So honestly… I started writing this out over on a friends blog. She posted something that resonated with me so much, that I just had to respond. However as I cleared the end of my fourth paragraph, I came to the realization that I was not posting a response, but writing an entire damned blog post on her site. Granted it is not unusual for me to rattle off a two or three paragraph response… but this was entering the territory of the ludicrous.
The Spinoff Post
I’ve been pretty lousy at keeping up with Google Reader lately. So after a busy morning I sat down to read a few posts, trying to grind down the massive count a bit. I know I have said this before, but my blogroll is literally what I read, so I try my damnedest to read each and every blog that I am in essence “advertising”. It was to my pleasure that near the top of the stack, MMOGC had thrown up a brand new post.
First off you have to go over there and read it right now, because it covers a topic that has become very near to my heart. In her post titled “Funcommunication” she goes into a length how amazing Funcom has been at bringing us, the players, into the experience. I have to say that I agree completely, and she managed to put it into words far better than I have done to this point.
A Bigger Shout Out
I mean I have given shouts out to the Funcom staff in several posts, but I don’t think I have really covered the magnitude of the experience. I’ve thought a few other companies in the past have done a great job interacting with the community, but that said Funcom has really taken it to the next level. Players tend to have completely unrealistic expectations for games companies, I am just as bad as anyone about this. However having this level of constantly interactivity, has been extremely humanizing.
So while we get frustrated about the bugs, seeing a constant effort to try and fix things makes the pill a little easier to swallow. As a programmer I know, that you have to pull off a lot of layers of false assumptions about a bug before you can really get to the root of it. In the case of the chat system issues, they were basically occurring in a way that could not be lab tested. There is no real way to get hundreds of thousands of players to connect to your development server.
While it was annoying, and I am glad that time is behind us I cannot describe how much I appreciate being “kept in the loop” about what was going on. So much marketing babble and spin works its way into patch notes and announcements, that it is really refreshing to see the equivalent of “we thought we fixed it, but I guess we didn’t, we are trying something else”. No one is all knowing, and as a programmer we usually operate on our best guess. When dealing with extremely complex systems, the wrong answers are often times more telling than the final solution. Be it through the forums, live streams, official blog posts, or twitter, I am always impressed with the level of candor shown towards the community.
Amazing Customer Service
Another point that I have to harp on is just how great the customer service has been. GC writes in her post:
Honestly? I was pleasantly surprised. On a Saturday evening, right smack in the middle of a busy celebration weekend, both my husband’s and my tickets were answered by a helpful in-game representative within ten minutes, and within another five we were all fixed up and ready to go. Let’s face it, bugged quests are irritating as all hell and no one ever likes running into them, but the sting sure is lessened by a prompt response and swift resolution to the problem. I was very satisfied.
Granted, based on the inevitable complaints on the forums, not everyone has been as fortunate. So maybe you can say that my husband and I just happened to hit the GM lottery.
I can say without the shadow of a doubt that she did not win the GM lottery. It might be because of the level of evolvement with the community, but for whatever reason I have simply cared more about The Secret World than I have most games in the past. Always in the past it felt like my petitions had little to no effect on the game world. I am notorious for figuring out a work-around to avoid bugs, and then just ignoring the fact that they actually exist rather than reporting them. In this game however I have been a bug reporting fiend.
So far it has not mattered what I have reported, be it a problem with geometry or the chat issues not actually being fixed… I have always received a prompt and courteous response. I’ve put in somewhere between five and a dozen petitions since launch, and in every case I have had a tell from a GM within ten minutes. The vast majority of these times, it was far closer to five minutes. In one instance, I reported a bugged encounter in a dungeon, and we moved on to the next boss. The GM responded before we were through the first phase, and patiently waited for us to finish the fight so I could more properly respond.
I remember one night, I had petitioned a GM about a geometry issue or as I call them ‘”The Potholes” of City of the Sun God. There are a few places in the world, with gaps that you cannot see before accidentally falling into them. While I was typing up my petition, another player fell in the hole with me and used /reset to get out. I could have done the same, and ultimately I did to free myself, but I figured that if I didn’t report it, it might not get fixed. The GM took the time, and asked me to go back to the hole, so they could properly document the problem, and make sure it was on the list of known issues. This little attention to detail really gives me hope for the future of the game.
Phenominal Community Team
I know specifically I have harped on this before, but if I am going through the process of making this post anyways, I have to take a moment to talk about Ragnar and Morteia. Other companies have been involved with the community, but Funcom really sets the standard here. They are constantly responding to players, and answering questions directly. Maybe it is silly, but it feels somewhat awesome to have the Creative Director or Community Manager share your post with the community.
Thing is it goes so much deeper than just rebroadcasting links. It feels like we are getting let in on some secret, like they are leaking little bits of information to the diehard fans. So when they answer a question, or hint at some upcoming feature we get all giddy with excitement. MMOGC gives the great example of Ragnar talking about upcoming work from Peter Stormare. I mean that is awesome, while he might not want to be known for this, I cannot picture Satan without thinking of his amazing performance from Constantine. This man belongs in The Secret World so much it almost hurts!
Why This Matters
The Secret World still has a lot of bugs, and there are a good number of features that have been frustrating to deal with. In most other games, these would have been deal breakers, because the layer of clinical distance from the user community gave the impression that they frankly did not care about my gameplay experience. Normally my tolerance for frustration is pretty low, I have trouble looking past a bad UI or controls to see the story underneath. While I really like the UI and controls, you can read my original review of beta weekend and see that I was less than favorable.
So upon reading that, you might ask yourself what changed? In many ways the game has changed drastically since beta weekend, and improved in almost every way imaginable. But I have to say that a good chunk of why I can look past the rough edges at times, is thanks to my experiences with customer support and the community team. They are the face of Funcom to me, and my regular dealings with them has allowed me to handle the quests going wonky, and getting stuck on geometry. My frustration is always tempered with the feeling like they actually care, and are working to try and make the game a better experience for everyone.
Not Just a Love Song
So it is pretty easy to write this post off as a love song towards the company that runs the game I happen to be playing. I mean I have rambled on for 13 paragraphs at this point, about my awesome experiences with them while playing their game. For me it goes deeper, as bloggers it is so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of a game. It is so much easier for me to pull myself away from a game I hate, to write an angry rant than to log out of a game I am really loving. The problem is, all this negatively just turns into a wall of sound, where every opinion, dissenting review and frustrated plea becomes a indistinguishable from the mass of angst.
Instead I think we are better served spending our time, pointing out the things that are going well, the individuals that are in fact doing right by the community. Each week it seems like we hear of another game flailing, another round of layoffs, and more pox upon the industry. We need to highlight the good in gaming, and make sure those people feel appreciated. So here you go Funcom, I really appreciate your efforts, and that of the amazing team that has created The Secret World. While I am somewhat angsty, about not being able to get the nifty Steam swag, I wish you all amazing success with that new venture.