Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 07, 2013
 
SimCity refund debacle

Further bad press for EA: After the official EA press release stated that "if you regrettably feel that we let you down, you can of course request a refund for your order", a customer did exactly that. To which an EA customer service representative basically answered that while you can *request* a refund, EA wasn't obliged to actually give you one. And if you just disputed the credit card charge to get your money back, your EA account would be banned, losing you access to all other EA games.

As I said before, I don't mind the general idea of buying games as a service instead of as a physical product. I do however think that if you sell a service, you should be good at it. And EA obviously isn't. In its current state SimCity is unplayable, and allowing unhappy customers to give the game back and get a refund is something I'd consider an absolute minimum of customer service.

Games as a service when the game is good but the service is bad not only leaves game reviewers stumped. It also breaks the chain of "game is good" -> "game is successful" -> "more games like this are being made". It will be extremely hard to measure how much this is hurting EA, but for example SimCity having a 1-star rating on Amazon.com due to the server issues can't be good for sales. Even if EA fixes the servers before the weekend, unless Amazon.com purges those 600+ negative reviews, the game will always look bad on that site. And that is independent from whether SimCity is actually a good game or not.

Comments:
Even more than the server/network problems, the real frustrating part of this is how horrible they are at communicating what's going on.

In a competent system, you'd expect to try to launch the game and get a message that there are server issues, so the game is down, with an expected resolution date/time.

With simcity, some times the launcher sits at 'connecting...' forever, sometimes it sits at 'authenticating...' forever. sometimes you can open the server list, sometimes you can't. Sometimes clicking a different server will give you a 'network error' message, sometimes it will give you a 'not available' message, sometimes it will seem to work. Sometimes it will say 'now ready to play' and then you launch the game and it says 'cannot connect' so you still can't play. Sometimes you can launch the game, get to the city selection, but can't actually start any cities. Sometimes you can claim cities, but you can't actually open the city up to begin building. Sometimes when building you get a message that you lost connection to the server, but it lets you keep playing, no idea whether your city is still going to be saved. Sometimes you'll be playing and the game will crash to desktop from network problems.

There are gameplay bugs too, of course, but it's the uncertainty about if it's working/should it be working/etc that really aggravates me.

And it totally doesn't help when their tech people post that something is fixed and working now, when it clearly isn't working yet.
 
And if you just disputed the credit card charge to get your money back, your EA account would be banned, losing you access to all other EA games.

Frankly, this borders on the insane. It basically translates to "we can cheat you and if you complain then we cheat you *even more*". If copying a game is "stealing" then cutting you off from all the games you paid for is what? "Mass stealing"? "AoE stealing"? :)

So it would seem that the "right" way to deal with EA is pre-paid credit cards and one account/game with fake credentials. Good to know, I was planning to spend some money in SWTOR, I guess I'll pass.

 
The bad reviews can't help EA. But I feel they hurt a lot less after D3. I.e., I just don't pay much attention to aggregated scores any more, especially if they are "hot button" issues involved. The responses are not samples, but self-selected people who are connected enough to know there is a place to go vent.

Yes, game companies should do a better job with handling the initial rushes and cloud computing should make that a lot easier. Alas, the rational and obvious choice to economists, charge differently per access, would set the "egalitarian" gamers off. E.g. 48 hours early is an additional $40, 24 hours is +10, 4 hours +1, 1 hour +0.25.



Even with all this furor, I am sure that EA is much better off to ship with DRM than to rely on the honesty of players.

 
Even better... if you go back to the original post where the Origin representative said you could get a refund because of all the problems, that post has been EDITED to replace his promise with a link to EA's policy on refunds.. which basically is "We don't give refunds unless required by law". So they ahve backed out of their pledge to give refunds completely at this point.
 
Best SimCity review ever!
 
That review was ... a gem. :D
 
The saga goes on.

Chinese spammers hired to post good reviews all around the web:

http://www.p4rgaming.com/?p=1473


 
Even if EA fixes the servers before the weekend, unless Amazon.com purges those 600+ negative reviews, the game will always look bad on that site. And that is independent from whether SimCity is actually a good game or not.

Doesn't matter if the game is good or not. If you, as a game studio, are going to insist that your game is a service and that the service infrastructure is inseparable from the game itself then people have every right to judge the game on the merits of both to whatever degree they wish.

If I had Company X host my website and their servers were super fast but their availability was in the toilet, would it make sense to judge both aspects separately?
 
I don't have the game so the connection issues obviously don't affect me in any way.

But hearing things like this makes me never, ever want to buy an EA game again. Claiming you can get a refund and then refusing to give them is horrendous. Even worse is the idea that they will ban your account and you lose ALL your game if you dispute charges. What if someone legitimately needs to dispute their charges for simcity for some reason? Are they going to lose their account?

Honestly, I had Diablo 3 at release and lost out some play time to their server issues but never felt it was that big a deal. It affected my playing for all of one night and Blizzard's response was fine to me. This is truly out there.
 
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