Thursday, April 30, 2009
Failing to give 100 bucks to SOE
I like Free Realms, and to not get carried away with microtransactions I decided to set myself an allowance of 100 Euro to buy Station Cash with. That Station Cash I can then use to pay my subscription, buy boosters for the trading card game, buy a pet, and for all other microtransactions. So yesterday I tried for hours to give 100 Euro to SOE and failed.
I tried from inside the game, from the Free Realms website, and from the Sony Station account management site. I tried all three of my credit cards. But all I got was unspecified error messages that my "purchase failed", without explaining me why. Was SOE's accounting system broken? Was there an error in the data I supplied? Had my bank finally run out of money? There was no way to find out.
Finally I found a support telephone number in the in-game help section and called SOE in San Diego. That was a surprisingly pleasant experience, with just a minimum of taped voice (with the voice of the squirrel you see on all those Free Realms screens), just one menu selection, and no wait time at all until I could talk to a customer support representative. The CSR was very nice, but unfortunately couldn't help me either. Even the CSR don't see why a purchase failed, probably due to some privacy laws. But the CSR told me that if I had already tried several times, my account would be now blocked for a week or two anyway, so there was no use trying further. And no, that block didn't come from SOE, but from the company handling their credit card transactions, and the CSR couldn't tell me whether I was blocked or for how long. Thank you for calling!
Meanwhile the Free Realms forums looked rather dead, with more Community Manager posts than player posts. Apparently lots of people are having problem giving their money to SOE. If you don't have a subscription, you can't post on the forums. And even those who managed to buy a subscription were having problems getting their forum permissions set up.
So all in all a rather typical MMORPG launch. Accounting systems breaking down on launch day is a classic. Somewhere, somebody for every single MMO must have made a PowerPoint slide projecting large numbers of subscribers for their newly launched game. And they all failed to draw a line from that large number of subscribers to the fundamental question of "Can our website and accounting system actually handle such large numbers?". And the answer is always "no".
Drumroll for the one big advantage of Free Realms in a typical situation like this: In most other games, if the accounting system breaks down on launch day, you cannot play. In Free Realms you CAN play, you are just limited to the jobs and content available to non-subscribers. And the game itself ran well enough. I had a few disconnects, but nothing really annoying. There even was a "miracle patch", which had fixed the jobs that were broken in the beta! I got further in the mining job in one evening than in the whole beta, where I had been stuck on a bugged quest.
I still plan to give 100 bucks to SOE, but I guess that will have to wait at least one week, assuming they flagged my credit cards as blocked, and they'll need some time to sort their accounting system out. Well, at least I can play.
[EDIT: Problem was resolved 24 hours later.]