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I'm rather horrified/interested right now because it's currently happening in Funcom's The Secret World.
I should perhaps provide a preface to say this isn't a rant about being screwed over by a game, more wonderment at where MMOs are going with the level of customer service and review that many seem to offer.
I've played over a dozen MMO's and never been banned or even warned and was fascinated to find a 24hour ban notice in my inbox this morning for disruptive behavior. My disruptive behavior? Logging off in a PvP zone. Let me re-state that: Logging out of a game can earn you a ban now in at least one game. Funcom's had an issue since Age of Conan where logging out would give you a crash to desktop notification and evidently leaves your character in game awhile, which in this case was considered idling and resulted in a ban. Logged out or not, idling = ban with apparently little review. Given the timecode on the ban notification I was apparently banned within 5 minutes of logging off evidently for my character being idle during the logoff process. I probably hadn't even gotten up from my desk by the time the GM completed the process and forwarded the account notice.
I've been considering that all day as I've investigated the issue which was a surprise to me as I haven't actually played in months so wasn't aware what was in store for me when I logged in to check out the little content that had been added in the four months since I last played. It seems no one else in my guild still plays or perhaps they could have filled me in on some of the changes that have happened.
The problem seems to be pvp related, as perhaps is the norm, and specifically in one zone that seems to have developed in a comedic fashion while I have happily played other games. Now let me just point out I'm primarily a pve person and in four or five months about a dozen quests and two special weapons have been added to all the content I'd already blown through a few weeks after the game was released. I did about half of it my first day back while remembering how to play and then logged into what was one of the few pvp areas in any game I actually enjoyed somewhat. Fusang. Oh what a mess it had become. I consider myself, at best, a casual pvper. I've never really gotten a thrill out of randonly killing fellow players but do like working with other players and accomplishing things together. In Fusang the three factions compete to acquire facilities and spawn points for which they are rewarded. You can pick up two quests to conquer a big site and a little site as well as a 10 count kill quest for other players every half hour or so. I liked that. You were largely rewarded for logging in finding a few faction mates and you could hit someplace and be done in five or ten minutes feelig you accomplished something. For me, great. You could still stick around for the fun of it, and plenty did, but you were no longer rewarded till the quests refreshed. There were two other whole pvp zones, but some people vocally wanted to be rewarded for staying in Fusang non stop. I kinda thought they'd be ignored since Fusang always seemed so popular and at all hours and in all factions I could log in and get things accomplished day after day.
You cannot underestimate the power of complaining though or apparenty of how likely developers are to break functionality. So my second day back I log in a few times to Fusang only to find my main faction owns everything, so I can't really accomplish any conquest, and I log back out to keep questing till we lose something I can help take back. After a few times logging in and out I realize I'm being awarded free tokens and finally suss out the system in Fusang has been completely changed to reward dominance and if you just stay in the zone you keep getting a handout of tokens. I just can't stop laughing that anyone thought this was a good idea given that every server seems to have one predominant faction, and of course they predictably rule the area with little to no competition through sheer numbers raking in the profit. So what the hell I start hanging out there as well and defending the areas which is all there really is to do when your faction owns them. I maybe kill three people the whole day and spend a lot of time in menus reminding myself what all my charater can even do outside of the build I logged in with. I chat sometimes. It's laggy as hell with so many people in a single zone, most of them my own faction, and I hear a lot of complaints of people being banned for being afk - presumably for using methods of preventing afk logouts right? Nope some people are saying they're even being banned logging in because it takes so long to load the zone for some people. I suspect this is exaggeration, it just doesn't sound logical right?
My third day back I'm not really back because I'm banned. Evidently because my character took too long leaving the zone after I logged out to go to bed.
So while I debate if there even will be a fourth day back I seriously wonder what this means for mmorpgs.
I'd probably cancel my subscription if I was a monthly subscriber but I actually have a lifetime I got because Secret World struck me as a niche game that might be fun to log into every couple of monthes. As long as the servers are active I don't have to worry or pay whether it be years, or if they keep banning players monthes I suppose. Still I've sent a dozen emails back and forth with customer service to little avail. There's a runaround. Even if you get an apology it's a half assed one without any notion of rescinding the ban even if it was a mistake to give. The prevailing attitude seems to be it's only 24 hours. If you ask to go to a higher level or a supervisor the correspondance ends.
Now after not playing for months a day means nothing to me aside from the fact that it's insulting to be banned for a games own poor implementation. Within the game's own mechanic is one, the automatic logoff for being idle that nearly all mmo's have, and two a token cap meaning that ever 30 minutes you need to leave and turn in your tokens regardless so remaining longer idle or active is pointless. I asked as soon as I realized the ludicrous situation in Fusang and was told it had been like it was for three weeks and in that time GMs had been apparently authorized to ban anyone suspected of idling without even attempting to contact them to see if they were for what was considered a viscious outbreak of afk. The response baffles me. I've seen and heard of exploits in the past and generally expect them to be fixed and abusers punished. I don't really think this is that, however, this is bad game implementation and rather than correct the implementation the response seems to be to ban the playerbase without warning and with debatable cause. What does that mean in the relationship between gamers and their games?
To that end, while I feel I was unjustly banned even for a mere 24 hours, what if it was for more? I can find no apparent appeals process. I'm not sure who to talk to or even if I could. In the world on online business it seems to have become common practice to obscure any form of contact with people who might actually be able to make a difference but who do you talk to if a mistake has been made? When I first received a ban notice for disruption my first thought was if it was a spam email like the bazillion attempts mentioning my non existent blizzard account I always feel happy to ignore, my second was what if my account had been hacke and someone ran around shouting obscenites on my account of some such nosense. If that was the case however who would I turn to? How would I prove it? If a police officer punishes me by mistake or my credit card is used fraudulently I have recourses and review. If a GM takes away a product I pay to play online do I have that recourse or review? I apparently dont even have warning beforehand that I might be doing something wrong. That concerns me. Is that new or I have I just not noticed before?
I actually work in customer service. I have review. I have supervisors and if someone wants to speak to them I introduce them. I find it somehwat concerning that does not seem to be the case here. Now maybe Funcom is particularly bad with their customer service, which is something I would believe but it might set a trend for that, and in that recourse would gamers have? We invest an awful lot of time into these online worlds that can apparently be taken away for as little as going afk these days. Where do you go from there? Is that an aberation or a sign of where things are going as more games go free to play and perhaps the value of a customer is at an all time low?