As gamers, we gripe an awful lot about the companies and publishers who bring us our games. We really are a particular lot - and when we are paying for a service, we have a right to be.
But it isn't very often that, when a company or publisher goes out of their way to do right by us, we give them the pat on the back that they deserve. We often consider it a matter of them "doing their jobs" or simply a matter of us "getting what we're paying for."
But that isn't necessarily always the case. Take the recent RealID debacle. Blizzard Entertainment did their jobs when, after 44,000 player posts encompassing 2,000+ pages railed against the idea. The playerbase got what they paid for when Blizzard Entertainment listened and backed off that plan. Numerous players gave the company pats on the back on the forums over this, and numerous people - including myself - said, "That's nice, Blizzard, but your wording of 'not at this time' makes us nervous, and so does the fact that it took you a week, 44,000 complaints, and a public relations nightmare in the gaming and non-gaming press before you changed your minds."
Then Blizzard took it one step further and developed a plan to allow players to opt out of the current "friends of friends" feature of RealID. Well, okay...I must grudgingly admit that now you are starting to get my attention, Blizzard. Maybe you are paying attention...Here's a Scooby snack and a tiny pat on the head, but don't tell anyone.
Fast forward a bit. An e-mail arrives in my inbox, and it doesn't dump to spam. This is a good indication that it may actually be from Blizzard Entertainment. I carefully open it and immediately look at the details before I read it to see where it came from. Oh - it is from Blizzard Entertainment and not Hotmail, so I guess I should actually read it: it's an e-mail detailing the fact that they've backed off the decision to use real names on the forums and are developing a method to allow players to opt out of the friends of friends feature of RealID. It also invites me to e-mail them back to address any more concerns I may have about RealID, and (of course!) hopes that they have assuaged any concerns that may have prompted my cancellation so that I will be comfortable resubscribing.
So, I e-mail them the following at the address they've indicated I should, not expecting any response in return:
To Whom It May Concern:
Last night, an e-mail arrived from Blizzard's "Customer Care & Loyalty Team" discussing the fact that I recently canceled my World of Warcraft subscription as a direct result of the proposed RealID forum policy.
While I am glad that Activision-Blizzard listened to the playerbase and backed off of such a monumentally stupid idea, I am still greatly disturbed by the wording used in various announcements and interviews since the scrapping of the plan: "at this time."
The problem with that wording is that Bobby Kotick and Mike Morhaime are leaving the door wide open to strip customers (that is what we are: paying customers. We pay Activision-Blizzard for a service every month, something Mr. Kotick at least, seems blissfully unaware of, even if Mr. Morhaime seems to at least be cognizant of it) of their privacy at a later time of their choosing and until there is clarification on this point, I'm not entirely comfortable rewarding Activision-Blizzard with my business.
In short, Blizzard Entertainment, whether of their own volition or by accepting Activision's mandate, has severely tarnished its reputation and seriously undermined and eroded the trust. I now categorize Blizzard just barely above Sony Online Entertainment in terms of how far they, as a company, can be trusted, and can point you in the direction of many, many gamers who feel likewise.
Sony couldn't be bothered to repair their reputation. Can Blizzard?
So much for expectations. At about 6:30 this evening (within about 6 hours of my having sent off the mail to Blizzard), I received a phone call. From Blizzard. And a follow-up e-mail in case I should wish to express further concerns about the issue in the future without jumping through hoops to do so.
Now, in the past, I've had both good and bad experiences with Blizzard and I have always made a point of highlighting the great experiences (I'm looking at you, Jonathan in Support - you, sir, are freakin' AWESOME!) in great detail in the surveys they always send. Honestly, such is the way of any major company - you get really great help and sometimes you get really, really awful "help." And part of me - the cynical, jaded part - is sitting here right now wondering just how many subscriptions and sales Blizzard lost over the RealID debacle for them to go to such lengths to regain not only subscriptions, but the trust of their customers.
But in the end, my cynicism doesn't matter. What does matter is the fact of my experience: Blizzard screwed up, big time. Blizzard knows they screwed up, they know they have seriously eroded the trust and faith of their customers, and they know that making it right means more than giving some kind of in-game item that will eventually become worthless (I'm looking at you, Sony). I can't remember the last time a game company with a AAA title could be bothered to go to such lengths to regain trust with their customers after making such a colossal mistake in the public relations realm. Even Turbine, a company that, in my experience, is fairly good to their customers (giving customers useful in-game items for unexpectedly long server shutdowns as they've been known to do, as well as extremely good customer service in my experience), has not gone to such lengths that I know of.
I've not renewed my account, nor have I bought Starcraft II. As I assured the gentleman that I spoke with on the phone, Blizzard Entertainment won't be getting my money again until Mike Morhaime gives assurance in writing that no plan will be implemented at any time that requires Blizzard customers to make their real names and locations available to other players, nor will any plan be implemented that requires players to allow Blizzard to create any kind of social networking page or site on their behalf and that any kind of social networking system enacted in Blizzard games will have a clear opt in or an opt out policy that will not affect gameplay for those of us that value and/or require privacy.
Still, I do have to give kudos and props to Blizzard for taking the steps that they are taking to regain the trust of their customers. That's not the kind of thing most game companies can be bothered to do these days, and especially not companies that bring in the kind of profits that Blizzard Entertainment brings in. That kind of effort alone, in my opinion, earns Blizzard the right to a second chance with me - provided they follow through and make the necessary changes to RealID to protect their customers' right to privacy.