Funcom Developer Chat (March 9th, 2004)
Funcom was nice enough to send over their Customer Service team and talk to the Syndicate about Anarchy Online and how Customer Service works there. They were very open about the program and took questions from members as well. Most companies are pretty secretive about their CS programs so it was nice to see a company discussing that topic. We really appreciated them taking to the time to come talk to us. The chat went extremely well.

((Dragons_LLTS)) Ok Syndicate members.. tonight we have 3 special guests from Funcom.. Ziana, Lucien and Airframe. Veakari is going to coordinate things on our side and they are going to speak to us on several cool topics that I know alot of us have complained about (*cough*GM Support suxorz!*cough*) but never fully understood.
((Dragons_LLTS)) If you get questions, please PM them to VEAKARI so she can ask the mat the right time
((Dragons_LLTS)) And in an orderly fashion. With that.. I turn things over to Veak :)

((Veakari)) I've been speaking with Ziana for a while now, and again want to thank her and her guests for coming out tonight to speak with us
((Veakari)) They will be talking about Customer Service, Volunteer Programs, and also telling us about Anarchy Online, and what's new for Funcom
((Veakari)) With that, I'm gonna turn things over to Ziana

((Ziana)) Hello again and welcome..and Thank you for the invite ;)
((Ziana)) I'm Terri, the Online Product Manager for Funcom
((Ziana)) and will try to give you a readers digest condensed version of me quickly and then to the good stuff ;)
((Lucien)) Hey everyone :) I'm Alex (aka Lucien), I currently work for funcom coordinating the Advisors of Rubi-Ka (ARK), AO's volunteer program
((Ziana)) I started with virtual worlds in 93..94 with lambda moo
((Ziana)) then moved to muds with Realms of Despair where I stayed for a few years
((Ziana)) until..I heard of this brand new amazing mud..with pictures
((Ziana)) Everquest ;)
((Ziana)) I went there in early beta and began working with the guide program while it was in the forming stages
((Ziana)) with Mistigris, Semiramis ..few others
((Ziana)) I took on Swat and setting up all the new servers
((Ziana)) ran the training sessions
((Ziana)) etc.
((Ziana)) I left eq after 8 months due to major disagreements with the management of cs at that time, who is not there now
((Ziana)) but loved the game, the guide program and lots of people ;)
((Ziana)) I went back to text muds , frustrated with graphic ones
((Ziana)) did some writing etc and got a call one day asking if I'd help build a program for AO
((Ziana)) I was like..oooh sci thanks
((Ziana)) Not sure what I pictured
((Ziana)) but ended up agreeing to go for 6 months as a volunteer
((Ziana)) that was 3 years ago
((Ziana)) I loved the program..everythign about it
((Ziana)) the channels of communication and accessibility to Funcom
((Ziana)) the desire to do what was right
((Ziana)) the willingness to listen
((Ziana)) I wanted to work for Funcom..but they were in Norway primarily
((Ziana)) as someone asked earlier
((Ziana)) and I couldnt move..husband military
((Ziana)) so I kept doing all I could til they finally gave in and hired me remotely ;) *** Sal-afk is now known as Salindra
((Ziana)) Alex was in ARK as well..(the volunteer program)
((Ziana)) and then went to work for Funcom and then moved home to England and stayed on
((Ziana)) and Airframe has been a volunteer for like 2 years now :)
((Airframe)) she just couldnt let me go;) admit it zi
((Ziana)) true you're like my son :)
((Ziana)) ok I'll let them tell more about themselves in a sec and I'd love to hear about all of you afterwards if you wish to stick around
((Ziana)) On to Funcom..
((Ziana)) Norwegian company with 22 titles..but ..little and private
((Ziana)) not a "big boy" by some standards
((Ziana)) this has its pros and cons
((Ziana)) on the pro side.. imho.. is the community
((Ziana)) they all play the games, all live them and work them
((Ziana)) all just wonderful people ..and funny
((Ziana)) on the con side.. no money for advertising
((Lucien)) (and crazy) ;)
((Ziana)) the launch from hell ..
((Ziana)) nods ;) that too
((Ziana)) so we had a choice..
((Ziana)) go down in flames or try to make a turnaround
((Ziana)) the game is brilliant, but for the hard core gamer
((Ziana)) there's sci fi in it, fantasy..role playing
((Ziana)) a huge guild system
((Ziana)) we have professionals..members of each profession that represent their interests to Funcom
((Ziana)) very open forums with daily responses
((Ziana)) our average player stays 14 months
((Ziana)) which says quite a bit I think
((Ziana)) Customer Service.. 24/7 with Empowered volunteers ;)
((Ziana)) and gms
((Ziana)) and on that note..let me take some of these questions
((Ziana)) and then ask Alex/Lucien to explain more about the cs program
((Ziana)) ok the question...Plans for AO beyond AI
((Ziana)) Alien invasion is due out this summer
((Ziana)) and there is more planned
((Ziana)) AO is not going anywhere
((Ziana)) our numbers are still increasing and as long as its viable..why stop it?
((Ziana)) we patch about once a week
((Ziana)) to add new content
((Ziana)) I don't see us closing or anything ;)
((Ziana)) not for many years
((Ziana)) next question was how did we keep the 7th level under wraps
((Ziana)) and the best I can answer there is trust
((Ziana)) we have a great relationship with the press, the volunteers, our bug testers
((Ziana)) and no one wanted to spoil it
((Ziana)) next question was ..
((Ziana)) How empowered are the volunteers..
((Ziana)) Alex and AIr you all want to take that one ?

((Lucien)) Sure :)

((Airframe)) of course :)
((Lucien)) (typing) ;)
((Airframe)) and I've realized I've failed to introduce myself also...but I'll keep it brief ;)
((Airframe)) Hello everyone I'm airframe, I am the Assistant Director of Personnel the Advisors of Rubi-Ka. I have been playing MMORPG's for several years now starting with Asheron's call for about a year or two, then off to Dark Age of Camelot, then I found my way to Anarchy Online Where I joined ARK, and I will be completing my second year of service with ark in about 25 days =)
((Lucien)) We believe strongly in giving the ARKs with all the powers they need to help players. ARK itself is a structured program with quite a few different ranks, we don't believe in giving our powers/ranks based on time as a volunteer though, there are rewards for longevity though (it is a bit confusing)
((Ziana)) some examples maybe luci?
((Ziana)) or air? what can you do?
((Ziana)) how soon do petitions get answered
((Lucien)) As for the actual powers there are some ARKs that have as much power as many funcom employees do. Airframe for example can help buff other ARKs and as a result of that he has the power to create items, give out credits but he is also trusted to use those powers responsibly
((Ziana)) more so than many fc employees .. he knows the rules better and I'd go to him in some cases and often do
((Ziana)) they can also always reach fc in icq, irc, special in game channels
((Lucien)) Power is also pretty relative, some measure it in terms of commands, I prefer to think of it in terms of trust. On top of the basic "god powers" in AO we also trust certain members of our Events department to work with the storyline and play major story characters
((Ziana)) telephone
((Lucien)) want to add anything there Air? :)
((Airframe)) ARKs are empowered with several abilities to help players as much as possible while still leaving Funcom to deal with the major issues that the company really needs to deal with, the powers that ARK has are probably 50-75% of what a Funcom GM can do I would say
((Ziana)) they do all from choosing the application questions, interviewing, selecting, removing, exploits etc
((Ziana)) the differences i found with the programs..
((Ziana)) from the other games I worked with..
((Ziana)) was the ability to contact someone all the time..the ability to escalate and get help now rather than days later * Lucien nods
((Ziana)) the ability to look things up in a database
((Ziana)) the tools for ARK were made by ark
((Ziana)) and later by Lucien
((Ziana)) when a need for a command was was made
((Ziana)) and still is ;)
((Ziana)) luci whats the average wait time on a petition ?
((Lucien)) At the moment the average wait for a first response is around 45 minutes, from there it depends what the problem is
((Ziana)) if it is a game stopping thing..
((Ziana)) for example..stuck?
((Lucien)) might be an idea for me to explain a bit about how our CS works before I go into that ;)
((Ziana)) ok go on please as there is several questions about that i'll paste to you
((Ziana)) then i'll back track and answer 2 others ok?
((Lucien)) Alright ;) I guess I'll start at the beginning. We have several levels of customer service, there's the basic level which can be answered by any of the ARKs, there's an escalated level which is answered by more Senior ARKs who have the ability to check more about a character
((Lucien)) and there's also a GM Level which is only answered by Funcom GMs
((Lucien)) all petitions we recieve start off at the basic level
((Lucien)) but we also split that level up into different "classes". Not every person has the same type of problem and some need help much faster than others
((Lucien)) There's a big difference between someone who can't remember how to get to Borealis (one of the cities) and someone who is stuck in a hole and unable to move
((Lucien)) the person who is stuck has a game stopping problem and is unable to play
((Lucien)) So we prioritize that person higher (they go pretty much straight to the top of the queue)
((Lucien)) We try to answer the queues in the order of priority (as much as possible) but sometimes the auto classification system is wrong (we can reclassify them though)
((Ziana)) stucks on average..turnaround time?
((Lucien)) Well with the new stuck system (it automatically tries to solve stuck petitions) its around 2 minutes, if that doesn't work it takes about 10 minutes from the time its created until the time the ARK has finished talking to you and helped you
((Ziana)) nods
((Ziana)) and average rating of cs by players?
((Ziana)) and surveys ;)
((Lucien)) I think we're up around 75% at the moment
((Lucien)) someone asked: Customer service in most MMORPGs sucks. It takes hours to get replies and often they are quick sentences and they cant do anything for you. What are they doing wrong that Funcom isnt?
((Ziana)) when you say 75 you mean its rated 75? ..explain that one more too please :)
((Ziana)) nod very good question
((Lucien)) I feel we do better than other MMORPGs because we attempt to prioritize problems, we allow our players to prioritize their own problems (you can classify a petition yourself!) and we try to suggest other avenues to find help automatically (that one might not make 100% sense yet)
((Ziana)) also we dont outsource cs to temps .. its a vital position
((Ziana)) and we take care of our volunteers as they are the front lines imho
((Lucien)) I was an EQ Guide myself, one of the major flaws I saw with their system is that all petitions were answered in the order they came into the queue
((Lucien)) so everyone ended up waiting 3 hours (or longer), whether the problem took 2 minutes to solve or whether it took an hour to solve.
((Ziana)) we dont wish to bash another game, EQ was great at that time and had no one to look to for answers in an overwhelming situation
((Lucien)) Their focus was also shifted heavily onto solving the problem as quickly as possible. We try to focus on quality as well as quantity, and we make our CS policies accordingly.
((Ziana)) we were lucky to have been able to learn from mistakes
((Ziana)) sorry i talk too much :P
((Ziana)) ((--duly gagged;)
((Lucien)) An example of our CS policies would be when AO was released we had a major problem with items disappearing. We couldn't actually confirm it using the information we had, but after some time we had a special tool made to monitor players inventories and find items that disappear for no reason
((Lucien)) once we were able to accurately track items we were able to give them back (before that we couldn't do that because even though we don't think people are lying there are always people that will abuse a system that just blindly gives things back, plus it unbalances the game)
((Lucien)) To my knowledge AO is still the only game that gives back lost items
((Lucien)) On the surveys we have 5 questions that we ask people who have sent a petition (we have ARKs who go out and talk to players to find out how they feel about the service)
((Lucien)) from that we measure a % of the maximum possible score
((Lucien)) Ok next question: When players violate the code of conduct or other rules, how strict is the enforcement of the rules? In EQ some people claim there are way to get around being punished for breaking the rules, and repeat offenders often go unpunished. How do you handle troublemakers to keep them from causing future problems?
((Lucien)) This is a tough one, it really varies as well. Some things are very easy to enforce, for example if someone is spamming in a particular area to disrupt other players it is very easy for us to catch that person and make sure they stop doing it
((Lucien)) whereas with someone training others it is quite difficult for us to catch them, we often get screenshots of people training, but in all honesty its hard to see training from a single screenshot as there could be many players on the screen.
((Lucien)) Where possible we try to enforce the rules fairly, we do give people warnings if they are causing a problem for other players and we do have a set of rules of conduct.
((Ziana)) but also will ban, and have..many times.. exploiters etc. If there is proof.
((Lucien)) There are of course cases when people slip through the net but if they do it repeatedly it doesn't take long for them to get caught.
((Lucien)) done unless you think I should say more there Zi? :)
((Ziana)) did good ;) welcome Fran . Go air;)
((Airframe)) Well as far as the ARK volunteer program...what posessed me to join? and what kept me here?
((Airframe)) I actualy found out about ark by accident when surfing the Anarchy Online website, what actualy attracted me to join was that with Asheron's Call, the MMORPG I used to play, they used to have a volunteer program that I always wanted to join.
((Airframe)) I thought it would be a neat experience to help people from the MMORPG community. Unfortunately it was closed down before I I figured that ARK would be the same thing with my new game that I was playing.:)
((Airframe)) Some of you might be wondering....doesnt it get boring to help players for almost 2 years??
((Airframe)) Simple answer would ;)
((Ziana)) :)
((Airframe)) a longer answer would be...
((Airframe)) In ARK things are always dynamic so it never gets boring, after I joined ark I realized that there were so many perks that I didnt even expect.
((Airframe)) For example, people who work to a certain level in the program will gain a free account and ARK often gets special access to the Funcom BETA's.
((Airframe)) We even have a Morale team working within ARK to improve the morale of the program and a rewards program for people giving them points to spend depending on how much work they do with the program.
((Ziana)) we've had volunteers with things named after them, credit in the credits, autographed items
((Ziana)) nod
((Ziana)) radio station :)
((Ziana)) their own playfield
((Lucien)) we have regular get togethers and parties as well with the ARKs, thats actually happening the same weekend as the player gathering in NC
((Airframe)) yeah we have our own radio station, uniforms in game, and even our own community per say :)
((Ziana)) someone asked why others arent doing this..or what they are doing wrong
((Airframe)) it's really fun to work (if you want to call it work) in a program with people who are all there for the same reason, to help the players of Anarchy Online and the MMORPG community.
((Lucien)) oh I'll take on that one if you want Zi
((Ziana)) and i think a lot of this is due to legal issues someone asked about other programs closing
((Ziana)) go on
((Lucien)) well legal issues is an important one, I know a lot of companies are scared of getting sued. Sony, EA etc are all very high profile targets and it would be bad publicity for them.
((Lucien)) When we created ARK Funcom did look at the legal position and we've considered that in the program. Instead of having a specific time requirement and scheduled shifts (as they had in AC, UO and EQ) we have a requirement to do every month
((Lucien)) that requirement is actually very low, it would take an average person about 5-8 hours a month to do. Often it takes less than that
((Airframe)) I'd say even less than that ;P
((Ziana)) not all answer petitions primarily..some greet new players , some work with events, or community relations or personnel or bug hunters
((Lucien)) the most important thing I think though is we don't treat ARK as outsiders, they play a big part in a lot of areas in funcom. They have their own say in how the program is run, and ARK itself is build for ARK, by ARK.
((Ziana)) nod
((Lucien)) done ;)
((Ziana)) turnover is extremely low and this allows for high quality imho
((Ziana)) go air ;)
((Airframe)) And here is a very good question:
((Airframe)) UO had volunteers for years and eventually canceled the program for a number of reasons not the least of which were that they considered that not all the volunteers were honest and/or used their 'powers' to help friends. How does Funcom prevent that issue from arising?
((Lucien)) (Air is the perfect guy to answer this one hehe)
((Airframe)) ARK has a team called "ARK Staffing" which is currently a team of myself and three other ARKS to make sure abuse and rules violations in ark doesnt happen, and when they do they are dealt with swiftly.
((Ziana)) no room for rude people, dishonesty or people there for reasons other than to help others fairly
((Airframe)) We are aided by funcom with logs and special tools to aid us in our effort to prevent abuse of the ARK program to keep ARK here for helping people, not helping ourselves ;)
((Airframe)) And we are very efficient if I may say so myself ;)
((Airframe)) Done unless you two think more needs to be said on this topic?:)
((Ziana)) someone asked about the graphics engine and upgrades..sorry for delay ..will be more brief on some :)
((Ziana)) We are constantly improving our graphics engine, but we are not looking into doing any major technical overhauls for Alien Invasion, like we did with Shadowlands. We believe that our players prefer that we spend the time on making better, solid and fun sci-fi orientated gameplay (Alien Invasion) instead of putting the resources into a complete graphical overhaul. That said, Anarchy Online is already a very beautiful game, i.e. “Shadowlands”
((Ziana)) the art is damned good but you can judge that for yourself ;) more on that in a minute
((Ziana)) next one was on can people still join the volunteer program and is it all volunteer
((Ziana)) all volunteers yes..but a..big but here..
((Ziana)) open positions are offered to ark first
((Ziana)) they can apply before any others
((Ziana)) and as we move forward with so many new projects..hiring is a big thing this year
((Ziana)) other questions..
((Ziana)) can people log out to avoid punishment
((Airframe)) (and I think ziana means open positions at funcom ;)
((Ziana)) nope ..we'll deal with them if offline as well
((Ziana)) yes ;)
((Ziana)) we really tried to go with remote people
((Ziana)) and the reason we can't is due to legal issues..the u.s laws especially are not set upfor it
((Ziana)) telecommuting from within one state is completely different than out of state *** Nobonius ( has joined #funcom
((Ziana)) so customer support positions are in Raleigh NC
((Ziana)) there are a few one of a kind spots remotely
((Ziana)) and the rest in Oslo, Norway
((Ziana)) other questions..
((Veakari)) How do you think AO is going to hold up as well as some of the other smaller MMORPG's when the much anticipated WoW is released?
((Ziana)) good question :)
((Ziana)) well.. so far ..there has NEVER been an mmorpg that was greatly affected by another
((Ziana)) if anythign was going to affect us it would have been Star Wars I think
((Ziana)) but with all mmorpgs
((Ziana)) they get a core audience and it stays over the years this is statistically shown so far
((Ziana)) and I think that we aren't going anywhere ;)
((Ziana)) some other questions...
((Ziana)) on.. how can i try it out..
((Lucien)) there are certainly some people that leave, but many come back after trying another game
((Ziana)) yep and each new game gets new gamers born
((Ziana)) I had talked to Veakari on this
((Ziana)) and i realize nothing speaks louder than trying something for yourself
((Ziana)) so Veakari will have details on a special offer for you all
((Ziana)) on future projects
((Ziana)) we have the sequel to the Longest Journey in the works
((Ziana)) which will be pc and console
((Ziana)) we have other mmorpgs in the works as well
((Ziana)) all of our games have one common goal..
((Ziana)) to be intelligent games for grown ups
((Ziana)) we dont target little ones
((Ziana)) we don't target casual gamers
((Ziana)) and AO has been called the most in depth hard core game by many of the reviews
((Ziana)) it's not easy especially if you've never tried a mmorpg before
((Ziana)) but on the other hand it offers more customization than any other game
((Ziana)) and after 3 years, I still learn things and am not bored
((Ziana)) but that's a personal choice everyone has to make ;)
((Ziana)) I firmly believe in the words of Richard Bartle..
((Ziana)) that a mmorpg (or mud) is not about the game..but the community
((Ziana)) the guilds, the player ran radio stations, the people that find friends, and love
((Ziana)) the ones tht get married in game, in real life
((Ziana)) the ones that find best friends or great on line friends
((Ziana)) other questions
((Ziana)) consider the casual gamer..
((Ziana)) well.. we try to help them along ;)
((Ziana)) we offer greeting and each new player goes into a queue and we try to spend a lot of time to help them out if they wish it
((Ziana)) we have upgraded the gui to make it user friendly
((Ziana)) Shadowlands newbie backyard is easier
((Ziana)) but our main goal will always be to appease the hard core gamer first and foremost
((Airframe)) I'm no super power gamer ;) And I'm able to play *grins* so it's not as bad as it may sound
((Ziana)) because..well someone has to :)
((Ziana)) someone asked is being a volunteer a way to work your way into a career
((Ziana)) YES
((Ziana)) If you wake up everyday and go to work to live for after work when you can game
((Ziana)) and you dont have false visions that gaming jobs are easy, pay fantastic or make you ultra popular...
((Ziana)) if your heart and soul is in it.. you can do it
((Lucien)) gaming jobs are hard!
((Ziana)) but beware..its 80hrs a week on average for all games
((Ziana)) nods ;)
((Ziana)) its stressful and its hell sometimes ;)
((Lucien)) you have to be pretty much ready to live, eat, sleep and breath games
((Ziana)) but having said that..I will never leave til they fire me ;)
((Lucien)) (and almost give up playing them too)
((Ziana)) almost..
((Ziana)) not quite ;)
((Airframe)) yeah even ask lucien ;) I bug him almost 24 hours a day
((Lucien)) ;)
((Airframe)) and zi too hehe
((Ziana)) hehe its a global world
((Ziana)) so you gotta work global hours ;)
((Ziana)) we're in 104 countries
((Ziana)) its daylight somewhere ;)
((Ziana)) and next question
((Ziana)) professionals
((Ziana)) someone commented that was a unique program and was it difficult to keep going
((Ziana)) everything worthwhile takes work
((Ziana)) but it's worthwhile and I see it only improving
((Ziana)) same with our forums
((Ziana)) most outsource now or just dont have them
((Ziana)) but who can help our people better than us?
((Ziana)) its a family..players, gms, volunteers
((Ziana)) anything else i missed answering..or lucien or air? stuff to add?
((Ziana)) I can talk all night *blushes* would rather interact with you all more freely
((Ziana)) if Veakari doesnt object.. just ! to ask something
((Airframe)) well put I think ;)
((Lucien)) nothing to add ;)
((Ziana)) anyone? questions comments, bashing..whatever ;)
((Veakari)) I think you've been fantastic, all of you, and I'm happy to open it up
((Ziana)) wanta tell us about yourself ..anything?
((Ziana)) thank you for the opportunity :)
((Ziana)) someone asked what do we consider a casual gamer ;)
((Ziana)) our average player plays 4 hrs a stretch
((Ziana)) but a casual me..
((Ziana)) is one that plays web based games
((Ziana)) or somethign you dont have a commitment to
((Ziana)) something you dont spend months building up your character for, tweaking it out
((Dragons_LLTS)) Zi.. would you like Veak to chime in about now on the "offer"? before some need to start logging for dinner etc?
((Veakari)) Patience D =p
((Veakari)) Ziana has offered everyone here a chance to check out AO, and is offering 2 accounts (one for you, one for a friend) for those that e-mail a request to her tonight after we wrap up. e-mail to:, with subject line: The Syndicate
((Ziana)) hehe i manage on weekends and once in awhile at night
((Ziana)) and..
((Ziana)) i can set up a few tours
((Ziana)) if you wish
((Ziana)) once you're all set up ..big download warned

Thank you very much, Ziana, Lucien and Airframe!! We appreciate you taking the time to come chat with us and teach us more about MMORPG customer service and how AO handles it. Im sure several of us will see you in Raleigh at your player dinner as well. Thanks again!

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