In February 2009, the Advocate Program was introduced. Players could volunteer to serve as Class or Game System points-of-contact in the forums. Once selected by Funcom, these players then had improved access to the developers for making recommendations to improve the game. A similar system in Anarchy Online helped to save and improve that game. Advocates, along with the Followers of Asura, allow a deeper level of interaction and communication between GMs, developers, and other community service personnel within Funcom. Other players can send these Advocates their suggestions, observations, complaints, and ideas, so they can be shared with FunCom staff. Craig Morrison brought forward his Customer Service background, and he has instilled this into the rest of his current team. It seems to have rubbed off.
In mid-February, Yellow Gremlin introduced a new player database system. Players could travel to certain specific locations in-game, and their avatars would become viewable, as that snapshot, from the web. It is a nice feature, but it obviously has not been adopted by the entire playerbase. Regardless, you can access the database at http://aoc.yg.com/ and see how some of your competition and allies are equipped. Furthermore, it maintains a history of each character's updates, and other players can see the multitude of new armor and weapons that have been distributed throughout the three main regions. In the Tortage region, many characters end up wearing many of the same types of armor and equipping similar weapons. With Yellow Gremlin, we can see the extreme latitude demonstrated in all the many new types of cultural and class armor. Now, I believe it is handled through an XML game plug-in, but it is limited to DirectX 9 systems and will crash on DirectX 10 systems. The Yellow Gremlin database has grown to contain Items, Spells, Combos, Quests, Zones, Feat Planner, Player Profiles, PvP Rankings, Guilds, Guild Rankings, Auction House, News, Updates, Discussion, Bugs and Feedback.
On February 19th, Knut Avenstroup Haugen was recognized by the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) for Best Original Musical Score for a Video Game or other Interactive Media for 2008. Knut created all of the music behind Age of Conan. He is also developing the music for "Rise of the Godslayer", so I am sure we will all be impressed again when RoTG is released later this year.
On February 23rd, Age of Conan was released to Poland and Russia. This event made AoC available in six different languages. In December, FunCom staff visited South Korea in anticipation of its release there in early 2010. Korea players are currently involved in a Closed Beta, and its full release is due soon. In summer of 2008, 1.2 million copies of Age of Conan were sold worldwide, only being beaten by World of Warcraft and Spore. Shortly after its May 2008 release it topped the charts in 17 different countries, in addition to being third in the North American market.
FunCom also canvassed the world with new websites and social networks in both Twitter and Facebook. A half-dozen senior Funcom employees also have individual Twitter accounts sharing lots of new info, ideas, and contests. As an extension to this promotion, Funcom employees have hosted fan-events and new material announcements at Game Developers Conference (GDC), DragonCon, GamesCom, PAX, and G-Star 2009 in Korea. Funcom has been trying to focus on four cornerstones (four C's) this year to deliver to players: Content, Conflict/PvP, Character Development, and Community/Guilds.
For many players in 2009, Age of Conan has been running at 60+ frames per second with DirectX 9, hardly stressing many mid-range PCs, and providing much quicker zoning between Instances and Playzones. Full implementation of DirectX 10 went live the last week of March 2009. Particle effects, reflections, and depth of detail from many points-of-view can now be enjoyed with a quality graphics card. "God Rays showing sunlight through clouds" and "Enhanced Underwater Lighting and other water effects" are now spectacular to look at. Many players have made positive comments about the new foliage effects: fields of grass, and all types of trees, show gentle movement from the wind and show effects of the light's reflection and dissipation. This effect also reveals shadows that move from the appropriate direction. I can definitely see the improvement.