Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MMO's - Entertainment? Service? or Nightmare.

Bear with me. The dullness of a simple database discussion is needed here.

Lets start small. What about "email". We send and receive email through a server. The server stores specific bits of that data, and makes decisions on where this data goes. Now, this in it's simplest form is a database.
Now, what happens if we lose or delete an email? Why we go to the server where tools exist to retrieve that email.
What if we forget our password? Simple. Server handles this as well.
The email server stores all of this data for you, so the user can just do what they want to do. Send and retrieve email.

You are a single entity to that email server, and it treats you separate from all others on that server. Your data is YOUR data.

Now, lets move on to what we really enjoy. Games. If I play a single player game, I have several choices in how "items" are handled. Each single player game keeps track of various data in their own "databases". All of the information pertains to me. It is installed on my computer and is MY data. I am the individual playing this game.
Now, If I lose an item, I either have the choice of saying "that sucks" and moving on, or as most games allow, a save from a previous session that goes back and lets me retrieve said item.

It is MY data to do with as I please.

As we can see, each system is unique in how it does things. But, we still can break a game or an email down to a simple database style structure. You store and retrieve data as needed for your session...whether playing or emailing. But, one clear piece is shown at each turn.

It is all individual. It is UNIQUE to me.

Now, of course, extenuating circumstance exist where this data CAN be lost. Server crash, corrupt hard drive data, backup overwriting the data...but, no matter what, a good system has ways to fix this and have a chance of retrieving what has been lost.

Thus we come to an MMO.

MMO's are another uniquity in its form. We entrust our "stuff" with the company we have purchased our time or game from. They, of course, have some form of "database" to store the multitude of information that is transferred back and forth with that companies servers. We ASSUME that the data on their servers is ours and ours alone.

Like email, transactions that take place between a user and a server, we do things one after the other and that data is stored. As we "accomplish" things in an MMO, we assume that information is held in place by some "database" and is stored for me. If we have the luck of the roll of the dice, we may get an item in that game. The server has to decide WHAT item and HOW we will get it.  This server should then store that data in some format.

This is all based on the assumption of how a game should work. I am not a GAMES programmer, but I AM a database programmer.

All data is individual. Records exists. Record are overwritten, changed, etc. But, no matter what, I can retrieve some form of that record. It is a unique record...period.

Did any of that sound like fun to you? It does not to me. Thus, our experience should be seamless within the gaming world. Entertainment should be the keyword. I should NOT be thinking of how that games database works or how it is storing my data.

If I play a single player game, never save my spot, and then lose something...hey guess what? That is MY fault. I only have myself to blame. If my fun is ruined, I only have myself to blame.
If I play a game where all of my information is saved somewhere else, I entrust them to keep me safe. All of my data should be easily accessible and retrievable for MY use.

I expect my MMO experience to be a service. Thus, I can be entertained and feel safe in the knowledge that I do not have to worry about my "stuff". That company I am paying is "saving" my spot in the game...or I assumed.

Thus, we come to Guild Wars.

Entertainment? Service? No. Nightmare? Yes.

I need to ask a question. Why should a database make a backup of all existing records as ONE file? Why is there not an individual tracking of players? Basically NCSoft has made it abundantly clear that Guild Wars saves the "worlds" data and not the individuals.

Look at sub based MMO's. Each keep individuals intact. The world is "static". They do not need to worry about the "world" as they can rebuild the world if it ever dies (crash? deletion of important information for that world?). The PLAYER is the responsibility of that company.

Is it because Guild Wars is free from fees that, customer service consists of the basics. I mean the barebones minimum. They can ONLY help you get back your general account data (username, pass)...but, they are limited there.
Need to change that ID which is attached to an email? Too bad. Especially if you use the super duper cool NCSoft master account. You know, the tool that was to keep you safe? The tool that last year was noted to have a bug allowing others to login and have access to other accounts by accident? NCSoft of course never owned up to this, but many had proof of this action.

Anyways, none of this matters. Everything you do in the world of Guild Wars is kept in that worlds data. No one is an individual, no matter how cool your name is; no matter how cool you are not individualized. Your data is mixed with others data, thus individual retrieval of information is lost.

This is just bad service.

Now, information could be kept on the client side, but as we know, there are those shady types who would find some way to manipulate this and make themselves rich or whatever.
Is it a cost barrier to the "free"ness of Guild Wars that does not allow individualization?

Lets look at one example of how this issue could have been handled.

There was a story from talking about a specific users issue of being "hacked". Check that story out.
"I go to the mailbox and happily find all of my gear and materials"
A happy ending. But, how is this possible? In what way does WoW work, that Guild Wars does not to allow such returns?
Item creation tools. Guild Wars has sworn they cannot do this. It is most likely handled by the server randomly.
This is all well and what about restitution of sorts? Money to help a character along? Also, cannot be done.
As explained to me by the NCSoft rep "The gold on the account that hacked your account was removed in such a way that we cannot give it back to you the player".
So, this sounds to me like tools exist to REMOVE stuff from the world. Just, no way to make it.

So, we come down to the last of this little tale.

Guild Wars offers a great gaming experience. But, safety is not a concern of the staff.
Many questions exist still on how my account was taken. But, even more disturbing is the lack of help that is offered by NCSoft staff in getting the player back to a normal state.
No offer of item retrieval. No offers of restitution from the criminals. And even worse, no offer of changes to help you become more secure. For example, you are not allowed to change the ID associated with your Guild Wars account, thus leaving the ID that was used in the first place vulnerable to more attacks.

With Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, this brings even more concern. With our current lack of security in Guild Wars original, what is to stop hackers from continuing to ruin the play experience of the purchaser? Guild Wars 2 is also a free offering, and items will play an even more important role in that game. This type of policy of ZERO help to the player will bring that game down pretty fast. I cannot even begin to count how many times I have read "Oh, NCSoft is publishing GW2? Count me out".

I am not sure if I will be counted when GW 2 launches, as a player either.


Blue Kae said...

I've never really managed to maintain interest in GW longer than a week or two, and I've gone back to play several times. Still, I've been really interested in GW2 and was really feeling like I'd end up playing it for much longer than GW.

Your account security experience along with stories from other people has really given me pause though. I'm pretty careful about keeping my username private, having a secure password, and not clicking on links in email, but (as you found out) hacks can still happen. If this is the service they provide for GW, I'm not sure I want to bother with GW2.

Guess that $15/month for subscription and hybrid-sub games is worth it, kind of seems like having a Mozy or Carbonite subscription.

Openedge1 said...

Nail on the head there @Bluekae

I often though the model of a free to play was awesome...but, NCSoft has made me question this.
For example, if I am not happy with my service in a game (like WAR or AoC, who I have left behind), my payment is not theres to take.

GW though already has my cash, and it makes me feel like they could care less how this hack happened... just that it did, and we could give a Flying F about you.


Yarr said...

It isn't that NCSoft can't restore items in their games, they just won't. Same with Aion, if your account is hacked, tough luck. Of course, if you are friends with the staff or they are in your legion/guild, then they'll restore stuff.

What needs to be done is for people that are hacked, and NCSoft refuses to restore items or characters, is to get a consumer fraud group involved. A class action lawsuit would be good too, not for money but to force NCSoft to improve their security, restore hacked accounts and put some type of character locks in their games (so they can't be deleted without multiple info, keycodes and emails. NCSoft and ArenaNet need to spend some of those huge profits they've made on their games towards account security.

Until this happens NCSoft will continue business as usual, spending as little as possible on their support as they can get away with. I'd highly suggest you report them to whatever consumer protection groups are available in the country you live in, as only players that have had this happen can do so. Any lawyers out there might want to look into this as well.

Sente said...

That they would not have individual records in GW sounds like BS talk to me. Possibly would be that they do not have enough logging and history to reliably restore the state to a specific point in time.

It is more likely a policy decision and/or customer support that just follow certain scripts.

Scott said...

My impression is that most of the problem stems from NCsoft's policy of refusing to replace items that were criminally removed from your account. Not only do NCsoft's customers have to go through the emotional shock of their account being violated but the company itself punishes us in turn.

On a secondary note, I do know that since Guild Wars was designed as a sort of "3D Diablo" game, it does not provide unique Item IDs like an MMO would. I don't recall Arenanet ever discussing what data is stored, etc. but I do think you mentioned that eventually the GMs were able to see transactions occur. Did they say if they were able to track which items were transacted as well? If so, it would be a simple matter for them to recreate those same items back in your inventory. Except for that pesky anti-customer service policy, of course.

Anonymous said...

Sounds simply like bad database policy, if that's really what's under the hood. Time will tell if GW2 has a better system, but yeah, that's pretty messed up.