For this week's issue of Community Detective, we decided to put Landroval to the test. While the community lived up to its billing, we did encounter some curious inconsistencies with regard to Turbine's customer service. Head past the cut for our findings and impressions.
LotRO now, you may be wondering, two weeks prior to the forthcoming free-to-play conversion? Two reasons: number one, we'd like to get a baseline for comparison between Landroval's current community and its community after a few months of free-to-play additions. Secondly, we'd like to evaluate customer service responses, both in terms of time and resolution, under two distinct payment models.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's do a quick rundown of our methodology for those who might be reading the column for the first time. Unlike Vanguard, which we examined last week, LotRO doesn't feature numerous official global chat channels. Instead, Turbine's game has a number of channels available in each zone, including regional, trade, advice, looking-for-fellowship (LFF), roleplaying (RP), and out-of-character (OOC). There is also the user-created and maintained global-looking-for-fellowship (GLFF) channel, but the community generally frowns on newbish questions here, and said frowning usually takes the form of polite requests to take it to regional advice or even personal tells. There is also a heavy amount of spam conversation in GLFF, and it's not uncommon for veteran players to turn it off entirely.
For these reasons, we stuck to the regional channels as this week's primary information-gathering spaces. We prepared a couple of questions designed to elicit community responses, then asked them in the Bree-land, Esteldin, Thorin's Gate, and Shire regional advice channels at various times throughout the week. Our goal was to get an idea of Landroval's willingness to interact with newbs. In addition to our chat polling, we also sampled pickup groups in most of these zones, as well as engaged in various one-on-one PM conversations with some of the server's more helpful denizens.
Finally, we put Turbine's customer service apparatus to the test by submitting two help petitions, one each on two separate lifetime-subscriber accounts.
We fared better on the weeknights, with all of the regional channels bringing a smattering of advice and one particularly helpful chap in Bree-land who outlined all the different ways to procure a horse, as well as pointing us toward some helpful links. As you might expect, the weekend provided the most answers, with several private /tell conversations as well as quick and helpful chat channel answers to be found in almost all the regions we sampled. Curiously, Thorin's Gate seemed rather lifeless regardless of the time of day or day of the week. We suspect this is due to most players leveling quickly out of the zone and moving on to bigger and better regions.
For our second question, we hoped to generate a bit more discussion:
As with our first question, we polled the community in Bree-land, Thorin's Gate, Esteldin, and the Shire at different times of day and different days of the week. Unlike our first question, this one generated many responses, a couple of them even branching off into rather long-winded channel-encompassing conversations. Weekdays were predictably light, while weeknights and weekends saw some varied answers as well as heated debate about the merits of the forthcoming F2P switch. The Shire in particular seemed to be a hotbed for crafters, or at least, friendly crafters willing to wax on about their trades. The zone consistently out-performed all others in terms of number of channel responses, personal responses, and overall friendliness.
There does seem to be some friction between those opposed to the upcoming F2P conversion and those who either don't mind or don't care, as more than one of our polling sessions led to some verbal sparring over the issues at hand. True to form though, Landroval's players were exceedingly polite even in disagreement, with personal attacks and adult language kept to a bare minimum. We've seen a lot of servers and a lot of communities over the years, and Landroval definitely belongs in the top two or three in terms of an inviting atmosphere and a high level of maturity across the board.
Our tests involved petitioning for the restoration of a deleted item on two separate paid accounts. Submission is accomplished by selecting "Help" from the game's main menu and then choosing the "New Ticket" button in the resulting window. We filed both support tickets on a Tuesday afternoon, one early and one late, and in both cases the tickets were answered and closed by customer support representatives by 9:30 p.m. the same evening.
The in-game interface lacks much in the way of functionality and style, as it's basically a blue window with a couple text boxes and only offers rudimentary tracking of filed tickets and their resolutions. Also, submission can be a bit finicky if you don't have the exact name of your item. For example, on one of our accounts we tested the deletion of a Finely Stitched Backpack (a cosmetic/appearance item), but because we didn't enter the name into the form exactly as it is named in the game, it wouldn't accept the ticket. We hunted around for a bit to find the name and were finally able to submit without any further hitches.
While both our tickets featured identical deleted items, only one of them was answered satisfactorily. For reasons unknown to us, one GM was able to restore our item while another GM was not.
Also problematic is Turbine's ticketing interface. The ticket-tracking window is better than nothing, but it also relies almost entirely on GM notes. For example, although one GM was nice enough to go the extra mile and restore our item, he neglected to enter any notes into the ticket prior to closing it, so future efforts at tracking the tickets on this particular account will necessitate a very long memory since the resolution pane is completely blank and all that's visible is the ID number and our initial request. Some sort of automation based on the resolution would be a great feature for Turbine to implement in the future, both in service to customers and to alleviate workload from the company's own representatives.
The fact that submission is tied to the in-game item database is also frustrating from a customer perspective. As mentioned above, we had to go back and hunt down the Finely Stitched Backpack name, which, had we been in a raid, a monster-play encounter, or forced AFK for a bit, would have proven difficult to find in the chat logs. LotRO is the first game we've encountered that demands a specific (and correctly spelled) item name prior to ticket submission.
Finally, we didn't get any kind of follow-up from Turbine, either when submitting the tickets or after their respective resolutions. This isn't as big a deal on the front end since the turnaround time was so quick, but it would have been nice to receive at least a form email detailing the process after the fact. Turbine could stand to learn a few tricks from SOE's customer service department here. Communication may seem like a small thing, but it gives the appearance of caring about your customers, just as the lack of it does the opposite.
Esteldin and Bree-land fared quite well regardless of the time slot or day of the week and were positively packed with group advertisements on the weekend. Whether it's calls for skirmish partners, runs through the Great Barrow, or folks looking to grind out a few deeds in the North Downs, there is no shortage of PUGs on Landroval. If you're having a hard time grouping in Turbine's Middle-Earth, consider a shower, a personality transplant, or both.
Also noteworthy is the random roleplay on display in Bree's Prancing Pony. It's rare to see so many roleplayers in today's MMORPGs, as the playstyle is definitely a minority and something of an acquired taste. That said, the number of RP emotes (and the number of individuals cranking them out) crowding our chat windows rivaled the looking-for-group spam found in most other games, and Landroval is definitely where it's at for Tolkien-flavored online storytelling.
Sadly, that's all the time we have for Middle-Earth this week. If you're curious about Landroval's community, we're happy to report that all the (good) things you've heard about it are true, and we'd recommend it to almost anyone. Customer service is hit or miss; we had one GM who went above and beyond and another that stuck to the rules, and precious little communication in either case. We'll return to Turbine's LotRO in a few months to check up on how the F2P community has impacted the server.
Join Jef Reahard every other week as he goes behind the scenes to file first-hand community and customer service reports from the front lines of your favorite genre titles. From Aion to Zentia, the Community Detective case files are an essential part of any game-hopper's research library. Suggestions welcome, care of firstname.lastname@example.org.