Blizzard, Customer Service and Reasonable Expectations

As reported widely, connection issues are widespread here in the US tonight in the wake of the implementation of a (relatively) minor patch. Presumably these same issues will also affect the EU realms in the following days. Server instability post-patch is nothing new. In fact, regular readers will note that here at WoWenomics we don’t particularly mind and, in fact, we’ve even developed a profitable strategy for dealing with such issues.

However, what we really ask today is the following:

Is server instability, the game generally being unplayable and unforeseen extended downtime acceptable?

It seems strange to us, from a purely consumer perspective, that we have grown so accustomed to this near weekly outage of service from our favorite game. We’ve been pondering this point for some time at WoWenomics because this is actually the very moment that real and virtual finance intersect. By being unable to play the game that we pay real money for, we are also not able to make in-game money. So, in a sense, we are losing money both in the real and virtual worlds at once. As finance wonks, this just doesn’t sit right.

Agreeably, it’s a big game, there’s lots of unforeseeable stuff going on, they’re working as hard as they can. Yeah, yeah… We get it.

But, regardless of the explanation, the game’s still unplayable isn’t it? Why is this okay? Moreover, why are we not compensated for this down time? If, on Wall Street, we told our clients, “Gee, sorry we didn’t get that trade made in time for you but we were having technical difficulties.” That would more than likely be the last time we heard from that client. Moreover, if we committed to the trade and didn’t actually execute it we’d have to compensate the client, and possibly still face legal, disciplinary and regulatory action. To take it a little closer to home, what if your bank said one day, “Sorry, no money today. Computer upgrades. Should be back up by 11. Okay, now it’s 1. Well for sure by 2. Whoa, hey look at that, just moved a decimal in your account by accident. Whoops!” Would that be acceptable? What if it was the power company?

But this is Entertainment, Not a Critical Service

Well that’s a fair statement. After all, WoW is hardly integral to our day-to-day life. It’s a diversion and a game. But we wouldn’t tolerate the same sort of outages in our other forms of entertainment either. How long would you sit in a movie theater with no movie showing? What’s the longest amount of time you’d sit at a restaurant table waiting for your food? Would the waiter coming over saying “another hour or so” every few hours appease you? Or, perhaps more pointedly, would you stay in an amusement park very long if the rides were all non-functional? At what point do you ask for a refund or at least some form of compensation?

The Waiting Room and No Room for Waiting

One of our team members tells a story of a business professor he studied with while pursuing his MBA. This guy was a well known, published and highly respected businessman- Somewhat of a celebrity in both the worlds of business consulting and writing. Supposedly, this guy would pro rate the amount he paid for doctor and other medical appointments if he was left sitting in the waiting room. He would allow for 10 minutes of tardiness, beyond that he felt that what they lacked was organization and appropriate management. His time cost a significant amount of money (he was paid handsomely for speaking and teaching engagements) so why shouldn’t he charge them for wasting it? After some time pro-rating his payments, guess what happened. His doctors (and even his dentist) started finding a way to see him with fewer than ten minutes of wait time… Always.

Now we’re not advising you pull this kind of thing with your own medical professionals. For one thing it is quite possible that you don’t have the same amount of clout or spending power but the lesson still resonates. What’s your time worth? Is that time of the same value to the people that serve you? Or are you, your money and your attention, expendable?

Blizzard and Service Delays

It would probably be a much more minor issue if we could have a clear indication from the service provider as to the delays and anticipated issues. But Blizzard’s stance is always one of shock and surprise. “Ooops, we didn’t mean for that to happen.” And how about the cryptic messages that come after the predicted up time is missed or new issues occur:

“We are aware of the stability issues affecting several realms and instances this evening and are actively working toward addressing these matters as quickly as possible. Additional updates will be provided as they are made available. In the mean time, your patience during this process is greatly appreciated.”

That sounds like it was dreamt up by a legal team and regurgitated by the public relations department. Is that the best they can do? Why aren’t they “working toward addressing these matters” prior to their start? What, they couldn’t be anticipated? Well guess what, they can. In fact, we’re going to call it right now. You heard it here first folks: next patch day will bring more issues, more lag, more down time, and more bulls**t messages from Blizzard. Now it has been anticipated. And we don’t even work there.

This all seems, again as consumers of this otherwise fine product, a little circumspect. Why is it that we allow, and at this point even expect, these types of hiccups from the provider on patch days? And let’s not even get started talking about expansion pack release days right?

So that’s what we’re asking. Why no financial compensation blizzard? Our monthly fee already allows for a few hours a week down time but an entire day? Why do we accept this as consumers? Why do we come back week after week? Why is it always so unforeseeable and unpredictable? Are we owed anything at all here? Are we really paying for 6 working days a week at the price of 7? And just why is that okay?

Perhaps, at least from Blizzard’s perspective, the apparent lack of giving a s**t starts at the very top no?



Filed under WoW Community News

9 responses to “Blizzard, Customer Service and Reasonable Expectations

  1. Twinkletoes

    Excellent post and one which has needed to be said for a while now. There is a general feeling that Blizzard don’t really give a sh*t when it comes to customer service and server maintenance.
    One item which you didn’t touch on but mentioned is that European Realms go through exactly the same issues as US realms but a day later. This proves that one side is not talking to the other and is really unacceptable. Why are Blizzard Europe shocked that when they apply a patch they get the same issues that the US did the day before. If anything the European patches should be much smoother when in fact they are worse.
    One other item which is a real pain at the moment is the Instance reset. On European realms its now at 9am CET when it used to be at 3am CET. Has anyone noticed that the time difference of 6 hours is the same as difference as Central American Time Zone? It looks like someone has been lazy and not set the preference to European Time.

  2. Gavel

    Well looks like there are three possible solutions to this problem

    A: Accept that problems happen on a large MMO and that the dev team doesn’t want to tell you any details or information about what’s going on, pay your monthly fee, and accept the rare free days that don’t come close to making up for the down time.

    B: Cancel your account so that the company that’s screwing you doesn’t get your money.

    C: Keep paying money every month, but constantly bitch on websites the company probably doesn’t read that the big evil Blizz is secretly using all their time to personally screw you out of the hard earned money that you keep giving them. More importantly make sure that your rant implies that blizzard not actually working on the server when they should just to have a laugh at your expense in their giant gothic tower.

    Here’s a question for you: If you have a problem with the service WHY do you still pay for it, or at least take it up on the blizzard site rather than having WoW NEWS sites filled with rants?

  3. Tonus

    I think that there are a number of factors at play:

    1- Yes, it IS just a game. Your comments about entertainment are noted and relevant. But problems with entertainment (games, movies, restaurants) are not likely to generate the same reaction as a screw-up by your bank or utility company. Especially when you consider some of the other factors:

    2- Other MMOs have had (and some still have) similar issues. Some of the problems Blizzard has may be unavoidable due to the nature of MMO games. It seems as though there is still a learning curve involved, and Blizzard has the added problem of scale– no other MMO is as large, especially in the USA.

    3- The downtime is usually pretty small in terms of total time lost, and is also usually predictable. It’s also overblown and easily forgotten. We know that on Tuesday, there is going to be some downtime. We also know that on occasion, that downtime will be extended. Still, we become angry and upset when it happens. But before long we’re back online and having fun, and we wonder why we were so upset.

    (Note: There have been periods when downtime has been much worse for much longer, particularly for Oceanic players. That obviously is a different situation. Being unable to play occasionally is one thing. Suffering lag, disconnects, and awful performance night after night for weeks or months is another thing altogether.)

    4- There is no viable competition. There are other games out there, but none have proven to be as popular as WOW. If the problems with downtime were really that bad, people would find other games to play. But the situation isn’t bad enough, and the other games aren’t good enough, and most of them have problems that are similar or worse, even though they have a smaller infrastructure to maintain.

    5- Blizzard often DOES provide compensation for downtime, in the form of extending your subscription for a small additional amount of time. Players do not typically get notified when this occurs, but I believe that under Account Management, if you look at the details of your account payments, you’ll see the occasions when you received credits and compensation for lost game time.

    There are probably other factors as well. But the truth is that if WOW really did become intolerable for enough people, so that the negatives outweighed the reasons that they play, they would lose subscribers at a rate fast enough to either force them to improve service (if possible) or cause the game to shrink drastically, which could lead to a downward spiral (less money means less content, which means more players cancel, which means less money, etc).

    No company deliberately tries to antagonize its customer base. Well, no rational company, or no company that wants to remain in business. I don’t know if Blizzard is doing all it can, but the problems simply aren’t enough to cause people to cancel, or at least to cancel for good. If Blizzard really is underperforming, then it doesn’t say much for us– the customer base– that we continue to put money in the pockets of a company that treats us with such contempt.

  4. James

    The movie analogy made me LOL.

    The reason we’re having problems is because they’re adding *new content*.

    How many people would sit in the theater watching the same movie for 5 years? When a new movie comes in, there’s downtime while they switch out the movie. When the bulb on the projector burns out, there’s downtime. When they swap out projectors for new ones….Big surprise, there’s downtime.

  5. Frank

    You raise good questions. I give Blizzard that there can be unforseen events happening when a patch hits the live servers – I don’t think any amount of testing on the test realms can cover all the possible situations on the live servers. That being said, I do find it quite odd that the European team doesn’t seem to learn from the US team’s experience – and some quirks really should have been caught during testing.

    That being said, as to “why do we cope with that”, a few things come to mind:
    – Work (school?) schedule. I live on Eastern time, to me the servers are (usually) down 6am-2pm. I work 8-5, basically giving them an additional 3-4 hours to fix the “unforseen” bugs.
    – Renumeration: at $15 for 4 weeks (simplified), that’s 28 days (let’s say 30 for easy math), a full day of downtime would amount to $0.50. The servers would be down for 4×8 hours, let’s even say 36 hours. That leaves me with $0.75, which would get eaten up by the postage needed.
    – Are we too used to this in the real world? My car goes in for scheduled maintenance or factory recalls. 24 hour gas stations close briefly for cleaning/inventory checks. The movie at the theater doesn’t start when it says it will. I’ve had power outages at my house and still pay the power company. And last, but not least, Microsoft keeps patching and patching and patching…

    I’m not saying Blizzard couldn’t do better or shouldn’t strive to do better. I’m complaining about extended maintenance windows as well. But I wonder if the energy spent to try to change things shouldn’t possibly start in other areas – or at least be applied to other areas as well.

  6. Indeed, I’ve always thought they should give us money back for non-scheduled downtime. I can live with Tuesdays, but other times we should get the financial benefit.

    On the other hand, arguing that ‘they shouldn’t have these problems’ indicates a lack of understanding of the dynamics involved. Comparisons like a Wall Street broker saying they’re having technical difficulties are faulty at best. Blizz’ problems along these lines happen most often when they release new content. While there is a PTR, having a few thousand people testing things is not the same as having a few million beating on their product. There WILL be kinks needing to be worked out. Imagine if Wall Street had to trot out TOTALLY new financial/database software on a regular basis and the carnage that would inevitably ensue.

    Just saying, the problems are predictable in that we all know when they’ll happen, but that still doesn’t mean it’s possible for Blizzard to prevent them. Stuff breaks under those conditions. Unavoidably.

    Still, I’m there with you on thinking we should be thrown a bone when we can’t play the game we’re paying for.

  7. Impulse

    Eh, sure it’s annoying. As far as the analogies go, they were all pointless however. Obviously if you went to the movies or an amusement park and they couldn’t provide services, you would demand a refund. You’ve traveled there and expect to be able to make use of their facilities after you pay for them. You don’t make a trip to see WoW however. It’s more analogous to cable or internet service, and would better yet be contrasted to other MMOs and paid subscription gaming services. Does WoW have a worse track record with service providing than them? I don’t personally know the answer, but that’s the only type of comparison that will have a meaningful answer in evaluating how well Blizzard treats its clients.

    It’s also worth noting that Blizzard is the only provider of World of Warcraft (obviously) and has the upper hand here anyway. You could always subscribe to another MMO, which may or may not be better, or stop playing. I personally believe that the storms on the forums every Tuesday are motivated by players who can’t get their fix and seize upon demanding compensation as an outlet for their frustration and a reasonable sounding complaint. I doubt getting 4 extra days a month of credit time to everyone would stop the complaining on maintenance days.

  8. Rhom

    What if you think of your subscription as paying for 1 month – 12 hours of downtime. Then, you are getting your money’s worth on an average month. I don’t like downtime any more than the next guy, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable. It would be nice to get prorated compensation for anything over the allotted downtime though.

    The problem is that they have a monopoly on this form of entertainment. You can’t just pick up your characters and guild mates and go play somewhere else. Until that day happens I think we’re just stuck with it.

    And honestly, I would rather have a game company that provides a service that isn’t so completely paranoid about any little bit of downtime that it forfeits features and pushing as much content as possible while still hitting the “good enough” mark. If Blizzard had to pay every subscriber for every minute of downtime I think it would have more negative effects on the game than you might realize.

  9. buboe

    Oceanic Servers = Downtime at 8.30 at night local time.
    So we’re losing a night a week, and paying the same. Bit too much QQ
    One of the few things warhammer got right was running downtime on Oceanic Servers at a time Australians were actually asleep, not in the middle of their most active playing time.

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