We caught up with a very tired Senior Online Community Manager Stephen Reid soon after the Guild Summit wrapped up to dicuss community plans and feedback collection. Regardless of his state, Reid was more than happy to answer the questions and prods of the community on the final day. For the interview in full, hit the jump.
How do you think the Guild Summit went and where do see it going in the future?
Stephen Reid: I think it went about as well as we hoped it was going to go. We’re not quite done with it yet. The next step for us is to gather feedback from the people who attended and from the community at large.
Technically, everything went just fine and we pulled off everything we wanted to pull off. Our first attempt to live stream an event was a success, which was great because we had to jump through a few hoops to get that to happen. We received a lot of good feedback and commentary already. I think if there’s anything that we would probably change is that we would probably make an effort to go into a bit more detail and really push the developers to get into more of a conversation with people at the event. That can be hard to do when you’re facing 200 people.
One thing we talked a lot about today in the feedback session was to do more round tables and divide things up into smaller groups. We talked about that at one point during planning, but we decided that running a lot of concurrent discussions was not necessarily going to be something that people wanted to do and they might not want to split up and go to different things. In terms of the future, I don’t know. Again, it obviously depends on feedback. It depends on whether it’s something that has a real distinct and important presence on a yearly calendar of events. If we feel that it accomplishes something that we don’t get at other events—that we get valuable feedback from it and we think it’s worth the time—then we’ll do it again. I don’t know if we would do it annually, or more than once a year.
The other thing to consider is whether we would continue to do it in the solely in the U.S., or if we would do an additional event in Europe, which is a definite possibility. It’s tricky doing events like this over there because then we have to ship all the developers out as well, rather than just drive down the road from office. We have to weigh all those factors and then we’ll make the decision going forward. Generally speaking, it went about as well as we could have hoped it could go.
We have a huge community of gamers here in Austin. Will local community events be planned since the BioWare studio is located here?
We’ve talked about going to events here. There’s a small Austin Comic Con and obviously GDC Online, which takes place here. We’re doing a little panel at South by Southwest this Sunday. We’re just doing the panel—no community-type events—because it overlapped with the guild summit. That’s something that we could do in the future. We’ve also talked about doing regional community events, which would just be “meet and greets.” It’s definitely something we want to do this year. We want to do a mix of big consumer events and small community-based events. We should have some news on some of those fairly soon when we lock down our schedules. We want to balance the typical public presence that you get at shows like San Diego and New York Comic Con with more community focused events, which are more about saying thank you to the fans and getting to meet them.
In a post-release world, where do you see events such as E3, GDC, etc?
Well, we haven’t announced it yet, but PAX East is going to be the first event we go to of that style. We are going to make it more community focused and make sure that there’s a space there for people to chat and mix with us and other fans. Patch 1.2 will be coming out around that time, so we’re obviously putting machines in there to play the game just as we did before. We’re not expecting the kind of 8-hour lines and the chaos that we had last year.
Any sort of inclination on live stream events going forward since you are doing a lot of socially conscious things?
We haven’t talked about that to be honest. It’s possible. We had a plan in the works at one point last year to do a series of live stream events when we were still in testing. We didn’t really get them off the ground because the testing schedule accelerated and people were already playing anyway. It would be interesting to do and a bit of fun, so yeah we might get to do something like that.
Customer service. People have been experiencing significant queue time waiting for a ticket to be escalated and responded to. What are you doing in that area to alleviate issues when it comes to class story issues?
Stephen Reid: I don’t have the statistics in terms of response time, but I certainly think that someone waiting weeks to get a response is definitely an exception. Even when we were at peek load we were trying to deal with things as quickly as possible.
Georg Zoeller: Plus issues get escalated it to designers really quickly
Stephen Reid: Generally, yeah. I actually had a conversation during the Guild Summit with someone whose husband had been waiting like two months on a class-blocking issue. If there was a genuine class-blocking issue, say with the Trooper, that was affecting every player, we would know about it and it would have been fixed by now. That’s just the way the game works. If you get it class-blocking quest, it stops your progression stone cold. In this case I don’t know what it is, but her husband is experiencing some weird mix of various issues.
We ramped up very fast in a very short period of time, so there was naturally a kind of a vetting in period where these guys were getting to grips with the game and also with the scale of support that they had to offer. Things have improved a lot. Our response time has come down dramatically. I know that our customer satisfaction scores have gone up which is always a good sign that things are going well. We have a fully staffed forums team now as well who are on the customer service forums trying to react to people directly. We’ve also staffed up on social media so people can get in touch via Twitter and we can alleviate some of their issues if we see that they’re having real problems and can escalate if required. Customer service is getting better and better on a regular basis and we are triaging as needed. If someone has a blocked class quest then we will escalate that as soon as possible and deal with it as fast as we can. It’s an everyday improvement process, which is still ongoing. We want to get it up to a state where people are really happy with what’s going on, but it’s been a learning process for us.
As an addendum to that, guilds may come across a bug where an instance breaks. Is it possible that something is coming on board to help that customer service process become quicker? For instance, could they be live on the server with customer service to help those issues.
Stephen Reid: I can’t speak for customer service in that regard. I don’t run that team so I don’t want to make promises or suggestions of how that might work. I think the likelihood of us getting customer service teams who are able to react on the fly instantly is slim because the scale that we have to support is pretty gigantic.
Obviously, from a development point of view what we really want to do is fix those bugs in the first place. That’s why there’s been a huge focus on fixing endgame bugs and bugs that affect Operations. I’ve seen the statistics; we spend more time fixing end game bugs than many other things. That isn’t to say that we aren’t fixing bugs elsewhere, but proportionately we’re spending more time there. We know how frustrating it is for you to go through that content and, after spending all that time trying to down the boss or finish off an operation, have it bug out on you at the end. That’s why we’re spending extra amounts of time to get that fixed. For us, the solution is to fix the bug and make the Operation work rather than throw customer support manpower at it. The game needs to work, first and foremost. At the same time the customer service team is obviously aware of and is dealing with Operations issues and any kind of end game bugs that they see. If people miss out on stuff then they can certainly go to customer service about those issues.
Georg Zoeller: We have a very senior team of people dedicated to end game support, which is actually investigating literally every YouTube video the can of breaks. It’s a very time consuming process because a lot of these things are obscure. Making them happen organically is actually hard, but we put a lot of resources on it to work on that. It’s something we’re taking very seriously and I’m not saying that lightly. It’s an ongoing effort. There’s a significant improvement in 1.2, but beyond that we have a team that literally deals with nothing but end game. Ultimately customer service is your second line of defense and they shouldn’t even get to that.
In addition, we have guild testing. For example, there are not a lot of issues on Karagga’s Palace, but the majority of issues that people rightfully identify are on Eternity Vault. It’s not really widely known, but we had guilds testing for us on patch 1.1 and they were very successful. They sent us great feedback. They covered a bunch of things that we didn’t catch and could tell us how to make certain issues happen. We’re extending that for 1.2. We’ve put a call to action on the forums, we’re asking the guilds, and we’re asking individual people to help us out with the public test server and actually test every aspect of it.
I know you have commented on possibly re-deploying server forums in the future, but where do you see them going long term?
Stephen Reid: We review it periodically and see what the sentiment is about them, as well as what the usage is of the existing ones. It’s tricky right now because we’re starting to roll out trial programs that will see an uptick in server populations. We’ll see an influx of new players to the game and it will be interesting to see how they deal with server forms and whether they find usage. In some cases those server forums are being relatively well used and in other cases they’re not. It’s a chicken and egg thing really. Is it that your server doesn’t have people interested in using those server forums, or is it because players don’t like the server group forums?
Georg Zoeller: Also people organically go to things like Google+. Some servers have a really vibrant Google+ community, so there are a lot of different ways for people today to interact with each other. A lot of people gravitate to social media. Adding an additional option is nice, but there’s probably a critical mass in many of these cases somewhere else. That’s something to consider.
Stephen Reid: I’m a big proponent of the fact that the community is everywhere these days. It’s not just on the official forums. People find other people in all parts of the internet. That said, it is something that we look at periodically. We’ve talked about the fact that we take forum moderation very seriously. In our experience, the forums can be a real breading ground for bad behavior. One thing we’re very cautious about is not allowing that to happen immediately off the bat so that they don’t turn into a place where people scream at each other all day long. With that said, we want to try to give people tools to find other people and certainly to find other guilds. One suggestion that came up today was reinstating a global guild recruitment forum because people are rerolling on different servers and players need to know where the recruiting guilds are located. That’s an interesting suggestion and something that we’re going to look at. It’s something that we’ll look at periodically and in proactive ways, but we don’t have any radical changes on the horizon.
You guys are on track with the Q&A stuff and it seems to be the biggest chuck of information that usually comes out on a weekly basis, along with the developer and community blogs. Is this going to be a weekly thing going forward?
Stephen Reid: We’re taking a break this week because we had the guild summit so we feel that people have a lot of information to digest from that. We want it to be weekly, although, even now we’re already down to pretty specific questions. A lot of the big stuff has been answered. We’re not going to answer questions like, "Tell me what the game will be like in 5 years,” or “Tell me the entire future of space combat.” We’re already getting down to very specific stuff, so we may decide that there’s less need for us to go out weekly. However, we want to continue it as long as we can and it’s convenient for us in the sense that it focuses the development team around one set of questions. Team members who are less conscientious about the forums than Georg get a chance to answer questions. We see it as useful and we certainly want to continue it as best we can.