Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's Not The Problem, It's The Resolution...

...that makes or breaks a positive gaming experience. Yesterday, another first: I filed my very first petition in EVE (I've decided to bow to popular usage and capitalize all three letters from now on).

This problem was particularly annoying. I'd gotten through most of a fairly tough mission, only to discover that the last three enemies in the room, for some inexplicable reason (I'm guessing a code loose end, but what the hell do I know? It could be anything.), simply would not let me lock on to them so I could take them out.

Of course, in these situations my first presumption is always that I screwed something up, that it's somehow, some way, my fault. In probably 90% of all cases, I'm right...this time, I wasn't. So, after trying everything I could think of to fix the problem without success, I finally decided to file a petition.

This was actually the first time I'd ever had to do this in any online game. I'd never had a problem in Everquest that had required GM intervention. I clicked the "Open Petition" described the situation as best I could, and then went to start another mission while I waited for a response, assuming that it would be, at minimum, a few hours before I got a response.

Boy, was I wrong. I didn't even make it the five jumps to the next agent before I got a response from a GM who suggested that the first thing I should try was logging out and renaming the cache file in the EVE client program. I did that, discovering that aside from losing all my personal game settings it did nothing to resolve the problem I was having and so I re-petitioned and said as much. Less than an hour later, I got a response from another GM who offered to reset the mission for me. I accepted his (or her...kind hard to tell) offer, thanked them for their quick response, and moved on as I didn't get the same mission when I went back to that agent a little later on.

It's interesting...while I've never been a GM (though I do have friends who are or have been GM's in games other than EVE), one thing I have been many times in my working life is a customer service agent of one stripe or another. That's really what a GM is, a customer service agent, in fact their signatures say "GM (whoever), EVE Customer Service". This is an important thing to remember, and one I'm sure probably most don't, especially in these games.

After all the t20 drama, it seems that many EVE players believe that these people have god-like powers that they use capriciously whenever it suits them, kind of like a modern technological version of the Greek gods pantheon. In reality, that's probably pretty far from the truth. In most cases, customer service agents are given the permissions and abilities they need to do their jobs and nothing more. Whether it's because of the high turnover rate of most Customer Service positions, or just because a company doesn't want to allow its employees decision-making ability past a certain predetermined point, the ability of a customer service agent to resolve problems independently is generally pretty limited and its use often carefully monitored, especially if there's a danger of it being abused.

The important thing to remember here is these people are not gods, nor may they even, in many cases, even really care about EVE as a game, any more than I cared about answering machines and blow dryers when I worked as a customer service agent for Conair. First and foremost, it is, it has be, a job, a way of paying the bills. If you assume that the GM who happens to read your petition cares about the game as much as you do, chances are you're kidding yourself. In fact, many companies probably go out of their way to hire GM's who don't really care much about the game itself, as those who are personally involved with the game and its players are much less likely to be willing and able to carry out a GM's duties fairly and without prejudice toward or against any in-game group or faction. This why a lot of games actually contract out a lot of their in-game customer service, reserving the company's own employees for only the highest GM positions that are mainly to monitor and guide the lower-ranking GM's, and only take action in-game in the most extreme situations.

It's therefore not all that far of a stretch to conclude that if you treat these people like human beings, ask rather than demand, and use words like "please" and "thank you", chances are you're far more likely to get what you want than if you act like you're entitled to whatever it is you happen to want from the GM in question. To put it bluntly, nobody likes an asshole, and I can tell you from personal experience that a customer service agent does appreciate being treated like they're there to help you, the customer, resolve problems you're having with their company's product or service, but not like they're personally responsible for them. It doesn't matter whether it's a science fiction MMOG or a hair dryer that's giving you the problem, you're far more likely to get the help you need if you treat the person you need help from decently and with respect.

My first experience with EVE Customer Service went well, as well as can be expected, I suppose, considering that I really have no idea if the problem I originally had was actually resolved or not...when the GM reset my mission, (s)he made the issue moot. What impressed me most was the speed of the responses I received, far faster than I'd have believed, based on what I've read on the E-O forums.

I've also just happened to discover a way of improving EVE's overall performance substantially, a really dumb thing that I should have tried long ago, but which nonetheless makes a huge difference...but that's a story for next time.

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