Pursuing Blizzard

[edit – SIGNIFICANT PARTS OF THIS ARE IN ERROR. CORRECTION POST IN PROGRESS. FAST SUMMARY – VIVENDI NO LONGER HAS SOLE OWNERSHIP OF BLIZZARD.]

One of the frustrations of dealing with Blizzard is realizing that they’re, well, probably too big. Big enough that it takes a big club to make them pay attention. A constant complaint – MY constant complaint – is how hard it is to get hold of someone who can and actually will do something. I thought I’d take the opportunity today to walk through what I know – not least, to help some folk realize some of their threats are rather misguided — a cause, if you will, for ridicule from the very folk they’re trying to threaten.

Blizzard Entertainment is based in Irvine, California. There is one normally given phone number – 1-800-592-5499 – which leads to the Billing and Account Management desk. Allow me to point out right here that if you’re banned, that’s account management. Yes, the reason may be technical, but this is the “office that decides”. If you try to get tech support involved, they’d have to go to this office anyway — you’ve actually shortened the chain. I also want to note that they’ve changed their hours (somewhat) since the last time I looked. Still not 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week, unfortunately. But 8 am to 8 pm California time. (That’s Pacific Standard or Pacific Daylight, as appropriate.) 11 to 11 on the East Coast of the US, and notionally, that’s GMT-8 (-7 for GMT). In Paris that’s 5 pm to 5 am. ummm, I didn’t pick Paris at random, but I’ll get there in a bit. Let’s stay in California for now.

Specifically, let’s give some other numbers, and then tell you why you’ll be wasting your time. 800-953-7669 Robo-answer for sales and support. 949-955-1382 is the same result. Theoretically if you stymie the system it’ll eventually dump you into the hands of a real person. The instant you say “account banned”, you’re going to be kicked over to account services, and probably into the auto-answer system again.

OK, so what if you REALLY want to go over someone’s head? In this case you can. Let me say up front this is a good part of the problem, not the solution, and it’s probably not going to do you a lot of good. Thing is, Blizzard isn’t a stand-alone company. It’s owned by Vivendi Games, which in turn is owned by Vivendi. While both VG and V have US offices, they’re French. Remember my cue about Paris? Vivendi Games is also Sierra and Sierra Online, and “Partners” with Konami. Oh, yes, and they merged with/absorbed Activision, among a bunch of others along the way. And Vivendi Games is only part of the Vivendi megacorp. In the US we’re only aware of UMG, but they own a big chunk of French and European television (Canal + group), they’ve a strong mobile phone presence (SFR), and some other telecom – related and otherwise – with Maroc Telecom. Oh, yeah, and partial ownership of NBC-Universal – which drills down to a big one for most US geeks: SciFi channel.

Looking at this, you can begin to see why Blizzard isn’t nimble in responding to customer issues. But you should NOT give up hope. Let’s add a touch of perspective.

Vivendi Games generated approximately 5% of last year’s total Vivendi revenue, and also approximately 5% of Vivendi’s total cash flow from operations. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is. (For reference, VG provided revenues of 1.018 Billion Euro. Vivendi total was 21.567. Makes your $15 per month seem like chicken feed, doesn’t it?) Now, things start looking up when we drill down. World of Warcraft – not all Blizzard, but WoW specifically – provided 77% of that. It’s a cash cow, and cash cows get heard.

But… you need to have your voice heard. Which means you need magnification to your voice. That means a lot of you saying the same thing – whether it’s independent or not. And… saying it a lot is almost as good as a lot of people saying it. That, by the way, is the essence of the squeaky wheel.

Before I go on, I need to simplify what I’ve said. 1) try to get satisfaction from Blizzard. 2) If you don’t get satisfaction from Blizzard, try to get it from Vivendi Games. (US 1-310-431-4000. France +33 1 46 01 48 00). But some things to remember if you go that way… “I’m gonna quit” is viewed as a temper tantrum. You’re conducting business, and you’re pointing out potential loss of long-term revenues. Persuade, don’t force. 3) Beyond VG you can try Vivendi, but at that point your message is approaching flea speck size.

Oh – “fix the system” tends to do better than “fix my problem” – the former is in their purview, the latter, well, that’s why they pay the Bizzard (and WoW in particular) employees, and that’s where you’ll wind up in the end.

Now I want to go on to why most of the threats given are, well, laughable. Actually, it’s a particular type of threat – I”m gonna leave and go to another game. The reason for the laughter falls into one of two general groups. Let’s take the more painful one first:

For large-scale MMORPGs, Blizzard’s customer service is actually pretty good. Yes, this is sort of like saying “I prefer the cold to a flu.” Neither is something you WANT to deal with. But, well, let’s look at three organizations. First, Everquest. At the top of the food chain, Everquest is Sony’s product. It generates less – actual and proportional – than WoW for Vivendi. EQ’s access is a tiny bit better – in addition to phone they have chat, but the hours are 10am to 7 pm PST M-F. And again, there’s a lot of automated stuff to get through. It’s also worth noting that they state in their agreement that they can take up to 90 days to resolve a problem – and comments in forums (theirs and others) indicate that fixing a wrongful ban takes closer to 90 than 1 day.

The other two games to which players say they’ll flee are Age of Conan (AoC) and Warhammer (WAR). Ummm, right. To the good, both EAOnline (WAR) and FunCom (AoC) are a LOT smaller than Vivendi or Sony. As a result when you get to their customer support it tends to be more responsive. That said, both companies have had intermittent quality of customer response ranging from slightly better than the Big Corps to abysmal. Odds are they’ll be quite good with initial rollouts of their respective game – the question will be what it’s like down the road. That in turn will probably depend on how much money the games provide, and that in turn brings us to the concern.

Both games miss a critical aspect that has made WoW so successful – and EQ missed it too. They’re aimed at gamers instead of everybody. While WAR hasn’t got an official system requirement out yet (that I can find), the general floor for both systems is a 2.5G or better (preferably closer to 4G) processor, along with 256 or better (again, closer to 2G preferred) memory. Oh, and it appears both are almost going to have to require fat pipes – dialup is pushing “too slow” for some of the stuff involved. Basically, they’re telling you that you need a system that’s better than basic TODAY – a little less than middle of the road. If you bought it more than a year ago, it’d better have been well over middle of the road. And if you bought it two years ago, do yourself a favor and upgrade.

In other words, MOST players who threaten to leave… have nowhere else to go if they want MMORPGs. See where the problem lies? I can guarantee you right now that NEITHER community will get as large as WoW. The fact that neither will run on Mac only adds insult to the injury.

It isn’t hopeless. But you have to realize where and how to get your case moved to have any effect. And the reality is that right now and for the foreseeable future, WoW is the elephant in the living room. Threatening it with a peashooter does no good, and trying to pretend the mouse ‘over there’ will make things different won’t do any good either.

For those who’ve jumped to the bottom, let me re-summarize. For the short term – dealing with your current problem – you are stuck dealing with Blizzard’s account management. They say they prefer you email them. They also have a phone number (which goes to a robo-answer system) and a mailing address. I’d recommend that you use the email, but if you receive no response within a week that you follow up with the phone, and if (probably when) that goes nowhere, go to mail. ahem – REGISTERED mail.

For longer term, skip Blizzard. No, that’s not fair. COPY blizzard, but mail (not phone or email) Vivendi Games. 6060 Center Drive, 5th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90045. (Unless you’re in Europe. Then go with:

9-11 rue Jeanne Braconnier
Immeuble Le Newton
92366 Meudon-la-forĂȘt
France

And in the meantime, try to have fun

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~ by Kirk on May 23, 2008.

4 Responses to “Pursuing Blizzard”

  1. I really appreciate your writing style and more importantly your thinking style. You look at the big picture, you seem to see it from all angles and come up with a positive direction to go to solve problems. Blizzard does look in into these things, but you need to be upfront and honest with them from the beginning becasue they know why they banned you but they wont tell you.

    My RL firend was banned, given an email that said he broke the terms of service agreement. He couldnt figure out what he did. And then it came to us. He sent me 2000 gold in the mail for my epic mount about a week before. (same guild, real life friends, long standing accounts with no priors). To us it was a loan, to blizzard it was an automated banning of a gold seller. So my friend used the given email adress. Explained the whole thing. Said he uses mods (because that can be against the terms of service) told them about me, asked them to look at whispers between us and so on.

    about 2 weeks later his account ban was lifted. We never found out exaclty why he was banned but as I explained above we assume it was the money in the mail. Did he have personal contact with anyone..nope. Did they answer any of his questions…Nope. But did they look into it…Yup. Sure it felt like they werent, but they probably get thousands of emails a day and it takes time to look at each one.

    Have faith. Im not saying that this person will get unbanned or not. Im not saying if he deserved to get banned or not. All Im saying is that I agree with Kirk…follow the procedures and give it time.

  2. Please have my internet babies.

  3. […] at Priestly Endeavors has a very thorough look at contacting Blizzard and how their corporate structure is part of the problem and ways that it […]

  4. […] lot of the secondary stuff – the laughter and all that about other games – is still the same as the last post, so I’ll not repeat it. What’s changed is how to get to Blizzard because of who owns […]

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