Tell Your Customers

We (don't) Care!

Don't let this be your motto!

Currently, I deal with two companies on a regular basis to whom which we pay a lot of money.  One of them, a co-location facility, is fantastic at communication.  Every time they have scheduled maintenance or even unplanned issues, I get an email.  In fact, I get several.  For a scheduled issue I get an announcement, a reminder, a notification of start, a progress update if the issue is long enough, more if the issue keeps going, a notification of resolution and an after action report.  For unscheduled issues it’s the same only without the lead time.  I even get these emails when the issue isn’t going to affect us, just so I know what is going on and on the off chance that is does end up affecting us.

The other, to whom we pay much more money and they handle out internet and phones, we get nothing.  Even when we have outages, getting an explanation from them is like pulling teeth.  Our internet access, which is needed for our customers to use our products, goes down for twenty minutes, or bounces up and down for several hours (down for 30 seconds, up for 3 minutes, down for 20 second, up for a minute, down for a minute, up for 5, etc..) and the best I get from them is “we’ll look into it”.

Having worked in the telecom industry, and from dealing with various companies over the years, I know that all this equipment is monitored and logged.  Someone, somewhere had to have gotten notification of the problem, so why didn’t they toss out an email that said, “Hey, we are seeing issues in XXX area and some of our customers may be affected. We are working on it!” and later a nice “We found the problem and it was resolved!”  I mean, shit, the co-location facility provides an after action report with more detail than I know what to do with…

The failure was in the 3rd card of the router in room 3E1 that caused packet loss to the network that exceeded the threshold and switched the room to its backup route at the same time room 3E2 was being fault tested which overloaded the network and crashed it.  Our customers in 3E2 were immediately switched to their primary route experiencing only a few seconds of outage but room 3E1 was offline for 63 seconds while the backup route was restarted.  The 3rd card of the router in 3E1 was replaced and the room was placed back on its primary route within one hour.  We have scheduled a replacement of parts of the backup route for tomorrow to ensure it doesn’t crash again when it is needed.  Next week we will begin a full equipment test of all routes that should take two weeks to complete to ensure this same issue doesn’t happen to the other rooms not affected at all by this issue.

All of this comes without me ever once having to call anyone.  Meanwhile, our telecom tells us:

We think there was an outage in XXX, which shouldn’t affect you but might have, and since your service is up now I’m going to close the ticket.

And this is after calling to open a ticket, waiting three hours, escalating through four levels of management and threatening to cancel our service and go with another provider.  I wish I could say that my threat was more than empty, but as I said, I used to work in telecom, and this is par for the course.  No matter who we switch to we’d get the same level of information about failures out of them.

Seriously guys… if there was a line out, or an equipment failure, or someone crossed a line or rebooted something they shouldn’t have, just admit it.  Tell me exactly what it is so that I understand that you actually know what happened, because your current level of non-communication only leads me to believe that you have no idea what happened.

This applies to just about every business in the world.  Admit fault, explain failure and detail resolution.  Even if it all goes over your customer’s head, you have at least demonstrated that you know what you are doing.  Hand waving and secrecy just makes your customers have less faith in your abilities.  If your team is competent, you should want to show it off.

Fantasy Fantasy MMO Again

Last week, I posted about how I’d design/build a world for a fantasy MMO.  At the end I said I’d post about how I’d take EVE’s character design and use it in a fantasy setting.

I’ve posted a few times about not limiting your players in their choices, and in fact a little over a year ago I actually talked about EVE’s design in reference to Fallen Earth’s decision at the time not to have respecs.  What I like about EVE’s design is that you need skills to use equipment and your skill only matters while you are using your equipment.  Applied to a fantasy setting it would essentially be: you are what you wear.

A warrior isn’t a class.  A warrior is the ability to wear heavy armor, take damage, use a weapon and perhaps a shield, and taunting abilities.  A wizard isn’t a class.  A wizard is the ability to use reagents and focus through a staff or wand and cast spells.  And so on…

A fantasy game under the EVE model would allow every character to have every skill if they take the time to train it, but what skills matter and what you are able to do depends entirely on what you are wearing/using.  If you leave town wearing plate armor, a heavy club and shield and your taunts, you are a warrior.  If you leave town in a robe with a staff, a wand and a bag of potions and reagents, you are a wizard.

The main thing that attracts me to this model is that it encourages players to play less characters.  If you get tired of being a warrior, you just switch gear and start playing as a wizard.  If next week your guild still needs a warrior, you can just put back on your warrior gear from last week and immediately be the warrior you were.  While I understand that many people like making alternate characters, and this wouldn’t prevent them from doing so, I personally have never enjoyed the work that goes into making sure my friends know where to find me.  I’d much rather be messing around with lesser used skills on my main character and have my friends be able to find me easily, than to be logged in as another character and have them have to track me down.

Obviously, a design like this would need to take care in how it allows people to wear gear and how much they can carry with them.  Letting someone carry around a few alternate skill items to swap in special situations is great, but letting someone carry around a full set of gear that they are able to use a macro to swap allowing them to cast fireballs between enemy attacks while tanking would be a disaster, unless you want the game full of macroing tank-mages.

Then again, I prefer a crafting driven economy over a mob-kill-loot based one.  Adventurers should find materials to sell/trade to crafters to buy/trade for finished gear.  But that is for another post…

Combat Revised

Tobold has an interesting post up today about making combat in MMOs better.  I’d like to take his combat cards design a step further, and use it to support a classless design as well.

Think about it, if all your attacks, defences and utility moves in combat were based on a deck of skill/action cards, you can go a step further and make each card have requirements.  For example, a defensive card called “Shield Block” that would buff you an absorb the damage of the next incoming attack (or X amount of damage) would require you to have a shield equipped to use.  A “Fireball” card could require a wand be in your primary hand, while a “Backstab” requires a dagger.  I’m sure we could spitball and come up with many things like this.  As an added bonus, the items could have a modifier.  Using a flat shield with “Shield Block” has no bonus, but if you had a Spiked Shield your “Shield Block” would inflict X damage if the attack absorbed was a melee attack.  Again, let your mind run wild on all the things you could do.

The result would be that your “class” would be defined by your equipment and the deck that you carry.  New cards and new items could be found through questing and adventuring, and made through crafting.  Crafting itself could be made up as card game combat using a separate deck and crafter’s tools.

To throw another element into the mix, you could allow for character level to affect the bonus on cards, or even add a “card level” where the cards in your deck gain experience through use, the more you use a card the higher level it gets the better the bonus.  Card level would, in effect, mirror a skill based system, while your character level would carry a bonus on all cards.  So if you had been heavily magic focused and decided to become a plate tank by switching your gear and cards, the 50 levels you earned as a mage would transfer as a level 50 warrior, you’d only be lacking card levels.

Another thing this design would allow for is a structure where any opponent can be non-trivial.  If defence and mitigation are card effects, an unlucky draw could leave you open to attacks by even the “lowest level” foes.  The reverse is also true, that low level characters can fight even high level foes with a good deck and a lucky draw.

This design would even allow for RMT in the form of selling booster packs of random cards (or buying specific cards for larger amounts), but restricts the power of “bought goods” through the equipment requirements and card level bonuses.  (Traded cards would not retain their level.)

Lastly, similar to the way Guild Wars handles things, make the places you can swap equipment and decks be limited to the adventuring hubs, so that a player picks a role and outfits themselves prior to heading out.  (This works fantastically with my thoughts on town-centric design with judicious use of instancing.)

The more I think about it, the more I like this.