November 25, 2009

NCsoft and the Dilemma with Support, Bots & Goldsellers

I wanted to write this post since quite a while now. After the cool "future Aion" trailer i figured we should not forget the current issues. Initially i waited some weeks to write this post since i asked Ayase weeks ago a few questions towards the topic, but never got an answer back. So much for Community Management, but maybe blogs are not considered "serious business" by NCsoft. Another reason i waited was that i thought "this is so annoying and people complain about it all over the net, they will have to fix it fast". Did they yet? No. Players started to get tired about complaining since nothing happened. I fail to understand how NCsoft can neglect some issues so culpable. Overall i still enjoy my time in Aion despite it gets tedious some times. But there are a few things that bug me, as a customer paying for a MMO, big time and i know others feel the same...

The NCsoft Support
Aion's monthly fee is in line with all the other pay-to-play MMOs out there. BUT the Aion Game Master support "ingame" is only available during normal office hours and not 24/7. WTF? We pay the same amount of money to a company that does not offer the same level of support then all the other MMOs out there? This fact really does twist my head. If you got a serious character bug or some other issue you have to wait forever until you get a response. I also remember reading in some forum that the German CM mentioned it might be better to use the NCsoft website support formular since they can deal with all issues and the system ingame can't. In addition those support systems are not linked - at least weren't when i read about it. So basicly NCsoft is earning more money with Aion then other MMOs due to them not paying as much for support as other companies do? This point really feels like a customer rip-off to me.

Service Announcements
The server maintenance times are not communicated very well by NCsoft, sometimes you don't know about them until the yellow info text appears ingame. I know, there can be the need for emergency downtime, but if the game runs stable those occasions should only be few. No one can tell me NCsoft decides a few hours before maintenance "Hey, let's take the servers down today!". How about two days notice in advance? Also better info ingame would be nice. At the moment you get a blurry info warning that tells you "shortly", which can be anywhere between 2-30min. and then a 60 seconds cooldown. In addition, why don't we have the patch notes up to read already while the servers are being offline? Oh wait, at least the official EU website has some database flaw and we can't even read the official news while the servers are down. We have to check the US website to be able to access them. Service announcements and upcoming downtimes need to be communicated far better by NCsoft. And why are there so many downtimes we get zero info about what was fixed? The patch notes we get from NCsoft are never complete as well. Did you for example know that you can meanwhile re-arrange/sort the skill-chains?

In addition while not directly related, patch 1.5 did not reduce the grind like it was announced. Only few quests had their reward upgraded and still around level 35+ most quests are just not worth your time and you are better of just grinding mobs instead.

Gold Sellers & Bots
Due to the lack of GM presence on the servers and the short ingame support hours plus the very cumbersome report interface (did you know you can't even use the autoreport feature on a goldseller with a private store in the capitol?) the gold sellers spam the chat channels all day long. In addition you have goldsellers with private stores advertising their website for days. Not hours... days! I mean c'mon... police the servers and add some fast/easy ways for players to click & report the goldseller, then you just need personnel going through the reports and check logs. I have never played any MMO where the advertising could go on for such a long time without support interference. The quick-block feature was a right step, but did not change the amount of spam. NCsoft could have just used it to flag accounts for manual review: If a player gets blocked my many people in a short timeframe, something should be wrong. The last maintenance disabled the block feature again btw. WTF? Let's hope todays maintenance will enable it again. Edit: It might be that the block list is just full and you just get zero notice about it, have to test that later. In addition: If you block someone on one of your characters, you CAN NOT block him on another. you get the message that character is already blocked, but you still get spammed by that person. Major flaw in the interface, needs fixing. The ongoing goldseller spam gives people the impression NCsoft doesn't care at all what's going on, which also results in more people behaving like jerks then as if people think there is some form of server-police. Meanwhile players even use auto-fill-form browser addons to send in website tickets, as the ingame reports do nothing. Patching the game so players below level 10 don't have access to certain ingame features does nothing but annoy/alienate low level players and had no effect on goldsellers whatsoever IMO.

Bots... they are everywhere. There are several areas continously flooded with them. At a first glance you think the /AutoReportHunting command offers a nice way to report them. The next day the same bots are still there and keep on grinding - if you are unlucky taking all your quest mobs. Since you can only report 10 players per day, i use that amount up if i only enter one area where bots are... yes, that many hang around. It's very discouraging to see them day after day, despite multiple reports. I know many players just gave up reporting them, since it seems to have no effect. The problem might be within the /AutoReportHunting system itself. I always had the impression this would report the player to a GM, who would investigate the case. Tho reading this post it seems to be just an automated system that will in the end result in the character not getting any loot/XP. Apperently this feature will fade away over time, which might explain some bots disappearing for a while and then surfacing again. If it truely works like that, it does not suprise me there are still so many bots around.

Another problem with all the kinah the gold sellers own meanwhile: On some servers they simply own the market. During the two months they could roam free they massed large amounts of kinah and use it to disturb the market. In the meantime the gold prices went as low as approx. 3$ for one million kinah, while it has been around 60$ in the beginning. This gives us at least a small indicator what an insane amount of kinah the goldseller amassed meanwhile.

Today i heard that supposedly NCsoft hired more support people in the US and they started to ban goldsellers during a few hours and not days. Let's hope this trend will also come to the EU. Tho two months after release it still leaves a really bad aftertaste and we'll have to see when/if they can fix this problem properly.

NCsoft announced they recently banned 16.000 accounts due to them violating the terms of service. This might be a first step, but i still see goldsellers and bots around... so they only catched some. In addition there are many players that claim they were banned innocent and blame NCsoft "automated banning filter" for that, while NCsoft claims they investigate multiple incidents before a ban.

Paying for a non-existent support is a major dealbreaker for me and i know I'll have less patience with Aion - should i get bored - then i had with other MMOs, if NCsoft won't fix the support issues in a proper timeframe.

Tip of the Day: If you have trouble reaching aionsource with Firefox since monday, like i did, clean your browser cache and all should work fine again.


jamesy said...

I've just cancelled my sub due to the reasons you've pointed out.
Aion for me is just not very enjoyable.
Very little to do and very little reward in doing it.
PvP is far worse than War or Wow, even with a 'third' faction. People saying that PvP doesn't start till lvl50 make me want to puke!
The world is so tiny, claustrophobic and very linear.
Questing is pointless, very little xp and useless rewards. Group xp is less than solo xp, yet most quests at 30+ are group quests. Retarded to say the least.
Flying is a gimic, and only helps to give range dps an even greater advantage over melee.
And as regards the Aions future vision video, yes it looks awesome but when will we see it? As far as I'm concerned it's more a pre-emp just to counter future MMO releases and to appease the already jaded players.

How the hell can this succeed and Warhammer fail? What new inovative features has Aion bought to the genre when compared to Warhammer?
Rifts pfffft!

Aion is basicaly a pretty them park MMO minus the rides.

Middea said...

Agree with the support problem. Every time I submit a ticket in game (when it doesn't tell me 'no dice') it takes a few hours, comes back, tells me to go submit on the NCsoft site...

Annoying to say the least.

Panther said...

Seriously, NCSoft needs to get its act together, or do they want us all to stop playing before they realize "Holy shit we have a problem guys"? By which time, of course, it will be too late.

Fulguralis said...

I always want a more "behind the scenes" look about problems like this. I mean what are the real problems facing the team why they can't get simple things implemented. I don't think any dev sits there and says: "hmm, here's this easy solution that obviously several people have suggested, let's just not do it to be jerks." It's gotta be like "resource issues" or something, which is a problem when people run with minimal staff. It takes time to fix that (hiring processes and stuff).

Still there also may be technical barriers. Working in the automotive industry, people suggest things that "should" be in cars all the time, but sometimes fail to realize what they're "really" asking.

Not saying this gives NCSoft a free pass, just that when I think of these issues, I always wanna know more, because it's hard to believe they're just not doing them "just cuz".

Just sayin'. *shrug*

Thulf said...

A look behind the scenes would be nice, but that won't happen since then NCsoft would need to agree they made mistakes. I mean seriously, the main fault for this situation is mismanagement. With all the pre-orders and such no one can tell me come release day they were surprised by the amount of people playing and ooops could not offer proper support but had to cut it down to a few hours a day. The issues with the goldseller/bots they would have to face were known before and even in Korea they complained about it. It's not the first game for NCsoft.

I don't think they sit around with an evil grin and try to "milk" the customers while trying to save on support. But usually, when there is a problem that threatens your customer base, you have to throw some money on it to fix the problem. And if it's an "easy" problem like support (compared to eg. design flaw inside the game) that should not be too hard. So the flaw in management decisions leading to this point can only result from
a) recruiting support people way too late
b) lacking the proper tools to clean up ingame (which i highly doubt, its a MMO after all)
c) Using the money for other purposes or delaying important management decisions

And in addition with Aion you can see the fail of proper PR/Communication strategies all over again: Really bad communication with the playerbase and the lack of proper informations. Instead its the same bullshit we saw before with MMOs, trying to distract people with stuff like "pose with your game in your hometown and take a picture".

cmi said...

good points thulf. i couldn't agree more.

charging the same as others while reducing the (visible) support to some twitter-cm's and automated scripts leaves some bitter taste. this is one of the things alot of ppl complain about. even some f2p-mmogs have better support AND YOU DONT HAVE TO PAY. wtf?!

about the bots: well the mass ban some days ago DID help. at least on my server, a LOT of bots are gone. some are still there though.

Tyrhoor said...

I have also quit Aion- for all of the reasons listed. But what NCSoft should realize is... what caused me to quit was another blog RAVING about Fallen Earth.

Blogs are key marketing. If they don't respect the people willing to talk about their product as a hobby... well hell, they obviously don't respect the normal non-vocal players... which is clearly evident in their customer un-service.