Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 11, 2010
Give me your money, or your low-level character gets it!

A reader forwarded me an e-mail he got from Funcom about his Age of Conan account:
"Dear customer,
Thank you for playing Age of Conan.
As part of our maintenance your account is now flagged to have your characters below level 20 deleted as part of maintenance. Please re-activate your account now to ensure that your characters progress and names stay intact.
As a welcome back offer we would like to give you a time-limited offer for 7 days of additional play time if you choose to re-subscribe now. Please click this link to use this special offer!"
The maintenance argument appears rather thin to me. I can't believe storing inactive characters can cost any significant amount of money to Funcom, while actively deleting them certainly does cost something. So when the recipient of this mail tells me he felt blackmailed, I can totally understand that sentiment. In the context of Age of Conan you get that image of the barbarian thug holding a knife to the throat of you low-level character, shouting "give me your money, or the noob gets it!".

I tend to quickly lose my attachment to characters I don't play any more. I have no idea which of my hundreds of characters I created over the last decade still exist, and which got deleted. In many cases I don't even remember my userID and password for the older games, and having opened those accounts with e-mail accounts that don't exist any more, I wouldn't even be able to recover them if I wanted to. The only threating e-mail like that I ever got was from Star Wars Galaxies, and they only threatened to delete my house, not my character, which given that the house was visible to everybody passing and thus certainly caused some server load I could understand. But I remember once receiving an "come back to Everquest for some free days" offer, and being astonished that all my characters were still there after being abandoned for years. Seeing how data storage cost decreased since EQ, I nowadays assume that most games rather keep all characters stored forever rather than first bothering to delete them, and then having to deal with irrate customers cancelling their resubscription. That Age of Conan doesn't do that appears fishy to me.
I agree that the Age of Conan letter is... underhanded. I started playing EverQuest in 2002 and despite the fact I only played for two months, all of my characters were still there. They were all in tact despite multiple server mergers, I might add.

Warcraft has also never had trouble tracking my account maximum 50 characters through multiple cancellations and reactivations. Many of those characters are below level 10, let alone 20.

It's just... yeah. When they pull moves, quietly like this, it makes me think I smell the scent of desperation.
I have difficulty believing Funcom will actually delete the characters in question, as deleting characters completely screws over your marketing department when they later encourage people to re-subscribe. It seems more likely this is just someone's misjudged "bright" idea. A strongarm bluff.
It's a desperately short-sighted move by Funcom. If you go back far enough, characters were not retained indefinitely. If I recall correctly, Everquest originally guaranteed to keep them only for three months after account cancellation, but once SOE realised that the game was going to last a lot longer than they expected, this restriction was lifted.

Nowadays companies rely on the draw of your old characters to bring you back periodically for a month here, a Summer there. A game that gains a reputation for being an unsafe home for retired characters will lose much more than it gains.
The cost of storing a rather short list on a database is essentially nada. Especially since we know they have already bought more than enough hardware.

Desperation plot, that's all it is, if it is from Funcom.

Could it be some kind of phishing scam? You go "reactivate" and then they run off and use your account to farm gold or something?
Are you sure this is a genuine email from Funcom? I only ask because I wouldn't have made it past the first sentence before deleting it as a rather obvious phishing scam.

Threat of dire consequences if you don't log in: check. Link provided in the email: check.

If this is genuine then it's very poorly worded.
Is this desperate or just poor?

Even my some 10 years old Ultima Online chars and chars in no other games ever got flagged for deletion.

Do they want to make players resubscribe or finally scare them totally away?
I got the same letter. I was actually thinking about giving AoC another whirl, but this business practice convinced me that they're just going for a cash grab. Way to change my mind about giving you more money, Funcom!
Looks like a phishing scam to me, I'm pretty sure the folks over at funcom proof read their emails before they send them, saying "as part of our maintainance" twice in the same sentence is unnessesary and doesn't make sense.

My AOC account has remained inactive since the month after release and I've received many emails inviting me to resubscribe, with offers of free play and bonus items. I have still yet to get a "pay now or we delete your toons" style email.

Tell your friend to be wary about clicking the link.
I don't have too much of a problem with it, to be honest. New players, for instance, find it very frustrating that their favourite name is unavailable due to it being taken up by an inactive level 7 alt of someone else. Plus, getting to level 20 in AoC is very easy so it wouldn't take people long to get back there again.

Still, yeah, it does sound a little like they are trying to blackmail people into returning :D
It take it back, I got that email today. Poor Age of Conan. This is so pathetic.
While the mail I quoted was from a concerned reader, I now got the same mail from Funcom myself. I was able to verify that it was NOT a phishing mail, the links in it are genuine. Nevertheless that was a good point (that I missed), that both the poor wording (part of our maintenance twice in one phrase etc.) and the scare tactics are more commonly found in phishing mails than in genuine mails. Makes you wonder who Funcom outsourced their marketing to.
On the surface this is a little gross, but in AoC's case I don't find anything wrong with it. The MMO part of the game doesn't really start until level 20. That can take a while in some games. In AoC it cannot take more than a few days unless you aren't playing. If you never made it to 20 in AoC, you didn't give the game a chance and probably expect never to return.

I think this is to clear out names people reserved with placeholder characters. There are other games that delete inactive characters; they just don't warn you about it. (FFXI, Puzzle Pirates, Mabinogi, and Vampires! come to mind offhand.) It's a nice thing to do for their current customers, and it's fairer for those who decide to give it another chance when the expansion comes out.

They probably sent out an email only because they don't know who all their Anarchy Online customers are. A great many people have let their paid AO accounts go inactive while setting up a second account for free play. (You can't switch from paid to free.) For Funcom to delete characters they don't realize are indirectly linked to these AO accounts would upset, or at least offend, thousands of people who are already thinking of The Secret World a day one purchase.
I probably should have checked the forum before posting here, since I do have an active AoC subscription, but I steer clear of the forums and sort of forgot about them. For what it's worth, this is indeed part of preparations for a server merge.

"Qualifications for Character Deletion Process:

"NO characters will be deleted from an account that has a valid, running subscription.

"If an account's subscription ran out 7 or more months ago, and the account is not reactivated until the character deletion process starts, characters below level 21 will be deleted. Characters of level 21 and up remain untouched and are NOT deleted."

I prefer the practice of dealing with conflicts by renaming the character left inactive longest, but in AoC's case this will do just fine.
That fishy smell reeks of desperation...
The object in question here is to get the recipient to re-subscribe.

with an 'or' we delete some of your low level toons.

What's the difference in terms of storage space of toons above 20?

I'd view this as aggressive and underhanded email marketing myself if I had an account. And would not only not touch AoC again, but reply to them informing them I would never use Funcom's services or products again.
Maybe a little more research would do the body good ..

Qualifications for Character Deletion Process:

* NO characters will be deleted from an account that has a valid, running subscription.
* If an account's subscription ran out 7 or more months ago, and the account is not reactivated until the character deletion process starts, characters below level 21 will be deleted. Characters of level 21 and up remain untouched and are NOT deleted.
I would have believed it to be a phishing e-mail as well. Considering that many players keep the lion's share of their gold and valuables on low-level bank alts, this would put me off from ever going back.
And to be fair, Tobold, SWG wasn't going to delete your house, just pack it up into your datapad. It would still be there for you if and when you chose to unpack it, but the real estate it occupied would be freed up for another, paying player to use. Fair enough I'd say.
Honestly I don't have a problem with this. Yes EQ use to have the 3 month policy and at one time they sent out messages via their GMs that they were going to purge level 1 characters... though it never happend.

I've always found it annoying in WoW or WAR when I wanted a character name only to find out some level character who hasn't logged on in months or years has it.
I got this message too, and it pissed me right off. I don't care that they'll delete my toon - I'm not attached to it anyways - but it seems a bit severe. What about just harvesting the name back out like other MMOs do?

AoC was a pretty fun game but plagued with problems, I'm just not ready to go into that level of pain again - especially not if they're extorting me to :)
I agree with David, it reads like a scam. If it's not, they need to have their quality control department go through the letter and clean it up a bit. Starting and ending the same sentence with 'as part of our maintenance'? Sounds 'phishy' to me.
" Seeing how data storage cost decreased since EQ, I nowadays assume that most games rather keep all characters stored forever rather than first bothering to delete them"

On the other hand games are written with today's storage cost in mind. So EQ assumed hard disk space is $0.12/Mbyte and made choices to keep a character's storage size small. WoW designed later would assume hard disk space is $0.01/Mbyte and make choices that could consume a lot more space to either speed development, or to do things EQ couldn't (maybe note what crafter made an item, or something). AoC would have been written assuming disk space is $0.00001/Mbyte and made another set of choices.

In other words if someone says "we can afford about $0.02/character for storage" you will use more disk space if you designed to that in 2007 then if you designed did in 1999.

On the other other hand... I don't know if "re-trials with your abandoned and presumed dead characters" was well established when EQ was designed, but it was 100% known by the time AoC was designed. So while the cost of disk had dropped the design goal is no longer just "$0.02/living character" but also a price for characters kept around of possible retrials. other words AoC is almost definitely just trying for a money grab, but the cost of holding your abandoned characters is likely higher then you assumed & you are correct to feel no pity for them.

(or at least no pity for their wallet, we can all feel pity for the thuggery they have been reduced least I can)
I remember SOE having the same "policy" back when I used to play SWG. In actuality it's devious because there is no reason what so ever to delete characters, and it's used as a marketing ploy to entice players back. Seriously.. if you can't entice players back through content, then you should really look to why that might be as a developer.
Isn't there a free unlimited trial now for AoC? So you could just go back spend 4 hours running Tortage and be 20 again on a new guy.
I will say that reclaiming names is a good thing. But CoH (I think it was) did that too - they just said "All your old names will be lost" - but you still had your character, and could rename if you resubbed.

SWG had a different issue. Player housing not only takes server load, but there are a finite number of locations for houses (though it's a large number), but more importantly there were a limited number of really nice spaces, and a limited number of player cities per planet over a certain size. Inactive accounts could still (iirc) contribute to a city's size. So clearing them out opened up a lot of real estate.

Also, the "house removal" simply put it in your character's inventory, fully preserved. So it wasn't even lost, just packed up.

Funcom can suck an egg. Freeing up dbase space is a bogus argument. Speeding up database access by limiting total searches or the like, maybe. But just space? Take $50, go buy a couple terabytes, and be done with it.
I got the email too. Another company added to my mmorpg blacklist.
I think it's a sensible idea actually. It is annoying when you want a character name and it's been taken up by someone who hasn't even logged in during the last year.

We're just not used to it.
Aha, I got the same message in my box. I think my highest level character was oly 17 anyway so it's no problem.

But imagine if this was WoW and they gave me that message. All my valuables and gold are on a lvl 1 bank alt. This sweep would loose me tens of thousands of gold waiting in my bank for the next expansion. If they deleted it there's a large chance I'd never go back to WoW.

Since I also somewhat doubted the origin of this message I checked the e-mail source: So it's genuine.

They did achieve one thing: I know think less of Funcom.
If you haven't paid for a MMO in say... 6 months or more why shouldn't they delete your lower level characters? Those characters don't actually belong to you, remember we can't sell them.

If WoW did this I would probably keep my sub running year round even if I wasn't playing just to hold those names. Some people may not, but I think it would stop some people from doing rash account cancelations.

I agree with Spinks, while this is unusual I think it's a good idea. If you want the company to loyaly hold your characters for you then perhaps you should continue to pay them.

It seems like everyone is making a moutain out of a mole hill here. Getting to level 20 in AoC takes no time. If you truly care about your AoC characters that much then you are probably playing the game.

The only people getting upset about this seem to be the people who aren't going back to AoC anyways.
Personally, I'd love if other games did that.. if I'm full-time into a game, I'd love the chance at the names it would open up.

Sure it may sound 'tacky' to say, pay us or else.. but if you aren't playing the game and have no intent to go back who cares... the current player base who IS still playing will be thrilled to roll some new characters with the newly freed up names.

In the MMO pay for everything, name changes, server transfers, change your look, this seems a minor affront.
" Personally, I'd love if other games did that.. if I'm full-time into a game, I'd love the chance at the names it would open up"

Yeah, but the right way to do that isn't "Come back or we delete your character", it is "We only reserve your character's name for so long(it is a cool one, and other folks want it!)...if you want to keep it hurry back! (if you don't your stuff is safe, but you may have to settle for 'Ginncrotz2')".

At that point you are still giving them a reason to try again right soon, so win for marketing. You are explaining why you are going to take something away (while buttering up your former customer), and you are not taking any more then you need. You get a future opportunity to re-invite without sounding half as shallow as you are ("Your name is now up for grabs, but nobody has grabbed it yet"..."New expansion, and I'm sure you can come up with a new name"..."That guy that took your name? He gave it up, so we put it on hold for THREE days for you").

You also get to try to reclaim names from high levels (even max level) characters, not just "low level nobodies".

I guess Funcom isn't losing customers fast enough, so they had to send out reminders to former players: "Hey remember playing Age of Conan? Well we're deleting your character, so don't ever bother coming back!"
This feels like extortion to me. Although I understand where people who agree with it are coming from, I still feel like customers, whether previous, current, or potential should be there number one goal. This is what makes a successful business. I believe this will hurt them ALOT more then it will help them.
The latest info from Waldgeist, AoC's community manager, says they do this in preparation for SERVER MERGES.

Which makes some sense, but does not make the mail any better.
I liked AoC after trial . I liked whites sands /underhalls pvp so much that I made 3 toons leveled them to 15-20 and played them for a couple of months

Alas in a few patches I realized game tries to emulate wow and does not pay any attention to pvp , they also tipped the balance heavily towards magic users. So I quit.

But I was toying with the idea of coming back, now I for sure wont. Imho poor decision on their part - but then again game is a train wreck, it had a rough start and they replaced their lead designer. this new guy has no clue how to design or balance anything and he destroyed everything which was good about AoC by now I bet. This email is just confirmation of it
This email is definitely the final straw for me. I will never reactivate my Mage of Conan accounts, nor will I waste my time on anything published by Funcom in the future.

The game had very little storage. Like many other players I made alts specifically to store crafting materials, cosmetic items, and miscellaneous "neat" stuff. Deleting these characters is going to backfire on these fools like so many other missteps they've made (merging a PvP server and an RP server because "they're both Oceanic"; completely redoing classes in the hopes of attracting new players while simultaneously annoying many active players; etc.).

It's a real shame, because the writers, artists, and engineers did a great job, but senior management is simply incompetent....
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