Talk about a busy schedule around here! Beginning at 10:00am and going all day long, excluding the evening attractions, the staff of SOE are keeping us and themselves very busy! There are of course several gaming kiosks showing current and upcoming titles. Also, all sorts of panels for us to attend and learn some fantastic information about our favorite titles.
I arrived in Las Vegas early, and so yesterday morning I was all ready to get going - starting with the Station Voice/Vivox panel. This was a discussion on the in-game voice chat system currently available in EQII and SWG, and on the test server for EQ. When I arrived, the room was fairly empty and the folks in attendance were milling about. Apparently, the tables and equipment were still in the process of being set up. Never to be flustered, however, Bruce Ferguson, Senior Producer on EverQuest II, promised a demonstration in interpretive dance should the equipment setup take awhile. Not to be outdone, Monty Sharma, VP of Product Management & Marketing/Founder of Vivox, ensured us of his skill with shadow puppets!
Needless to say, I was sincerely disappointed when just a few moments later the hotel staff arrived with the necessary accoutrements for a proper panel discussion. Next time, Bruce and Monty... next time!
With everything firmly in place, the panel got underway, led by Nathan Pierce, SOE's Creative Director, with a brief overview of the voice chat system, and then a Q&A session from the community. As was expected (at least by me), there were several concerns voiced regarding the issue when a player is switching characters or goes linkdead and thus loses voice capability. With a system such as Ventrilo, this is not an issue. However, we were reassured that upon the launch of Station Launcher, this concern will be fully addressed. In other words, we will soon be able to hop from character to character... and game to game... without losing voice connection with our friends.
Yes, I did say game to game, as well. But more on the Station Launcher later!
Some other concerns brought up at the Vivox panel included player limits in channels, additional leader-only style channels during raid events, and voice clarity issues. And to answer these few here, it was stated that there is no effective limit on how many players can be in a single channel at any given time. There is a plan for multi-channel capability, allowing users to be in 6 different channels at once with each channel given dominance in a chosen hierarchy (for example, if you are in your officer channel, guild channel, and group channel, your officer channel can mute the others when one of the officers speaks, etc.).
Another neat feature will be the ability to call from your cell phone into the voice chat! This was shown for the first time at the Keynote Address last night... and judging by the reaction of the crowd, it is going to be very widely used!
My next stop was at the Customer Service panel, led by Brad Wilcox, head of Customer Service at SOE, and accompanied by Richard Schmelter and Satao Minami, Customer Service Managers for the various titles. This was one panel I was personally very interested in. Not because I had many complaints, but because I have a customer service background and because I am, as I said to them, "the Petitioner from Hell". I petition many things - mainly inappropriate names - while playing in my game of choice. Yes, yes... roll your eyes at me later.
The panelists began with a presentation that outlines their processes, and filled it in with periodic trivia questions and prizes. I thought that was a good touch, since sometimes the ins and outs of how the system works can be very tedious. Regardless, there was some great information shared here... including some tidbits I thought were of particular interest:
Although it does fluctuate, the CS team was quite pleased to share that approximately 2,000 accounts tied to gold sellers are banned each day, and
To further promote tapping into the wealth of knowledge and skills found in the player base, there is currently a pilot program for GMs to work from home.
With this new idea for the GMs, this will allow our players who are unable or unwilling to relocate to the corporate offices an opportunity to still lend their abilities to the betterment of the community. If the pilot is successful and the program launches, it will provide a small wage (they said approximately $10/hr) to participants in exchange for their time and efforts. If you're interested, be sure to keep an eye out on the SOE Careers page for more information!
So aaaanyway... back to the panel! Naturally we are all concerned with the level of customer service we receive when it comes to our petitions, issues, the ever-present catastrophe and crisis we all face when it happens to us. (Stuck character, anyone?) I had the opportunity to inquire about training for the GMs, to which I was advised that training can take up to four months, and the team believes that the training is really well done. I'm sure a few of you will be grunting and saying things such as "Not bloody likely", but that was the response I received. This was, however, how the topic of at-home GMs came up. So if you are one of those that thinks you can do better, I encourage you to apply when it comes available!
Brad Wilcox did state that he wants to get the Customer Service team back to the roots of an old CS belief: The customer is always right. While I like to be a believer and have faith in people, I was naturally skeptical. To which he did reply with an invitation to email him directly should we ever feel we're not getting anywhere. So, for the benefit of everyone, I present you with Brad Wilcox's email address... at his invitation... should you feel you are not receiving the level of service you believe you deserve: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey... he did say he welcomes all players to contact him directly, and he will respond just as quickly as he can! Please keep in mind, however, I do not publish this information here as a means to harass the man who is already so very busy working to improve our experiences with his team... but to show to all of you his dedication and drive to give us the best he has to offer in times of need. It takes true loyalty and commitment to invite such contact, and I give kudos to Brad for giving us that.
Many of the issues brought up were responded to with a "case-by-case basis", although we were informed that the team does try to provide the best possible resolution for all concerned. However, should you find yourself looking at that website that promises you fast, cheap, and easy power leveling... or should you find yourself considering conducting business with someone who is a known gold buyer or seller... be aware that while you may not find yourself banned, you most likely will find yourself bereft of those benefits or funds/items received from such individuals. The customer service team is dedicated to removing all of the illicit items and money that tends to unbalance an economy in the long run.
After the panel, I took a few moments with Rich Schmelter to discuss a few topics I felt important concerns facing the community in terms of customer service, but I will be publishing that separately, so keep an eye out!
That wraps up my Friday morning coverage, but I will be continuing on with some pictures from the Live Events run during the lunch hour, and the afternoon schedule of panels that I attended... as well as coverage of the Off-site Event, including a fantastic picture of John Smedley you won't want to miss! So stay tuned!
Maggie "AutumnKiss" Olsen
Senior Editor, ZAM Network