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Loading... Subscriber Beware

Posted Mon, Apr 12, 2010 by Ethec

Welcome to the 1,310th edition of Loading...

Loading... is the premier daily MMOG news and commentary newsletter, only from Ten Ton Hammer.

Without exaggerating the recent Warhammer Online billing snafu since - let's face it - recurring billing problems are pretty rare, both players and devs can learn a few things to protect themselves should something like this ever happen again. Those tips, plus thoughts on what Mythic should do above and beyond reversing the charges, in today's Loading... Subscriber Beware.

The Pulse

You vote with what you view at Ten Ton Hammer, and the result is the Ten Ton Pulse (What is The Pulse?).

Here are today's top 5 Pulse results:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (UP 6)
  3. EverQuest II
  4. Age of Conan (down 2)
  5. Dungeons & Dragons Online (down 1)

Biggest movers this week:

  1. EverQuest (UP 8 to #9)
  2. City of Heroes (UP 8 to #19)
  3. Global Agenda (UP 4 to #18)
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Loading... Daily

Prior to writing today's Loading..., I did a quick count of how many monthly and multiple-month subscriptions I have to my name. I have 12, and I suppose that's 12 times the risk of the average player, but (knock on wood) I've never had a overbilling problem like those currently experienced by a substantial number of Warhammer Online players. My heart goes out to those affected, because anyone who's had overbilling or credit theft problems knows of the multi-month nightmare that could potentially follow. Such problems are (thankfully) pretty rare, generally speaking, so I want to put this in perspective. But that doesn't mean that this fiasco doesn't warrant comment, and devs and players can even learn a few things from the fallout.

First and foremost, did Mythic do enough to correct this issue? I can't say, because I don't know how they're responding individually to those affected. I will say this, though: reversing the charges isn't enough. These errors range in the hundreds of dollars and are reportedly impacting credit scores at a time when lots of folks in the US are taking advantage of tax credits to buy houses, and the least Mythic can do is offer some free game time.

Some want the name of the recurring billing vendor to actively persuade EA not to use the same vendor for Star Wars: The Old Republic. But contracts between recurring billing vendor and a company on the scale of EA are no doubt thick and full of magically mitigating legalese that covers just such an incident as this. Short of naming names, however, I'd hope that Mythic at least takes steps to separate themselves from this vendor and find a new one. A Google search for "recurring billing vendor" yields dozens - doubtless they could find another once they extricate themselves from their current arrangment.

This issue is something that Ten Ton Hammer has struggled with as a company, too. With regards to our annual Premium Member plans, Ten Ton Hammer doesn't auto-renew. It was a conscious decision on our part; we'd rather try to actively win your monetary trust not just every billing cycle, but every week with the good stuff that goes out in our Premium Member newsletter each weekend. That, and it's extremely complex to set up a recurring billing payment. For one, you have to store credit card info (extremely scary) or pay someone to assume the security and liability for storing credit card info (expensive, still scary, and involving a thick contract - the cheaper the thicker), then secure permission to bill someone a particular amount without their direct authorization each period. It's much more complicated than it looks, consumer-side.

Can development companies take steps to minimize the damage, should something like this ever happen again? Certainly, here's four:

  • Unlike service provides like Audible, Netflix, or (dare we say) pr0n sites, MMOGs have a deeply connected community, and problems and rumors of problems spread like wildfire. We know this, you know this, so maybe areas which impact customers directly - customer support and billing among them - shouldn't automatically go to the lowest bidder.
  • Someone with the authority to contact the vendor and freeze billing should be keeping an eye on those overnight settlement reports you get daily from your vendor and comparing them to real-time subscriber numbers. If there's a spike that doesn't correspond to an serious uptick in the numbers, you should be on the phone asking for clarification.
  • If there's a problem, for goodness' sake, freeze billing until it's resolved. If SirRobin's reports are true (and we really don't have any reason to believe they're not), one subscriber was overbilled 40 plus times over the course of 3 days, and these problems had come to light days before the first overcharge. It's far cheaper, in terms of money and PR damage, to fix these problems while they're small.
  • Send out monthly billing reminders. If there's one thing for certain, it's that your players will let you know when a problem crops up. I respect CCP for letting me know when they're billing me and for how much, and I'm saddened that more companies don't practice this. "Buyer beware" might be the rule of the day for most MMOG subscription plans, and who among us hasn't been billed for a month in which we didn't play the game. But milking a quick buck probably makes players far, less likely to re-up my subscription when I finally do cancel it. On the other hand, I've re-started my (three) EVE Online accounts multiple times, and no crying orcs or simpering surveys to sour the experience.

Can players take steps to protect themselves? Absolutely.

  • Move your subscriptions onto a credit card, not debit cards or a Paypal account tied into your funds. Make it a point to do this before you log in to your games tonight. Most financial gurus I've heard discourage using your debit card online anyway, since there's no buffer between your actual real hard-earned money and thieves / mistakes.
  • It might seem like setting up recurring billing and making a one-time payment take nearly the same steps, but these are very different billing procedures on the backend. Be aware of your options, and if you're the type that favors control over convenience, call customer service (most top-tier games offer this) and ask for a one-time billing option for a multi-month subscription, even if it's not listed on the website. If enough players ask for this, maybe we'll begin to see it offered as a subscription option.
  • Alternatively, you could consider buying game cards and take online billing out of the equation completely.

So what's your take? Is this another nail in the coffin for subscription MMOGs? Is reversing the charges enough, or should Mythic offer bonuses and send the bill to their vendor? Have any other good sense advice to keep such problems from affecting you? Your opinion is welcome in the Loading... forum!


Shayalyn's Epic Thread of the Day

From our WAR: News & Announcements forum

Warhammer Botched Billing Reversed But...

By now you may have heard of the billing errors Mythic Entertainment and, more to the point, their customers, have endured over the past several days. (Hopefully you haven't experienced them first hand.) Some subscribers were billed multiple times for their monthly subscription with charges reaching into the hundreds of dollars. We're keeping you up to date on the latest news and commiserating with one of our members who was hit hard by the billing debacle. Join in.

==============================
Awesome Quotes from the Epic Thread

"You should get a free lifetime sub for the hassle. I hope something like this never happens to me. My wife would make me stop playing subscription games all together. "

- Rocqu
==============================

Have you spotted an Epic Thread on our forums? Tell us!

New and Exclusive Content Today at Ten Ton Hammer

9 new Ten Ton Hammer features today! 50 in April! 409 in 2010!

GIVEAWAYS

WonderKing Level Up Giveaway from Ten Ton Hammer
Standard User URL: http://www.tentonhammer.com/giveaways/wonderking/levelup
Premium Member URL: http://www.tentonhammer.com/giveaways/wonderking/levelup/premium

WonderKing is a full-featured, side-scrolling MMORPG that takes players on a wildly adventurous and sometimes dangerous journey across the world of Windus. The 2D, asset-light framework of the game allows for some interesting and surprising fantasy storytelling features along with all the economy, crafting, and PvP options MMOG players have come to expect. Intrigued? New players can get a special level-up set consisting of a large 7-day bonus to experience and loot courtesy of nDoors Interactive and Ten Ton Hammer!

REVIEWS

Borderlands: Add-On Pack Reviewed
http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83273

The first Borderlands Add-On Pack pack has been released to retail stores, and Mattlow has decided to put it through its paces. The pack is comprised of The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and Mad Moxxie’s Underdome Riot. Is this product worth your gaming dollar?

FEATURES & GUIDES

Champions Online: Vibora Bay Overview
http://www.tentonhammer.com/co/guides/viborabayoverview

The latest zone in Champions Online, Vibora Bay, is a city filled with mysticism and mystery, where danger lurks in the fog-shrouded streets. Your pals at Ten Ton Hammer are pleased to provide this overview to help guide you through this dangerous city

EQ2 Stat Changes Explained
http://www.tentonhammer.com/eq2/guides/stats

The stat changes that came with the Sentinel's Fate game update have left many players confused and unsure of what it means for them. With every single player effected by these changes, it is so important that you learn how the new stats work. As much as having a good set up of stats can greatly aid your character in battle, having an uninformed set up can hurt you. We break down what has changed, why, and what you need to do to ensure you are getting the most from your stats.

Starcraft II: Top Ten Newbie Mistakes
http://www.tentonhammer.com/starcraft2/features/top_ten_newbie_mistakes

StarCraft II is a complicated game where strategy is king. There are many pitfalls that can make the experience frustrating for new players. We take a look at a few of the most frequent and detrimental mistakes that new players make.

WoW: Cataclysm Class Previews - Shaman, Warlock, and Priest
http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83193

They’re here! No we're not talking about creepy ghosts that live in your TV, we're referring to the first of the World of Warcraft Cataclysm class previews. Finally players will get a chance to get a glimpse of what is in store for their class in the much anticipated expansion. Shamans, Warlocks, and Priests are the lucky classes to have their previews opened to the world first, but what really is in store for your class? Join Mem as he gives his take on the changes, good and bad.

WoW: Cataclysm Class Previews - Hunter, Druid, and Mage
http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83247

The class previews for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm are still coming out and we're covering them as we get them. We've got an in-depth look at what these changes mean for each of the classes available and will be continuing to cover them as Blizzard releases more information. Lots of good information is in this one including an explanation of the Focus system for Hunters.

WoW: Cataclysm Class Previews - Warriors, Death Knights, and Rogues
http://www.tentonhammer.com/wow/cataclysm/classpreviews/WarriorsDKsRogues

The class previews for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm are still coming out and we're here to cover them as they do. We've put together an in-depth look at each one, and this section looks at Warriors, Death Knights, and Rogues. Lots of great changes are coming for all three classes, so lets take a look a them.

WoW Editorial - Casually Casual: Because Casual is NOT a Dirty Word
http://www.tentonhammer.com/wow/editorials/CC/intro

This week Mem will be introducing his new column largely based on the more casual aspects of the game. Guild relations, 5 man instances, add ons, achievements, and anything else that falls under the casual category are all potential themes. Join him as he takes the plunge into his first column entry by sharing some of his personal experiences and how they have changed his views on the casual play style

Today's Hottest Articles, Guides, and Features

  1. WonderKing Level Up Giveaway from Ten Ton Hammer Now Live
  2. Borderlands: Add-On Pack Reviewed
  3. Champions Online: Vibora Bay Overview
  4. Starcraft II: Top Ten Newbie Mistakes
  5. Battle of the Immortals Closed Beta Key Giveaway Begins
  6. WoW: Cataclysm Class Previews - Shaman, Warlock and Priest
  7. Awakened Nostalgia - EverQuest Relived
  8. WoW Op/Ed - Casually Casual: Because Casual is NOT a Dirty Word
  9. Final Fantasy XIV - Escaping the Shadow of XI
  10. Pocket Legends MMMOG for the IPhone - A Q&A with Spacetime Studios

Thanks for visiting the Ten Ton Hammer network!

- Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team


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