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An open letter to Bill Roper

Customer Support | Sunday, January 6th, 2008 | 9 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Roper,

Longtime fan, first time writer.

Executive summary – I’m writing to inform you of my dissatisfaction with your game, Hellgate London, and with your company, Flagship Studios.

I wish I could start this letter by saying “nothing personal, Bill.” Having played your games for about a decade and having “met” you and your team on the making-of DVD bundled with HG:L Collectors Edition I feel like you’re one of the guys. You speak earnestly and enthusiastically and have a career-long portfolio of work to be proud of. You live in a modest but beautiful home with all kinds of awesome nerdy knickknacks and happy children naughtily peeking into the shot while you record commentary. In many ways you’re living the dream life of many gamers, myself included. Because of this your fans expect that much more of you.

I’d been looking forward to HG:L for a long time. Years. Since you left Blizzard I couldn’t wait to learn what you next had in store for me. When I read a preview of the game in PC Gamer magazine I loved your concept of a synergy between my favourite PC genres. I read interviews and avoided screenshots since. I exclaimed to my friends my impatience for October 31st to arrive so that I could stay home all evening. I wondered aloud in my blog, regarding the new, heartless Blizzard, whether “the soul of the company was extinguished forever when Bill Roper … jumped ship.” (hellgatelondon.com even quoted me and linked to my blog – sorry, can’t find the link on your site now)

I wasn’t accepted into the beta but I kept abreast of testers’ reports. Word on the street was that the game wasn’t ready for gold. I played the demo. Regardless of my opinion of it I still bought the CE (thanks for that 8.3-named WAV soundtrack) on opening day.

I’d recently watched an interview with you on the PC Gamer video podcast. You absolutely plucked my heart strings when you said: (and I paraphrase)

“Some people celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Halloween. We take pleasure in the mental image of your children standing sadly by the door as they wait for you to stop playing Hellgate London.”

I played online for about 10 minutes on Halloween. It was down the rest of the night, on opening day, because your team wanted to enable some optional content. Then your website went down. By the time things were running again about 24 hours later I had little to look forward to.

The game is unfinished. It is laggy, crashy, textures disappear, the game lags while the hard drive churns leaving the game fully unresponsive for many seconds, I get hopelessly stuck between objects all the time, my inventory sometimes disappears, and much more. This in itself is shameful, but that’s not all I’m disappointed with.

On my third day of owning your game I loaded it up after coming home from a hard day of work. I walked through a subway station for about 5 seconds before my computer locked up, a strange sound came from the speakers, my computer made a loud TICK, and it hard rebooted to the BIOS. My hard drive was no longer detected. Long story short, efforts to back up my year-and-a-half-old 300GB hard drive failed. I performed stress tests on all my other components and they all worked fine. Other games worked fine. I uninstalled Hellgate London immediately.

I emailed Flagship Studios tech support. The website said I’d hear from someone within 6 hours, and an autoresponse email said I’d hear from someone in 24. About 30 hours passed before I emailed them again. Someone responded shortly thereafter and suggested some FAQ articles. They were largely unrelated.

Your support department later emailed me saying my ticket had been escalated to the next level of support and that I should reply if I didn’t hear from anyone in 72 hours. 3 days passed so I replied. 1 more day. Another. Another. A week. Two weeks. No one would reply. I left a message on the forums posting a quick summary of my problem and my ticket number, pleading for someone to continue assisting me before I involved the Better Business Bureau. The forum post was deleted quickly and no one replied. I tried to send an email to sales on the Flagship Studios website but the web form was broken. I had no other choice.

I submitted a BBB complaint on November 13th. Your company didn’t bother responding until December 6th, 3 weeks later. Flagship’s reply suggested I return this month-old, opened game to the point of purchase, Future Shop. We communicated back and forth once more before I resigned, forced to accept your company’s baffling declarations that you did not develop the game, you only manage the online play aspect of the game, and that I must take up my grievance with EA and not with Flagship Studios.

And now I’m writing this open letter to you, Bill Roper. I congratulate your Technical Support department on successfully ignoring me, disavowing any responsibility, and pushing me to exhaustion so that I am no longer willing to fight for a refund or even technical support. Dealing with your company is more of a grind than your game, but I don’t get any reward for the privilege. Quite the opposite. I’m out $60 for the game, 300GB of data, and $120 for a new hard drive.

The game has sat on my shelf since, right next to me. The outlandish, foam-filled box kept calling to me, reminding me of the game I’d hoped for all along. Anticipation got the better of me so I installed it on Vista yesterday. I played for 30 minutes. I uninstalled it. Buggy. The envelope full of collectors extras even fell off the box.

I found a post on your forums, posted this week, entitled “i haven’t played since the week of launch…is it safe to come back?” The first reply states, “Not just yet. Stay back in your bunker a bit longer. 1.0 is on it’s way apparently.

My point for telling you all this, Mr. Roper, is to make you aware of my experience in dealing with Flagship Studios. I’d wager that the terms of the release of HG:L were out of your control, as I don’t believe you’d so proudly and frequently laud such a mediocre product on purpose, but in my opinion your credibility is destroyed because of it. I cannot recommend your company nor your game to anyone, and I even felt too guilty to give the thing away which is why it’s still sitting beside me, unused.

Your unfinished product has failed to work, damaged my property, and is responsible for a huge, catastrophic loss of my personal data. Every time I’ve dealt with your company its representatives always waited until the deadline had been exhausted or exceeded before giving me less than the bare minimum of service. My experience with Hellgate London could not have been worse.

This is the worst experience I’ve had with a video game in the 25 years I’ve otherwise enjoyed this hobby. No one at your company cares. This is the way Flagship Studios markets the name Bill Roper.

>> ATH0 -- NO CARRIER <<



>> ATDT DEMODULATED.COM 2400 BAUD 8N1 OK <<

BFG RMA FTL!

Customer Support | Monday, September 10th, 2007 | 9 years, 5 months ago

8 months ago my prized BFG 7900GT OC video card began to fail after only 5 months of use. I blogged about the details of the support call. It was satisfactory.

7 months after installing BFG’s replacement card it began to fail in a similar fashion. Games would only work for a few minutes before random polygons appeared all over the screen, and random off-coloured pixels would appear and persist onscreen in Windows, Linux, and at the BIOS. I diligently kept an eye on the GPU and other system temperatures but they were not abnormal – even cool. I put up with this for about 3 weeks, hoping the problem would go away. It didn’t.

I used a web form on BFG’s support website to report my issue. Along with a thorough description of the problem and my troubleshooting procedures I mentioned that I’d already paid to obtain a working replacement and I would accept no less than a free replacement, shipped entirely at BFG’s cost. A few days later I received a reply stating that BFG would in fact pay shipping both ways and accept all costs. As I was writing a thank-you reply I received another email saying that this offer was erroneous and BFG was in fact unwilling to pay the return shipping.

I replied to this email, reiterating that the defective card I was using was issued to me by BFG and I was not willing to pay to remedy their mistake in quality control. The last RMA cost $20 and left me without a working computer for 2 weeks and I was not about to make a semiannual habit of this. I asked BFG whether they stand by their lifetime warranty or not. Their reply was terse and marginally apologetic but unwavering.

I replied again, reiterating my entire story in case they’d misunderstood it. I gave them my contact information as requested and repeated my desire for BFG to cover all shipping. Erica P, the BFG customer support rep, replied tersely again, stating:

“We cannot cover the cost of shipping each RMA that fails, I am sorry. If you
ever have a problem with a replacement card within 30 days we will cover the cost of shipping the card.”

She also said that my return RMA “MAY” (her emphesis) provide me an upgraded model since mine had been discontinued. She then set up an ordinary RMA, for which I would have to pay return shipping. I refused it, reminder her that I was unwilling to suffer any downtime and I would not compensate BFG for their poorly performing replacement card. Erica P’s response was very telling about this company’s concept of quality products:

Brian,

The card worked for 7 months, it was not a defective replacement.

Thank you,
Erica P
BFG Support

And there you have it. BFG considers 7 months to be a reasonable lifespan for a $340 video card. Had I known this initially, I told her, I’d never ever have purchased their products. I’ll have this quote in mind the next time I buy.

When I told Erica I was not interested in this RMA, she replied, telling me it was worth the money since I “WOULD” be getting a higher model in return.

I was starting to get fed up with corporate policies and mixed messages. I knew I’d get nowhere with Erica. I planned to prepare a concise summary for the Better Business Bureau.

Please tell me, yes or no, will BFG arrange for em a cross-shipment RMA AND cover all costs?

If your answer is no I will engage the Better Business Bureau.

Thank you in advance for your answer of yes or no.

Apparently this wasn’t enough indication that I’d like a one-word answer:

An advanced replacement cannot be processed with an address outside of the United States. In order for you to receive a replacement of your card, you will have to pay for the cost of shipping the card to us. If anything happens to the card, outside of physical damage, within 30 days, we will cover your cost of shipping.

She then reminded me that an ordinary RMA had been set up to grant me the convenience of paying to ship my card to them. It’d been 5 days since I submitted my support request and I was fed up at this point. I concluded:

Thank you for failing to answer my yes or no question as requested. I will note this in my BBB complaint.

I then made my complaint to their local BBB. I submitted my complaint on a Friday and on Monday I had a message on my office phone from Jeff at BFG asking to call to discuss. I’d previously asked Erica to only allow BFG to communicate with me by email so that I could retain textual proof of their claims. She dutifully communicated this to Jeff who obliged.

Speaking with Jeff was nothing but a pleasure. He explained to me that “advance RMAs” (where they ship the replacement before receiving my defective card) were potentially subject to taxes by the recipient on arrival. I didn’t understand how customs knows whether I’d sent my card before or after, but I said I was willing to take this chance. Jeff offered to perform a burn-in test personally on the card he’d be sending me which I really appreciated. He even gave me some non-BFG-endorsed advice (which I won’t share here) regarding nonstandard cooling and BFG’s warranty.

In the end I received a BFG 7950GT OC video card which worked perfectly upon installation of the hardware and drivers. They’d even sent it in a retail box complete with cables, connectors, a disc, and a manual. In fact, the package was plastic-wrapped and the card looked pristine so I wondered whether it had even been tested. Just the same, it was more than I’d expected to be sent and I was grateful for that.

Shortly after I received a prepaid shipping label for DHL shipping. I sent my old card off without a hitch.

I concluded, emailing Jeff to say what a shame it was that I had to get the BBB involved. If BFG employed better customer service policies and trained their staff to communicate more tactfully my formal complaint might never have been necessary. I now regret telling them about my blog because I probably tainted the “Joe Blow customer experience.” If $340 weren’t so much money for me I’d have kept quiet and let them find out the hard way that my previous BFG RMA article currently ranks at #7 when searching Google for “BFG RMA”.
However, I was forced to go over BFG’s head and threaten them just to get fair service. Had I limited myself to the option BFG presented to me I’d be $20 poorer and would have been without a computer for another 2 weeks. That’d mean the total cost of ownership of my BFG product would have included $40 of shipping and a month of downtime per year. For reference, the only other video card I’ve owned in 20+ years that’s given me trouble didn’t fail until I’d used it for 2 years, and the replacement lasted me another 2 years until I simply retired it and put it on my shelf. BFG’s card cost me 5x as much and was operational for 1/4 as long. Pathetic.

I don’t think my situation is typical. BFG is a well known, mostly well respected company. However, we as consumers are forced to judge companies by our own experiences with them. Some things, like being presented unsatisfactory dead ends, are unacceptable and insulting. This is such an experience.

I cannot recommend BFG’s products anymore. I bought their card because of the advertised lifetime warranty, but this warranty puts its customers at the mercy of indifferent and tactless support personnel (which was true of my first experience which was quick and easy only because I agreed to pay shipping).

Caveat emptor. Shop around. FYI, XFX also offers lifetime warranties on their overclocked video cards. I’ll likely be trying their products next.

>> ATH0 -- NO CARRIER <<



>> ATDT DEMODULATED.COM 2400 BAUD 8N1 OK <<

Sega gets me Steamed

Customer Support | Friday, February 2nd, 2007 | 10 years, 0 months ago

Sorry in advance for a pretty lazy account of an otherwise interesting series of correspondences between Steam, Sega, and I. Crazy busy workweek.

~~~

What’s a Torontonian to do in the throes of snow storms? Walk for 10 minutes to the 2 game stores around the corner? Hell no! The tropical screenshots tickled my vacation bone so I purchased Sega‘s Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast from Steam for $19.99 US. Oops.

The purchase procedure was as easy as ever, and the game began downloading immediately at full speed (about 600KB/s on my connection). I downloaded the 1.5GB game in less than an hour and eagerly double-clicked the icon. I cranked the quality settings, picked a car, chose a song (Magical Sound Shower, of course) and let ‘er rip.

I got about 3 minutes into my first race (which looked like a PS1 game with antialiasing, by the way) when the video froze and the speakers let out a high-pitched whine. The computer froze real good – no alt-tabbing, no alt-F4ing, no Num Lock LED response, nada.

I suspected the buzzing sound might be indicative that it was finally time to replace my onboard AC97 sound chip with my problematic but beloved Audigy 2 so I opened up my machine, slapped in the card, installed the latest drivers, and was good to go. A few media players and games worked great (and much louder) with the new card so I gave Outrun another attempt. Buzzzz. Reboot.

Frustrated, I checked for help on Steam’s forums which, surprisingly, considering its inconceivably active userbase, served no useful information about my predicament, nor could I find anything useful elsewhere on Steam’s page. (nuff commas, Brian!) The only useful tidbit was a page stating that third-party software issues should be addressed directly to the developer. Steam kindly provided a direct link to Sega Support.

I concisely described my situation to Sega as follows:

I recently purchased Outrun 2006 Coast To Coast for PC from Steam (www.steampowered.com). I try to play the game but after several seconds I hear a high-pitched whine (from the speakers) and my computer crashes and cannot be recovered without rebooting.

I play many games on my PC without trouble. I have a fairly modern and powerful computer in good working order. Can you please assist me in fixing this problem?

Thanks

A week after contacting Sega I’d received no response. I wrote a quick letter to Steam asking for some kind of intervention, solution, or a refund. 4 days went by and I received no reply from either company, so I emailed Steam once more requesting some human contact. Less than an hour later Steam replied, stating that my credit card would be credited with a refund within the week and that the game had been disabled in my account. Great! Except for the last line in Steam’s email:

Please note in the future that Steam purchases, per the Steam Subscriber Agreement, are not refundable – this refund was issued as a one-time customer service gesture.

This really didn’t sit well with me. Being the self-righteous sort I replied, stating, in part:

I’m disappointed to hear your claim that this is a one-time courtesy. I feel that, as a retailer, Steam is obligated to stand behind the products it sells. I’d have hoped that this would entail requiring a set of standards regarding technical support for third-party publishers like Sega (who still hasn’t replied to my support request) since I’m disappointed that I won’t get to play Outrun. However, since the game did not work for me and there was no one available to offer support, I expect Steam to ensure my satisfaction one way or another.

To which Steam replied shortly thereafter:

That’s really a “Standard Response” issue. Our subscriber agreement specifically notes that there are no refunds through Steam, but in such events as a complete inability to play the game and a response within days of purchase, it is evaluated by a support person such as myself. If a similar problem arises in the future, you may feel comfortable that such a request will certainly be viewed by human eyes and the circumstances evaluated before rendering a judgement on whether we should offer a refund.

The “No refunds” policy is there simply to protect us from abuse by gamers who can finish a game quickly and then attempt to get a refund. It’s a peril of electronic payment and distribution.

Thank you for detailing your concerns.

In the end Steam had provided me a refund, a quick reply to my comment, and even an explanation about why the customer is right even though this ever-waning adage is risky for electronic retailers. Except for the 4 day lapse between my initial support submission and their response I am completely satisfied with the way Steam handled this situation. Except for when I challenged Sierra to make good on a satisfaction-guaranteed promise for King’s Quest 7 this was the only time I’d ever been issued a refund for a piece of software in my 20+ years of computing. Highly impressive.

As for Sega, I doubt I’ll be buying their products again. A full 2 weeks after submitting my support request I received the following automated response: (this is an excerpt)

Thank you for your interest in Sega. In our attempt to assist you as quickly as possible, we have sent this automatic reply to you based on the most common sets of questions we receive from our customers.

If the following text (or links) does not answer your question(s) or address your concern(s), please reply and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Thank you,
Sega Customer Support
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
How do I setup my Dreamcast?
http://www.sega.com/support/supportsys.php?item=support_systems_dreamcast#setup

How do I clean/care for my Dreamcast (i.e. lens, batteries)?
http://www.sega.com/support/supportsys.php?item=support_systems_dreamcast#care

Please use lens cleaner made for “plastic” lenses, which will generally be fluid based.

Where do I send my Dreamcast for repair?
http://www.sega.com/support/supportsys.php?item=support_systems_dreamcast#repairs

Where can I find information on older Sega products?
http://www.sega.com/support/supportsys.php?item=support_systems

Thanks, Sega. Right on target. I leave you today, fair readers, with my response to Sega. I doubt I’ll hear back.

Thank you for sending me numerous links on how to repair my Dreamcast. Unfortunately, this does not assist me in repairing the PC game for which I contacted your technical support department. I appreciate this 2-week-old response from Sega’s top engineering minds.

I’ve already been issued a refund from Steam, quoting Sega’s absence of responsibility along with my displeasure of your product. Steam was very prompt and empathetic in their response and did not delay in ensuring my satisfaction. Rest assured I will happily continue purchasing products via Steam, but will smartly avoid Sega products to avoid a second demonstration of ineptitude from your super team of rocket scientists.

Thank you for your utterly useless reply to my half-month-old plea for product support. I look forward to your response, random though it will surely be. Perhaps you’ll send me travel brochures to Bermuda or mail me a banana? I can’t wait to find out!

>> ATH0 -- NO CARRIER <<



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