Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SWTOR Pre-purchase Run Amok: You Should Have Bought Faster!

SWTOR has announced its first miniexpansion, and with it a pre-purchase ultimatum that is as far as I am aware unprecedented in MMO's.  From the page:
"Receive five (5) days of Early Access* if you Pre-Order by January 7, 2013 11:59PM CT // 5:59AM GMT!"
It's currently December 18th, so that gives you three weeks to decide... on paying in full in advance for an expansion scheduled to release in "Spring 2013".  As Syp notes, the fourth bullet point on why you should buy the expansion is that more information is "coming soon", so even Bioware acknowledges that relevant information for your purchasing decision is not yet available.  

EDIT:  Shintar notes in the comments that Bioware are NOT describing this as a "pre-purchase" in their marketing material.  I think that is the more accurate description if they're charging your payment now and not offering refunds (except possibly where compelled by law), but please let me know if you find evidence to the contrary.

Technically speaking, the ad does NOT promise that people who pre-order after the deadline will not ALSO receive the early access.  If so, it is merely badly misleading, trying to trick players into buying now through a false deadline.  That's the good scenario.  The bad scenario is that four months from now you log in and your guild is split into haves and have nots because some people failed to click buy fast enough.

Paid early access programs are ubiquitous for new MMO launches but rare for paid expansions - offhand, I recall one year where SOE gave retailers a one-week exclusive on an EQ2 expansion, in the process screwing over international players who could not physically obtain a box.  There have been a few games that have temporarily shut off additional sales because their servers could not accommodate more customers.  I know of no situation in which a live MMO with adequate server capacity has divided the community in order to teach them an object lesson that they should be paying in full for content before the details are released and months before it is ready.

Honestly, it makes so little sense that I'm assuming the marketing people are just lying through their teeth when they say there's a deadline in three weeks.  Is that really where you want your relationship with your MMO provider to be?  Is this a business practice you really want to support?  If this really is a fair price for a quality product (which is possible - though unknown at this early date), did they need to resort to this type of strong-arm hard-sell?


Siha said...

IMO they didn't actually need to resort to this anyway, because I'm expecting they'll get a number of preorders from people in the same boat as me. My sub has been cancelled, but I've still got a few weeks of paid time left, so I decided to preorder now to get the expansion at the subscriber price. I don't really care about five days of early access, but saving ten bucks seemed like a good reason to preorder. I imagine I'm not the only one in that sort of position.

And TBH I'm not entirely surprised at Bioware's decision - SWTOR really has been marred by terrible PR and community management, I think, and this is just typical of their bizarre logic.

That said, I doubt many active players will forgo the expansion, regardless of the lack of details. Anyone who's still actively playing is going to be almost obliged to buy it, given that it raises the level cap which means that level 50 content will be a ghost town post-RotHC. The timing's a pain, though, given that this is the tightest season of the year for disposable cash...

Shintar said...

Just a question: where did you get that this is a pre-purchase, not a pre-order? Because I haven't seen anyone else (including Bioware) use the former term.

Green Armadillo said...

@Shintar: Bioware has indeed declined to use the words pre-purchase in connection with this plan. Nor is the distinction especially well defined.

The facts are that this a digital-only product that is only available through them, which means that you're not doing business with a retailer who has any incentive to let you cancel. They're also immediately bumping free players to premium for "pre-ordering", which suggests that you're paying. If they take the pre-order but don't charge you until the thing arrives, they run the risk of people changing credit cards etc to cause the payment to fail (which happened with Blizzard's annual pass promo).

But yes, if you find evidence that this is a non-binding pre-order that you can actually cancel if you don't like what you're hearing about the product, let me know and I'll eat crow.

flosch said...

Also interesting is the tiny fact that the date given is misleading. It makes it sound as if 7 Jan 11:59PM CST is the same as 7 Jan 5:59AM GMT, while, of course, it is 8 Jan 5:59AM GMT, giving an even earlier perceived deadline to Europeans who would probably calculate the time from GMT.

That's another sign of the overall carelessness that went into the site. It feels as if they let an intern throw all of this together.

Bioware's customer service and communication is frighteningly bad. In fact, it is so bad that, if there was a prize for worst customer service and communication in 2012, they'd have a realistic chance to beat SOE. And that's saying something. SOE might still win, what with the "let's sell of our European user base" shenanigans that was only canceled (and only mostly!) at the last second. In any "normal" SOE year, they wouldn't stand a chance beating Bioware in the prize of shame.

Bhagpuss said...

I feel obligated to point out here that PR and Marketing have absolutely nothing at all to do with Customer Service. I've worked in both in several different businesses and they have about as much and as little to do with each other as HR has with the Post Room or IT with vehicle maintenance.

I know a lot of people will never forgive SoE for [fill in appalling commercial faux pas of choice here] but as anyone who's used the actual, in-game customer service options of most of the big MMO houses is likely to attest from experience, SoE's customer service is one of the least bad. In my personal experience over nearly a decade and a half it's been an exemplary model of promptness, courteousness and effort, if not always of accuracy. Every other MMO CS dept. I have had cause to contact has been inferior in at least one of these departments, sometimes in all of them!

flosch said...

"I feel obligated to point out here that PR and Marketing have absolutely nothing at all to do with Customer Service." Fair enough, I will readily admit that I have not much of a clue of how these are organized and split.

But... I'm still confused. Is this SWTOR example marketing, PR, or customer service?

flosch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
flosch said...

And to make that point clear: I like some of SOE's games, I'm even playing EQ2 again currently. But I do this because I like their games so much that it offsets most of their regular blunders.

It sometimes feels like whoever makes the decisions at SOE, on a large (business decisions: sell off Europe) or small (let's push that patch to live, even though it was reported as horribly broken on the test server!) scale, has the attention span and thoughtfulness of a hyperactive puppy on speed.