Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 29, 2010
Aion refund petition

Inktomi is upset about a recent wave of Aion accounts being hacked, which apparently orginated from NCSoft's account website not being very safe. A bug on that website could result in you ending up on the account management site of another player, where you could easily change his password and then proceed to log into the game and steal all his stuff. NCSoft first denied the incident, then updated the website security, but now is slow in restoring their customers lost virtual goods. So Inktomi is starting a petition to get a "time refund".

While I do think that NCSoft is at fault here, and I'm willing to help out with that by linking to it, of course I have to remark that A) getting 3 months of free subscription from NCSoft for being hacked will never happen. And B) the reasoning behind this demand comes from a common misconception, a logical error which leads to much of what is wrong with MMORPGs today. So let me state this crystal clear:

Playing a MMORPG is not work. You do no deserve anything, neither in the form of virtual goods, nor in the form of special consideration or status, for having put in lots of hours into a MMORPG.

A MMORPG is a game. The basic financial operation going on here is YOU paying the GAME COMPANY money to be ALLOWED to play the game. You pay money for entertainment hours. You do not pay money for the virtual rewards that result from those hours of entertainment. If you lose those rewards through an error of the game company, of course the game company should do their utmost to replace those virtual goods, which with them being virtual can be done by a simple copy & paste operation. You do NOT deserve your subscription refunded, because you did NOT lose the hours of entertainment you paid for. If you consider the hours spent in a MMORPG to be not entertainment, but work, you are effectively working for a negative salary. Duh, dude!

The negative consequence of this common misconception is that some people think that for having spent a lot of hours in a MMORPG, they are now somehow superior human beings compared to the "noobs" who spent a lot less time in the game. Obviously that is not the case. At best by playing a lot a player can gain knowledge and skill, but this knowledge and skill is extremely limited, and apart from few exceptions not applicable in real life. Video game skills figure pretty low on the long list of things that really count in life. And in a meritocratic society, where people supposedly get ahead by putting in a lot of REAL work, spending a lot of time in a video game is regarded by many as suspicious. Of course the "basement gamer" is as much of a myth as the "elite gamer". But you do need to consider whether by playing a lot you aren't neglecting something in real life which might be less immediately rewarding than purple pixels, but nevertheless ultimately more important. If that "leet" gamer status did actually come from you having neglected your studies, your work, or your family, then you are nothing but a loser. Being hacked, and having been robbed of all those purple pixels, or the game you are playing shutting down and you losing everything, should serve as a reminder that all those virtual rewards and leet skills are just an illusion.
Playing an MMO is not a work to a PLAYER.

However playing an MMO is a work for the social, who just do these chores to get "status" in the game, to be respected and accepted by peers. If the same game would be single player, replacing all players with properly scripted NPCs, he would never-ever play it.
I wanted a refund for buying the game!
I'd be more sympathetic to the petition if it was demanding compensation for the time that the character/account was unavailable. If it takes NCSoft X days to restore the account to the state it was before the breach, then the customer should not be required to pay for those X days.
1) I buy a version of monopoly.

2) I start playing it with some friends.

3) Five hours after we started the seller comes and removes all my hotels and my money stock.

4) Tobold argues that because I payed for monopoly I have no (moral or legal) right to complain.

Now, that's nonsense :)
In actual fact many studies have been done that show games have educational value and can promote skills useful to real life. I would say MMOs are at the top of the list of skill promoting games as they involve a lot of communication, social, logistical and planning skills.

however clearly the value of such skills is minimised if one neglects real life in which to transfer those skills to.
*applaud* This should be required reading for any MMO player. So many folks take the games way too seriously, and put their value as a person into how "leet" their character is.

I agree that companies should restore the accounts as best they can, since the special pixels/stats are just data. It is not like a physical item such as guns, computers, jewelry has to be physically produced. I've run a mud for over 11 years and occasionally we have some fluke and a person loses an item or their gear. Its not that difficult for me to go give it back to them, since it is just a pile of data. I'm not sure what NCSoft's issue is, but their reputation and customer service has sure gone down over the years - closing Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, Dungeon Runners, now their own fault people are getting hacked. Seems they really go out of the way to try to tick off their own customer base.
To be more specific:

Work can be fun.
Actually, most things that are fun, are so, because you had to work for them.

Do you really think that MMOs should be fun in every second? In my opinion MMOs already offer too much instant gratification. Whatever you do, you get a reward instantly.

The fact the things are more fun the more you had to work for them is easiyl explained from evolutionary theory and actually.. quite obvious.

A good game designer knows that his players like to work towards a goal.

If work were never fun I'd killed myself already living in a society that makes me work the better part of my life!!
But the seller isn't taking your game of monopoly away! He only messes up your board so you would need to start over. You still have all the game pieces and the board you played for, just that the play money is back in the box and not in front of you.

Thus you *can* demand that whoever messed up your game puts it back to how it was. But you CAN'T demand a refund, because you still have the game you bought.

Thus you *can* demand that whoever messed up your game puts it back to how it was. But you CAN'T demand a refund, because you still have the game you bought.

I agree. As long as it doesn't happen too often...
(It was the "seller" who messed up the board).
"You do NOT deserve your subscription refunded, because you did NOT lose the hours of entertainment you paid for."

A monthly sub implies you pay for TIME. What exactly are you paying for if not TIME?

I see an MMO-sub the same as my monthly cellphone contract (which is a fixed amount and include a certain amount of airtime) .

If they screw around with the network while i'm trying to make phone calls and i LOSE my airtime or are unable to use it, sure as hell i will demand a refund OR credit in some form, wouldn't anyone?
The monopoly analogy does nto work since buying the game gives you a different set of rights that paying for a MMORPG does.

If you wanted to 'correct' the analogy you would have to stipulate that the store owns the monopoly game and you are just renting the game to play in the store for a certain time period. The store owner coming in and messing up the game intentionally or accidently might constitute a contract breech if one considers his actions to result in less play time provided then the rental agreement provided for.

In MMORPG terms the players would certainly be eligible for refund of the time they are unable ot play due to the company's negligence. Beyond that you are into refunding time that would be needed to get the gamestate back to state it was in when the incident occured. That one however, is very debatable.
You're paying for a service.

If through NCSofts stupidity your account gets hacked for two weeks then you're right to demand:
1) A full restore of your character
2) A refund for the two weeks of time you lost (if you lost two weeks that would be a €7.5 reduction)

Imagine if your internet fails for a day. You'd be right to expect a small refund at the end of the month. Blizzard usually does this already. If the servers go down for eight hours they'll give you a reduction at the end of the month.

Worse, imagine if a company lost your Visa details and someone bought something with it. You'd be just as right to demand your money back.

The whole point is that you're dealing with customer data. At work we have databases containing information for our customers. If we fuck up those database you can be sure those customers will fine us and refuse to pay.
Jesus, another stupid internet petition.

Ok yeah...good look with that
Except, of course, you don't pay a subscription for Monopoly but you do for Aion (and many other MMO's). In this way, you're always paying in advance for your playtime for that month. Extending the metaphor, you'd be paying for every Monopoly game you play with that set.

That said, claims for 3 months free playtime are pretty overblown, but compensation of some description is certainly warranted given that this account security flaw was based in the Admin's own servers as opposed to being user error. While an MMO is indeed a game it is also a service you've paid for... similar issues with your ISP account would rightly be seen as grounds for compensation for loss or damage to service, possibly in terms of account credit for days/weeks of internet outage and some other form of apology/recompense.

At least credit card and personal ID's weren't viewable, otherwise NCSoft would be looking at a lawsuit rather than a petition.
Of course you can demand a refund. You pay $15/month for on-demand entertainment. Entertainment which depends on accruing purple pixels to keep you entertained.

Their business model depends on keeping their customers happy. If people aren't happy, you risk losing them (and any of their friends) as customers.

Its like getting bad service at a restaurant. Not only do they often comp your meal, they often offer free dessert or something. To show you your happiness is important to them when they screw up.

Like it or not, making socials feel good is the cornerstone of ANY service related business.
"A MMORPG is a game. The basic financial operation going on here is YOU paying the GAME COMPANY money to be ALLOWED to play the game. You pay money for entertainment hours. You do not pay money for the virtual rewards that result from those hours of entertainment."

A point, if I may: you pay for entertainment hours of quality determined by existing rules. To bring it to WoW terms, there is a difference in the quality of gameplay between playing a lvl80 with gear that allows to raid, and playing the same lvl 80 with no gear so that you have to idle in IF. If the quality of my gameplay dramatically drops and it's entirely Blizzard's fault, I would definitely expect some sort of compensation beyond "here's your gear back, 3 weeks later". Even though I was technically able to play the game the entire time, it is simply not the same thing.
I'd be more inclined to agree if the entire concept of MMO's isn't largely based on spending lots of times on things that are not fun, so you can do fun things.

MMO's kinda are premised on putting carrots in front of various treadmills. Leveling treadmill, gear treadmill, raid treadmill. MMOs are probably the only game where people gain significant permanent advantage over other players through the investment of time. Even in Call of Duty, even the noobiest noob can kill ANYONE, no matter their rank. Try that in an MMO. The statistical advantage gained by having a high level character is minimal. In MMO's, a well geared character often would have to be afk to lose to a same-level enemy with less stuff. It's a weird system when you think about it.

So it is work. It's designed to be work because to a certain class of players, that's what gets them coming back for more. When a game company screws the pooch with poor security and loses that item you killed 10000 foozles to get, and another 2000 foozles to enchant... hell yes they need to do something.
While I'm not the type to ask for any refund or complain much, I think you're miss a critical factor here (one I see a lot in the press too):

- Virtual pixels are as valuable as cars or chairs, if you believe they are valuable to you.

The value of something, by itself, means nothing at all.
To one person, a car might be very valuable but to me, it' not worth anything.
My 500Gb backup drive however, which costs only 50€, is worth killing for because of all the history it contains.

To someone, paying 11€ a month to play a MMO couple hours a week is just fine. They value their characters as they value a puzzle or a chess board they own, or a good book,
To others, by paying 11€ a month, they invest a LOT of hours and feel that their deserve what they are paying for: 24/7 services, security, customer support and the whole sheebang.

Saying pixels are not real is I think completely silly because it says nothing at all, answers even less and at the end of the day, is false since they are actually data, which exists physically somewhere.

To conlude, work provides for one thing (money), games provide for something else, books yet another, social interactions yet another, etc, etc. They are all as real as the tree outside my window.
TLDR: they ought to give you free time equal to the length of time it takes to restore you items/status. More time then that is possible, but problematic.

If your account is hacked there is lost time from contacting the game company (that time can't be used for anything else), and time waiting for them to fix things (that time isn't lost, it can be used on Real Life, another game, or playing in an ungeared state, or a new alt).

If the game company is at fault, I wouldn't find it unreasonable that they owe you for the real world time it takes you to contact them and convince them you have been hacked and such. I also wouldn't really bother to try to press this kind of claim, so long as they are trying to make things right, and are putting extra staff on the help lines, or at the very least not adding extra layers of "on hold" and "call back during office hours" in the hopes of making things go away.

I also wouldn't find it unreasonable for a game company that takes 2 days to do the restore to offer 2 days of free play to make up for that. After all you payed to play their game for that time, and while you _can_ play it, you can't play it in anything like the usual way. I would actually consider this the minimum "sorry we messed this up, we will make it right!". -- think of it like the free time Blizzard hands out when they have server problems.

If it were my company I would give some additional time to try to make people feel better about it, but there you walk a fine line. Offer too little and it seems stingy and you would be better off offering nothing. Offer too much and not only does it cost you real money, but it also tempts people to "hack their own account" to get the free time.

I would think "free months" of game time sounds pretty unreasonable, unless it really takes NCSoft that long to do a restore.
If the provider of a service (entertainment) forcibly or negligently interferes with it in a way that diminishes the quality of the service (less fun), then the demand for a refund, leaving the magnitude of said refund aside, is not unfounded. If you go to a cinema, sit down and watch a film, and then a drain system suddenly opens above you and you find yourself all covered in excrements, you will, most probably, even leaving the ruined items of clothing aside, expect a monetary compensation, although the theatre is still there, the movie is still on and you can even grab a seat two rows further in the front, where it stinks less.

For a business model that, let's be honest, relies a lot on the establishing of an emotional fondness of the paying customer for his virtual representations, belongings and expressions of progress, negligently putting these at a risk is not the smartest strategy. Creating a climate in which the player, i.e. customer, is faced with the real and inevitable (you can't be "more careful" if people just get randomly logged into your account) danger of losing their achievements means creating a climate in which players are less eager to strive for those achievements, are less eager to play and thus less eager to pay.

While your putting virtual entertainment into perspective and especially the calling out of the resulting sense of entitlement is legitimate, you commit the usual fallacy of equalling "virtual" with "irrelevant" or "meaningless". Although the means to my entertainment are virtual, the fun I derive from them is very real. If I were intending to entertain myself with gaming after an arduous day of work and would then find that plan made impossible for no good reason at all, my evening - my real evening - would be ruined. I would miss out on the expected gain of entertainment and instead find myself bored (or even stressed, depending). This is very much a real loss.

Failure to realise the connection between virtual entertainment and real fun results in a whole domain of other (than those you pointed out) things that are wrong with MMORPGs today, such as breaking agreements or irresponsible behaviour being justified with "lol, it's just a game". Yes, it is just a game, and the real actual person A wanted to play that game, rather than sit there and wait, because person B spontaneously and contrary to previous agreement decided they want to get drunk at a pub instead.

PS: My comment goes a bit from here to there, because the original post does. It is a good post, with important points in it, but it's a little bit difficult to comment on, because it touches on 2-3 topics at the same time.
Well if the game is subscription based (pay for 1 month or 31 days) and you can't access the game for hours or days due to the company's own mistakes and problems, then yes we have every right to demand the period of time credited to the accounts out of normal or good service.

As far as requesting a "time refund" instead of restoring eq and inventory, that probably isn't going to do any good anyways. If you're going to quit you should just quit. Most experienced gamers know having a good guild and friends can help alleviate the pain by going on gear runs, until their accounts get restored. If you have no friends and solo mobs then tough luck... you probably are the ones who want a "time refund" to play with yourself. This is probably what I would say if I played mostly WoW.

Anyways from what I'm hearing Aion can be a grindfest so eq=shitload of time.
Playing MMOs *shouldn't* be work.

That they *are* points to a fundemental failure in the genre.

However, look at it this way... do you golf? If you won a trophy and it was stolen from the clubhouse because of management negligence,wouldn't YOU be pissed?
However, look at it this way... do you golf? If you won a trophy and it was stolen from the clubhouse because of management negligence,wouldn't YOU be pissed?

But that is exactly the point: I would be pissed, I would want a replacement trophy made. But I certainly wouldn't say "It took me three years to earn this trophy, now wave my next three years of green fees to make up for that!"
Actually I think you missed the point.

I think if NCSoft said they could replace everything people lost, they'd be happy with that.

NC *hasn't* made that offer because its an administrative nightmare and prone to abuse.

The players understand that and thus are generously proposing another solution.
No, it's not work...

It however cost real money to play- To buy the game and the pay for monthly subscription. So of course people get upset.

I think they should petition something entirely different- stay away from PlayNC!
As to the unreality of purple pixel, sure they are unreal.

Just as unreal as paper money (we went off the silver standard when i was a kid) or you bank balance in your bank's computer.

In the end, anything is only as valuable as what someone else is willing to give you for it. No more. No less.
There is a differnce between items earned and time lost.

We sign a contract with the gaming company. We, the consumer, pay a monthly fee for access to their game. We are entitled to log on and play anytime we want and have the right to expect limited down time or service interuptions. If the company exceeds what someone would consider acceptable interuptions then yes a refund for lost time is in order.

If COMCAST shuts my cable off for a week I should be credited a week. When it comes back on everything should work as it did before. If something is a amiss I should have it fixed for free. That is the contract agreement we had in place.
Legally, NCSoft doesn't have to give any kind of refund, that's pretty obvious. The question is what do they need to do in order to salvage customer satisfaction and confidence. Giving customers a refund, as a way to say "sorry we messed up, we would still like you to remain a customer", sounds like a good idea to me.
"But that is exactly the point: I would be pissed, I would want a replacement trophy made. But I certainly wouldn't say "It took me three years to earn this trophy, now wave my next three years of green fees to make up for that!""

If the reward was a very well made titanium golf club that you need to use to win, and it gets stolen, and I can't play golf at the same quality levels for 3 weeks until my club gets returned to me, then I really would expect 3 weeks of comped green fees. Cause I did pay to play golf with the club that I legitimately won, and I feel I deserve to get that value for my money.
It should also be pointed out here that, if you are unsatisfied with the customer service of NCSoft, or any other company in any other market, you should no longer pay that company for its services/products.

This is a core principle of free markets, of businesses, and of consumers. "Players" forget they are "consumers" first. You quite literally vote with your wallet every time you pull money out of it.

It can be a tough pill to swallow to know all your time invested into a character ultimately isn't yours, but that is the way every Terms of Service is worded.

AION players have a bit more leeway because it wasn't necessarily a breach of security, but a lackthereof on behalf of NCSoft. It isn't as if a bank's vaults locks were broken, but rather the door was left wide open, with a sign that said "please don't take!"
I'm gonna be boring here, it's what used to do for kicks and a living.

Legally contracts mean nothing at all... a business operation has to fulfil the law of the land despite what they stipulate in their contracts (even if you agree to it).

A contract may not undermine rights given to you by the natural law of your country. This includes trading laws.

The UK has an act: Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.

Ultimately this ensures the 'No Refunds Given' terms in your contract are null and void. If you have a sensible claim for a refund, you can pursue one. For example a game company taking two days subs from you whilst waiting to get your account back is reasonable in my books.

We also have the: Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. Where any service provided has to be done with reasonable care and skill. If this problem is ongoing with the game company, I would argue they are not providing a service with reasonable care and skill and I would personally like to see them forced to make compensations in order to buck their ideas up.

I think people here are trying too hard to dig out the perfect analogy.

IMHO the game company, being at fault, should make some kind of repayment in kind and at minimum replace all missing items. Really it isn't great advertising for them is it? Another MMO with shoddy security... will add them to my mental list of companies to avoid.
You pay money for entertainment hours.

Yes, and if the hours you payed for are denied to you, then your not getting what you paid for.

These people who are talking about the work they put in, yes, they've got it ass backwards.

But if your supposed to be at X point in the entertainment you've payed for but your not, then your not getting what you payed for.

Yes, it's silly that people think playing a mmorpg is work. But it'd also be silly to ignore the pay for goods/recieve goods failure that's happened.
This issue here is not whether it is a game. The issue is a breech of a contractual agreement by the vendor of a particular service. The vendor did not protect the information of the buyer.

Let's take a real life example -- sports. A football team plays hard all season to develop leet skills and amass "loot" in the form of goals and points. They achieve a playoff spot. Alas! A group of thugs destroys the league's computers, erasing the regular season stats. All data or "loot" is lost. Does the team have to play the season over again to reaquire their status?

Should they be compensated? The answer depends on the nature of the legal agreement between league and team. In your Aion example, the same principle applies.
Note that I am not against NCSoft refunding time in which hacked characters were unable to play. But come on, demanding 3 free months for the "lost work" of building up your character is just plain silly.

I drive a Toyota. Toyota just recalled millions of cars due to a defective accelerator pedal. Should Toyota repair all those pedals at their cost? Absolutely! Should Toyota provide everyone affected with a free new car? Absolutely not! Too generous compensation can ruin a company.
If they are taking the recalled vehicles away permanently, yes, they should provide a free replacement car.

What on earth are you on about companies being ruined? Are companies there for the people, or are people there for the companies sake?

You sound like your thinking in the latter mode
Are companies there for the people, or are people there for the companies sake?

Companies are there for the companies sake. The very idea that companies could be there "for the people" reveals your unjustified sense of entitlement. Companies are there to make a profit. By making a profit they are able to pay their employees and shareholders, which thus indirectly benefits a specific subset of "the people". The companies relationship to the rest of "the people" is either non-existant, or ruled by contracts.

Everything else is communist hogwash.
Consumers need protection or the line you just took T would allow us all to be fleeced.

I think you'll find that a courtesy car will probably be provided if you could demonstrate that you would be at a loss of some sort without the vehicle whilst it is being serviced.

Whilst you are correct that businesses are in it to make a profit... we vote our governments in to firstly protect the interests of the voters (consumers) and secondly the interests of business. It's a shame many governments get this the wrong way round. But that's another argument.
I second GG's post, and am thankful it is there

Companies are there for the companies sake. The very idea that companies could be there "for the people" reveals your unjustified sense of entitlement.
I just see men & women. I have not witnessed any god stepping down from some heaven and saying companies are there for the companies sake.

I think neither of our positions has proof it is justified by some godly sponsor - but atleast I would admit that.
Why would you have to drag religion into this? What rights you have towards a company is ruled by completely secular laws. Remember all those pages of text that popped up at the start of the game and which you clicked to accept without reading? That was the rules, no divine intervention necessary.

According to those rules, and according to current US and European laws, you do not have any property rights on virtual items. Thus if you lose those items, you do not have the right to be refunded. And you certainly won't get 3 months of free subscription as compensation.
what do you mean purple pixels? there are no "epix" in Aion...they are gold pixels
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