I don’t quite know what to say about the Tseric/CS meltdown event, explored in some detail at Broken Toys and Nerfbat, amongst others.   Something like it happens every couple years, it seems.  I’m going to post my own thoughts, which will prove 1) you don’t want me as a forum moderator, no matter how desperate you might be; and 2) there is a definite skill to being a CS/CM, especially for an MMO.

Understand, I currently directly support a half-dozen different business applications, serving approximately 300 companies and 35000+ daily users.  I not only do CS, I do it daily and I own 20% of the company that I do it for.  I provide first and second level support for all of them: I take the call/email reporting the problem, often end up tracking down the problem, and fixing it if that is needed as well, plus work with the customer to get it all resolved.

I know what customer service is, and needs to be: you do not tell the customer they are stupid, or wrong, or blind, or whatever they are that day.  You can (and should) mention when they are insightful or innovative or spotted something you missed… that happens, too, and it’s actually a good thing to point it out when it occurs.  You need to vent, you do it in private.

(More below the fold…)

The point vis-a-vis forums that sometimes get overlooked, I think, is that not everyone is posting on the boards because they are interested in playing your game or getting an technical issue resolved… they are there to play the “forum game”, instead.  The goal of the forum game is to either 1) get something you’ve already been told you cannot have, 2) gain “revenge” by expressing displeasure about something for as long as possible, or 3) irritate as many people as possible because of #1 or #2 above.  The forums are a beautiful mechanism for this, because unlike most forms of direct communication, you can always find _someone_ who will respond and give you the satisfaction of arguing with you.

For me, handling this kind of thing can be ridiculously easy…

“You think we should have full speech recognition built in to your application.  Well, I agree, and we can do that.  Yep, we can.  The costs are rather significant, however.  The per port licensing and added hardware alone… looks like about $150,000, base, and let’s ballpark about 3 months, 2 people, to design and test… no, no, I’m also one of the development leads, you see, I do this type of thing all the time.  Let’s say $200,000 for starters, we can nail down a final price when we finalize the design.  So, who should I send the initial quote and downpayment invoice to?  Hello?  Hello?  Huh… he hung up.” 😉

The ones that are sure they are somehow entitled to get all the above for free… they take a little longer.

Most MMO CS people don’t have anything like the above luxury, unfortunately.

Oh, and for the record: I briefly was one of these forum players, seeking goal #1, back in the early days of EQ.  I regained my sanity and realized what I was doing relatively quickly (2 _long_ weeks), but not nearly quickly enough.  I know whereof I speak.  (And if I interacted with you during that period of time… I apologize.)

Obviously, I’m not a big fan of MMO game forums.  My current definition: “Forums are sesspools, complete with foul odors, swarms, leeches, villains, vipers, plagues, and the occasional poor soul that just wandered in there and got lost…”

That said, they do serve a purpose… they keep the malcontents out of the game itself.  It’s a little like a jailhouse in some respects, it keeps the troublemakers busy in a location separated from the rest of society.  And the CS people are the prison staff, trying to keep the malcontents from full-on rioting while guiding the legit visitors safely to the information they need.

So… were I ever to get to the point of implementing a full-fledged game, what would I do?Well, I would have official forums.  However, I would make sure, in every way possible, that players did not have to enter the forums, ever, in order to play the actual game.  Information on updates and the like would be provided via the game’s web site… maybe with a link to a forum post with the same information (maybe).  Any updates prompted by forum discussion would be immediately added to the web page as soon as it was recognized that it was information everyone would want to have. 

Technical support would be handled via FAQ, email, and phone: the technical support forum would exist, and be monitored and handled, but new players would not be directed to use it.

Feedback from customers would be obtained via regular polling of the customer base, with results posted on the web site, and with temporary in-game rewards offered for participating in the poll.  Again, maybe with a link to a forum post (maybe).

In short, you don’t put the Visitor’s Lounge or the Parking Garage smack dab in the middle of Cell Block A.  Certain players wanna play the forum game, they can go ahead with my blessings… I’m not going to help them find an audience, however.

Feel free to tell me how wrong and misguided I am… 🙂