The old new player experience

I don’t hide that fact that I have a rather unusual MMO playing style. Did you know that my LOTRO “main” was level 33 a year ago, and is level 40 today. At this rate it’ll probably take me another 5 years to get him to cap, assuming Turbine continues to bump up the cap every 12-18 months.

Anyway, my characters always act as a kind of hive-mind, particularly in terms of crafting. And my woodworker finally got to where he needed some yew, but I didn’t have a character that could collect it. I had a level 8 or so Rune Keeper/Explorer collecting dust, so I decided to level him up to where he could get the woodworker some yew.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. He’s level 23 now. He went through the revamped Ered Luin, which I liked a lot more than I used to. Then he moved on to BreeTown. The new Bree experience is very, very much improved over the way things used to be. You’re shuttled logically from quest hub to quest hub. At one point the ‘quest path’ branches, with one branch heading into the Barrows and the other going north up the Greenway. Which ever one you pick, you’ll be kept in a fairly small area for nice chunks of time, with quest difficulty flowing smoothly.

I headed up the Greenway and did a bunch there. You go from a cabin just north of Bree to Thornley’s Work Site to that ranger outside his cottage across the road from Thornley’s to the Old Greenway Fort to Hengstacer Farm (the horse farm). All of these are now solo quests (no more LFG to do Breaking Alliances, yay!) At this point my Epic Quest to go talk to Tom Bombadil had gone green, so I recalled to Bree and headed out to see old Tom.

As you enter the Barrows you’ll find a corpse. It starts a quest that leads you to the Old Barrows road that runs between the Barrows and Bombadil’s house. On that road is a camp of expedition survivors who’ll give you all the low level Barrow quests. These were all green by the time I got there. They then pass you off to Dead Man’s Peak (?) farther south in the Barrows, where the rest of the expedition is hiding. I haven’t gone there yet.

Bonus points to Turbine for putting a traveling merchant at Thornley’s Work Site and at this came on the Old Barrows road. You can sell your vendor trash there, but you can’t repair for some reason.

The Old Forest is less annoying now. Those mobile trees and their root friends are no longer aggro, and they either die easier or the Rune Keeper is really powerful. But I’m still going to have to use a map to find all the flowers in there.

I realize that this is all old news, but if like me you’ve been hesitant about creating a new alt because of all the rather tedious running back and forth in Breeland, fear no more. Leveling through Bree is a BREEze (ha! I slay me) these days.

Year End Wrap-Up

It’s that time again. Another year ending, a new one beginning. Time to reflect, or at least catalog, the past 12 months.

Before I wrote this post, I had to go back and skim what I’d written in the past year. I really couldn’t remember what I’d played, at least in the MMO space, and that gives me pause. Are MMOs just “empty calories” for me these days? And if so, aren’t there more productive ways to spend my time?

Before I get too maudlin, let’s recap the year.

In January my time with Warhammer was winding down. I was coasting on a free (I think) EQ2 renewal, dabbling in LOTRO, Vanguard and Fusion Fall (I’d totally forgotten that one!). Oh and I tried Runes of Magic for the first (but not last) time. But the game I was most excited by was Mount & Blade, a single player game.

In February I quit Warhammer (a 60 day time card ran out; I’m not sure I’d played for a while) and was playing Too Human on the 360. I started my for-pay blog at IT World, which has really colored my life since then. I spend a LOT of time following tech news now and rarely have much time for gaming during the week.

March was about Chronicles of Spellborn. Another I’d forgotten! I’m actually looking forward to checking it out again once it gets sufficiently relaunched as a free to play title.

April saw the launch of Free Realms, which I played quite enthusiastically for a while, despite being well out of the intended age bracket. I also got engrossed in Rune Factory Frontier on the Wii and wrote a series of semi-in character posts about it. Silly fun but a very time consuming game.

May was more Free Realms, plus I started working out via EA Active. Doing that made me feel so much better but it cut my days even shorter. I need more hours in the day! I also started and quickly abandoned Sacred 2 on the XBox 360, declaring my intent to get back to it soon (I’ve yet to do so).

In June I foolishly bought a Wii Motion Plus bundle with Tiger Woods Golf for the Wii, plus Grand Slam Tennis. Those were fun for about two weeks.

In July I started my like/hate relationship with Aion via their sketchy beta system. Happily for me, the hate grew and the like faded and I never bought the game. I still have a 60 day NCSoft timecard gathering dust (got it on sale for $20 in anticipation of Aion). Aion may have been the first major MMO release that I totally skipped and it really broke a money wasting, frustration inducing cycle, I think.

August was Champions Online, first beta and then release towards the end of the month (I think?). I made some lifelong enemies fighting about Cryptic’s weird lifetime/6 month membership policies. That’s OK, I can always use a few more enemies! Unlike many, I really enjoyed Champions, but Fallen Earth was calling to me too. A tiny dev trying to make it among giants. Who doesn’t love an underdog?

So September was about Fallen Earth, until injury struck. I did something to my arm (exactly what was never determined) and using a computer was very painful for the next few months, severely curtailing PC gaming of any kind. In some ways that too broke a cycle. I turned to Need For Speed:Shift on the PS3 and Halo: ODST on the 360 for solace. And my interest in Dragon Age: Origin ramped up. As a result I was added to the ‘press’ list for DA:O which led to many preview-ish posts over the next months.

October saw almost no PC gaming, although towards the end of the month I started playing Torchlight since it was so mouse-oriented (my injury was to my non-mousing arm). I finished ODST & played through Brutal Legend on the 360, and moved on to Demon’s Souls on the PS3.

November was all about Dragon Age: Origins, until the end of the month when I started to get excited for Siege of Mirkwood. That, and my arm finally getting “better” (though it still isn’t completely healed) led me back to LOTRO.

And finally December. What PC gaming I’ve done has been LOTRO and a bit of the Star Trek:Online beta.

So that’s my year. Nothing really stands out all that much in the MMO space. Gaming in general hasn’t felt all that captivating for the past month or so; I’ve been more inclined to watch movies or read books than game. I think to some extent MMOs have ruined me for single player games, but now MMOs don’t feel very compelling either.

A few big changes in my attitude: I’m not signing up for every beta that comes along any more (I got into Star Trek Online via Champions, not because I actively applied). I think in some part heavy beta testing is what started my burnout. Nothing highlights the overall meaninglessness of pumping hundreds of hours into an MMO than having all that progress wiped out when a game comes out of beta.

My EQ2 account was reactivated over the holidays (thanks Sony) and I got as far as updating the client but never actually logged in. I’ve got my Champions Lifetime account, and I’ve reinstalled Guild Wars, but haven’t played either of those either. LOTRO seems to be enough for me right now, and I’m playing that more like an economic strategy game, growing alts to support each other’s crafting rather than chasing levels.

My greatest joy these days seems to come from casually chatting with folks on Twitter. I’m happy reading about what other people are doing, and don’t feel all that motivated to do it myself. I of course live with a huge MMO nerd and take a lot of joy from watching her delight in the games she plays (EQ2 & Free Realms).

2010 is starting with me hungering for a new challenge and itching to build something, or create something. I’m trying to be patient, waiting for these urges to jell to a point where I have a clear direction. In the meanwhile I’ll be wasting time on stupid Facebook games, chattering on Twitter, and messing about in LOTRO.

Here’s wishing you and yours a healthy, prosperous new year. I’m hoping for no more layoffs, the abolishment of living paycheck to paycheck and the economy starting to grow again. And thanks for keeping Dragonchasers in your RSS feed; I know it isn’t much of a blog these days.

MMO companies need to improve customer support

In the past two weeks I’ve had two go-rounds with the tech support departments of two MMO companies, and both leave much to be desired.

Case 1: Turbine

On Sunday, December 6th, I tried to log a particular character into LOTRO and found that I could not. I got a message saying the character was still being saved. I tried rebooting and the problem persisted. Other characters could log in fine, so I logged an alt in and accessed the in-game help. I opened a ticket explaining the problem and asking for help. I continued playing around on the alt for an hour or two and then logged off.

I didn’t get back in game for a few days. When I did, I found a response to my in-game ticket, saying in-game support couldn’t help and I needed to go to the Turbine website and file a tech support ticket there. Before I did that, I searched the knowledge base, and found my problem listed. However the “solution” to the problem was just a link to the tech support forums. Searching Turbine’s forums is virtually impossible; they’re using a very poor forum package with extremely weak search capabilities and a ridiculously long ‘cooldown’ between searches (20 seconds). So when you search and find no results, you have to wait 20 seconds before you can search again. The search also doesn’t recognize phrases, it only searches on words. So it takes a lot of trial and error to find just the right words to search on that the search engine won’t spit back as too common, and in between each try you have to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the anti-spam cooldown to timeout.

Luckily someone on Twitter suggested I use Google to search the Turbine forums, bypassing their forum engine’s search altogether. I found many people who’d encountered the same problem I had, and the only official solution came from “Sapience” (Rick Heaton) telling people they needed to file a ticket in-game to get this cleared up!! Now his response was quite old, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured things had changed, because remember I’d done just that and been told in-game support couldn’t help.

So off I went to file an out-of-game support ticket. Upon submitting the ticket I was informed that responses usually take 1 to 2 WEEKS!!!!! That is beyond an unacceptable timeframe to get support for a service you’re paying a monthly subscription for. [Full disclosure: I’m a lifetime member so I’m not actually paying a subscription, but many players do].

As it turns out, on Saturday the 12th, my character became unstuck and I could log him in. However, I never got a response to the ticket I entered, so I have no idea if the problem was fixed deliberately or as a side-effect of some other server work being done.

I love Turbine’s games, and I semi-know and like some of their staff via Twitter. I hate to knock on the company but their tech support department *needs* to be improved. Maybe management needs to devote more resources to the tech support department. A 1-2 week turn-around suggests to me that the tech support team is severely under-manned.

I also noted, via Google searching, that they nuke a *lot* of threads in their forums, which means users can’t learn from each other’s experiences. I clicked on link after link to forum threads about my problem, only to find they’d been removed. So I have no idea if the players ever came up with a reliable solution to the problem.

Case 2: NCSoft

Today NCSoft sent out an email talking about their Wintersday Celebration and inviting players to come back. I installed the client (and props to them for offering it on their website so I didn’t have to go rummaging through the closet looking for CDs). I have 2 Guild Wars accounts: one with access to the original game, the other with access to Guild Wars, Factions and Nightfall. The first account logged in with no problems but when I tried to access the other, I got a pop up saying that the account “…may have been accessed by an unauthorized individual” and the account was locked. “please contact Support and one of our representatives will assist you.”

So I guess the account was hacked? OK, don’t care, just want to play. This isn’t a bank account, after all, it’s a stupid game.

I head to NCSoft’s tech support page. Fill out all the info, including my email address. Get to page two and it wants me to create an account. Fill in all that info and I get a message saying that email is already registered. Can’t go forward. I hit back, copy the description of my problem so I don’t have to type it in again, and click the Login button at the top of the page. This brings me to the account “NCsoft Account Management.” So yay, I’m logged in. I click on the Support tab and it takes me back to the form I started at…and I’m logged out again.

Click login, I go back to Account Management. Click support, and I’m logged out. For giggles I fill the form out again, hit page two and it asks me to create an account. Try to do so and it tells me I already have an account registered to this email. Well duh, I know, I was just logged into it.

I’m a web developer, so maybe this kind of shoddy, half-assed, craptacular website coding makes me crazier than it does other people.

In the end, I send them an email. 15 minutes later I get an email saying “An account was automatically created for you but you can’t login until your password has been set.” I have no idea what account they’re talking about; I have an NCSoft Master account, a Guild Wars account, and now a Guild Wars support account? Maybe? I click the link, set a password, and the email I’d sent in has been converted to a support ticket. Huh?

Finally I figure out how to use their tech support page. There are three tabs in the body of the page: Answers, Ask a Question, and My Stuff. When Answers fail, the next logical step is to go to Ask a Question. That’s wrong. If you go to My Stuff first, you’ll be able to create a Tech Support account, or log in if you already have one. Once you set up your account, then presumably you can go to Ask a Question and get help. Under no circumstances should you ever use the LOGIN button at the top of every page, because that is logging you into your NCSoft Account, not your NCSoft Support Account. I think?

This shouldn’t be so hard!!

C’mon, MMO publishers!! Start treating your customers with some respect. Start treating them like…well, like valued customers. We’re paying your salaries, after all!!

/rant off

Cool tech filler post: bionic fingers

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been pretty sick and not really up to doing any more than I absolutely have to. Hopefully on the mend now, though.

But to tide you over, I offer: bionic fingers! This is incredibly exciting technology, I think. Imagine what life must be like with a missing hand, or even two missing hands. Imagine how this technology could totally change your life. Just amazing (there’s a short pre-roll ad to wait through):

Siege of Mirkwood Launches

As everyone knows, today was the launch of LOTRO’s latest expansion, The Siege of Mirkwood.

I ran the patcher while I was at work, so everything was good to go when I got home. I wasted no time heading to a Skirmish Camp to get the Skirmish Tutorial quest, then headed back to Evendim to get the drops I needed for said quest while knocking out some ‘kill those dudes who think they’re wolves” (I’m pretty sure that’s how Tolkien described them) quests.

Drop rate wasn’t too bad and I finished 2 quests at the same time. Then I Mapped back to Esteldin and ran through the tutorial, which is pretty much unchanged from when I did my brief report from the preview.

Then finally it was time to start Skirmishes for real. There were two open to me to solo at level 40, one taking place in Noglond and the other on Weathertop. I’d done the Weathertop one in the preview so I went off to Noglond. My soldier was traited as an herbalist and I was feeling pretty confident.

And I died. And died. And died another 4 or 5 times. It was *much* harder than Weathertop during the preview. I did “win” the Skirmish, but my repair costs were about 200 silver from doing it (and I earned 70-ish silver as a quest reward). The problem was my soldier was being a terrible healer, which wasn’t something I saw in the preview.

I took the Marks I’d earned and re-invested them in my Soldier’s Herbalist traits, then headed to Weathertop. I did much, much better there, winning without any deaths, and my healer was doing a good job of healing. Then I did the same skirmish again, and noticed at one point my healer stopped healing and the ranger in the skirmish stopped fighting. And I died.

I’m wondering if that’s what happened in Noglond? I’d have 10% health, my soldier would have full energy, we’d be between waves of enemies and… no heals.

So I’m going to write that off to launch day lag and not worry too much about it.

Skirmishes are awfully fun though! And tense! You get a few short breaks in them but mostly it’s constant fighting for 15-20 minutes. I don’t think I could handle more than 3 a night; I was too stressed out (not to mention out of potions…but DC commenter Grid was nice enough to help me out with that problem).

By the end of the night I’d lost about 100 silver, gained about half a level, completed a couple of Skirmish traits, bumped my soldier to a level 3 herbalist, and most of her skills to level 4 and I have all kinds of special marks and bits and bobs that I can trade in to the Skirmish NPCs for rewards. I decided to wait until things quieted down a bit before I went shopping. It was getting way late for me, and the skirmish camps were mobbed.

All in all, an awesome first night of Skirmishes. My only concern is that I’m just going to out-level all my questing content doing these things! Aside from the potential lag issue I mentioned, the servers seemed stable, but wow, were there a lot of folks playing! No queue for me, but I’m east coast; maybe I got in ahead of any queues.

Congrats to Turbine for what looks to be a great expansion! If I never get to Mirkwood I’ll still be happy with the Skirmish system!