I think most gamers would agree that in the games industry one thing which is almost universally lacking is good customer service when things go wrong. I see a marked difference in when I raise a complaint with say a mobile phone company or a utility supply company and when I raise complaints with a video games publisher/ developer. So why is this, and what are your rights as a consumer when the product you bought either doesn’t live up to its promises or the online service that supports it fails?
Well, let’s look at why, first. Most game companies while they may release DLC after a title’s initial launch, will likely take the view that seeing as you have already bought their product and they have your money, why should they care about if the experience is what was promised? During my interactions with many games companies, I have noticed a marked difference in customer service between subscription based services and those who release stand alone games. While there are always going to be some negative interactions, I’ve had far better responses and interactions with companies like SquareEnix(Final Fantasy 14), Blizzard(World of Warcraft) and the best one I’ve come across so far is Sega(Phantasy Star Online 2).
As an example of good customer service, I would say that Sega have a good system in place. I’ve never had to raise a complaint to get compensated for disruption to services or issues with accidental false advertising in game, relating to PSO2. After an issue has happened, I log in the next day and find an apology message in my inbox, sent to every player’s inboxes, with in game items included such as boosts, in game currency or items. This system makes me feel highly valued as a customer and hence makes me more likely to spend money on their in-game services. 2K Games on the other hand have the worst customer service I have ever come across. They seem to have only one person managing the complaints. If you are unsatisfied with a response to an issue, all you get is a repeat of the same response over and over and any request to escalate a complaint is treated to a blanket ignore. So what are your rights in these cases?
Consumer rights is a complex subject as it very much depends on where you bought your product. In Europe, you are protected by the Consumer Rights Act. This means that any product you buy must be fit for purpose and as advertised. Any Europe base consumer has a right to a 10 day response for any written requests to companies or organisations with which you interact. You also have a right to escalate your complaint/ issue should you not be satisfied with the response you receive. What is commonly misunderstood in customer services, is that it is not the company that decides if the complaint/ issue should be escalated. It is the customer that has that choice and once the choice is made the company must escalate at least one level, to a manager or dedicated customer service manager. Most importantly, an escalation should not be responded to by the same individual who answered the original complaint/ request. So what do you do if a company flat out refuses to escalate your complaint or the escalated response still does not solve your problem?
The next step can depend on what the issue is, but a good next port of call is the ombudsman for which a link is here. The other option is to find the physical address for the company’s legal team and send them a legal notice that they have broken consumer law. This worked for me in an issue I had with Sony when my VR headset broke within the warranty period but I was refused a warranty repair because the warranty “didn’t cover” the fault mine had developed. A letter to their legal team pointing out which clauses of the consumer rights act they were breaking by refusing a warranty repair/ replacement soon resolved the issue and my headset was replaced.
The fact is that, particularly in the games industry, companies tend to ignore their responsibilities to their customers but that does not mean that those responsibilities do not exist. Always remember that as a customer you can vote with your wallet. Even with standalone games, continued custom is important. A games studio/developer cannot survive indefinitely on one release alone. They rely on customers continuing to purchase their new releases and downloadable content. By boycotting their future game releases, you can help to effect change. The best advice I can give is don’t give up and be persistent, and if you really hit a brick wall then consult the ombudsman service, who can raise the issue with the company/ organisation directly.
Feel free to drop in a comment, if you are having an issue with a particular company, as it may help others avoid such disreputable products and companies. Posting your negative experience on Twitter/ Reddit and other social media sites is also a good way of highlighting bad practice and can sometimes lead to resolutions, as a company tries to protect its reputation.