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.