I started out the week trying to run some tests on few machines, something that is frustrating enough without unwanted or unexpected obstacles thrown in your way. When I tried to run Battlefield 3 on a laptop, I had to log into Origin first; annoying but not too much different from trying to run a Steam game. However, I was told I couldn’t run the game on the laptop, the reg code was already used
I fired off a WTF email to a few people and made sure it would get to folks at EA. EA reacted and we had a meeting a couple of days later in a coffee shop in SF. I went prepared to be told I was unqualified to breathe, let alone try and play an AAA FPS. But I was impressed with the response time, and the reach-out.
Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
It seems I was too fast. I out ran their server and it lost the credentials transfer—you can play a game you own on any machine you have access to. And the EA tech in our meeting, who I ended up liking a lot, took full responsibility for the server; and in real time, in Starbucks, rebuilt my account—impressive. His boss, or a boss, showed up a half hour later and apologized for EA failing to delight me. At first I thought it was yada yada and I half tuned out but he was not only sincere he made sense—he really was sorry because EA has been working on providing a customer delight interface, and I was a disappointing reminder they aren’t finished yet.
We had a long conversation. I learned a lot about the federation of EA, and how the management is trying to integrate the various tribes it has inherited and/or acquired. Just establishing a common lexicon is a major effort, and weaving in other companies’ interfaces, account management, QC, and relationships is almost Sisyphus-like endeavor. But what turned me around was the commitment the company has to doing it. The massive internal educational process EA has undertaken, and the zero tolerance top management has for indifference, lackadaisical, or bureaucratic behavior toward the customer. “Look,” the VP told me, “we are the easiest operation for the customer to opt out of —they just stop playing and don’t say good-bye.”
EA knows they’re not done, that they’ll never be done, they made big commitments, and already major changes; not the least of which was moving their call center back to the US (in Austin).
A game should not be restricted to a machine, any more than a book is restricted to a bookcase, or a DVD to a player. Good books, movies, and games can be visited again and again. A good game should never end.
When I shut down my machine the other night after having re-played Battlefield 3 and Stalker, I realized that I felt like I had been visiting old friends, and even though I knew some of the things that were coming I was still surprised and enjoyed it—some games, Stalker for sure, will live forever, just like Bioshock, and if I could get it to play again, Fallout.
That’s the real measure of a game and its value for money. There’s a lot I’ve played and once was enough (the new Wolfenstein comes to mind, or the new Duke Nukem I couldn’t even begin to get interested in it was so stupid).
Its why we watch TV series and go back to sequels in movies—we like the story the characters. The video and film industries have learned this. Mad Men or The Wire, or any great series works by continuing to sell the same characters and situations to those who have come to love the story and the characters.
But if we are constrained to one game per machine, the game publishers can forget about loyalty and repeat business—EA gets this and are doing everything they can to keep the players happy.