A Blizzard of Unhappy Customers


On any other day I might have just blown past this Wired article on the problems that Blizzard Entertainment's having with subscribers to its World of Warcraft game. I'm not personally all that interested in computer games, online or otherwise. What made it stand out for me is that my sixteen year-old son is one of their unhappy customers.

[N]o one knew how quickly World of Warcraft would take off, and the downside to such instant success was that the game's servers rapidly got overwhelmed, leading to server shutdowns and delays.

"The success we've been experiencing since launch has been more than even we expected or hoped for," said Blizzard community manager Paul Della Bitta. "Unfortunately, that uncovered a few hardware issues with our infrastructure."

The game's server problems got so bad that Penny Arcade, an online gaming site, pulled its designation of World of Warcraft as game of the year until the problems go away.

Like most MMOs, World of Warcraft is intended to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for certain planned maintenance. Players pay up to $15 a month for full-time access to the game, and as such, expect to be able to play whenever they want. That's why, in spite of the fact that so many people love the game, there has been a vocal outcry from those who have experienced the server problems.
From Wired News: Dealing with Great Expectations
Referenced Sat Jan 22 2005 15:19:46 GMT-0700

My son loves playing Warcraft, so when the new game came out, he went right out and laid down the $50 for the game. Of course, since its an online game, you can't play without a subscription, so he also laid out $30 for two months of game time. Now, $80 may not sound like a lot to you or I, but to him, its about 2 month's salary from his only part-time job. Imagine you'd just laid out 2 months salary for something and then it wasn't available when you wanted to play. You'd be as upset as he was. I suspect that Blizzard has a lot of other customers in the same boat.

What made things worse was that the error messages were wrong. They claimed that he didn't have an account, even though he'd just signed on about an hour before. As I write this, he's happily signed in using the account that supposedly didn't exist two hours ago. Customer service wasn't any help either; the online information was out of date and the phone support was down for the weekend.

Blizzard is finding out what so many other's in the Internet space have learned before: having recurring revenue from your customers is nice, but it comes at a steep price in operational excellence and customer service.

I've been in the position Blizzard's in now and while its great to have unexpected success, its also nerve wracking. The pressure is intense because these kinds of problems can kill an otherwise outstanding product. Hopefully Blizzard will get a handle on this quick. It looks like they've got a winner and if the problems are fixed quickly, they'll be perceived as growing pains. If they're not, players, like my son, won't be likely to keep shelling out monthly fees.