Support for Support

The game master program was started six months before the launch of EVE Online, and some of those game masters are still working the queues today. That is seven years of providing support to internet spaceship captains, pirates and virtual market moguls. In seven years a lot can change, particularly in the software business. For us on the GM team, those seven years have been marked with an endless stream of updates and improvements in our ability to provide support and assistance to our customers. From the infancy of EVE to the current approach of her teen years, the march forward has never stopped.  Our tools and logs have improved by leaps and bounds and here I am writing a little bit about that evolution from those early days to what we are doing today to ensure the best possible support from the viewpoint of our tools.

Ancient History Back in the early days of EVE, the Customer Support team was formed by outsourcing to a local telecommunications company in Iceland. Our tools and logs were fairly primitive but they underwent constant updates and iterations through most of these early years. As an example I'll go through the steps we had to take in 2003 to 2006 in order to provide a reimbursement of a ship.

After determining that reimbursement was the way to go, we could start the search for the ship within the database. This might take a while depending on the circumstances of the ship's destruction, the time since the loss and many other factors. For a long time we would also have to remember the database ID for the specific type of ship we were looking for as we could not look them up by name. A Raven battleship was just 638 back then.

Once the ship was found we had to check if all the modules that were listed on the kill mail (back when they only showed destroyed items) were present within the ship. Sometimes this was not possible and we had to ask the player about how the ship was fitted in order to do a search within the database. In some cases we had to manually create a new set of modules, one by one. Once all the modules that were eligible for reimbursement were accounted for along with the ship, the whole lot could be edited back into the hangar of the pilot that had lost them. To do that we would have to find where the pilot had a hangar, find the database ID of that location and edit the ship accordingly.

It doesn't end there. At this point we had to comb through the pilot's accounting log to find the entry where he was paid out the insurance for his ship's destruction. The ISK had to be manually removed as the ship that was returned would still have the old insurance contract intact.

This entire procedure could take perhaps 5 to 10 minutes following normal investigation procedures, if there were no complications. The system worked but there was definite room for improvement.

Onwards! The years marched on and Customer Support was welcomed into CCP itself. This was a turning point for the entire team as communication lines shortened dramatically, but it would still be some time until they were a fully integrated sector of the company. Of particular note, late in 2006 when we were completely swamped with petitions, a little magic happened. In what was dubbed "Mass Day," every single employee of CCP sat down in front of our petition reply interface and helped us ease the petition queues down to a more manageable level. 

As a comparison to the earlier example of the initial ship reimbursement procedure, here is how the process evolved following Mass Day.

The ship is looked up in a list of destroyed ships for the character requesting the reimbursement. If reimbursement is warranted then a station is selected and a button is clicked. The system will automatically sort out the insurance of the ship and even the clone and implants of the pilot should his capsule have been destroyed following the loss of his ship. This only takes a few seconds to sort out following normal investigation procedures.

Needlessly to say this example of the tools we have received over the years for reimbursement is but the tip of the iceberg of the improvements and updates we have received overall. But it should give a good indication of how having good tools available will save a lot of time and permit us to spend more time on providing good quality service.

What are we doing today? The GM team has always had some hand in the ramp up towards a deployment of new expansions. Knowledge base articles are written, features studied and potential issues analyzed. For the last two expansions it was decided to take it further and the core of a new sub-team within the GM department started to take shape on the path to Apocrypha. This team is now in its third incarnation and is preparing the GM team for the coming Tyrannis expansion. What started as a simple liaison system with our development scrum teams has evolved to the point where we have GMs actively working with the development scrum teams from day one of development for a new expansion.

We document the new features for our fellow GMs and work with the programmers on the development of new GM tools to meet the demand of new features. We are also responsible for providing the material necessary to have new EVElopedia wiki articles written, a responsibility delegated down through the GM department to further ensure that as many GMs as possible are intimately familiar with the new features at the launch of the expansion. We will be prepared.

"The future belongs to those who prepare for it today."
-Malcolm X (1925 - 1965)

Life, the Universe and Everything

We work closely with the rest of CCP in the aftermath of the launch of an expansion. As the first point of contact with our customers, we have a lot of responsibility alongside the QA team to spot and report potential issues as they arise. We follow up on issues in collaboration with QA and our programmers to ensure that any kinks and bugs are hammered out as soon as possible.

All this extra effort is funneled into ensuring that support for new features will be fast, smooth and efficient. We continually look for ways that will enable us to respond quickly and efficiently to issues that may arise from new features from the start rather than having to fight fires reactively and to make the EVE more enjoyable for everybody.

In the immortal words of the Bard, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more." It is time to continue the preparation for what will be an awesome expansion.