A reasonable remedy

One of the issues that has come up in the discussions around the UK Government's consultation on consumer rights in digital stuff is the notion of a reasonable remedy. In the case of online games - what's reasonable?

For the background on this see my TN Post: UK Consumers have rights over you

And the very detailed tVPN post: UK Content Rights 

In the case of quality issues with digital stuff the consultation document talks about 4 R's: repair, replace, return or reduce price. But would a player of an MMO or other online game want any of these R's if there were certain issues with the game, are there remedies there a more reasonable, more appropriate?

Here's a scenario: you buy a game and get ready to play it on the opening night - the authentication servers are borked all weekend so you just can't get on.

What compensation should the players get?

Note: assume that the consolation makes it through the legislative process and becomes law - in which case it is very likely that there will be a statutory obligation to compensate UK consumers, so I'm asking what compensation not whether there should be (see previous post for that debate).

My assumption is that most players will not want to replace or return the game, the repair will come in virtue of serves and load finally balancing. In some instances, such as a subscription service, it's possible that players may want to claim a reduction in costs in proportion to the time that they could not access the service - but is that really going to make any one happy?

One of the issues of not getting in at launch is that you don't get that launch weekend fun. You also start to fall behind friends / guildees - its not easy to think how that can / should be compensated.  A thought is something like and XP bonus that helps speed people through the game so they can catch up - but that feels like tampering and messing with game balence that might work to peoples' detriment. So what to do?


Comments on A reasonable remedy :

Richard Bartle says:

Let's look at the four possible solutions on offer.

REPAIR: if the client doesn't work, there should be some attempt to patch it in a reasonable time. If the server doesn't work, the developer is out of business. In your example, the login server works for some people but not for others; there should therefore be some attempt to patch it, yes, and if not then the developer is derelict in their duty. However, this still means that you've got an inferior product to that of the people for whom it worked every time.

If you're taking this view that your character is faulty because it has two fewer days of play behind it than the characters of people who could log in, then sure, it could be "repaired" by giving it the same points and skills and quest completion history that you could have worked it up by if you'd been able to log in; however, that's like if you miss 10 minutes of a movie because of a faulty till, having someone tell you what's happened in the plot so far to bring you up to speed. It's not really the same thing. Likewise, giving people double XP for a bit so they can catch up is like offering people the chance to watch a movie at double speed until they reach the point where everyone else is; again, it's not going to have wide appeal.

One effective way to "repair" the "damage" caused to your character by starting 2 days after everyone else, would be to reset the database and make everyone start from scratch again, a bit like when there's a false start in a sprint race. Of course, the people who have to replay content they have been through already will not be happy - it's like making them re-read the first few pages of a book. Also, you won't be happy either as they'll still get ahead of you since they have a couple of days' experience of play that you don't. To make it as fair as possible, the developer would have to prevent those who could log in from logging in for 2 days so that those who couldn't log in can catch up. That means that these people would now also be due compensation, but "repair" wouldn't work this time.

REPLACE: if your client doesn't work because of a fault in the medium, this makes sense. If it doesn't work because the code is at fault, it doesn't make sense - you'd just be replacing it with something identical, which by definition would also not work. It would need a repair, rather than a replace. In the 2-days-lost character case, replacing it with a new character that has the attributes your original character would have had if it had been played for 2 days is the same solution as for a repair, described above.

RETURN: this is the last resort for any provider of a faulty product - give the customer their money back. It's also the easiest and most convenient for a developer. I've done it myself with Age of Conan when it wouldn't install the launch patch: I took it back to the shop, threw a wobbly and got my money back. Now although this is the nuclear option for material goods - a furniture shop that has to give you back the money you paid for your faulty wardrobe AND recover it from your house is out of pocket by quite a bit - it's relatively easy for digital goods. You don't like the MMO? OK, you can have your money back. If it's a free-to-play MMO and you can't get in on launch day, there isn't even any money to pay back. You tried to use a free service, it didn't work, so what? You get what you pay for.

Now you could argue that although a full refund should be available, you actually want more than that because you wasted your time trying to use the product and so on before you realised there was a problem. Fair enough, in which case it can be treated the same way as any other return with a compensation element. If you bought a new washing machine and spent 2 hours failing to get it to work, you could ask for some money to cover the inconvenience; if it started up but spewed water all over your floor, you could claim more. On this basis, I could sue Funcom because their latest version of TSW causes a blue screen of death every so often when I transition to and from Agartha; I probably should be due it, too. I suspect that I wouldn't get much of an award if I took it to court, though.

Another thing you could argue is that although you consider that you have bought a faulty product, getting your money back for it is not what you want. For example, if you were a big Star Wars fan and had been looking forward to SW:TOR for years, then you'd still want to play it after an opening weekend login debacle (or opening week staggered login debacle in this particular instance), just you want something to make up for some loss. This brings us to the reduced price option.

REDUCED PRICE: this is often used in the material goods world for buying things that you know aren't in pristine condition. My daughter's laptop was the last in the shop and had been on display, so we got a discount for it. The same thing happens when the flaw is discovered after the purchase: you spot a scratch on the underside of the table you bought, which isn't really noticeable but you'd be within your rights to demand a full refund so the shop gives you some money back as a form of compensation.

With a subscription MMO, if you miss 2 days then it's easy to give you 2 days longer on your subscription. It's easy to give you a month longer, as a good will gesture. This is a reduced price solution. It's not going to work for a free-to-play model, because if you couldn't log in you couldn't spend anything, therefore there is nothing to reduce the price of as a remedy. Of course, you could be given some in-game currency as compensation, but compensation is different to statutory remedy. I know you use "compensation" and "remedy" interchangeably, but they're distinct things. A repair, for example, is not compensation; compensation is basically a bribe to make you go away.

Summary: I can see that developers who wish not to fall foul of the law will simply offer a full refund, which is the maximum remedy that can be required of them. They may on a case-by-case basis offer alternative solutions if large numbers of players are affected (eg. no-one can log in for a day, so everyone gets their subscription extended by 2 days or some premium currency to spend), but it's simplest for them just to offer a full refund if anyone has a problem. They would want to avoid a situation in which people start asking for some of their money back plus a repair, plus some kind of compensation for being inconvenienced.

You worry about whether any of the possible solutions will make anyone happy. Why would it? It's only ever going to do that if the person seeking redress obtains compensation out of all proportion to what they were expecting. This isn't about happiness, it's about what to do if someone sells you shoddy goods. The very best you can hope for is that you get your money back.

Richard

Posted Sep 20, 2012 3:45:11 AM | link

Brian Kellett says:

A further example might be the 'preorder' bonus. For example, I pay some extra money to get into the game two days before those not preordering - then the servers are down for a large chunk of that early access, why then should I not get a refund for at least part of that preorder?

This happened to me with Guild Wars 2 but I've not pursued it because a) I'm unlikely to get anything and b) I'm lazy.

I fully admit to making a rod for my own back.

Posted Sep 25, 2012 6:54:15 AM | link

Shander says:

(IMHO) The underlying problem that begs for a solution stems from isolation of a legal departments (focused on T.O.S) , expectations that are set by a marketing departments, differing goals of creative people are focused on design ideal, technical people are most aware of potential limitations, and financial people cannot press the 4 into divergent maximization of goals.

The legal and marketing departments must act with a coordinated voice. With marketing suggesting limitations and legal trying to specify specific remedies rather than trying for absolutes that are likely to look far more anti-consumer than necessary.

The creative people must be involved creating content in a way that makes a “loss” less servere, I would suggest, by making more things that might have a RMT value more easily replicable, less transferable, and generally more ephemeral. The creative lure of “rare” drops might need to give way to acknowledging that anything that promotes RMT opportunities and OC Meta interactions bring their own distractions from the fantasy environment.

If the allure of “rares” also means more account sales and potential large consumer loss if gauged by “black market” the creative process cannot overlook the second. Different concepts of what is rare can be made more personal(creative people will need to be creative figuring out how - “achievements” in wow are one technique. Methods of real id at a corporate level (with privacy maintained) could be used to dissuade sales of whole accounts where the rares are bound to a nontransferable character. Economies can be structured to provide excitement without luck nearly as important.

Without arguing specifics of the law (existing or proposed) the general spirit of internal behavior has got to be "good faith". Using "good faith" guidelines internally is the easiest way actually appear you used good faith (fancy that?!)

If marketing presented the first week of release as being a “gamma” period where shake outs of technical issues were probable. “Full release on October 7. Or get a head-start in the October 1st Gamma release where the brave will still encounter disruptions in the fabric of the universe”.(please anticipate interruptions inherent technical disruptions in large releases).

…. Marketing can cast the early release as something enticing for those that are “pro’s” while still setting expectations that would both protect themselves from consumer law as well as setting better satisfaction by “under promise- over deliver” methods. There is a balance between positives of a big “bang” release and the negatives of technical disruptions.

Marketing and Creative cannot expect that having a great technical team will over-come all problems. They need to bow to “murphy’s law” and set expectations accordingly.

In promoting “Newness” marketing can subtlety re-enforce the idea that there will continually be new which as in the real world makes what had value in the past obsolete. In that way Marketing can work with legal and creative to reinforce the ephemeral nature of possession without “full wipes”.

Techinical can (an probably already is) assist with improving Logs substantially so that anything of value can be restored easily and fraud can be tracked more easily. Financial managers must budget in the overhead assumed allowing quick access to information without additional tech involvement, “losses” are more avoidable, and correctable(make logging an inherent part of the “is it technically possible” decision to adopt new creative content)

Posted Sep 27, 2012 5:36:40 PM | link