Throughout the time I have been involved with FML I have been lucky enough to establish a relationship with a whole range of people, amongst them is Paul Hecker Sega’s FML Support Lead. Since the launch of the first ‘live’ worlds I have worked with Paul in assisting a large number of people to resolve their issues with the game, and have always found him helpful and understanding when dealing with the frustrations users have had.
After the debacle of the 1.2 launch I contacted Paul about the possibility of doing an interview, and while he made it clear that the specifics around some issues might involve details he was not allowed to discuss, he was happy to answer a range of questions about the support area.
Mark Burton: To start off with some personal background, FML support falls under the Sega banner. So have you come to FML through Sega, or the other way around ? Basically is it just a job for you, or do your ties with FML lie deeper than that ?
Paul Hecker: I actually joined SEGA from Sports Interactive, where I was part of the QA team and worked on a range of Football Manager titles, eventually including FML. I loved working on FML and the opportunity to join SEGA meant I could get much more involved in the daily workings of the game and I’d only have to move one room further along the corridor.
I understand Sega and Sports Interactive share the same building, how close is the interaction between the two on a daily basis? Are support involved in the development process, or are you just left to deal with the problems as they arise? I guess a part of this also is how much support do Support get from the developers?
We’re fortunate in that we’re all based in the same building. We’re in pretty much constant contact with the development side of things, primarily through Marc Duffy.
The FML Support site contains a knowledgebase of problems and solutions, but it doesn’t appear to be a ‘first option’ for people who have issues. Do you think it could be better utilised, more prominent ? Or is it an accepted part of the process that people will need to be referred to it?
You’d be surprised. We keep a count of how many times each article is viewed (and compare this to the number of e-mails we receive) to help us figure out what it is people get stuck with most often and what issues people can solve for themselves. Some articles are getting thousands of hits. That said, we have many ideas to improve the support site structure, I’m never happy with it. In an ideal world people could self-solve 99% of problems from a quick visit to the site. But we’re still creating a base for the future of FML, developments in the support site (as elsewhere) will hopefully come as the game expands.
Having been involved with the launch threads of some of the earliest worlds, and noticed the major improvements since then in terms of getting people into worlds without problems. Are there any outstanding issues in this area, anything that people joining FML for the first time might need to be aware of?
I know that the developers have been working hard to get the launch days as smooth as possible. When you compare it to the first ever launches, they’ve really done a great job. There are one or two sticking points, a few lessons were learnt from launching a new Pro gameworld, but I don’t think a first-time player joining a brand new amateur world would notice any major problems.
Ok, the big question everyone wants to know. The 1.2 rollout was a bit of a disaster, from what I’ve picked up the download server “fell over” and the whole system appeared to take a massive step back. Can you tell us what actually happened, and what has been done (or will be done) to prevent this happening again when 1.3 rolls out?
Obviously the user experience with the 1.2 update was not good enough. We were all pretty disappointed that it didn’t go smoothly – our e-mail and the free days given to all FML subscribers hopefully went some way to conveying our disappointment – and there are certainly plans in line to deal with this in the future.
The issue that caused the bulk of the problems was actually identified and fixed on the evening of the update, so I’m confident that we won’t see the same thing occurring again.
From a support point of view, my main goal on update evenings is to have everybody signed in playing the game, one way or another. So for future updates we’re working on having more back-up options available for managers who haven’t been able to upgrade automatically.
For example, on the 1.2 update night I noticed some unofficial workarounds floating around on the forums that allowed managers in straight away. Whilst they got in the game, their “fix” could actually cause more problems than it solved. It would be great if we could offer an official alternative that anybody could use should an issue arise. This is one area that we’re certainly pursuing in light of the 1.2 roll-out.
How many tickets are raised in the support system on a daily/weekly basis? And of those what’s the average time to resolve?
This can vary greatly; we’d expect to hear from about 1% of active managers on a daily basis. The majority will be resolved within 24hrs with only 1 reply from support. Some problems can require 2 or 3 different teams to get involved and will average a couple of days to clear.
Moderators, as the first port of call for many users they could be considered a part of the support process, do you see them as an important part of the process and should they be doing more to assist the general support levels for all users?
The support team is still quite small, so for me the moderators play a key part in the process. I couldn’t ask for much more from them – I think they’re already doing valuable work running the gameworlds from the inside, dealing with gameplay problems and filtering managers through to the right places when necessary.
The game tools available to moderators are already more comprehensive with every update. As FML develops, I imagine support becoming much more integrated with the in-game experience and it’s inevitable that the moderators would be a component of this.
From a global perspective, FML attracts users from all over the world even though it’s basically only a UK launch at this time, are there plans to extend support services into other countries as FML grows? Or is that too far down the track to look at yet?
It’s something for the long-term. If the game itself expands into wider countries/languages then without doubt the support structure around the game will have to expand too.
The SI forums are home to many threads about support, and usually not good. Do you read them? And if so what do you take from them?
I do read the forums regularly – I like to keep up with exactly what kind of feedback support and the game in general is getting.
I think it’s fair to say we are a pretty easy target when it comes to the forums and it can be frustrating to read many claims/complaints that are missing some or all of the facts. However, there are valid points made and cases where I think we could have served people better. The feedback is still from customers who just want to play and enjoy their game after all. So I make a point of keeping up to date with the forums to see how we are perceived and where we could improve.
Are you happy with the level of support that is currently provided? Or do you think it still has a long way to go?
I’m never happy – there is still plenty of room to improve. At the moment we’re a very small team and for the most part keep things running very smoothly all things considered.
But MMO players are involved in a 24/7 experience and have high expectations from support. Ultimately I want to get as close as possible to reaching those expectations.
Once again thanks to Paul Hecker for his frank assessment of the state of support. There’s a clear acknowledgement that things can be done better, at the same time it will be clear to any who have been involved with FML that major improvements have been made along the way. Acknowledging they use the forums and data from the support site to help them identify areas that need improvement, and the recognition that it’s not perfect today. Along with all things FML there is constant development and improving the whole process for the end user is a joint effort.
Hopefully this has given you a small insight into the support process and the team work involved, and more importantly the fact they are always looking to improve the experience and use your feedback in all areas to do so. “The feedback is still from customers who just want to play and enjoy their game after all.” Shows a level of understanding of user frustration, and that’s something we all need to remember when posting in the forums.
For those that have issues, or just want to see what’s there, here is a link to the Sega Support Knowledgebase
And as a point of balance one of the latest forum threads about support (or lack of) can be found here – FML support is totally pointless
|Written By Mark Burton
A moderator since May 2008 in a number of beta worlds and now GW Fowler, he strives to highlight the community aspects of FML and inform new & experienced users about future game development.