Style, Substance or Service, by Dan Anderson
May 03, 2007 16:20:42

Imagine walking into a beautiful restaurant filled to capacity with eager customers awaiting a meal. The clinking and clanging of silverware along with the soft voices of patrons fills the room as you locate a seat. You get situated at that the table and wait for a server. You wait fifteen minutes and no one comes to take your order. After a twenty-minute wait, a rather disheveled individual appears and in a disinterested tone, takes your meal order. Reluctantly, you place an order with this odd character. Another twenty minutes go by and finally, the meal arrives. After prodding the meal a bit, it passes as food as seems fit for consumption. Shockingly, the food is absolutely fantastic and better then could possibly be expected. As you continue your excellent feast, you notice that your beverage is empty. Looking around the restaurant, you see no sign of the peculiar fellow who originally took your order. You notice that many other patrons are doing the same without success. Conceding defeat after ten minutes of a beverage-less meal, you pay the check, omit a tip for the waiter and go home.

The question is "Would you eat at this restaurant?"

Most would steer clear of this particular establishment for a meal. While the food may be excellent, the service was so terrible that it is not worth the time invested. With that in mind, compare this scenario to your favorite MMO game. Are the same standards applied? Does the quality of the customer service of the Software Company play a role in the decision to play a game? The overwhelming answer to this is no. The unfortunate reality is that MMO Companies Customer Service is, by in large, sub par and we, as MMO gamers choose style and substance over service and as a result must share in the responsibility for the state of this aspect of the MMO industry.

It is relatively easy to qualify the position that MMO games have a history of substandard customer service. In her essay "Customer Service in Massively Multiplayer Games", Lisa B. shares some of her personal experiences with customer service personnel from Sony Online Entertainment:

"When playing Everquest, I had always heard about the poor customer service provided by the Players Relations Department, but had not yet personally encountered a paid employee. Then I had an issue with my character. She was stuck beneath the world and I could not log her into the game. Seeking a solution, I went to the chat room that was designed to give support to players who were having issues that could not be solved by gamemasters within the game. The GM, a paid employee, was engaged with a conversation that was unrelated to game-play with other players. I told him about my problem and asked for advise. After waiting in vein for a response, I noticed that a couple of other people who were asking about game related issues were also being ignored. The GM simply continued his conversation about his Pepsi addiction. Irritated, I asked him why he was not answering any of our questions, to which he replied "I only answer the questions asked by people who are nice to me." I was amazed (and disgusted) that a paid employee would be so shamelessly rude. I filed a complaint against him but never received any kind of feedback about it. I ended up having to wait to play the game until the next day, when a different GM was willing to help me."

From a personal standpoint, the worst customer service experience during MMO play has come from Blizzard Entertainment in regards to World of Warcraft. I provided an email asking a question regarding two lines from their Terms of Service and their EULA. I sent Blizzard a concise and easy to comprehend e-mail, which clearly presented my question. What they sent back to me were useless pre-generated responses from which nothing was accomplished. Furthermore, after more e-mails were sent to Blizzard, they provided me an email address to send my concerns that did not function as well as sending me e-mails indicating that the email address I was using didn't match my account and as such, they would not respond to my topic (even though four emails had been exchanged using my business email and not once did they provide this disclaimer). Once all of the red tape had cleared, they still never answered my question and I lost interest in dealing with their ridiculous way to communicate with their customers. These stories are simply a tiny percentage of what is printed. If one searches long enough, further stories can be unearthed about the state of MMO companies and their customer service performance.

Another part to this issue is the way in which some of the games and expansions were implemented, most notably in Everquest. Something that truly angered players was an issue during the Everquest expansion: Planes of Power. The high end raiding guilds of the time (My Everquest Guild, Wraith on the Quellious Server would have qualified for that title), plowed through much of the high end content to a point in which the majority of the guilds were stuck on one encounter that was designed so that it was nearly undefeatable. This was left in state for months because Sony launched the expansion without finishing the final zone, the Plane of Time, and as such had to ensure no guild progressed any further. In the end, only one guild ever defeated the encounter in this incarnation. This was a rather unethical business practice in the eyes of the players that comprised this passionate minority who attempted to defeat this encounter for months with virtually no chance of success while paying for a subscription each month in vein.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is certainly unfair to say MMO companies go into business with the mindset of providing poor customer service. There are certainly instances where individuals get the help they require. In large part, the companies have good intentions but their execution of these intentions is often what ultimately causes the failure. Back in 2002, Everquest launched a server called Stormhammer known to the customer base as the Legends Server with the intent of mending its customer service reputation by providing a server that supposedly had consistent customer service, innovative features and unique zones specific to the server at a significantly increased cost. This server functioned in this capacity for a few months however began to lose alot of its luster and there after became almost a live beta testing ground for things such as the revamped Cazic Thule. After four years in existence, this concept was scrapped. (More Legends rants can be read in this archived blog http://afkgamer.com/archives/2005/12/12/legends/).

Bill Gates was once quoted as saying, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning". While in this context, he was referring to creating better products by learning from mistakes, Vivendi and Blizzard entertainment have taken this concept to a whole other level. It is no secret that World of Warcraft is amongst the most polished and better MMO games on the market today. Its combination of low system specs, clever game dynamics and overall simplicity have made it such a smash success. Unfortunately, it seems Blizzard has established the position that since their game is so well executed and so well received that this permits them to treat the customer base in a seemingly disdainful manner. They have learned that the vast majority of their most dissatisfied customers from a customer service standpoint, will not quit paying the $15 a month subscription because of that poor customer service experience. Revisiting Lisa B and "Customer Service in Massively Multiplayer Games" she conducted a survey, which provides some compelling evidence that supports this idea:

"In the "unsatisfactory" category of players, 38.4% of the problems reported actually prevented the player from being able to engage in gameplay of any type...Interestingly, none of the players in the "unsatisfactory" category were relating to events that took place in City of Heroes (although 61.5% occured within World of Warcraft). The majority of the players from both categories are what I consider to be hardcore gamers and all but one of them continue to subscribe to the game in which they've received bad service. This leads to the conclusion that as long as the game is enjoyable to players, they will not cancel their subscriptions."

We should expect more as consumers. We should expect that any issues, however small, get addressed in a reasonable timeframe with more then just a macro'd response but the unfortunate reality is we don't. No matter how bad the customer service is, we keep plugging away at the Caverns of Time or The Estate of Unrest while paying the monthly subscriptions. Until that changes, the customer service aspect of MMO's will remain static and the MMO Community as a whole, has no right to complain. We have all brought this upon ourselves.

-Dan Anderson

Submitted by Brent on May 03, 2007 16:20:42 CST (comments: 0)


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