WAR: Game Over, Man! Game Over!

I think there’s a rule out there that says if I leave the internet for non-netty activities for a specific period of time — say, two or three days minimum — something on the internet implodes.  I’m not saying this to be egocentric, although my psychiatrist has issues with my recurring vision of being the one object that is literally holding together the entire universe from flying apart, but it just seems like something huge in the MMO world happens when I take off for a few days.

So I mentioned this WAR billing issue in my previous post, but only briefly because I’m still catching up on everything.  Suffice to say, people are justifiably upset, particularly the ones who have experienced this personally.  Required reading of this includes: No Prisoners No Mercy, Grimnir’s Grudge, Massively Multiverse, Wadstomp, River, Broken Toys and Massively Multiplayer Fallout.

No matter what anyone might say, this billing error is a big, big deal.  For one thing, it happened to a MMO that doesn’t have a lot of popular credit with gamers these days, and even the loyal ones subscribing have been burned several times in the past by EA Mythic.  For another, this isn’t just an issue of failed service; it involves them taking money from people.  Stealing, in other words.  No need to mince words here, billing error or no, I was raised to know that if you take something that doesn’t belong to you — like an extra $300 or so — then you’re stealing.  It certainly wasn’t intentional, but that doesn’t absolve Mythic from the blame here.  Someone is to blame for not keeping tabs on this, not handling the accounting software right, and that is where the blame lies, with them and the company that enabled them.

It’s a big, big deal because this hurt people financially, however brief and temporary it might end up being.  It also freaked people out, because nobody likes it when you mess with their bank accounts.  As my wife said, Mythic could easily expect to be on the end of a few lawsuits here from people who missed other payments, couldn’t make rent or house payments, or any other number of plausible scenarios that occurred between the time of the overbilling and whenever it’s fixed.

It’s a big, big deal because hundreds of bucks isn’t something you can gloss over with a warm shrug and a “Well, kids’ll be kids” attitude.  If my gas company or cell phone provider suddenly massively overcharged me for something, incurring fees and a hassle to fix, I’d be absolutely irate and shopping around for a competing service.

It’s a big, big deal because from this point on, Mythic is asking players to continue to entrust their credit card information to them after already botching it this badly.  As someone said, this whole mess makes a good case for time cards vs. credit cards.

(On a side note, I find it somewhat amusing that this all happened on the same week that Mythic’s invited bloggers to visit their offices in person, which I then envision being a tour through the very heart of chaos.)

This all said, I think this is a good example of seeing how a MMO company — well, any company really — responds to a major mistake on their end, which I see happening in three parts:

Part #1: Communicating and Fixing the Problem

To their credit, Mythic is doing this.  They’ve taken the full blame for this, pulled in everyone to work on the problem, and even handed out a phone number for people to call if they aren’t being helped (as in, the charges reversed and fees dropped).  Before you try to spin the situation, you fix the situation, or otherwise you’re beneath contempt.  I have little doubt that once this is all resolved, whatever caused this error will never happen again — if you don’t think they’re descending on billing with a small army of techs and intense pressure to fix it and put in place safeguards, then you’re being silly.

Issue #2: Compensating For Customer Service Failure

I have no idea if Mythic is planning to do this, but in my experience, if a service that I pay for majorly inconveniences me, then fixing the problem isn’t good enough.  Apologizing isn’t enough.  There must be compensation.  Free play time?  An offer to financially handle any problem that this error might have caused?  I don’t know, but if they’re going to try to reverse the incredible tide of bad will that this brought on, there’s got to be something.

Issue #3: Regaining Trust

A lot of times when you see major fiascoes like this, you hear language from the company about how players’ “patience” and “trust” are important to them and how much they appreciate it, etc.  It’s, of course, a code phrase for “please oh please don’t leave us we’ll grovel at your feet and lick your soles”, but the non-cynical part of me would hope that MMO studios would be genuinely interested in regaining trust that is now weakened or lost.  So how is trust regained?  Slowly, and with steady progress over time.  People hurt by this event won’t be as free to trust Mythic from now on, and no grand gesture on Mythic’s part is going to make it better.  Mythic’s just going to have to prove, month by month, that they’re worthy of being trusted once more, that they’re doing their best to make sure these mistakes never happen again, and that a player’s trust in them has weight and value.

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18 thoughts on “WAR: Game Over, Man! Game Over!

  1. I totally agree. I also find it funny that something explodes anytime you leave for a few days. I heard you a short while back on A View From the Top podcast. You mentioned this problem about the internet exploding with some mmo based drama when you left. I laughed and thought, oh it cant be that bad. And here we are. LoL

    Nice article.

  2. Something I haven’t seen much mention of, and I don’t know how many were affected in this way, but not only was I charged for 17 months, my sub was reactivated, when it hasn’t been active for most of a year. I don’t like the idea of losing my 40 engineer, but I might have to delete my account to protect my money.

  3. Thanks much for the mention on your blog site. When something of this magnitude happens to a product that has a tenuous grasp on stability at best it truly has the possiblity of being “game over”. Considering the degree of “error” (a friend of ours was hit for $314.00) there is a very real possibility of class action lawsuits in the offing.

  4. What a mess.

    Clearly some people have been put into an awful predicament as a result of this, losing access to their bank accounts completely.

    I think we will see a sharp downwards trend in numbers as people cancel and ask Mythic to remove their credit card details from their system.

    Then WAR and DAOC will stabilise at new low points.

    It may mean that WAR goes into maintenance mode, many people were already surprised that there was still content being made for it since the sub numbers even before this week were already low.

  5. A bit of an own goal, to be honest.

    I would expect Mythic to compensate with free game time which they have resolved this mess. They are normally very proactive in things like this.

    I’m sure the free credit, if and when it happens, will not get as much press as the over billing, but that’s the nature of the beast. The screw up makes for much better press, than the resolution.

    I would fully expect someone to lose their job over it. There is a reason you create test systems and it’s for testing this crap out before rolling it out onto live.

    It’s a shame that this has to happen now, with some pretty big city seige changes coming up.

  6. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the obvious: that this not only comes at a time when Mythic had people there who could give them great PR – and I’ve heard nothing about the actual visit from the blogs in question or the official site, which says something – but it comes at a time when they NEED credibility. WAR players are not exactly at their most patient point right now. The game has switched producers twice in less than half a year, has been merging down servers at a slow trickle, and has been making endless 1.3.x patches for that same half year with nothing new or exciting for the game’s players to look forward to.

    If anything is going to help keep the game going right now and keep people subscribing, it’s trust that the company has things planned and knows what they’re doing. This is the opposite of that. This creates the impression that they’re making everything up as they go, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another subscription drop after this.

    I had someone mail me a letter of appreciation for covering the issue and making it more publicly visible. I really want Mythic to regain their footing here, but this doesn’t bode well.

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  8. Seriously I work with billing systems and transactional websites and it being a simple code bug. It could be a potential maintenance bug but again its highly unlikely. For something like this to happen there needs to be human intervention and either someone got incredibly stupid or someone had criminal intentions. I’ve talked about it a bit on my blog too.. I want as many people as possible to learn about this because this is completly unnaceptable.

  9. Anytime something like this happens from any company … it’s a big deal and a bad thing. Some will be understanding, some will not.

    I wonder if this was a Mythic thing or something at EA. Who, exactly, handles their billing? Knowing a little bit about financial software it could have been human error that caused the billing process to repeat over and over again. There’s any number of things that could’ve occurred … none of which would make people feel better.

    I would expect free gametime at the least to make amends.

  10. Man this sounds bad. I don’t think they can fix it: overdraft or overlimit fees are murder, and free time isn’t going to be free: you still have to pay back any additional fees. Especially hideous if you use debit, because this could cause you to bounce checks.

  11. Free time doesn’t mean anything when you can’t make rent and are evicted. Or have had your mortgage defaulted. Or any other number of problems cause by this.

    Who in their right minds are going to trust Mythic with any personal info? You’d be lacking some higher brain functions if you do.

    It’s going to be an interesting next few months for Mythic and EA.

  12. Not to mention this also happened on the weekend that Wachovia customers can’t access their bank accounts to see the damage. I am sure there are many many many x-WAR gamers waiting for the switch to finish before they can get angry at Mythic about stealing their money.

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  15. Wow…could this be a death knell? Or is it a sign that “any news is good news”?

    Looks like WAR was up on the Xfire and Raptr charts this past weekend…

    Interesting

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