ArcheAge, OR “Endless /facepalms in Trion’s General Direction”

Let’s start at the beginning.  Once upon a time, I purchased a retail copy of “Rift”.  That’s right, I purchased a physical game, that came in a box, on a disc, not just a box containing a slip of paper with a key on it.  Times sure were different then.

I brought it home, installed it, and played it for a few months before I decided it was sort of the same old same old and if I was going to play the same old I may as well pay for and play the thing I was already established in rather than working my way up from the bottom again.  Many moons later, after everyone else came to that same conclusion, Rift went Free to Play and I logged back in again.  I proceeded to log many many hours in Rift, but I barely gained any levels.  Nope, I spent the entirety of my time running in circles collecting artifacts (those little shiny things that spawn on the ground) in order to complete all the achievement collections for no god damn reason whatsoever.  I just wanted to, okay?  MUST COLLECT SHINIES.  Because the game was free I guess I felt secure in the knowledge that I was at least not wasting much money to waste all of my time collecting artifacts (although I did eventually buy a couple more upgrades for my account…).

Because I had previously paid a lot of money for the full retail price of the game and subscribed for a while, my account had a decent amount of loyalty points and the Auction House unlocked, and I worked the AH to sell my duplicate artifacts.  I almost never actually spent gold on them (that would defeat the point of finding them, dammit), and as a result my character was carrying around literal mountains of cash.  We had formed a guild before we quit (before the F2P move) and I was the only one left… but I levelled it solely on artifact collecting quests (meant to be completed through team efforts with an entire guild) and bought all the upgrades (meant to be purchased through team efforts with an entire guild) with my massive pockets full of gold.  It was great.

I eventually got to the point where I’d have to actually do quests and level to be able to safely collect artifacts in the remaining zones, so I got distracted and wandered off, but the Rift icon stayed pinned to my Windows taskbar in case I ever felt bored enough to run around looking for sparkly things on the ground.

Just recently, Trion got the rights to bring “ArcheAge” over to North America.  I was actually really interested in this game because there is nothing in the world more exciting to me than a Harvest Moon MMO, and ArcheAge revolves largely around farming and trade. The game was F2P besides so it wouldn’t even be a big investment to get started!  My mouse would drift ever so close to the “Download and Install” button, and then I would read something about how griefing is pretty much encouraged and some asshat can come along and ruin everything you’ve worked for on a whim.  I’d stop being interested.  Then, some time later, I’d load up the page and my mouse would start drifting again.  Then I’d read something about how the everything is handled client side (in the year 2014 you created an MMO where everything is client side.  What.) and hackers are (surprise!) a huge issue, because it is remarkably easy to hack client side code.  I’d close the page again.

Then one day I was like “Oh what the fuck.  It’s free.” and installed it.

Red flag #1 is that it installs a rootkit called HackShield.  Supposedly this is to catch hackers and botters (which are plaguing the game as we speak, so how’s that working out for you?) but disturbingly it does not actually mention that it is installing this system at all (there’s no chance to bail during the install process).  I had no technical issues with it, but it’s a shitty practice.  (note: the system was chosen by the Korean developers and Trion didn’t have anything to do with it, other than not protesting it I guess…)

But anyway.  It immediately accepted my Rift credentials so I didn’t even have to make an account, and as soon as it was installed I was off and running around.

I played for a couple of hours over roughly two days and got to level 15, at which point I discovered it was next to impossible to continue without spending money.  You could continue but your life would be miserable.  And also the AH was locked and that’s like the entire reason I play these games, so I decided “eh, what the hell” and dropped $15 on a one month subscription, which would permanently unlock the AH for my account even after the other subscriber perks expired.  I figured 15 bucks was like 3 shitty Steam games that I wouldn’t bother to play anyway, and then I’d get a feel for how the game really was when it started getting more competitive and “griefy” at higher levels.

I spent the next 40 minutes finding some free land to place my new farm (you can’t place a farm unless you subscribe, although subscribing does not guarantee you will find land to place it on…), planting a couple crops in it (You can plant crops literally anywhere, but they mature in real-time (from hours to days) and aren’t safe from stealing unless they’re in your own farm.  Which you can’t have unless you subscribe.), then scoured the newly unlocked AH for good deals and ideas, getting an idea of what crops I should start shooting for in the future.

Before the first hour of my subscription had expired, I was banned.

I sort of stared at the message on the screen and then said incredulously “Apparently I’m banned now?”
“After you just subscribed?” my husband said.

I did some quick research and discovered false-positive auto-bans were happening to lots of players, some of them before they even made it to the tutorial NPCs in the starting area.  “Well too fucking bad this didn’t happen 40 minutes ago, before I gave it my fucking credit card information…” I lamented.

What’s worse… I discovered that it wasn’t just ArcheAge I was banned from.  It was every single game in Trion’s catalogue including my longstanding Rift account, Defiance, Trove, and any new game they may add to their library in the future.  I’d just like to emphasize that this was a first offense (if, in fact, there had been an offense… which there hadn’t.) for an account with many years of history with them and a fair amount of payment history, and the response was to completely block me from their entire library.  What the fuck, Trion.  Even more insulting: any account that had been caught red-handed in the recent high-profile cash-store exploits in ArcheAge only received a 24 hour suspension.

The email it sends you is wholly unhelpful.  No reason is given, it just says “This email is to inform you that your Trion account has been banned for a violation.”  It goes on to link to their support site if you want to “discuss the reason for the termination or request a reinstatement”.

When you’re banned, you cannot access their support site (including the live chat) because you need to log in, so the link in the email takes you to their FAQ.  You need to search within the FAQ to find out that you need to email a specific appeals email if you can’t access the site (they couldn’t bother to mention that in the email, eh?).  I sent an appeal to the email and received a canned message saying they were experiencing a “heavier than normal amount of traffic” (no shit) and that responses would be delayed, and then given a link to back to log into the site if I needed to view or change my ticket, which of course isn’t fucking possible if you’re banned (/facepalm).

I was sort of working on the assumption that there had been a problem with my credit card, since it happened so close to my subscription activation.  But it would still be ludicrous to outright library-ban someone for a payment bounce… and sure enough the charge came through, so the card had worked just fine.  I had mentioned in my ticket that I did not want to pay for a month of Patron that I had only received 40 minutes of, and two days later I received a notice from Trion saying my purchase had been refunded, so that’s nice, at least.  There was no response to my ticket about the ban, though.  The vast majority of stories of accidental bans ended with their accounts being restored, so I had faith that they would get around to righting things… it was just going to take a very long time due to the massive clusterfuck that was going on over there.

My trust was misplaced.  The next day I received a response which said “We could not find an account associated with this email.” and my ticket was unceremoniously closed.  I sent the email from the same email that was my account login, and they had to have been able to find my account to issue the refund, so… clearly my account exists AND they found it at least once for this very same ticket.  I attempted to log in again and found the same “The account you are trying to access has been banned” message, so it still existed (and was still banned).  I responded to the ticket to re-open it and gave them my email and personal details again, but they responded less than an hour later with the exact same message about not being able to locate an account, and shut it down again.  I suspect they didn’t even look, they just copy/pasted the original response.  I figured my mistake was probably asking for a refund and an un-ban in the same ticket request… so I opened a second ticket with a new incident number just to see if I’d get someone to legitimately look at it this time.

In the meantime I had been doing some reading and I discovered that apparently Trion had been issuing legit bans for afk idling in game.  I would like to wax poetic for a moment on how absolutely ludicrous that is.  Here is why:

One of the major reasons you want to subscribe (other than getting access to land ownership) is because the entire game revolves around labor points.  Labor works kind of like energy.  You need to spend labor points to do anything.  Anything.  Planting, harvesting, crafting, almost everything but combat will cost labor points.  As an unsubbed newbie, it costs 15 labor points to harvest something, and you gain 5 labor points every 5 minutes.  That’s one harvest every 15 minutes.  Labor points do not regenerate while offline.  So if you plant a bunch of crops (which costs labor) then log off, it’s quite likely you won’t have enough labor left to actually harvest those crops when you log back on.  Thus: afk idling.  Patrons get around this by getting double labor point production AND the ability to generate labor points while offline, which makes the game actually playable with some semblance of a life.  (Worthy to note, again:  I’m pretty sure the labor system was designed by the Korean company, not Trion.)

Here is why this is a stupid system:  MMOs are more profitable when no one is online.  Every single player that is online is using bandwidth, taking up server space, and cutting into your profits.  The ideal MMO (from a corporate standpoint) will have a player that pays a subscription who never actually logs in to the damn game, ever.  The labor point system is actively encouraging your least profitable group (the F2P players) to stay online the longest.

This is so incredibly ironic coming from a game that’s all about economic efficiency.  The mind boggles.  Even patrons are rewarded for staying online, because they get 10/per for online and only 5/per for offline (as opposed to 5/per 0/per for F2P players).  May I suggest a system where F2P players get 5/per labour offline, and patrons get 10/per?  Then people are still incentivized to become patrons (especially since they get like, 1.5x more labor cap besides) but they’re not needlessly wasting your resources to deal with your shittily designed system.

But who cares about labor generation when no one can play the fucking game, right?  It’s been two weeks since my last ticket and there has been no response.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the false-ban discussions and discovered that the whole “This email is not associated with an account” response is overwhelmingly common all of a sudden, and you know what?  Fuck this.  I’ve uninstalled all Trion games (including Rift…) and when they do unban my account (which I honestly do believe they will do.  Eventually.  With no guarantee it won’t just get randomly banned again…) my only action will be to log in and make sure there are no scraps of credit card information available tied to my account because I do not trust a company this incompetent with it.

What the fuck, Trion.  What the fuck.  I used to like you :/

I will leave you with this email that my friend sent to me:
Update: After a month of waiting for a new reply and updating my Trion support ticket, still without reply, I have joined a large number of other users and filed a complaint with the BBB. I listed my desired resolution as either reinstatement of my account and an apology, or an explanation of what rule I suposedly broke and why a first offence deserves a library ban from all titles. I don’t even want the damn account back at this point but I am not just going to walk away from this bullshit either. They angried up my blood :P

Update 2:  On the exact same day that the BBB let me know they had forwarded my complaint, Trion unbanned my account and gave me 2 months and 5 days of free time (funny how that works!).  The apology was the typical canned response of: “We have reviewed your account and verified that you were banned incorrectly. We apologize for this error and we will use this information to improve our reports system so legitimate players such as yourself are not banned incorrectly going forward. We are working our hardest to get rid of as many of the illegitimate players as we are able to, but unfortunately this means that certain times our reports can be too restrictive and catch legitimate players.”

… Which is really just a way of saying “Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.  Sucks but what ya gonna do”, when the correct answer is “don’t shit all over your customers when you fuck up”.  I’m not upset about being banned accidentally by an algorithm.  Shit happens.  I’m upset that they banned a legit account from their entire library (if it had just been ArcheAge I wouldn’t be NEARLY as shocked by this whole situation, but my god the horrifying decision making that is on display here…), with no warning and no explanation (I didn’t even get the vague “significantly over the latency limit” explanation that some people have gotten… so I didn’t even get banned for lagging), for what would have been a first offence had there been one, and then when I jumped through their hoops to ask for my shit back they dropped the ball and were like “welp you don’t exist, can’t help” and it took five weeks and a BBB complaint before they actually got off their asses and looked into it properly. I didn’t even lose (much) land or anything because I hadn’t played the game long enough, but many of the stories involve accounts that paid for the multi hundreds of dollar limited edition headstart type shit who proceeded to lose all their land and accumulated goods due to the way the game is designed.  I can’t even…

I do appreciate that I didn’t have to fight for my refund though, and I thank their billing department for not being entirely incompetent.  I say that now, before I have checked to make sure there were no further charges on my card…

I will not be reinstalling ArcheAge.  I had briefly entertained the notion of trying the game again once I was unbanned, since I had assumed the compensation would be free time and hey that means I could unlock the AH without having to pay anything!  But that was back when I thought this would take at most a week to resolve.  Five weeks is just ridiculous.  Sorry Trion, you dropped this ball way too hard for me to trust you again.


Just peeked at my BBB complaint status:

01/20/2015 Forward Consumer Rebuttal to Business
02/04/2015 No Response from Business re: Consumer Rebuttal



Rust / 7 Days to Die

Once upon a time there was a game called Minecraft.  It was a game where you could mine, and then craft things out of the things that you mined.  So the name was appropriate, you see.  And I thought to myself “This is all I have ever wanted from a game.  Why did it take so fucking long for someone to make it?”  And then about 8000 other games tried to copy it and all of them fucked it up somehow, so I honestly am not sure why such a simple formula seems so hard to pull off.  Let me collect resources and use those resources to modify the world I am in, and ideally give me a purpose for doing so, and I will start throwing money at you.

Today I am going to compare and contrast two games we’ve tried recently: Rust, and 7 Days to Die.  Both are Early Access with similar themes of “scavenge to survive”, and both borrow somewhat from the Minecraft formula with resource collection and base building and cowering from zombies that want to wreck your shit. (Sort of.  I’ll explain soon.)
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Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

Read 3500 words worth of bitching!

Mine Things

I have been playing a browser game called “Mine Things”.  Maybe I should put “playing” in quotes.  The premise of the game is that we fucked up the Earth, left, then came back in the future and started mining on the ruined Earth (pretty much the same setting as WALL-E, without the search for life).  As a result, you mine things like umbrellas, clothing, weapons, ships, vehicles or, uh… camels.  The setting is basically an excuse to mine things, as opposed to the components to make things.  (Because seriously if we’re from the future, why am I putzing around on a camel I dug out of the ground instead of a god damn space ship.  So yeah, don’t worry about the plot making sense!)

Each player receives a starting mine, which has a little worker robot that digs up items.  It does this very, very, slowly.  It’s measured in buckets per hour, and they are real-time hours.  You get one item maybe every 8 hours or so, but of course there is an RNG element to it.  You can also get more equipment that improves the number of buckets per hour you dig up, which can help a bit.  So you don’t really play Mine Things, you log in once or twice a day and see what’s up.  There’s a linear progression of rarity, with yellow items being pretty common and you’re guaranteed to find one or two a day most likely, but then finding much rarer items is a fraction of a percent of a chance, and could take months or a lot of luck.  There are a number of orange items (the rarest) which are still listed as undiscovered because no one in the game has dug one up yet.

The “goal” of the game is to create melds of items.  The melds are largely nonsensical combinations of things that can be dug up.  This gives a purpose to the non-equippable items, and makes finding the rare items exciting.  The number of melds you have corresponds to your level, and unlocks new professions to try.  Items can be bought or sold automatically to whoever has the highest/lowest bids, so you can try to complete your collection of melds even if you haven’t found the proper whatsits for it yet.  Players set the market, so obviously rarer stuff, or things used in many different melds, tend to have much higher value than say, the toothbrush everyone digs up 80 of despite having completed the one meld it’s used in on probably your first day.  (Fortunately you can also set mines to auto-trash an item if you are never ever ever going to use or sell it.  Fucking toothbrushes…).

Up to this point, the game is basically a mining version of ProgressQuest.  And honestly, I really liked it.  There is something satisfying about logging in to see what your mine has uncovered.  It could be rare! It could be valuable! It could be exciting!  Slow but steady progress and an appeal to the horrible completionist within me.  And at higher levels of melds you can try professions like fisherman, instead of mining, and even some more complicated systems like setting up factories that other players can work in.

Now comes the tricky part.  The starter mine is just one of many kinds of mines.  The mines are spread over a number of different cities within the world.  You, as the player, can pop to any city you want (once you’ve sent a vehicle out and discovered it, anyway.  Discovering a town is literally selecting a question mark from a dropdown list and waiting for the vehicle to arrive, so don’t get too excited about the “exploration”) and buy and sell things.  To actually create a meld out of those items, you need to transport the items back to your home town.  So even if you buy up mines all over the world, you’ll still need to transport the goodies back home.

Which is where the conflict comes in.  One of the professions a higher level player can choose involves pilfering items from vehicles/ships enroute.  The combat system is…….. not great.  The most common defense a player uses is to send out a bunch of empty decoy vehicles to tie up would-be attackers, so that their goods make it through.  Which means the would-be attackers amass an army of vehicles to counter the decoys and dig down to the treasure trove.  Not only does owning that many vehicles take a lot of cash, but at that point they probably have inventory expansions to hold all the vehicles that new players can’t really compete with.  And since it’s an online game, you just have your standard dicks who destroy vehicles and make you lose your goods because they think it’s funny to ruin someone’s day.

I’m really not interested in this sort of conflict.  The game is pointless enough in the first place… getting lucky and finding a super rare item just to have it *yoink*ed is not appealing to me.  (Losing items by taking a risk and failing is one thing… losing items because you have to travel along routes is entirely another.)  I’ve avoided all transport of valuable goods so far because I’ve had enough not-valuable goods stolen to see that it’s common.  Fans of the game will argue that you should set up an alliance with a powerful guard who will travel in front of you and waylay the pirates, but that’s not appealing to me either.  I just want to find treasure and complete collections without combat being mandatory.  I did try the guard professions to see if I could make a dent in the pirate threat, but found that my ship was eluded by much faster ships or the crew was outnumbered sometimes 2 to 1 and didn’t even attempt to fight, despite having a decent stash of weapons.  It suggested to me that I need much better vehicles/weapons to even attempt to compete, much less transport valuable things.  Meanwhile, I’m not making any cash…

Adding to the annoyance is that you must set a specific profession for each kind of travel.  While moving goods by land, I can’t move them by sea, and vice versa.  While hunting pirates on the sea, I can’t move goods anywhere, nor can I do any guarding on land routes.  You can still buy/sell in towns, but nothing is going home to make melds until you set your profession back to the right kind of transport.  It’s clunky and artificially limiting.

And then there are the mines.  The only way to acquire a new mine is to buy it from a player who no longer wants it… or buy it for real money from the game site itself.  Therefore each new mine must enter the game via real cash.  Therefore players who forked out real cash for mines want a healthy gold return on their obsolete and now unwanted mines.  Everyone starts with a starter mine, and even those go for 6000 gold (hint: 6000 gold is still a lot).  To get the most expensive kind of mine in the game will cost you 60,000 gold, or 675 credits.  You get 50 credits for 5 dollars.  The most expensive mine in the game costs 67.5 real dollars to purchase.  You can buy brand new AAA titles for less than that mine in this browser game.  The cheapest mine – the starter mine that everyone starts with – costs 75 credits.  So the cheapest (and most useless, since you already have one) mine costs 7.5 dollars, and it is substantially cheaper than the rest.

If I were really enjoying the game I would probably drop 5 bucks on a new kind of mine, but sixty dollars what.

And then after I dropped cash on the mine, I’d probably be unable to move my valuable goods from it back home without heavily investing in armed forces to protect them.  Ugh, I just… why isn’t there a god damn game where I can collect and trade things and have some sense of progression without an extensive leaning on combat or player vs player conflict?  And no, I don’t mean Animal Crossing.  I want there to be some kind of point to the progression, and I also don’t want the game patronizing me and filling up with cockroaches if I take a break for a couple days.

The game itself is certainly unique and there are some neat ideas in it, especially if you like the social aspects of working with strangers and coordinating things (the player run banking system is especially neat), but I’m not sure that I can recommend it.  If the pirating/griefing appeals to you you’d probably like it, but then that’s probably why the game is filling up with pirates and making it hard for peaceful traders to actually enjoy it.

Back to my search for a decent trading MMO…