Today I am blogging via mobile so this is going to be a mostly vanilla post (until I get a chance to polish it a bit, of course). My topic of choice today can fuel quite a bit of different blog entries. I wish to discuss Microsoft and their continued bad customer service. I’d also like to touch upon the concept of the video babysitter, a lazy strategy used by parents today.
Console gaming is mostly community-driven (after all, the hardware is obsolete the moment it hits store shelves) and this is especially so with XBox LIVE, arguably the best overall onling gaming service (at least on consoles). Unfortunately, console manufacturers fail to see that their customers are part of the service they offer. Microsoft has definitely missed this point by not doing right by their customers. The Red Ring of Death, Open Tray Error, and Code of Conduct are amongst many things hurting what could otherwise be an amazing, fully-engaging console experience.
While we can get into all the facets of Microsoft’s missed opportunities, let’s look at the Code of Conduct. It is dressed up as a way to preserve the integrity of the XBox LIVE online community but, instead, it only becomes nuisance to paying subscribers. More times than not, the people being reported are merely the ones defending themselves; meanwhile, the real offenders and troublemakers remain online harassing on XBox LIVE.
The real kicker is that the XBox LIVE Terms of Service dictate that all children under the age of 18 must be set up with child profiles and supervised. This is not happening. Lazy parents out there either don’t care what their kids are playing or think video game shops will respect and enforce ESRB ratings. The latter is certainly not happening.
The XBox LIVE Code of Conduct is a last resort and certainly not a catch-all, fix-all. It’s a system that seems to do more harm than good. XBox LIVE is a paid service yet customers are treated like mere expendables, which lessens the perceived value of the service. What exactly are you paying for if your feedback is not valued and due process is not followed?
For us older folks, late night is when we wind down from a long day, put the kids to bed, and try to enjoy some online gaming. Surprisingly, no matter what hour you get online, there are annoying, rude, and ignorant children online. Pardon my rant but, really, who takes charge here?
With the XBox LIVE Code of Conduct only being good on paper, parents have to take charge. Don’t resort to the video babysitter: video games and DVDs can’t replace quality time with your kids. As we have seen time and again, you can’t expect service providers, retailers/resellers, and content developers to do their jobs. Their main concern is getting paid. Make sure you sit down with their kids or at least spot check them. If possible, play the games, movies, music, and other media yourself. If you don’t, you may very well be creating little monsters.. And then mild-mannered folks like myself may very well lose it.
If Microsoft wises up, they’ll add age verification and easier, tighter controls for family settings. Setting up schedules and timers are only a start. XBox LIVE should natively enforce curfews for under-age kids. If it gets past a certain hour, you can’t play your games online. Heck, I’d say enforce ESRB ratings natively as well. This may upset more “progressive parents” but let’s face it: these kids aren’t paying for their XBox LIVE but we are. They don’t care if they lose online access because, technically, it’s not their accounts.
My buddy, “Dark Assassin”, raised some very good points in his own recent rant. Countless times you’ll play online games at 10PM, 1AM, or even 4AM, just to deal with high-pitched voices making very vulgar references to sexual encounters with family members they’ve never met or how they are so well-endowed King Kong gets jealous. Then, of course, there’s the taunts that go beyond friendly competition, where every other word is eff, beez, or the ever-popular N-Bomb. Really? Shouldn’t you be in bed, little ones? Where are your parents? How were you raised that you think your behavior is appropriate or “cool”?
Reversing the temporary ban of a XBox LIVE Code of Conduct means jumping through hoops and Dark Assassin learned that the hard way. What’s more “fun” here is that the Microsoft XBox LIVE Customer Service Team doesn’t follow standard procedures or proper escalation. You either get lucky or you get the ubiquitous “sorry but there’s nothing we can do for you” response (to which their usual “fix” is to simply create and pay for a new account). EPIC FAIL for customer service, managing customer expectations, and standardization alike.
Dark Assassin only remains loyal to XBox LIVE because that’s what our gaming groups/clans and friends play the most. Ironically, most of us have other gaming platforms so it’s not like there aren’t options. ATTENTION Microsoft: most other gaming services are FREE. If you’re going to charge people to play online, be more flexible with pricing and stand by your loyal customers. There is life after XBox LIVE and many others like Dark Assassin are out there, considering calling it quits (no, Achievements and Gamer Scores are not effective for customer retention)
I’ve been an XBox LIVE customer for over 6 years and I’ve often stopped playing for months at a time, wasting away my XBox LIVE “Gold” Subscription, simply because dealing with the folks that shouldn’t be there to begin with is a pain. What little time I have to game these days HAS to be well-spent. Here are some tips for making XBox LIVE more enjoyable, Microshaft:
- Do something worthwhile with your XBox LIVE Rewards program: give Microsoft Points for people that create child accounts and/or provide feedback.
- Make reputation scores matter by implementing them in more relevant ways. More importantly, follow a clear escalation process where reports are validated by unaffiliated/unfriended accounts and warnings precede more stern (or permanent disciplinary actions).
- Recognize and reward customer tenure/loyalty. Provide additional discounts, surveys, and perks; after all, we’ve stuck around with you in spite all your huge mistakes.
- While recognizing tenure, also take into account a gamer’s track record. Reports filed by people with little or no negative feedbacks should weigh more than those filed by obvious troublemakers.
- Create a focus group consisting of long-time XBox LIVE subscribers to tackle the latest hot-button issues and truly bring value to paid services. Make activities accessible via the XBox LIVE dashboard to encourage active participation.
- Introduce new service levels. Perhaps Platinum members can take part in early-access events, additional promotions, and premium services. Give people options to match usage. It’d be neat to see monthly freebies like Microsoft Points, movie downloads, and the like for those paying the higher subscription rates.
- Bring customer service back home. Customers appreciate companies that create more jobs in their local markets. Really, not many people play XBox LIVE in India, Brazil, Portugal, etc.. At least not that I’ve ever encountered!
- Create more competitive and social content. Bracket systems, friend scores, mini-tournaments, ladders, and other systems will keep gamers engaged and drive the value of online pay-to-play.
- Encourage developers to offer more free DLCs for their game titles (i.e. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood). PC games often come with free expansions and user-created content, which keeps people engaged and, again, drives value even further.
The goal here is to enable XBox LIVE subscribers to tell those getting free online gaming fixes that they are truly getting their money’s worth. Currently, PC gamers get so much bang for their buck that it’s almost shameful to say you actually enjoy console gaming. Microsoft needs to see the bigger picture. Console gaming won’t continue to grow if the value stops at cutting-edge technology and exlclusive titles.
As for the lazy parents out there, that’s easily a topic on it’s own. Some of you need to consider giving up your kids to more competent parental figures (sorry, no more free money and tax breaks for you). Online communities like Facebook, MySpace, and XBox LIVE certainly need more policing but it’s starts at the homefront. Really, you don’t want your kids exposed to the rubbish out there. Try gaming with your kids, adding them as friend, and keeping a close eye; otherwise, remove or prevent their access all together. Let’s keep the Internets clean, safe, and user-friendly, folks!
(Microsoft: please get your *EXPLICITIVE* together! kggthx)