together, they were willing to tolerate the short-term effects of a bug more easily than I have seen in other games. Because we as developers we genuine in our intent to work with players rather than to "control" them, we often turned manifestations such as this plague bug in Wow to our advantage, immediately modifying our story arc and incorporating it into events and narrative. Not to fool players, but rather in a wink-wink nudge-nudge way of letting them know we were all in this together, and might as well make the best of it and have fun while we fix it.

    I know, from conversations with others, that the same positive results have manifested in other games when isolated developers have taken this approach, which is still the exception rather than the rule in this industry. Treating people well just works better, on all sorts of levels.

    Since we know that, as the complexity of our worlds grows, we will be less and less able to anticipate and account for these kind of things, it makes business sense in my mind to look at the bigger picture: not just "how do I fix this plague, players are yelling at me", but rather how can we change our cultural design and management approach to strengthen the underlying social infrasctucture that will allows us to survive inevitable crashes.

    If you treat players as damage, they will treat you as damage, in a vicious circle. If, instead, you work with players in a virtuous circle, wonderful things can happen.

    28.

    Moving away from the player-support topic:

    Last night I interviewed a World of Warcraft player who used the plague as a biological weapon. More details on our newly-born research blog. I'd be very curious to know if anyone else has heard about people profiting from the plague!

    29.


    This is the modern MMO version of the 1998 UO tinker character with an exploding chest blowing others up in town.

    The Mad Bomber strikes again.

    30.


    Another thought...

    I think it is interesting the WoW gaming population originally used descriptive (almost RPer'ish) writings to discuss the plague in the game as a disease or illness that was spreading among the population as a way to build interest and curiousity...

    but had something like this happened in just about any other game, the original situation would have been written about as Global Thermal Nuclear War Griefer style.

    Maybe I see it that way because I don't play WoW and don't interact with it on an official level (official forums, etc..), but I have never played a game or played in a community where an event of such widespread mass death in game wouldn't of created enormous emotional outrage among the community... a monsterous outrage I simply haven't noticed assoicated with this event.

    Makes me wonder if WoW is such a dominate force in MMO gaming that it has changed the way players see player vs player interactions, even when the effects are detrimental. In 1998, developers at Origin got fired for a similar incident that occured in UO with tinker chests, I seem to remember something similar happening in 2000 with EQ... but today.. in WoW, players in general seem fairly casual about the whole experience, almost taking pride that it happened in 'their' game.

    31.
    The unfortunate fact in any service business is that you're never going to please everyone; some small percentage of people are inevitably -- and rightly or wrongly -- going to feel slighted. Given this, what's a realistic, viable standard for customer service and technical support in a world-class MMOG?

    I already gave you a realistic standard. Instead of addressing it you've chosen to be dismissive and insulting. However, here it is again in more detail.

    Communicate the problem. CS has facilities for setting login and sever broadcast messages. These tools should have been used, instead of sending canned messages to each individual ticket. Proper use of these tools reduces overall CS burden, and makes it clear you intend to be pro-active about the problem.


    Take action. Go to where the problem is and see what's actually happening. Take short term actions as needed to resolve the immediate problem, with whatever tools you have at hand. Make an appearance. A personal apperance by any GM is a pretty notable action to most players. Communicate the problem again. If it is an issue of griefing, give wanring and or bans as appropraite. If a restart or shutting an instance will fix it, then start that process. Initiate the longterm solution.

    Communciate about the solution. What did you do short term. When can a long term solution be expected.


    Yeah, that makes some sense. Getting devs to work around the clock or even be on call after the crunch leading up to a patch is going to be very, very difficult... but I can see your point. Patches are a deployment like any other, and so aren't any more fire-and-forget than any other.

    Blizzard really shouldn't have crunch time before patch. They already have their release pretty well defined when the deploy to test server. Additionally, they always perpatch during they are not in the habit of accouncing patch dates, so any crunch time they have is a product of internal expectations.

    As far as having someone on hand, in our shop at least we require at least one responsible developer to be around during peak hours after a patch. And for them to have contact information for other responsible parties. However, we also give comp-time to whoever stays.


    As an aside to this discussion.. Why does it seem that many developers still act so adversarially towards their players? I've seen it in game after game, and it reminds me of playing a PNP game with a bad GM. A good GM provides an entertaining and sometimes challenging experience. A bad GM acts like an opponent, there to punish or even kill player characters.

    32.

    Apologies for forgetting to attach my name to that last post.

    33.

    I loved hearing about this, and was not at all surprised. This happened back in January as well with an effect that could get dropped onto a Warlock pet. When the pet was resummoned, the effect was still there. There was actually a rather amusing video that travelled the net of one such 'Lock taking their Voidwalker to the Ironforge AH and waiting out the 60 minute timer. Blammo! 3200 damage to everyone in front of the three vendors :)

    This is nothing new. However, there are also a lot more players in WoW worldwide than there were in January, so the volume of discontent is understandably louder.

    At the same time, this is exactly why I pay my monthly fee for MMOs. It's all about the antics of other live people doing something creative with bugs in the code. I'm rather magnamious when it comes to bugs these days, particularly because even the most abject failure in WoW is not so punitive as to compel me to question my invested time.

    So I understand why folks got all bent, even if I don't share the feeling.

    It reminds me of SWG after a fashion, again because what people were capable of doing. My Rebel alliance had set up to attack the Imperials at one of their strongholds. We had planned for a week, and lodged a force of around 50 people. On our way to the base we got ambushed by a larger, more prepared, and better equip group of Imperials. This, of course, is straight out of Lore. Stupid of us Rebels to try and act like a Regiment. But that's besides the point because of why we were ambushed at that specific moment:

    The Imperials had paid one among our number 10mil credits to report on our every moment.

    That is pure PvP in all its glory.

    It's about the people. The game mechanic is just a specific tool at a specific time.

    34.

    Lewy wrote:
    Actually it's not even close. Blizzard licenses WoW to third party service providers in places like China.

    Exactly. Let’s take the China example. Around 2 million players are playing Wow in China. If we use the standard american fee we have:
    ~35$*1+12*15$ = 215$ per user per year
    215$* 2000000 subscribers = 430'000'000 $ per year.
    It is a lot. But the reality is far away. First chinese players pay a fee per hour of play and it is a cheap fee. And Vivendi has sold the license to The9 (WoW service provider in China) in advance for one year.
    About how much Vivendi got from the deal is not public. But The9 Report for the second Quarter 2005 gives us some hints:

    “..As of June 30, 2005, the Company's total cash and cash equivalents balance was RMB523.3 million (US$63.2 million). The decrease in cash and cash equivalents from RMB793.4 million (US$95.8 million) as at December 31, 2004 was mainly a result of WoW server purchases, WoW prepaid royalty payment for the first year of WoW's operating term and being expensed as game revenues are recognized, and payments to 9Webzen, offset in part by receipts of prepaid card revenues and payments against loan receivable…”

    The royality prepaid for the first year could not be higher then ~ US$30 million (including the operative costs) so if we remove the operative costs we have something between US$10 and US$20million. Far away from the initial US$430 million.


    35.

    With regards to Ren Reynold's comments on CS and profitability:

    I absolutely agree with you that CS costs can chew up a company's profitability. In fact, my idea about licensing rather than hosting is largely an attempt to address that problem.

    Looking at MMO's I can see a couple of sticky issues:

    1. Predicting the customer base. I don't think Blizzard anticipated that WoW would be this popular. I don't think that the guys who made the Matrix Online anticipated that their game would be so unpopular. How do you decide how big of a customer support team you need when you're not sure about how many customers you're going to be supporting?

    2. Tiny customer base. WoW excluded, the subscription base for most MMO's in the US hovers in the low hundreds of thousands. What kind of customer support department can you support with that kind of revenue? Not a very big one I think. This, incidentally, is by my guess the biggest factor in the lousy customer support associated with MMOG's.

    3. Game lifetime. MMO's have a life span measured in single digit years, or even months. Inevitably something new comes down the stream and people bail. Your customer support needs today may not even be close to your needs tomorrow. What's the solution--fire all the people you hired back when the game was popular?

    I think that licensing out MMOG's to large service providers may be one way of mitigating the impact these issues can have on (typically) small development companies. After all, licensing to third parties is already the status quo when it comes to deploying MMOG's overseas.

    To be completely honest though I think the best solution is still for game companies to host their own games--as long as we're not talking about one game. Remember Michael Pachter in the MSM thread? He talked about selling MMOG's memberships using the cable subscription model. That's something that a Sony or an NCSoft can do. A silver pass for example might buy you a membership in a premium game (EQII) and a bunch of older ones (EQI, SWG, whatever). A gold pass could purchase a membership in every game being hosted.

    Compared to a single game the subscriber base for a cable subscription model may be more stable. As a particular game starts to show its age its player population may start to fade, but if those players simply migrate to a newer game in the same service then the total subscription numbers will stay fairly constant. That could allow for a dedicated customer service department specifically trained in supporting online games and a customer service infrastructure designed to do the same.

    Also, think of the tie in opportunities. Player X may join for access to his favorite online sports sim. If the opportunity to upgrade his account, for a mere $5 a month, is dangled in front of him he may be moved to try out a few "elves in tights" games.

    36.

    Thabor wrote:

    A good GM provides an entertaining and sometimes challenging experience. A bad GM acts like an opponent, there to punish or even kill player characters.

    I agree. I recently fired Aetolia's producer and upon looking more closely into what his guys had been working on under him, I came across this system they put in in the nearish past. It's a whole disease 'system' for admins to create communicable diseases. Help file included below for laughs.

    Is it cool? Sure. It's the sort of thing that text MUDs are good for: extraneous systems you'd never really find in a graphical MUD, that still manage to be fairly in-depth. On the other hand, it's really only cool for the admins as the only use for it I can see is to laugh as players suffer from this. The long and short of it is that this system will be removed ASAP.

    Admin help file for disease system
    ---------
    INTRODUCTION
    Hello everyone and welcome to the help file for the new disease system. This system is intended as a little way of causing havoc among the mortals. Don't we all like causing chaos and havoc? Great! Let's get started then, shall we?

    MAIN VIEW

    The disease system works around one command with lots of arguments. The command is DISEASE and you'll be using it a lot when you're creating a new disease. But before we get started on that, let's go through the interface for creating and enabling diseases.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Disease #: 1 Name: Creator: [ ]Enabled
    Description:
    Races:
    Remedies:
    [ ]repeating [ ]can_start [ ]immunity
    [ ]newbies_immune


    This is a sample of how a new disease you have created might look. Most of it is quite self explanatory, but there are some important things. The name can not be empty and must be set before a disease can be enabled. Further on, the can_start field is vital - without it the disease can not start at all, obviously.

    In the races field, just list the races you want should be able to have the disease. If you put one race there, it becomes specific for that race only. This can be useful for say, a horrible outbreak of fleas that makes all the rajamala crazy. If you check the immunity field, you can also set the immune field that holds the duration of the immunity phase during which it is impossible for that player to get the disease.

    The remedies field is special and it is very important that it is correctly set. Correct format is ::. Please note that the remedy must be one word without spaces. The effect is how much extra you want the duration timer to tick down every minute. It is possible to set a negative value to create reversed medicines. Duration is in minutes. It should be noted that once you have eaten a remedy for one disease, that disease can not be affected until that remedy has been effective for the set duration. Below are a few examples for how remedies may look.

    ginseng:-1:60 For 60 minutes, ginseng halts the progress of the current phase, effectively prolonging the whole disease.

    kuzu:2:10 For 10 minutes, the kuzu root will increase the recovery speed of the disease in action.

    frost:1:120 Two hours duration, recovery speed increase by 1.

    Plants (eat):
    Elm, echinacea, skullcap, cohosh, slipper, lobelia, valerian, ginseng, hawthorn, ginger, myrrh, bayberry, ash, kelp, goldenseal, kuzu, moss, bloodroot, bellwort, kola, pear, sileris and blueberry.

    Elixirs (drink):
    Frost, speed, health, mana, venom, immunity and levitation.

    If you have a cure/remedy you would like to see, please tell a coder and they will add it to the list for you. It is quite possible to make very specific cures and remedies, like for example the metacure.

    PHASES
    We now move on to the phases. The phases roll from the first, to the last in order, and if you have immunity set on the disease, it will continue into an invisible phase for the set duration of the immunity.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Phase #1 [x]contagious [x]cureable [x]remediable duration: 30
    activity: 1/3 retake: 1/0 virulence: 1/20 transmits: air
    afflictmsg:
    curedby:
    remedymsg:
    curemsg:
    diag:
    oactset:
    str: 0 dex: 0 con: 0 int: 0
    health: 0 mana: 0 endurance: 0 willpower: 0
    health_percent: 0 mana_percent: 0
    endurance_percent: 0 willpower_percent: 0


    This is the phase description, this holds all the vital information on how the disease will work.

    Contagious : If this field is set, the phase is contagious.

    Cureable : This means that the disease can be cured during this phase.

    Remediable : Any remedies in effect while this phase is running will work and increase/decrease the duration.

    Duration : This is the duration in minutes for the phase.

    Activity : The activity field describes how often one will do one of the effects listed in the selected oactset. This value is checked every 30 seconds. 1/1 means roughly once per minute, 1/5 means roughly once per five minutes. If set to 1/0, it will make the phase silent.

    Retake : Each time a phase ends, there is a chance that the phase restarts again, prolonging the disease. Note that the duration is halved when the phase retakes.

    Virulence : (Only visible if the phase is contagious) When an emote that spreads disease is used, and the types are the same, the disease has the set chance to spread to someone else.

    Transmits : (Only visible if the phase is contagious) This describes how the disease spreads. Currently, you can select air, fluid or contact. If you can think of more, talk to your nearest friendly coder and they will add it for you!

    Afflictmsg : This message is seen when the phase starts and can be just about anything fitting for the disease.

    Curedby : (Only visible if the phase is cureable) Place the possible cures (see the list in the remedy description) separated by spaces. If one of those cures are activated by eating or drinking or whatever, the disease will be automatically cured.

    Remedymsg : (Only visible if the phase is remediable) This message is what is shown to the player eating a remedy giving positive effects during this phase. If you have multiple remedies, remember that you can't currently include the name of the remedy in the message.

    Curemsg : When a cure is eaten, or someone cures you by other means (divine hand for exmple!), this is the message the player will see.

    Diag : This is how the phase will look when someone types DIAGNOSE to see their diseases. Remember that it begins with "You are:" or "S/he is:", so write the messages accordingly.

    Oactset : This is the oactset that will be used during this phase. See the activity field for more information about it, and look more down in the section on how to write oacts for diseases.

    OACTS

    Right, for the phases to really do something but exist, you will need an oactset for each phase. It is almost as simple as making normal oacts. Only difference is that you must make it targetted at the player, so the player is not the doer of the oacteffect. Given the wide range of effects it is possible to bestow with oacts, your ability to create varied diseases is pretty powerful.

    A sample effect that causes someone to lose balance upon coughing
    Target: You cough violently, hacking up a bit of blood.
    Witness: $+(lname$) coughs violently, hacking up a bit of blood.
    Action: x1 lose_bal

    DISCLAIMER
    That's about what it is all about. With this, you can start causing major havoc in the world of mortals. Side effects may include: Drymouth, nausea, vomiting, water retention, painful rectal itch, psycosis, coma, death, and halitosis. The disease system is not for everyone. Consult your doctor before use. Oh, and don't blame me for any ill effects that might happen to you all!
    -----------

    --matt

    37.

    To the question of whether the staff should have taken more immediate action:

    Yes. Thabor has outlined what the reaction should have been fairly well. The best argument against this so far was been that it could take the staff considerable time to find the code to be altered.

    How soon should the staff have known about the problem? As soon as it became a common topic on the public channels and/or complaint system. How soon should the staff have acted? As soon as the above happened.

    As to taking 18-20 hours to find the code that needed altering. Since the problem was from new code (I gather that it was) that narrows down the possibilites quite a bit. If the code for the new material wasn't laid out so that the general location of the code to be altered was obvious, then the code wasn't laid out well at all.

    With respect, comparing Blizzard to FEMA is completely unfair. FEMA doesn't have near-omnipotence and omnipresence. Blizzard staff doesn't have that excuse.

    38.

    In my ongoing dreams of a living persistent world, I come across moments like this and view them with a sense of wonder rather than annoyance.

    MMOs right now are based around the concept of providing the precise same content in precisely the same way twenty-four hours a day. While I won't go so far as to say it is "immersion breaking," it is a difficult thing to see the world being precisely the same in every way 24/7.

    When events such as this happen... especially when events like this happen... there is a very faint whiff in the air of reality that rises above the stale feast that is normally laid out for the players.

    I'm not denying the destructive effects of this event on the everyday play of the game. I would like to argue, however, that events like this may eventually be the catalyst to something resembling a living world.

    Last night we here in San Diego had a tremendous thunderstorm. Lightning strikes started small fires and the thunderclaps were setting off car alarms in my neighborhood. It got me to thinking: what if we had storms such as these in our game worlds? Storms that prevented everyday, standard play from happening. Casual players would riot? Give them something to do in the meantime.

    Would it be compelling to have a terrible storm once a month or so in which you couldn't slay orc 1,000,514 - 1,000,602, but you could harvest rare mushrooms that only grow during the storm period?

    SW

    39.

    #Frankly, MMOG's don't seem all that complicated to me--at least no more so than the normal run of the mill for computer problems. A network issue is a network issue--does it really make a difference if the program that can't connect to the internet is a game or a business package?#

    Connectivity issues are an infinitesimal subset of the potential problems facing a MMOG. This 'plague' was not a connectivity issue. Indeed, nothing was actually broken at all. There was an unintended deletorious side-effect, but it was perfectly functional and logical. I'd wager nobody here has any idea how complicated it was to amend - while ensuring that nothing else (such as the difficulty of the plague-giving quest) was affected.

    I'd also like to echo the sentiments of others and say that the theme-park sterility of WoW put me off fairly quickly, and that news of this plague - accompanied by rumours that it was an intentional feature - seriously tempted me to renew my subscription.

    40.

    I haven't seen this on Laughing Skull or Gilneas, even though guilds are killing Hakkar on both servers. I'm sure due to publicity, the griefing guilds, particularly the horde guilds of LS, will begin infecting people in orgrimmar.

    There have been some other game mechanics that have led to similar outcomes.
    - Warlocks summoning doomguards and infernals in AHs. Depending on the players in the vicinity, the Demons will run around killing several lower level players until people destroy the demons. This is farily uncommmon now that most servers have a large lvl 60 population.
    - Baron Geddon, a boss in Molten Core, has an interesting little debuff which turns a player into a 'living bomb.' The specific player, after a short duration, explodes for nearly 3-5k damage. Some hunters have taken to dismissing their pets if their pet becomes the bomb. Then, upon arrival in their major city, summoning their pet, who proceeds to blow up in a bank or AH, killing almost every player in the vicinity with <4k hps.

    Very entertaining :)

    41.

    "Connectivity issues are an infinitesimal subset of the potential problems facing a MMOG. This 'plague' was not a connectivity issue. Indeed, nothing was actually broken at all. There was an unintended deletorious side-effect, but it was perfectly functional and logical. I'd wager nobody here has any idea how complicated it was to amend - while ensuring that nothing else (such as the difficulty of the plague-giving quest) was affected."

    In other words, a software bug. The customer support in MMOG's is pretty rotten, but all CS can do in any industry when a bug is involved is inform the customer that "This is a known issue and the developers are working on a fix". Or possibly "Thank you for bringing this bug to our attention. I am entering it into our system now."

    42.

    My god, man! A plague? In an RPG!!!

    What were they thinking?!?!?!

    *note the light-hearted humorous tone*

    This is awesome. Characters in a fantasy world that attempts to create the real world in all its glory are affected by something that's quite common in the real world - disease.

    Though I agree that a character should only be affected once (and if they survive, more power to them), the ROLE-PLAYING implications of this are too cool to ignore.

    43.
    Is it cool? Sure. It's the sort of thing that text MUDs are good for: extraneous systems you'd never really find in a graphical MUD, that still manage to be fairly in-depth. On the other hand, it's really only cool for the admins as the only use for it I can see is to laugh as players suffer from this. The long and short of it is that this system will be removed ASAP.

    The existance of such a system isn't bad in and of itself. Its the usage that is a real issue. To go back to the good/bad GM example:

    A good GM would use such a system, but not frequently. It presents a good challenge, and there are specifications allowing for cures. The enviornment should present signs that disease is a risk in that area. Signs that you are in a bio-hazard area of a hospital.. Special locks on doors, hazard suits, Unhealthy looking creatures.. Bodies in the background.. The story needs to convey at least minimally that there is a special risk to an area. A cure should have some sort of link to the disease area. Doctor's notes..

    The danger of such a system is that is needs to be monitored carefully to prevent abuse. When it is used correctly it can add greatly to a game.

    From the design perspective the plague was borderline. There was no setup to indicate it was a risk. It had a 100% chance to jump to another target. It was high damage. There was no cure. That was all mitigated by the fact it was intended to stay in an instance. However, if they had allowed a player cure, or made it self limiting then it wouldn't have even required a direct response.

    I imagine instead of a split response there would have been positive feed back if players had been able to cure the epidemic themselves. That is a real role playing opportunity.

    44.


    >> I wrote:
    >> That isn't enough money to have enough
    >> people on staff around the clock to resolve
    >> things like this rapidly?
    >
    > Mike Sellers wrote:
    >
    > No. You can't just throw money at any technical
    > problem and just make it go away (a fallacy
    > commonly held by players but one that's utterly
    > erroneous in practice). Large, complex, commercial
    > software products (games or not -- though games are
    > in many ways a worst case) do not work that way.

    This is the all too convenient apologist line. It is similar, but more vague, than the "it happened on the weekend" argument made previously. MMO developers don't get weekends off, just as they don't get a pass on inexcusably slow response time to bugs like this.

    Since when is broadcasting system messages informing the players what is going on a large, complex technical problem?

    How difficult is it to turn off an encounter? How difficult is it to disable a debuff?

    I agree that FIXING a bug can be difficult, but no matter how difficult is it to fix the bug, it is NOT difficult to take SOME short term action that ameliorates the situation. Since the bug was something that only happens as a result of *ONE* NPC in *ONE* dungeon, turning it off while you fix it should be easy.

    If that is truly a large, complex, technical problem, then their designers are truly incompetent. From playing the game, I do not think their designers are incompetent.

    It seems pretty clear that Blizzard just doesn't care about customer service. Evidence of this includes the average of 1.5 GMs per server, the days or weeks it takes to get a customer service email reply, the 10% at best response rate on customer support emails, and numerous other glaringly outrageous problems. This recent incident is just Exhibit #970,709,239.

    For months, players have begged Blizzard to let the dungeons get tested on the test server (why else do you even have a test server, if not to test new content?). Blizzard has chosen to ignore the majority of their playerbase, and instead cater to the Uber Guilds who want all instanced dungeons to be released untested so nobody has a leg up on being the "First Guild to Kill (Insert Uber Mob That is Soon to be Farmed here)."

    Is that smart? Nope. They've been burned by this every single time they have released a new instanced dungeon. Will they ever learn? It appears they will not.

    Since when is enabling Uber Guild dick waving more important than releasing properly tested code?

    45.


    > lewy wrote:
    >
    > With MMO's and games in general phone contact is the
    > exception, rather than the rule. One simple improvement
    > might be a toll free customer service number which
    > customers can call. I've noticed that in all too many
    > games the support number is a normal long distance
    > call, and given the waits involved that often implies
    > a substantial phone bill. World of Warcraft, for example,
    > lists a customer support number in the 949 area code. On
    > the other hand with each of the examples you listed toll
    > free numbers are the rule, not the exception.

    Bad idea. As a player, I would not want to share the cost of this toll free line, or the employees to man it.

    People don't commonly call their bank with crazy complaints like: "This is no fair! I work at The Gap and someone who works for Jcrew cut in front of me in line. You guys must shop at JCrew and so you show them preference!"

    Substitute "The Gap" and "JCrew" for any two classes on your favorite MMO, and cutting in line with "being PKed" and you have an example of the types of calls such a toll free line would be filled with.

    46.

    A good example of overworked and/or under-empowered customer service.

    47.

    Michael Hartman wrote:

    "Bad idea. As a player, I would not want to share the cost of this toll free line, or the employees to man it."

    The real problem is that the population of most MMOG's is so small that the developer can't afford to staff a toll free line. Again, my guess is that the solution in the future will be large corporations which host a number of games on their servers, rather than only one.

    "Substitute "The Gap" and "JCrew" for any two classes on your favorite MMO, and cutting in line with "being PKed" and you have an example of the types of calls such a toll free line would be filled with."

    I'm not convinced that a customer support line would be overwhelmed by the type of "My class sucks" threads that tend to dominate game forums. For one thing there is no longer the anonymity factor--whenever you call a support line you are expected to provide personal details, such as name, credit card number, account number, etc. Let's also not forget that you would be talking to a real, live human being on the other end of the line which would I think tend to diminish most of the juvenile behavior associated with game forums. Also, only a tiny fraction of a game's players ever care enough to actually post on or read the forums.

    Finally gameplay issues are not the purview of customer support lines--tech support and account and billing questions are. As such a simple but firm "I'm sorry, but that is not an issue I can assist you with" would (I hope) suffice.

    48.

    Lilith wrote:

    "My god, man! A plague? In an RPG!!!

    What were they thinking?!?!?!"

    The problem is that the plague was a bug and that it was used in a manner the devs never intended. It was exploited by a few players to grief the rest of the population of Ironforge.

    49.

    The problem is that the plague was a bug and that it was used in a manner the devs never intended. It was exploited by a few players to grief the rest of the population of Ironforge.

    Of course it was used in ways developers never intended. That is what MMOGs are all about. We need to get over this illusion of control and adopt a policy of management and facilitation.

    This incident could have been incorporated into a story line ex post facto and managed in such a way that players would get in the spirit of it--*IF* the world had a tradition and culture of this kind of collaborative improvisational story.

    I keep making the point that empowering players and collaborative storytelling is not just a bleeding-heart liberal cause, it is a smart, cost-effective method to reduce CSR costs and increase retention and fan2fan recruitment.

    51.

    I beta tested for an MMO that had disease and medicine as components of the game. Given that it was a beta test, there were times that diesase would spread in epidemic level proportions due to this or that variable being off. Sometimes, you would get a player in advanced stages of a disease running around. Given that certain diseases were proximity transmitted, it was very easy for certain diseases to reach epidemic level proportions. During those times, doctors and pharmacists would team up and deal with the problem.

    I had taken in a few new players to this game right at the tail end of my beta-testing period there. I had to harp at them constantly to take care of their characters better. One of them would get sick and spread the disease to the rest and they would just pass the disease back and forth amongst themselves. I finally got them to understand that frequent health checks and prompt medical attention when you became ill were not optional components of the game. They were necessary and there were some real and pretty unpleasant consequences to ignoring that.

    The question remains, why did the WoW community not deal with the problem? Priests and paladins could have cured the disease while druids healed people back to health. Any sort of impromptu triage would have made more sense than complaining that the Customer Service staff was not doing their jobs at that point.

    There is also the question as to whether blizzard let the disease run on so long, precisely because they wanted to know how their player base would react to the situation. I am not saying they did or they did not but it is something that certainly worth knowing about. I think any MMO that is truly interested in their players has to spend a certain amount of resources into understanding the psychologocial and sociological aspects of their game.

    I personally think it's pretty nifty when code takes on a level of complexity that such suprises become possible. It's even niftier when the players respond to the situation just as they would if they were really there. That's what an MMO is all about. It's a virtual world simulation. The feeling of participation in these worlds is what gives them that feeling of being there.

    Had appropriate actions been taken, blizzard could have then worked the "event" into the story line just as if they had actually planned for this outcome. I would not be suprised to see such a thing happen again as some sort of planned "event" in the future.

    52.

    If you are an MMOG company, your core competency *must* include service, not just game development. You're the consumer equivalent of an application service provider like Salesforce.com. Your core value proposition is your game, so customer service is secondary -- but your service can't suck. (Of course, you can and probably will outsource at least some of your customer service, i.e., your call center, billing support, etc., functions that don't require knowledge of the game itself.)

    ISPs are completely the wrong solution. The focus of large network service providers is not customer care; it is operational excellence, which means extremely high levels of reliability coupled with extremely efficient cost control. Consumer ISPs, especially, focus heavily on driving down their customer service costs as much as possible.

    ISPs bring near-zero value to the partnership table, for a large MMOG. The ISP brings no new customers (if you want to play WoW, you're going to play it because it's Warcraft and it's Blizzard, not because Verizon is offering it), and no useful competencies, other than network services and hosting (which you'll note that most MMOG companies already outsource, Blizzard included).

    I imagine that Blizzard's executives have made some cold, hard calculations -- how good does the customer service have to be, given the quality of the game, to retain subscribers? Thus far, it doesn't seem like people are quitting the game out of disgust for the customer service. Undoubtedly they know what would make people happier -- but I suspect they won't do those things unless they feel it impacts their bottom line.

    The comments to this entry are closed.