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The EI Catastrophe, Part I

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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Find out what has gone on since EI purchased Horizons from Tulga Games

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two part series by Staff Writer Carolyn Koh. The first part traces what has happened to Horizons and its community since EI Interactive took over control from Tulga Games.

On July 20th, the gaming community was informed that EI Interactive had purchased Horizons: Empire of Istaria in a press release from EI Interactive. In subsequent interviews with David Bowman, former CEO & Creative Director of Tulga Games, and Ed Andercheck, Chairman of EI Interactive we learn that, effectively, everyone at Tulga Games LLC was out of a job.

EI Interactive (EI) acquired the game Horizons: Empire of Istaria from Tulga Games effective July 21, 2006. The agreement transferred ownership of all intellectual property and relevant technology related to Horizons to EI Interactive, as well as the rights to operate the title. The Evolution Engine, an MMORPG development platform built by Tulga Games, and Dark-World Online remains the sole property of Tulga Games.

While the agreement did not transfer any employees of Tulga to EI Interactive, some Tulga Games employees in relevant fields - including David Bowman - remained temporarily on staff to assist the transfer to EI Interactive. Ed Andercheck informed us that he planned to interview many former Tulga Games developers for positions at EI Interactive and on July 27th, an announcement introduced the initial Game Management Team which included two employees from Tulga.

The transition has proven anything but smooth. The first sign of trouble was seen publicly when EI attempted to change the problematic billing system they inherited. On July 28th, players of Horizons were informed via email & a posting on the forums that come 12:01am August 1st a new billing system would be implemented and they would be required to re-enter their billing information on or before their renewal dates. The news also announced:

"This new billing update screen will provide you with a number of payment options to select from... secure via PayPal Subscription, Direct Pay, and Credit Card entry."
Unfortunately as forum user Steelclaw informs us in the Istaria community forums, the new billing screen was anything but secure as they were not sent over an encrypted https* connection but a regular http connection.
"As of right now, the billing info forms are NOT secure. They post to a http:// url, not a https:// url."
This information was immediately picked up by Woody Hearn of GUComics and he issued a Consumer Advisory Warning.
"For the protection of existing users, in the face these billing faux pas', GU feels a distinct obligation to advise any and all MMOG gamers to avoid Horizons (even the free trial) until such time as EI Interactive has the billing situation effectively handled and the danger eliminated."
This was updated on August 3rd with notification from Game Media Networks Online Division Manager, Luca Mazzasogni, that the billing issue was only with the North American Servers (or those who played on them).

Concerned players began talking about various issues with the new billing system, besides the fact that the screens were not secure. Through the past two weeks, the following issues were identified:

  • Account information could not be accessed without input of billing information
  • Accounts being charged incorrectly
  • Accounts could not be canceled - including trial accounts, which resulted in credit / debit cards being charged even if players did not wish to continue the game
  • Customer service emails and phones were not answered or could not be reached by concerned players.
  • Lack of response from EI Interactive in any means of formal communication from upper management
EI's first response was to remove the insecure web pages and asked for players to fill in the credit card form online (including security code), print it and mail it to EI.

Predictably, players flooded the community sites with new threads and posts - many angry, many concerned, many inflammatory, all seeking communication from EI and resolution of the problem. Forum moderators tried to stem the flood but as they are player volunteers, were not successful without an official statement from EI Interactive. EI's reaction was to delete threads and eventually locked down the forums, requiring each entry to be approved by moderators before they were posted on the forums.

On August 5th, EI informed their subscribers that a new billing system would be set up and apologized for the multi-step process:

"Effective immediately, we will be implementing the first phase of a new integrated billing platform. All customer accounts setup prior to August 1st, through the Pay- By-Touch system are now re-enabled. Your customer information will be maintained on the same secure server as it was before. As a result of this change, you now need to do nothing to have your account status maintained exactly as it was previously established.

"If since August 1st, you entered a new Pay Pal subscription, it is immediately being cancelled by us and refunded. If you sent credit card information directly to E I interactive, it has not been processed, nor will it be. Further, any personal information collected by these forms will be purged from our systems to protect your privacy.

"The second phase of our billing platform will be introduced in the near future... Our customer service department will be responding to any alternative payment requests received, as always we will work to support your needs."

They referred to the problematic billing system that Horizons came with,
"...there were numerous issues with previous Horizons billing including a lack of flexibility, subscribers being prematurely or double billed and a lack of confirming emails. This was a substantial enough issue for E I Interactive to take action on as an early priority. We assure you that your service will not be interrupted and we apologize for any concern this multi-step process may have caused."
This did not appease players as by then, they were seeking not an acknowledgement of the problems they were facing, but an apology and redress of their individual problems which included overdrawn bank accounts due to billing issues and the inconvenience involved in cancelling credit cards and getting new ones issued.

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Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.