Monday, September 08, 2008

Lessons in Customer Service

EA had some customer service woes this weekend in not one, but two different games. The first example is the one most people will be familiar and involves the latest beta weekend for the upcoming Warhammer Online. The America version went off with only minor hitches and most players reported much better performance then the last preview weekend. Unfortunately, the European version was a disaster with the account server not accepting any one's key codes. This doesn't come as a surprise as Tobold suspected this might be a problem a full 24 hours before the preview weekend was supposed to start. It seems funny that a game with European origins would have worse support then the United States but local distributors always play a part in these type of situations.

The problem wouldn't be so bad except of course that EA Mythic has adopted the rather dubious strategy of running a MMO without hosting any forums. This may have been viable back in the early age of MMO development, but games now deal with much larger audiences. Not having official forums opens a company up to all types of opportunities for miscommunication. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind this move, but I can only assume it's an attempt to avoid the problems World of Warcraft has had with its forums. Whatever the reason, I'm not sure the community sites where Mark Jacobs normally posts announcements can stand up to the kind of heat this type of situation creates. I really hope EA Mythic changes their mind on the forum subject or else fan site forums are going to become a cesspit of bad advertising for Warhammer. You can't expect community websites to do the same type of moderation as a full time CM staff.

The other customer situation that plagued EA was one that I thought had been resolved earlier in the year. I remember there being quite a outpouring of nerd rage when someone found out that EA was planning on using SecuRom to DRM protect Mass Effect and Spore. The bad press got so bad that eventually EA issued a statement saying they were cutting back to a "lighter" version of SecuRom. A couple of the more draconian features of SecuRom were cut back and it seemed liked the consumer had won. The story unfortunately goes very wrong since last week Spore was accidentally released early in Australia and a cracked version of Spore appear on the torrent sites within four hours.

That's right, the supposed secure DRM was cracked in only hours and available through the Internet before most consumers could even buy the game. That might not have been enough to cause a incident, but some gamers started reading the fine print on the "lighter" SecuRom. That's when it was discovered there were only three activations allowed before the DVD became a useless coaster. There was a note about being able to deal with EA's customer service department for more activations, but most people assumed you would have to mail in proofs of purchase and other forms of documentation that no one keeps. It would be like trying to collect those rebates that CompUSA and BestBuy used to advertise on their computers until they were sued into submission.

The situation has really devolved into a situation where SecuRom is rewarding the pirates for not buying the game and hurting the honest customers. I thought Blizzard was the master of unintended consequences, but other companies can make mistakes on the same scale it looks like. The story gets even better as hordes of frustrated fans of the game have taken to amazon.com to write 1-star reviews of the game. Apparently the reviews started to snowball as people looking to buy the game through amazon started reading the reviews and then writing their own. Even the big game sites have picked up the story as the number of 1-star reviews has passed the 500 mark. Of course Spore is still the number one seller in the games category but losing sales is losing sales.

4 comments:

Openedge1 said...

Guild Wars has no official forums as well, but the CM's are quite active on the offsite forums.
Seems to work.
I guess Mythic just did not want to deal with the AoC forum debacle.
But, Mythic has been more communicative than Funcom, so it does surprise me they went this route.
Even worse, is how Mark on his own blog seems to be so hurt over the rude comments about GOA.
I mean, dude...this is not your job, so why get an argument rolling on your blog.
And you have to learn to roll with the punches.

WAR's start may be MORE interesting than AoC it seems..
Should be fascinating to watch...

/pulls out unbuttered popcorn

Anonymous said...

They have the Herald for all their official announcements, and are fairly active on unofficial forums, which works for me.

The Camelot Herald was always great for keeping people up to date about DAoC -- I don't see it being different for WAR.

Some of WoW's official forums are so abandoned (i.e., rogue forums) by the CSRs that they might as well not even be official.

Relmstein said...

Official forums for announcements and trouble shooting problems should always be included for a MMO.

I also think forums for upcoming patches, instances, and raids are a pretty good idea.

However, I think making official class or faction forums is a recipe for disaster. It seems to start a lot of problems with every class expecting equal posts by CMs or else they start screaming about the developers hating their class. Leave the class specfic forums to the community sites in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Almost as bad as them not having an official forum is the disaster that is the official EU website...all in flash and barely ever works. Horrible.