Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
Swedes on strike

You might have noticed that this blog is principally talking about the big MMORPGs, the triple-A games, the ones you are likely to find in a box at your local games store. But there is a huge number of smaller MMOs, many of them web-based, playable via a browser. They usually have some play-for-free basic model with microtransactions as business model, and the ability to play them for free on any old computer gets them millions of players. One company running a number of those browser games is Gameforge, owner of the games OGame, Bitefight, Darkpirates, Gladiatus, and Battleknight. These games exist in many more languages than the major games, with lots of local teams all over Europe. And the news is that the Swedish Gameforge team is on strike, to which Gameforge responded by firing most of them.

Whether online games are addictive is another discussion, but it is obvious that many people have a strong emotional reaction towards their favorite game. Game companies profit from that by hiring people that are extremely motivated as game masters, and then paying them relatively little money. This is simply a matter of supply and demand, many people would rather do online support for a game than for lets say an insurance. With many people wanting the job, the game company doesn't have to attach a high salary to it to make it attractive. Many people in the game industry, especially customer service representatives, are underpaid and/or overworked.

Browser games are profitable only because the cost to run them is low. People are already complaining about the bad customer service they get from games they pay $15 a month for, imagine how much less a game company with play-for-free browser games is investing in customer support. Now imagine a local team far away from the game companies headquarter, and it is easy to see where the Swedes complaints about being left in the cold by Gameforge are coming from. Players bombard the game masters with questions, and if the GMs themselves can't get answers from the game company it must be extremely frustrating. And even from a player's point of view I can assure you that love towards a specific game doesn't last forever. So if one day you find yourself as underpaid GM in a game you no longer love and the frustrations mount because the game company is more interested in cost cutting than in making your job easier, no wonder you go on strike or quit.

Will that change anything? I doubt it. Gameforge will fire all the malcontents, hire new GMs on the cheap, make some symbolic but cheap gestures towards the players, and in three months the whole thing is forgotten. Many game companies try to project an image of being more interested in fun game design than in profit. Don't believe a word of it, from no-one. In the end all companies are about profit, whether they are selling online games, insurance, or any other service. Don't work for them unless the money is right and the job is fun.
Comments:
Ahh the moral hazards of blogging.

I touted Gladiatus (a gameforge game) on my own blog and now I feel I need to read a bit more about this to make sure I am not supporting "evil". Its not like the tiny number of people who found the game through me are going to make or break the company but I feel an additional obligation when my views are out there for all to see.
 
Well... I do a little spare time work for ogame, the major GameForge game. I don't get paid, but I get what other players pay for as a compensation. The community in which I work is ogame.dk, Denmark. So far I have never had any bad experiences with the people behind ogame.dk-team

Sometimes they have made some updates with a LOT of bugs, but they are human like you and me.

Sometimes of course we have had problems reaching the community management in Germany, but we have always found a way to deal with it.

The only complaints I might have is regarding other non-paid team members.

This summer I met Alexander Rösner, better known as Legor, the guy who invented ogame. I had a brief talk with him, where I thanked him for inventing a game, which brings people together. His responce was that it wouldn't be possible without the non-paid teamlers.

So I don't feel underappreciated for the work I do, and when I do, it's not because of the guys in Germany, but because of other teamlers...
 
The complaint process for Gameforge games is as much use as a chocolate teapot. You write & complaint about a dodgy Game Admin' who's looking after his mate & you find you get ignored by the Community Manager. You write to complaint about the Community Managers lack of response & get ignored by everyone else in Gameforge including the CEO.

The words "Customer Service" mean bugger all to Gameforge.
 
Unfortunately I had my share of bad taste coming from Gameforge support. I wonder which company in the legal world can take your money, ban your account and then pass you between the game support team and the game payment team with (of course) no intention to refund the money for the service they are no longer providing?
 
It's not like this. Gameforge players pay much much more.. than 15$ monthly. Basic advantage in game like bitefight cost atleast 100$ monthly, similar as in ogame, etc. And no, gameforge teamlers aren't paid. Game operators, admins, moderators, etc... participate on voluntary basis. Only CoMas (community managers - gameforge employees) are paid.
Things regarding gameforge unethical moves goes much further than mass exploiting volunteers. Almost every "big update" of game require to buy completely new gear in order to play game normally and devaluate value of old gear paid by real money, etc... They basicly stealing from kids. You can spend today 200$ for new equipment. Week later will come new update which will make this equipment basicly useless.. and forced you to pay another 200$ for another equipment, and so on... And now imagine all this anger towards volunteers/teamlers whil real criminals hide themself in their headquarter in Karlsruhe, Germany.
 
Oh, and btw. there is NO customer service for gameforge players at all because disregarding the facts that those players spends hundreds and hundreds dollars to buy items, gear, etc.. they aren't considered as customers but players which play FREE game.
Ordinary co-player which aplied for voluntary position of game operator/game admin have all power to do whatever he want. Gameforge representatives as such don't deal with players complains.
 
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