Being a fan of another NCSoft game, Guild Wars, I was excited when I was asked to dig a bit deeper into another one of their titles – Lineage II. One of the most exciting things about Lineage II is the fact that they proudly advertise the ability to play Truly Free (as they call it). This means that there’s no subscription and you don’t have to buy an access code or software. If players would like to buy in-game items that might help them on their quest then they can do it by using real money to purchase in-game NCoins. Players can play the game without spending a single cent – unless they want to.
Of course, it’s natural to think when games get this big that what’s going on behind the scenes is bigger than we could possibly imagine. It would take an army to support the hordes of players striving to improve their characters, complete quests, or find the perfect clan. It takes an army because Lineage II is so much more than the few characters you interact with on a daily basis. It has a huge Asian and North American following, multiple servers dating back to 2010, and over 14 million players. I was tasked with taking a look into their international community management and localization, so I started my research in the hotspot of activity – the forums.
From Lineage II’s official site
At first glance, it appeared to be a very capable community. Players would respond and help other players and exchanges had a very upbeat and knowledgeable tone; a welcoming place and resource for new faces and a stomping ground for veterans. This is a big part of successful video game community management – when you can rely on players to help each other and provide each other with useful knowledge. Of course, this kind of relationship is to be expected on forums, but it really is the hallmark of a healthy community.
The sheer number of sub-forums seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but I quickly regained my footing. You see the typical News/Announcements, Questions, Discussion, Suggestions, Community; but a quick scroll down reveals Technical Discussions, Server Discussions, different Class Discussions, and the assorted archives. Staying caught up with these would clearly be an endeavor – and apparently it has taken its toll. The community managers are somewhat nonexistent. Other than the usual server maintenance announcements and events, the CMs are quiet and rarely even venture to clarify things when further asked. You would expect to find community moderators in their stead, answering difficult questions, making clarifications and helping to build relationships between the managers and the masses, but even they are missing. It was at this point that I realized the forums were relatively dead aside from a handful of people.
From Lineage II’s official site
I decided to move on to social media. Perhaps the faster paced day-to-day interactions were happening here. Lineage2.com only provides links to three social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I was mildly disappointed not to see Google+ or a blog, but I figured that they had the big ones covered. When I looked at Facebook and Twitter two things occurred to me. First, there was no variation between the posts for either channel – if you followed one then you got pretty much the exact same information on the other. Secondly, 90% of the content was server maintenance announcements, peppered with a few screenshots from the upcoming release of Ertheia.
I began to scroll back through the history and all I saw were the same posts over and over again about the servers. Where was the fun? The engagement?
A sample of the server posts
By the time I scrolled back to May I started to see more activity: contests, announcing winners, handing out buffs on servers, trivia, screenshot competitions; and then it just stopped. What happened here? It was a post-apocalyptic Facebook page. Though they still had events after this point, players were lucky to get one post about it. YouTube wasn’t any better. Previous years had anywhere from 15 to 20 videos uploaded – this year there are only two.
I decided to turn my focus to ‘why is this happening?’. The obvious answer is that fewer people are playing the game – and it seems to be true. Players in the forums share tales of woe about empty servers, the inconceivable amount of bots, and the question, ‘is it worth playing L2 anymore?’ What this game needs is not another update, more in-game stuff to buy, or screenshots – it needs more real people. Adding more community managers could help to create a buzz and get people excited to play again. Moderators could be appointed to help the CMs with daily tasks. Developers should shift their focus to eliminating the use of bots so that people actually work at improving their characters instead of relying on a program to do it. Lineage II is a great game and has the foundations for a fantastic community; it just needs to be populated. When a game starts losing players, the answer isn’t to reduce community management efforts in tandem, but to increase them in order to help combat this lull.
This review isn’t all about what L2 needs to fix, because they do quite a lot right. Their customer support system is awesome. Everything is laid out in sections pertaining to common player questions: in-game support, account support, technical support and payment support. They cover all the bases upfront so that players can find their answers here before emailing the support staff. This is by far one of the most efficient systems that I have seen and I’m sure it helps many more people than the support team even realizes.
Lineage II Support System
It’s obvious that L2 has had some extensive localization – how else could a Korean game gain such a huge following all over the globe? The American website is huge with extensive information, links to community pages, the Marketplace, and downloads. While on the other hand the EU site is serviceable with basic information about classes, locations and enemies all available in eight languages – not the end-all-be-all resource, but it’s better than nothing. The Russian site is definitely a step-up from the European site by offering downloads, community links and server information, but the only thing that can compare to the content on the US site is on the Asian sites. Due to the game’s large Asian following you can find a lot of buzz on these here.
The official social media outlets are a bit lacking outside of the US. The Lineage 2 Europe Facebook and Twitter accounts are in English, but there are separate pages for Polish and German. Other than that there are no localized language posts on the main Europe page like you would expect. On the Asian side of things, all things Lineage II are announced on NC’s official channels for each language. This doesn’t seem to detract from the L2 mood since the official channels make a serious effort to respond to Players and create dialogue. Of course we can also rely on the fans to provide information and inspiration in any language.
The Japanese vs. US sites
The amount of fanpages and clanpages is astounding and would deserve an article all to itself. Not to mention dozens of public and private servers that cater to any international audience – the amount of information is unlimited. Lineage II truly has worldwide fans and their love and appreciation goes into the country/language based pages they create. Not to mention the individual social media networks devoted to each niche of players based on their location or language – Lineage II proves that a game’s global reach is supported by their fan following. The creators have done an amazing job of localizing their game. The translation work makes you feel like it was made just for you, the player, and you might not even realize the detail they put into it. This is what constitutes a good video game translation – you don’t even realize it’s translated. Couple that with the ability to find localized material online and you’ve truly created a world-friendly game.
That is why the connection between community management and video game localization is integral; because once you have reached that worldwide audience you need to preserve the connection with people. I was more than a little disappointed to see a fabulous game with nearly nonexistent community managers – a nonexistent community! From what I could see L2 had that, but for whatever reason it is dwindling, and the lack of CMs, moderators, and overall excitement in their social media is not improving their situation. They have everything in place here to have the most vibrant MMO community on the web but they’re not taking advantage of it. Players don’t need to be bombarded with new things to buy and server updates – they need a community to make things exciting and developers to crack down on bots so the game can get back to what it was; players coming together to complete quests, improve their characters, and have fun.
Creating Buzz: **
Making Connections: *
I was very impressed by the scope of Lineage II. Their localization and customer support system are very well thought out and implemented, and their loyal fanbase further promotes their international image and stellar game. Now if they could step-up their community management game then they would be a force to be reckoned with – and it wouldn’t take much – because they already have the framework in place, they just need the people to populate it.
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