Where’s the peanuts?


I’ve been travelling back and forth between Texas (hell) and Virginia (home) quite a bit the last three months for my IRL work. On every flight you receive either pretzels, peanuts, or on the longer flights sometimes a small sandwich.

This last Sunday, on the long haul from DC to Houston (the flight that usually has a sandwich) the flight attendant inadvertently gave the two people in the seats beside me peanuts, but forgot to offer me any.

As she kicked the food cart to release the brake that was keeping the cart from careening down the aisle and killing the small child that was screaming its head off (there is one on every flight, it seems) a completely unreasonable rage filled me.

Clearing my throat, I called out “Hey, can I get some peanuts?” very loudly.

She appraised me with a “you didn’t get any?” look, made sure I wasn’t stuffing them down my bra, and then handed me the tiny packet.

I have no idea why that irritated me as much as it did. It’s not like the peanuts were that important, not like I was starving to death, nor am I one of those pushy people who like to point out whenever a waiter or waitress forgets something.

The airline business is a service industry. An MMORPG is an interesting mix of product and service. You have the packaged product, an eye-catching box with one or more CD’s and the ubiquitous manual letting new users know how to install and at least begin their game (at least that’s what we expect).

But after the installation, it becomes more a service than product. Like the airlines ability to transport you from one side of the country to another, an MMORPG transports you to a fantasy world where you can be entertained.

I’m not an ‘old-timer’ to the MMORPG business. My first game was Asheron’s Call (AC), which I still play. I then started playing Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC). I’ve played a few other games since then, but those are my two primary games right now.

Most recently, I was absolutely DELIGHTED to find a toontown invite in my e-mail [note to self: remember to insert evil music and sublimable messages here somewhere].

But I digress. Peanuts. In the service industry, peanuts are fluff. They don’t directly influence whether a patron chooses one airline over another. They’re just a nice little “thanks for flying with us”.

Out of all of the MMORPG that I’ve played, AC does peanuts better than anyone else. Peanuts are not quests or NPCs or monsters. Those things DO influence whether a player stays with a game. I’m not talking about who communicates with its player-base the best, or builds the most interesting world, has the best graphics, the least amount of lag, or the most balanced classes.

No, I’m talking peanuts. I’m talking pack monsters, Halloween masks, and wet muddy towels. I’m talking “Spiderman” colored armor being worn by spider-lore master NPCs.

DAOC has something called random encounters, where it is possible to run into extremely rare critters that aren’t required for quests or give particularly good experience or are really good for anything but in-game flavor.

DAOC has a less flexible game-world than AC however. I imagine if some role playing Mafioso found Dr. Who’s telephone booth in the middle of Snowdonia Station, the outraged screeching would probably shatter all the fake crystal dragons between them and the local strip mall.

*ALERT* I’m being informed that I must be whisked into the witness protection program before the anti-RP-defamation mob hitmen show up, so I’ll try to finish this column up as quickly as possible.

The danger with peanuts? There will always be what I call the vocal minority that will flood the developers’ e-mail boxes and the fansite messageboards with complaints. Not because they don’t like the peanuts, but because their “underdog class” didn’t receive a much needed buff.

Personally, I like the little touches. As new games enter into the market, the perception of good service is going to become more critical. And nothing says “thanks for letting me charge money to your credit card every month” like peanuts.

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