Customer Relationships and Support for Online Games and MMOs

I read a very interesting post (and found a great new blog, check it out if you’re interested in MMOs, gaming and Web 2.0): Customer Relationships and Support for Online Games and MMOs, which introduces the concept of Customer Relationship Management to gaming, and compares thinking of your game as a service, or a product. These two viewpoints are very, very different. If you see your game as a product, you are interested in selling boxes, and your relationship with the customer often ends there (although you hope they will be pleased enough to continue to purchase new titles from you on an ongoing basis). If you see your game as a service, you see it as more of an ongoing relationship, and the actual purchase of the box is related to something almost incidental to the ongoing relationship.

The two perfect examples of this are Warcraft and Warhammer Online (EU version only, since it’s a very different beastie from the US experience). Since I recently re-subbed to Warhammer, this has become very apparent to me.

Warcraft is the golden cash cow, everyone knows this and lives in hopes of somehow creating their own version. The Warcraft experience is very much a service-oriented one, in that buying the game itself is somewhat incidental to your value as a customer. Over the three years or so that I’ve been playing, I’ve spent so much more than the box price on the game:

  • I buy collectors editions rather than regular editions, since it’s part of the “experience” for me
  • Until just recently, I kept two accounts. In this house we had four accounts for two adults.
  • I couldn’t even begin to calculate how much I’ve spent on transferring characters back and forth from different servers, to different accounts, doing name changes, and so on. If I wasn’t currently unemployed, I would have already taken advantage of the paid character customisation (I admit that part of the reason I don’t play my warlock, Ravven, is that I hate her stupid Malibu Barbie googly-eyed face).

The customer experience in Warcraft has been a very good one, overall. The GMs that I’ve had contact with in-game are unfailingly polite, and they do try to be helpful. The official forums are quite good, and the community managers do try to keep order amongst the asshats. Everything has that famous Blizzard “polish”, and I’ve never been nervous about my credit card or account information on the site.

Warhammer, on the other hand, suffers in Europe from one of the worst management companies that I have ever seen, GOA. I wrote about it here and here and here. I absolutely hated re-subbing to Warhammer using my credit card, since I had to do it on one of the buggiest, Flash-based, presumably insecured sites that I have ever seen. I went ahead and did it anyway, and once I managed to get through the painfully slow site to the account management pages, and put my details in…it sent me to something purporting to be from my bank, but with different branding, domain, etc., where I was directed to re-input my credit card information to confirm my identity for my bank. What the hell?  It clearly looked like a poor phishing attempt, but that didn’t make any sense. I contacted customer support (which you can’t do via phone, you have to do it via a buggy Flash form). Two days later, I got this response:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting us in relation to your query.
Upon review of your account, we can confirm that neither payment attempt was completed and neither will be taken from your card.
At present, the help form and in game support are our methods of contact as phone support is not a service available.
If this does become so, it will be announced in the “Latest News” section of our website.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or queries.


Warhammer Online European Billing Support

Well, gosh, that was helpful. You didn’t answer either of my questions, although I am happy to know that you didn’t charge my card, although the other site that I got shunted to may have. I’ll watch the Latest News section of the site for further developments.

To me, Warhammer is clearly all about shifting boxes, not building a customer relationship. There are no official forums, and people are forced to use fan sites to try to fix technical issues and so on. Ridiculous. Given how unfriendly and unhelpful their company customer support is, I would never attempt to contact a GM ingame…I don’t even know if they do have GMs ingame, they may not.

I have fun in Warhammer, I really want to like it. It amazes me that a company like GOA is so clueless as to push me away and slam a virtual door in my face. Customers are valuable. I am valuable, and I’d like to be treated with courtesy and care. You don’t have to kiss my butt, but I would at least like to be listened to. Give me a place to talk to you.

And Warcraft? Until I stop gaming entirely, I’ll probably always be a customer. Blizzard has earned it. And that is the difference between selling boxes and buying customers. They’ve earned my trust, and we’ve built a relationship.

4 thoughts on “Customer Relationships and Support for Online Games and MMOs”

  1. Do you think that Blizzard having 5 years+ to get things “right” with WoW compared to WAR’s few months is a valid consideration? I’m not sure how much (if any) GOA had to do with DAOC?

    Personally I’ve never had to use support or a GM for either product, although I do agree that the online payment implementation for WAR is a farce.

  2. Possibly – I didn’t play WoW the first year, so I don’t know if they improved. I think both companies have a substantial track record on other games, so they both have experience. But the EU Warhammer site is a joke – it’s amateur-level “look, I can use Flash!” stuff. The US site is much more of a modern, standards-compliant site. As to their customer service, I can’t say, never having played on the US servers. I know that Mark Jacobs was doing a lot of apologising for GOA at launch, though, so they had to be somewhat of an embarrassment for them.

  3. Well, if someone tries to break into the market with product/service inferior due to lack of previous market presence it usually compensates that with drastically lower price to be able to compete with estabilished businesses. It’s not kindergarten, they can’t expect to be treated differently just because they are small and new.

    And at least touching WoW standard is doable – for example I was pretty pleased with service offered in LOTRO. They were in same situation, yet they managed it better than publishers of AoC or Warhammer.

  4. I liked my LoTRO experience – just basing it on signup and account creation, since it was smooth and I didn’t have any problems, and so didn’t need contact with customer service. That’s another game that I’ll go back to someday, since I have pleasant memories of it…ah, if only I could afford all the game subscriptions I wanted, and have the time to play them all. :D

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