Monday, April 12, 2010

The Honest Mistake Versus the Dishonesty Commission

Last week, Mythic's payment provider overbilled Warhammer customers. This week, rolled out an "offer wall" as a way to obtain Turbine Points for the DDO store. I'm a bit surprised by the difference in reaction between the two.

Billing players multiple times - hitting some players who pay for their subscription with a debit card with fees from their banks in the process - was the very last thing that Mythic wanted to do. I'm not saying that this absolves them of responsibility, but I genuinely believe that this was not intentional. At best, they will have to refund the over-billed charges and emerge with a PR black eye the game can ill afford. At worst, they could be out much-needed revenue in the form of canceled subscriptions and any bank fees they opt to reimburse players for (assuming that EA's lawyers don't make the payment provider cover them). Mythic has absolutely zero incentive to permit, much less encourage, this sort of debacle.

By contrast, the currency offer wall is exactly the system that has given Farmville such a bad name. At best, these offers tend to be ill-advised ("sign up for more credit cards!"), the majority will literally install some sort of spyware to track consumers' online activity, and the worst will commit fraud and identity theft. It is nigh inevitable that at least one bad apple will fall through the cracks - and neither Turbine nor their payment provider have any incentive short of consumer outrage to crack down on these lucrative scams, because each of them gets a cut.

Perhaps most telling is that the Turbine reps aren't even remarking about players posting proudly that they used some throw-away email address and intend to immediately cancel the services they signed up for in return for pennies worth of Turbine points. A legitimate business would have to march in and lay down the law with the clause about how defrauding the system is a bannable offense, etc. The scammers' real goal is the spyware installation, not the throwaway email addresses from people who think they're smart enough to scam a scammer.

Personally, I'd much rather forgive the honest mistake than the system that is built around exploiting the customers who fail to read - or understand - the consequences. Unfortunately, like most of these ever more aggressive monetization strategies, the only vote players who don't like it have is to give up the game entirely. Most players in that boat weren't paying for the game anyway, so their loss is more than offset by all the juicy offer revenue.


Stabs said...

Hmm, I wonder if there's any vetting of these sites.

Farmville knowingly allowed malware sites - the CEO recently joked "this site downloaded a toolbar and heh, I couldn't get rid of it."

Not only was it malware but they knew it and authorised it.

I hope that Turbine is making more of an effort to actively purge their advertisers of malware vendors. It will be interesting to see community reaction over the next few weeks.

Tanek said...

I am not likely to ever use or sign up for anything on the "Offer Wall". Given the history of such things and given how well Turbine has been doing in the PR department with DDO, I was surprised to even see them go there.

I am, however, willing to play out the rope a bit and see what happens. There are some who would dismiss a game with a cash shop just because other games with a similar setup gave them a bad name. DDO, however, proved to me that there are ways it can be done properly (could still be improvement, of course; I think 1 point should cost $0.01 so the "prices" in the store are more easily understood at a glance, but it isn't too bad now).

That said, I will be checking out the items on the Offer Wall to see if I can find any that do use practices detrimental to the customers. I'll be reporting these back to Turbine to see what kind of response I receive and planning my next move from there. If more people do the same (especially if they are planing to sign up for any offers), maybe things can change for the better.

I really hope this isn't a misstep for Turbine. It would be a shame to tarnish the model I've been holding up as an example of a good "free-to-play" game.

Yeebo said...

I have to say I'm pretty skeptical of this new offering in DDO. Turbine's attempt to distance themselves from it by saying "We have not control over what they choose to offer" also strikes me as pretty irresponsible. If it's a service that you can access from within their game interface, it stongly implies to users that they have vouchsafed it.

Anonymous said...

Due to customer response, Turbine decided to remove their offer wall.