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Category Archives: Consumer Rights

Customer Service: The Make or Break of a Company

We deal with companies every day. We have to. Often we have to speak to customer service, or even just a representative of the company. Typically, the reason why we are talking to them is that the company has failed us in some way.How they handle our questions, feedback, and complaints is very important. Customer service doesn’t have a direct monetary value to a company. It has a non-direct value that is hard to track with hard data. A customer who parts ways with a company because of poor customer service may not ever state that’s why they left, though if you look at Yelp, you’ll find that the majority of negative reviews are based on poor service and not poor products. This is why it is so important for representatives of a company to give good customer service and why it is even more important that a company values good customer service. Let’s take a look at the few ways in which poor service can drive a customer away or lead to poor reviews.

One Way Communication

In today’s internet world, it’s crazy to not be open to communication from customers. Customers like to voice their concerns and feedback. They like having the opportunity to talk to a rep of the company that they may or may not give money too. Spotify does not give a phone number or have a live chat on their website. This is a big no-no for a company that holds on to credit card information. If you peruse the support forum, you will find many people who have had their card charged when they shouldn’t have been, such as a free trail of premium (which to my mind, any company that asks for payment information for a free trail is trying to trick you out of money by autocharging you once your free trail is over) or people who have been doubly charged. If Spotify had a call center or a live chat, these problems wouldn’t be posted as often as they are to the support forum. They have a contact ticket form. I had tested this form out nearly a year ago, putting in several tickets, and I never once got a response (yes, I checked my Spam/Junk folder). Finally, after doing a Google search, I found an email for Spotify Support. These actually got responses. A customer should never have to do a web search to find contact information. “Contact Us” should be on every webpage of the site and should have multiple forms of contact. But the main point is, any company that actually takes your money should have a way to contact them immediately.

Not Listening

Some companies make it really easy to contact them, and they respond too. But their responses are useless because they didn’t actually read or listen to everything the customer said. This one happens a lot and a lot of companies do this. For example, I recently contacted StarzPlay to tell them that while I knew that they didn’t currently offer StarzPlay for individual pay, if they were to offer it separate from a cable/satellite bill, that I would pay for it (when you want something from a company, it’s a good idea to ask for it). The reply I got was a pat “we don’t offer it except through cable providers”. Since I didn’t ask if they did or not and in fact, stated that I knew that they didn’t this was an infuriating response. There is almost nothing more frustrating than feeling like a company didn’t read everything you wrote. This happens a lot on Microsoft support forums. The most common one boils down to “Dark Grey for MS 2013 is not dark enough” with a moderator stating “To change the theme, go to Options, select Dark Grey.” They are missing the point. This happened to me once when I couldn’t log in to my Live account. I kept trying to get help on this. The problem was that the login page in a browser would say that I signed in too many times with the wrong password, so I had to fill out a CAPTCHA. I’ve told part of this story before. The CAPTCHA was always read as wrong, no matter what. I told this to the account help team. Their reply? “Enter the CAPTCHA correctly and you’ll be able to log in.” I lost it a little bit and replied in all caps that the CAPTCHA was broken. They had no actual help for me, and randomly, my login stopped asking me to fill out the CAPTCHA. The point is that trying to get help or give feedback to a company and then getting a response that means they obviously didn’t read or fully hear what you said is the height of stupidity. At that point, the company may as well not have a way of contacting them because their support and CSRs are trained so poorly or have so little care as to not be there. Microsoft is trying to improve their reception of feedback. In my recent post about Windows 10, I said how annoying it was that there wasn’t a universal dark theme and how tasks didn’t even show up in the Calendar app. In a recent update, the Mail and Calendar apps now have a dark theme, and while you still can’t add tasks from the Calendar app, you can at least view tasks, even those seen from Wunderlist. It’s great that the Feedback app actually got comments to Microsoft and that they actually acted on those comments. They need to keep this up, but direct Windows support still needs work. I think, at least, they are moving in the right direction. Listening to your customers and actually making an effort to comprehend and act on what they are saying is very important to making a customer feel as though they matter to the company.

No Follow Through

The unfortunate thing about a call center, be it in America or not, is that a customer almost never talks to the same person twice. This often leads to promises made then broken, because one CSR makes a promise, and another one won’t follow through on the promise. Once I needed Cox to come out to check my internet, I made the CSR (CSR A) assure me that it wouldn’t cost me anything. After the tech came out, a fee was added to our bill. The second CSR (CSR B) and supervisor we talked to wouldn’t remove the fee despite what CSR A had promised. After calling a second time about getting the fee removed, I got a third CSR, who removed the fee immediately. I really don’t understand how this happens. If a CSR makes a promise to a customer, they are representing the company’s word. I take a company at their word, and I will force them to follow what their representatives promise me; otherwise, I have no faith in that company. When the second CSR wants to refuse to fulfill the promise and they state that the first CSR was wrong or made a mistake, with the logic that I shouldn’t hold them to that mistake, my blood boils. It’s not my fault as the customer that the company’s CSR was wrong. I shouldn’t have to pay for their mistake. The company should take responsibility for the CSR’s mistake and meet what expectations the customer was led to believe would be met, despite the incorrect statements. This is just ethical. Especially when the customer is trying to confirm prices before committing to anything. I brought this up in my Health Care post. Some people disagree with this idea because it damages the company. In response to that, I say it damages the individual customer more and if a company is in trouble and repeated mistakes are made, then they don’t deserve to stick around. Repeated failure with or without good customer service will cause a company to fail, but especially without good customer service. With good customer service response to a mistake, the company has a chance to improve their financial standing.

On a side but still related note, when I set up internet at my current residence, we wanted the internet set up the day before we moved. When we moved in, it wasn’t working. The call center CSR said it was turned on by a tech and that to have a tech come out we would be charged a fee since it was a “customer error” based problem. I don’t know how they can determine such a thing over the phone, but the tech came out again four days after the internet was supposed to be turned on (meaning three days later than we needed it) to discover that the internet had been turned on at the wrong location. So. Not customer error. Tech error. They still tried to charge us for having the tech come out, even though they were giving us a credit on our next bill because of their screw-up. When I had Cox in a different state, the service was great and the quality of internet I received was ten times better than AT&T. Understand that in different locations, the customer service you receive will be different. Different states practically equals a different company because of regional and local management.

Apathetic Attitude

One of the worst experiences in customer service is when a customer is at a restaurant or store and can’t get help from anyone. You’re sitting at the table waiting forever for the waiter to take your order or you’re walking through a store looking for something and there are no employees around, or they ignore you, or they make the minimal effort to help you. This is very annoying. Two big instances come to mind for me. The first happened at a cafe/bar/restaurant (yeah, trying to do everything). We had gone there to try their coffee. We waited at the front counter that had no line and no employee. Someone finally came out of the restaurant/bar area to take our order after five minutes. When we got our coffee, we sat down in the dining area and decided we wanted to order food. When we flagged down the one waiter, we got menus, then he never came back. In fact, it didn’t even look like he was in the building, so we left without ordering and never came back. The place wasn’t set up all too well and was understaffed. It was dead when we went in there, but we still couldn’t get any real service, even though there were three employees, two of which just disappeared. No service means no customers.

The other time I remember well was in a Total Wine. It was a Friday at six in the evening. The place was packed, but they had stopped doing the tastings (yes, because people aren’t just getting out to stores on a weeknight at six–oh, wait, that’s exactly what happens). Worse than that, there were absolutely no carts available for customers. None in the parking lot, none in the cart area, in fact, almost none with actual customers. Where were they? Littered around the store filled with stock that no employee was actually putting on shelves. They were prepped to exchange stock after they closed but had all the carts in use for it during a peak customer time. That’s poor management. We were planning to buy a lot but saw that there were also only two cashiers open with lines stretching into the aisles. We weren’t going to stand there forever holding a lot of very breakable products. Tons of employees seemed to be walking up and down the aisles and studiously ignoring the customers, including one person who looked like a manager. When we finally asked an employee about getting a cart, he looked around and said, “It looks like none are available.” Then explained they were prepped for stock shuffle, but then offered us no more help. We left. We also called Total Wine corporate customer service to report our dissatisfaction. The CSR was very understanding of how inappropriate the situation really was. The management had set a precedent that night that customers didn’t matter, which is funny and horrible since that’s the only thing that sustains a business, so the employees didn’t notice the problems, let alone try to help customers by solving them. We haven’t been back to that location. I’m sure most people have a Walmart story like this, which is why most people avoid Walmart whenever possible.

Not making an effort to help the customer because well, you just don’t care, makes you a bad employee, and frankly an unempathetic person. Because service industries are based on–gasp!–service, employees and managers should act and manage in way that a company that they would want to do business with would act and manage. That’s empathy. I’m sure most of these people would be upset if they were the customer and had experienced the same situation. I understand that not all companies and managers value empathetic service, which is why many employees are apathetic. They’ve learned that empathetic service is not rewarded and that they can get away with apathy or that they shouldn’t bother trying. This can come from a corporate level, like with Walmart, from a more local level, such as regional management, or even from just one manager, causing one store or certain shifts in a store to be worse than others. This is a behavior that employees learn from their supervisors, and it’s hard to change without changing out all the employees and supervisors that are part of it. It’s also the number one reason customers avoid a store or chain and write a bad review.

Arguing with the Customer

I hate having to argue with a CSR. Obviously, I had to do that with Cox a few times. It’s not that contradicting a customer is wrong. It’s how the CSR does it. If they are dismissive, talk over the customer, interrupt the customer, or are generally combative, then they are arguing. This is when they enter inappropriate behavior for customer service. If I’m just voicing feedback, I don’t want the CSR to tell me that my feedback is basically stupid and they aren’t going to make a note of it. That just makes me not want to deal with them or give their company my money (it is, afterall, hard earned). This is especially bad when making a suggestion. For example, that UPS shouldn’t ever leave a package at a person’s door in an apartment complex unless instructions state otherwise. I literally had a UPS employee arguing with me over this suggestion, and he was combative and used the word “stupid”. Here’s a good tip: Don’t ever call your customer stupid, even if they are being stupid. Seems like it doesn’t need to be stated, but there you go. In the same vein, an employee shouldn’t ever hang up on a customer. This has happened to me. I was already upset when I made the call, and I wasn’t angry. I was just upset. I ended up calling the main office of the company and explained what happened with the phone call. They were really embarrassed and upset that I went through that phone call and did everything to fix the problem I was having, which is the correct response. If a company cares, then they should remember that how their employees treat, or in these cases, mistreat, a customer is very important. When they hear that an employee is being combative, instead of just contradictory, then they need to respond by correcting that employee’s behavior. There is nothing wrong with being firm or trying to represent the policy of a company. There is a problem with being rude.

No Choice

I’ve mentioned in my Health Care post how a customer not having a choice lowers an industry’s standards. But it isn’t just true in the Health Insurance world. It can get worse in the private utilities world. Why don’t I switch from Cox internet to something else? Because I can’t. I used to have a different provider and our internet never went out, so I never had to call. Their customer service could have sucked way worse, but if you never need them except to turn it on and turn it off then you really have no way of knowing. Cox has given me problems from the jump, but I’m stuck with them until I move. But internet isn’t considered a utility. Power is. I’ve had the same power company for the last two years, and I hate them. I don’t have a choice in the matter because my city has power districts that are run by a few power companies. In my current residence, my power has gone out at least twice. According to their CSRs, it is company policy that they don’t give credits for when the power goes out accidentally. As if because it was a mistake, they shouldn’t be held accountable for the outage to their customers. They said that we pay for usage, but after looking at their net profits, I figure they aren’t just charging me for my actual usage, but that included in their pricing formula is a profit amount. So I know they can afford to give me a break on my next bill because of incompetence. But I can’t threaten them with going with a competitor because they don’t have any real competitors. When I tell McDonald’s that I’m going to Burger King next time, that’s an action I can realistically take, but I can’t tell my power company that I’m going to switch to a different power company. They say these are not monopolies because there are other power companies in the area, but that’s BS when a customer can’t choose their power company separate from their home or business. Because of this, a company that’s gotcha won’t even try to provide good customer service because there is no need to. This needs to stop. I understand that it is easier for certain grids to be managed by a specific company, but it would be better if the grid was managed by one company (maybe the local government) and that different and separate companies handled their customer service, essentially outsourcing customer service and billing to more than one company. This would at least give the customers a kind of choice. Either way, the current system is stacked against the customer and good customer service. Minimonopolies are still monopolies. They still shouldn’t be tolerated by the government, the industry, or the customers.

In the End

All that matters is that both customers and companies value good relationships. I try never to be rude to a CSR because I know they are a person and that they didn’t necessarily have anything to do with why I’m angry or upset. I also understand that most of the above customer service issues are based on company culture or management. This won’t stop customers from getting frustrated though. All companies should understand that good customer service is good for their profit margin, even when they are refunding some money. Some of the companies I frequent have awesome refund policies, like refund and replacement on products, and they continue get my business because I feel like they understand that it’s not easy for a customer to part ways with their money and that the product or service they receive should be worth that money. When this isn’t the case, the company and it’s employees should do everything they reasonably can to get the customer to return. They should make it easy for the customer to spend their money, which is where poor service or apathetic attitudes get in the way. The number one reason I don’t go back to a store or avoid a company is because not only were their products and service not up to snuff, but that the straw that broke the camel’s back was their response to my issues. When I have a choice, I don’t give money to a company that I can’t stand working with. When I don’t have a choice, I will call repeatedly with my complaints, including that the last person I talked to was rude or unhelpful. That’s what a customer should do. A company should hear their customer and potential customer complaints and suggestions and work to improve themselves, even and especially in harder economies.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Consumer Rights

 

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A Gamer’s Complaints: Mechanics and Trends I Wish Would Change in Today’s Video Games

I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.

Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite

I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.

A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.

Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.

Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.

Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.

Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes

I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.

What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.

Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR

Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)

Morality Scales: SWTOR Again

Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.

The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.

Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO

I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.

MMO Stalkers

Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.

The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.

The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS

I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.

I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?

I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.

The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age

My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.

The Point of It All

Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.

Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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