Coda: Three Rings headed down an all too familiar path.

(TL;DR Preface: I had secretly hoped that the recent acquisition by Sega would not degrade the performance of Three Rings, as is the case of so many innovative companies acquired by large companies. Sadly, it would seem that like many acquisition situations, this case bears out a disturbing trend: good customer service is the first thing to go as the new owners go about absorbing their new meal. My main Puzzle Pirates account has been banned, because of a miscommunication between Steam Wallet and Three Rings. After review, it's clear that due to an earlier hiccup,The Ringers seem to think they are short 19.95. Having looked at my purchase, and my Doubloon history as provided to all customers, I have been able to see from my end that this is a miscommunication, and an error on their part. They take days to reply to even a response asking for more information. I remain banned despite trying to work with them. They also seem to have banned me based solely on what appears to be an automated notice from Steam. After giving them several days to resolve the issue, to no avail I have given up being a player of Three Rings games. I have also filed a complaint & ticket with Steam. I don't think it's entirely their problem, however I at least want it on record.)


UPDATE: Three Rings apologized after a few days of silence:

I have done some further digging into your accounts, and they are now
unbanned. I’m very sorry about this issue, but it was caused by
miscommunication between Steam and our system. We had a chargeback
notification that your purchase had been refunded, which is why the associated
accounts were banned. There was no indication that the refund was caused by
a bug in the Steam wallet and you had not received your doubloons.

What happened with your account is a rare occurrence, which only affected a handful of accounts. I have left notes on the other accounts, to be sure they
are not banned for these chargeback notices.

I’m sorry for any inconvenience this has caused. If you have any further
questions or concerns, please let me know. — Aphrodite, 3-20-2012

While I am willing to accept their apology for this debacle, it does not excuse the very real causes of it. I have included their resolution in the interest of fairness, and to update the story to be up to date.

Original Post Follows:

Sometimes, the griefer is the company that provides the game…

Ahoy, Aye, Steam did refund the purchase. They did some changes to the Steam wallet which caused communications failure between them and us. It has been fixed now, and hopefully won’t occur again.

–Aphrodite, 2/7/2012.

If you would like to have your account unbanned, you will need to explain the reason for the refund…

–Aphrodite, 3/17/2012

I have been a very long time customer of Three Rings. I am also a production manager and CEO of start-up company which is producing an MMO. Creating MMO’s is hard work. Staffing them is even harder. I know and understand this. I really do.

But you have made a number of serious, and in some ways, unforgivable gross customer service missteps, which I fully intend to enumerate here for your benefit, but also as a lesson to the people I work with. You may think some of these points an exaggeration. Thinking that does not negate how I personally regard our recent interactions. You should listen here: listening to your customer is important and in some ways more important than collecting their money.

1) You assumed your customers are criminals.

Lizthegrey once boasted that every poe in the system could be tracked, from the very beginning. Doubloons are, to some effect your bread and butter when it comes to Puzzle Pirates these days. I think it’s reasonable to surmise you would more than likely have better tracking for your bread and butter than you do for your base currency in game. After all, Doubloons must enter the system in one way, and one way only for them to be effective: they must be purchased with real currency. But the fact remains, you assumed you were cheated and banned a customer in good standing for no reason other than a third party gave you some information which you then did not verify with your own due diligence. A simple search would have shown you some interesting facts and patterns, namely:

* That I have purchased a lot of Doubloons over the course of the last year. That I purchased Doubloons in large amounts as far back as 2006/2007. I’m not a “whale”, I don’t spend that much on your games. But I have made a significant number of purchases over the course of my patronization of Three Rings.
* That I am a customer who has utilized your customer service system with great success in the past.
* That I am a regular purchaser, who can always be counted on to add to the coffers of Three Rings.
* That I had a ticket just over a month ago, regarding the very issue we are dealing with here.

In short, your boast of metrics means nothing, if you’re unwilling to use them; to then go on and simply ban someone based on a third party notification. The boast is further minimized by your utter failure to verify the totality of the situation using your own systems which I would hope you would trust more than that of a third party. A search would have shown you that I had attempted a doubloon purchase, it failed within the Puzzle Pirates client itself. It would have shown that you acknowledged not only the problem, but that Steam had in fact reimbursed me for Doubloons which were never in fact delivered to me in the game itself. Had you taken an extra step, and audited my transaction history with my accounts… It would have shown you that immediately after the situation was resolved, I went ahead and purchased via the steam wallet AGAIN. Why? Simple, I have always trusted Three Rings. I never felt or thought they were out to disadvantage or harm me. That was the trust you had with me. You destroyed that trust by making assumptions, with incomplete information, when more complete information was readily available to you.

I am sure your response here is, you have a lot of customers, so assuming bad faith has to be done to protect yourselves. To which I say: how far you have fallen from the company I knew, who had a handle on everything. You had elegant systems, detail oriented customer service. Lizthegrey’s boast back then showed me, as a customer one thing: to Three Rings, it was not enough to wanted to be able to show if someone was cheating, or acting with ill intent.

Your actions these days show me a disturbingly different picture: that the customer is the enemy, that the customer is a burden.

If this is how you think now, then Cleaver should do the game industry a favor and get out. We have enough bad actors in this industry without adding to the total. What’s more, I will count the days until Sega dismantles you.

2) You assumed your customers are innumerate.
I think this speaks for itself. You assumed that I somehow cannot add, subtract or keep account of what I spend.

3) You assumed that every customer issue is routine.
There is nothing routine about a customer. Whether it be games, or a purchase at a store. Customer loyalty is about building trust. It can take weeks or years to build and seconds to lose. Your customers are your number one commodity. But you have shown me (in this situation, and a few others I have been witness to in the last 12 months) that you now see your customers as a burden. You have shown that you no longer relish the act of serving your customers.

This makes me sad in many ways. I have, in the past always admired Three Rings. I have often looked up to you. I studied and pointed to you as an example of how things can work great. But, as with all emotions that could in any way be described as “hero worship”, eventually the truth you knew becomes a memory and the truth you now know sickens you.

But take heart! Because through this experience, I have instituted some policy drafts for my own people. Your bad example will not go unheeded!

1) Any employee of Double Cluepon who bans a player from the game itself for a charge-back (Especially a SINGLE SOLITARY charge-back) will be asked to box their things, and head to the unemployment line. Why? Because we will not suffer one day with anyone who would treat our customers as criminals. If they cannot be bothered to do a reasonable search of the customer identity, history, and correlate it with IP, and connection and purchase history…then we will not be bothered to continue employing him or her. We will expect the highest diligence. We have everything we need to service the customer properly, but anyone unwilling to take an extra step is unfit to work for us, or any other game developer. We will not kill flies with elephant guns. We will use the history we gather, we will remember glitches in the system. We will not make assumptions, we will work with facts and we will not consider supposition as a tool to be used in place of them.

2) We are drafting a spec for a system that will cut off a person from the purchasing system should a single charge-back occur. This gives us the freedom to deal with the issue, without disrupting the customer or making assumptions for the sake of expedience. We could still ban an account if we noticed a widespread pattern. Something any game company would do. As with any consequence, it should scale with the offense. Three Rings used to understand this. I assure you, we will never forget it.

3) As we can track IP, and taint systems much like Three Rings does, we can cut off clients who are clearly abusing the billing system. Despite doing so, we can *still* make the effort to reach out to them, to resolve the situation. After all, the resolution could wind up helping us even more, by letting us improve our process. Especially if there are convoluted or complex errors or problems. If something buggy could be happening, I want to know as soon as possible. Cooperation is a key factor in getting to the bottom of something that could blow up in our face. Like a customer who’s been treated poorly and is willing to tell their story calmly, and with articulation. Without resorting to blind rage in a forum post.

4) People cut off from our billing system because of a simple (and especially a SINGLE SOLITARY and isolated) chargeback would get an email giving them a few days to explain and deal with the issue. That is, after all, why we collect their email address for billing purposes. Again, if you have a tool, and do not use it then that is on you. We will not approach things with one tool, and one tool only. We will bear in mind that when you limit yourself to using only a (ban)hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

5) When dealing with third party payment systems, we will at least check our own systems, which we have built ourselves, and trust implicitly before we take the word of a third party who has only the most basic of information as to how our system works. Of course, trust in our own systems must be met with temperance as well. That temperance will be applied by seeing the forest for the trees. We will try to look at the totality of a situation, and act. We will not allow ourselves to be beguiled into ignoring the larger picture, and shooting from the hip will simply never be an option.

In short, your wrongheaded and ignorant approach to the basics of good customer service has led us to re-think what it means to provide a billable service to people, without losing our hats OR our customers of good standing. It may cost us a bit more in time and overhead, but you know what the difference will be between you and us? We consider that cost an investment in keeping that paying customer. The investment may not always pan out. That’s the nature of investment. But I am willing to bet if we can at least take one step forward in the situation and come to the table and deal fairly, a majority of customers would see that and respond favorably.

Why? Simple human nature: Nobody likes to be called a thief.

It’s especially insulting to be called a thief by proxy. It’s humiliating and insulting to be called a thief when someone actually does not even make a basic attempt at ascertaining the veracity of the accusation. You can relegate this to the hyperbole bin if you like. You can laugh it off, ignore it, but you do so at the peril of exacerbating the issue. At the end of the day, customers expect better. You know it, I know it. Casting aside feedback is dodging your responsibility, to the customer and thus, to your company. Failure to be responsible to your company in this way shows the lack of morale, pride and initiative that leads any company, no matter how good their products are…to abject failure.

You called me a thief, but you did not base your accusation on facts. You made no attempt to verify the accusation. For that, shame on you. You don’t deserve to be in this business anymore if you’re going to make the worst assumption of all: that the customer is your enemy. When you make that assumption, then in reality you have become your own worst enemy. I’ll be even more blunt: I expect this kind of attitude and behavior from a public utility, or a government agency. I never expected it from Three Rings. You had set a high bar for good customer service. Again, I am saddened by how far down you have now positioned that bar.

You have lost me as a customer. You have lost me as a player. You have lost me as a sneezer. You have lost me as a loyal patron of your service. My goal now is to warn people as to the nature of your customer service, and the lack of attention to customers and details. I will relay these things to all who ask, and I will go the extra mile of making sure people know of my experiences so they can make intelligent, rational decisions as to whether or not dealing with your company, it’s service, and its employees is worth the risk over the long term. I feel I have been poorly treated. I will take this lesson and apply it, personally, professionally, and to fellow customers, both old and prospective.

In closing, please understand: It does not matter to me if I cause the loss of 1 customer, 1000 customers, or 0 customers. My goal is not to increase or decrease your customer base, or your ARPU. What matters to me is the fairness in the telling; that people have all available information on which to base a decision. If I do that, then I fulfill my responsibility as a consumer for the benefit of other consumers.

Good Day to you.

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