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My thoughts on the MMO market and current game development.

This blog is mainly my opinions of current and future mmo's, what I think dev's are doing right and wrong.

Author: Pyrostasis

What happened to customer service?

Posted by Pyrostasis Friday February 22 2008 at 4:30AM
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Recently I have been going over several issues with today’s MMO's and reminiscing about old school MMO’s such as UO and Asheron’s call.


However, I want to cover a different topic from game design today, but ever bit as critical to a games success, Customer Service.


What the hell happened to it?


Any other business model short of dealing drugs is heavily focused on customer service and keeping your customers happy. You do this usually by meeting their needs and desires, listening to feedback, and assisting them with issues they may have regarding your product. Yet for some reason MMO’s don’t seem to follow the same rules.


MMO companies today can ignore customers, flat out lie to them, and if a customer doesn’t like it, simply remove their access to your product completely, and for some reason not only is this an accepted practice, we as consumers actually sign up for more!




Let us take a look at a few examples.


How about Star Wars Galaxies, one of the biggest epic customer service failures to date. SOE released a new expansion and like normal fans of the game the customer base went and purchased the new expansion. Two days after the expansion was received, SOE completely changed the game, In essence making it a totally different product. Imagine playing a spell caster in game for 2 years and then one day waking up and finding out your character is now a melee as spells have been removed. 2 years of your life and your character development / story line gone.


Did they lose customers? Yes. Are they still in business? Yep.


If any other business changed a consumers product after 2 years of service with no warning there would be hell to pay, not to mention legal action taken. Obviously with the way MMO’s work patches and changes are inevitable, but there is a difference between a change, and a complete re-write. However, I’m getting off point.


Another SOE issue… over the Christmas holiday I picked up Everquest2 to take a look at the Station Exchange service, basically a condoned RMT / Ebay set up where you can sell in game gold and items for Real money. Sadly sony had some major issues with the service causing it to be down for almost a month and a half with 0 notice to the players other than “We will inform you once we have more information”. Weeks went by with no contact at all. I simply don’t understand how you can ignore your customers. We aren’t talking a day or two with out an update; we are talking weeks / months with out an update. We as consumers bitch and moan, but then we resubscribe, or buy the next game by the same company…why?


Let us look at poorly released products! In 2007 we had the wonderful releases of Vanguard saga of Heroes, Hellgate London, Fury, and Tabula Rasa. While I will say TR was more or less complete, just a poor seller, there can not be any argument that the other three titles were complete epic failures, and why? Simply because the product wasn’t finished. However, instead of giving the product more time to mature it was pushed onto the customer base to get more income to use to fix the problems.


Basically, we paid for unfinished products, to finance the finishing of said product. Think of it as buying a car and paying full price, then having to continue to make small payments over a series of months to get the engine, then the wheels, and if your lucky finally some doors and a steering wheel. (Assuming those weren’t cut in the process).


From a business perspective I understand things cost money, and at some point in time you have to cut your losses and stop spending money on something, but that doesn’t mean you the rape the customer with it. This practice has been going on since 1997 with Ultima Online and quite frankly needs to stop.


Companies need to manage their finances better, and release finished products, not works in progress.


How about Tech support and in game support. Recently many mmo’s have started outsourcing their GM’s and tech support to third parties like Alchemic Dreams. Sadly many of these third party companies don’t speak fluent English which becomes painfully obvious the second any form of interaction is needed. Not to mention the proliferation of cut and paste answers which are 50% or more not even relevant to the question you asked or the problem you’re having.


Can you imagine walking into Sears to get some help with a product and being sent to India to get help from a completely different company? What happened to supporting your product with knowledgeable staff members that KNOW the product! What better way to find a pool of said people than to use your own staff… but that’s just crazy talk right?


Recently I worked for a major internet service provider (who will remain nameless), whose technical support for DSL is now 90% located in south America or new deli. When I asked the supervisor in charge of tech support how they got away with it when it was clear there was a rather large gap in support quality, he said well it’s simple. It saves us more money to go with a third party and upset a few people and lose their business, than it would be to pay our own people to do it and make everyone happy.


Gotcha… so, long as we make enough money to counter the folks we piss off it’s perfectly alright. So much for building long lasting relationships with your customers and getting return business from providing a good service and supporting it with integrity.


I don’t know… maybe I’m just old school and nuts, but as a business man to me keeping your customers happy is your #1 priority, your secondary priority is making money. If you keep your customers happy, you’re going to have the funds to keep doing so. If you burn your bridges, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, eventually someone is going to come along and offer a similar product with better support.


Hopefully in the next few years we will start to see more and more smaller companies stepping in and providing better service to their customers and take the wind out of some of these multibillion dollar companies who have little to any clue on what we as consumers and customers want.


Personally, as a gamedev in training, I can’t wait to provide good customer service to my customers; it makes stealing business from the cold hearted corporations so easy.