Let’s Play “Spot the Screwup”!

How many professional errors can you find in this sad but true story?

I purchased a mass market MMO, one I did not already own, because my employer has this insane idea that we cannot develop products for MMO players unless we are actively playing MMOs. I know, crazy! Anyway, we decided on one that none of us had really played. I bought it from Best Buy, came home, popped in the first disk, and started installing. There begins my tale:

The installer has a link in yellow where I can go to a web interface and activate my product key. I click it. “Forbidden – you don’t have permission to access / on this server. Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered.” I laughed. I’ve seen worse. I’ve DONE worse. If all they can throw at me is a broken link on their installer interface…

I finish installing the two DVDs without a hitch. We are already ahead of some games that I have tried. However, the activation link on the patching window is… also giving me that error. Huh. I understand the installer link being busted, since that shipped with the disk, but the patcher? The hell? The patcher window also had a button that said “Account.” Well, okay, I am TRYING to make an account, let’s see what happens.

Victory! An account creation webpage! I lovingly fill it out, following all directions. It’s a two page form, lots of fiddly bits.

Rejected. My forum name is already taken (my FORUM NAME? Oh no, you mean I’m not super original and my D&D name from when I was twelve is ALREADY IN USE? omg i wuz haxxored!!!111@!), and I apparently must use parentheses instead of periods in my phone number. That would have been good information earlier, say, on page one of the form, but okay. Fortunately, I do not have to retype my product key. Unfortunately, I do have to retype my credit card number, my user password (twice), my forum password (twice), and some other bits.

Rejected. The forum passwords didn’t match. Error BCAK. I retype everything.

Victory! Or not.

The system was unable to create your account at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later. (ERROR 30003)

The system was unable to update your account at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again. (ERROR -2)

Huh. Well, okay. Sometimes systems are busy. (Actual conversation with myself: “Busy? The ACCOUNT CREATOR is busy? This isn’t a new launch, this puppy’s been out awhile.” “Oh, hush up, brain, or I’ll poke you with a cotton swab.”) I try again, retyping all the fiddly bits. I have now memorized my credit card number.

The system was unable to create your account at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later. (ERROR 30003)

The system was unable to update your account at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again. (ERROR -2)

Hrm. Well. Normally, to be 100% honest, this is where I return games to stores. I have very few expectations when it comes to software, but they can be summed up as “Turn on when I push the icon” and “Take my money without exposing me to fraud.” I periodically hold out hope for “bring me a cold beer and a coaster,” but those hopes fade as beagle flatulence fades into the air conditioning.

See, “taking my money” is the part that a studio is highly motivated to do. (Contrary to the opinion of most armchair QBs, this is perfectly fine. A studio is a BUSINESS. They are supposed to provide a product or service in return for MONEY. If you want to do something for love, you adopt homeless animals.) Also, due to the security issues involved, the taking money part is usually assigned to a clever programmer and given some rigorous testing. If they cannot even take my money without subjecting me to frustration and buggy code, it simply does not bode well for the actual product.

But I’m doing this for work. Also, I’m friends with some of the people who made this game. I am therefore going to try a little harder than I usually do.

During my career, I have almost always had more luck getting factual information from customer service people. The reason is because they are motivated. Every dumb, impatient thing a developer says either has no effect, has an effect on the community manager (which from a typical studio’s POV is the same as no effect), or a brief tempest inna teapot effect. Your typical CSR has one bad day and three websites pop up devoted to skinning him alive. Also, CS people, being the front line, are also usually better informed than their “superiors” when something is broken. Something, say, like an account creator? So I go to the website, and I click on the product title. A window lets me know I can fill out a form… or live chat! Ooh!

Live chat. A nice boy introduces himself, and asks what product I’m asking about. (More self chatting: “What? I clicked on the product name to GET here, why’s he asking?” “Snort, because the chat interface isn’t wired into the website where you click the product name, it just looks like it is.” “Oh. I take back one swab stabbing.”) I tell him.

Two minutes go by. He asks how he can help me. Maybe it took that long to find the binder with the right scripts?

I explain that most attempts at reaching the creation webpage got “Forbidden” errors. (I manage to NOT suggest a clip of someone doing the Lambada be added to this error page.) I explain that I am getting errors when I try to submit my information. I ask if the account creation servers are down, or if there is some other problem.

A mindboggling three minutes go by, and he says he needs to transfer my chat to billing. My god, I’ve asked a real stumper!

A full minute and a half went by, and the message “transferring” appeared.

I should have looked at the time. Instead, I went to the bathroom, got a glass of water, let the dogs out, immediately let a terrified dog back in when thunder boomed, grabbed a pear, and came back to the computer to see “transferring” still there. Then it vanished, along with the chat window itself.

I was informed by a cheery message on the web page that I had been disconnected because all techs were busy. Wow. Someone tell the cable company about this one; rather than leaving me on hold for twenty minutes, you could just cut me off! The message told me that I can now send a FORM. Lucky me. If only I had chosen that option sooner!

So I filled out the form. I’ve done these before. I’ve READ these before, and I know that short clear sentences are best when describing the problem. “Account creation page gets me a “Forbidden” Error most of the time. When it does take me to an actual page, I’m told I cannot create my account at this time.” I mentioned that being disconnected did not amuse me, at the end.

My answer comes an hour later. I have to scroll past my own form. And this is what I got:

Greetings Sanya,

Thank you for your inquiry. We will be happy to research this issue for you, but we will first need additional information. Please click the link at the bottom of this message in order to reply to this message and provide us with the following information:

-product key

Thank you,
Customer Service Team

Did you know, XXX has many great Premium Services available to their members? Check them out by XXXX and clicking on the “Premium Services” logo.

Sigh. Okay. I follow directions.

This time the answer comes back in fifteen minutes.

Greetings Sanya,

You can follow the steps below to create your account and activate your Retail keys.

-Go to https://XXXX
-Enter the Retail key.
-Select a username and different forum name, as well as passwords for both.
-Read and Agree to the Terms and Conditions.
-Select Payment Option and enter Payment Information
-Start or Re-start your game launcher.
-Play XXX!

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please respond using the link below, and we will be happy to assist you.

Thank you,
Customer Service Team

Did you know, XXX has many great Premium Services available to their members? Check them out by visiting XXXX and clicking on the “Premium Services” logo.

I stared in disbelief. I responded: “Yes. I know. What apparently did not come across with my first message was that when that link “does take me to an actual page, I’m told I cannot create my account at this time.”

“Specifically: (cut and pasted error messages)

“Neither of these error messages mean a damn thing to me. Is the server busy? Is it my card? Is it the key? Is it my account name? What is the deal?”

After I hit send, it sent me to a knowledge base interface. I smacked my head with my hand. Hard. I deserved it, because even after working with CS people for so many years, I didn’t think to… RTFM.

I punched in my error code. No results.

I could be wrong about this next bit, as I was very unhappy. I am reasonably certain that I screamed at the computer monitor, and I may have suggested some unknown developer wa.s a misbegotten bastard son of a cheesedick transsexual syphilitic whore.

After some comforting snack product, I reopened the browser, opened the game’s website, and clicked around until I got to a knowledge base. Sometimes you have to massage the syntax. Imagine my confusion when I realized I was looking at an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT KNOWLEDGE BASE. I punched in my error code again.

These errors which you are receiving usually indicate that your credit card company does not recognize XXX as an authorized online subscription company. Many credit card companies have tightened their restrictions, especially with online purchases over the past several years due to increasing fraud.

You should be able to contact your credit card company, and inform them that you would like to authorize XXX to charge you a monthly subscription fee.

In the name of all motherless, merciless, testicle eating teabagging middle managers (blessings be upon them all), WHY couldn’t the automatic error message JUST SAY SO IN THE FIRST PLACE?

By the way, the only way I could pull up the original knowledge base was to append my appeal. After I filled in a note explaining I no longer required aid, the system redirected me to… the knowledge base that failed me, instead of the one that actually answered my question.

So, spot the screwups! There are four by my count. They are: a) expecting someone to want my money, b) not putting the error messages into my original email, c) not disconnecting the live chat the instant I realized I had gotten the special time delayed trainee, and d) not leaving this room when the dog farted AGAIN, my GOD, what is this animal EATING when I let her outside, decaying rodents with a rotten fish chaser?

Someone I was chatting with during this process noted that this little story is why MMOs are for the most part NOT ACCEPTABLE TO THE MAINSTREAM CONSUMER PUBLIC. I’m not in the percentage of users that lives to send appeals. I wasn’t asking someone to replace the plate mail pants that I dropped while I was typing one handed to that hot half elf. I was trying to create an account. Meaningful error messages, website support, and a functional CS interface are basic, basic stuff. And I thought we were past this, especially with one of the original players in the genre.

But I guess not. I’m gonna go read a book now.



  1. Tauvix said,

    August 9, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Oh god, this literally brought tears to my eyes, I was laughing so hard. Not because of your situation (although, I have been on both sides of that, as a player and a developer – “Well, the error means something to ME!”), but because of your masterful way of telling the story.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Aufero said,

    August 9, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    You put in about two hours more effort than I would have.

    If they’re not motivated enough to develop a reasonably foolproof process for taking my money, I think it’s a safe assumption they’re not motivated enough to produce a product I’m interested in.

  3. Alex Weekes said,

    August 9, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    “In the name of all motherless, merciless, testicle eating teabagging middle managers (blessings be upon them all), WHY couldn’t the automatic error message JUST SAY SO IN THE FIRST PLACE?”

    My sides hurt…

    I ran across something similar recently. Tried making a purchase with my shiny new card and got an error code. With no explanation. In my case I figured I probably knew the reason why (out of 3 possibles), so simply waited a day and tried again (at which point the transaction worked, thus confirming it was option 1 of 3 – the funds I’d sent to the account hadn’t arrived yet).

    Error codes suck as a method of communication.

  4. Apache said,

    August 9, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Suddenly all of those flames on the boards start to make sense ;D

  5. savagex said,

    August 10, 2007 at 9:01 am

    sides.. hurt..


  6. MoeD said,

    August 10, 2007 at 9:17 am

    3 words – IN-DI-A.

  7. Matt said,

    August 10, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I’m sort of surprised, though not too much. Tons of websites are broken, and game-related ones are far worse, since the entire company could care less about your stupid website. We’re game developers, dammit– we’re not going to waste our time on easy crap like that. We’ll hire some interns to do it.

    Seriously: I think most of the good web dev teams exist at the dedicated dot coms. Game companies underestimate the difficulty of the problem, or are unable or unwilling to recruit (and pay) properly. Blizzard and SOE do pretty well, IMO, but still have their share of downtime and user experience flubs.

    Meaningless BS error messages and terrible installers, though– that’s like a perfect storm of programmer “who the hell cares”. Hey, I plead guilty. If QA doesn’t catch my “I’ll come back and fix this later” errors and my “worked the first time” installer, it’s good enough….

  8. numtini said,

    August 10, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    The LOTRO website has been doing that since the game launched. Got it when I subscribed. Got it when I quit.

  9. fafner said,

    August 10, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Yeah, my LOTRO experience was similar, but I stumbled my way through it (and didn’t run into the credit card snarfus). Wasn’t too bad, and they did make it easy to quit (which I did a few days ago). As I quit, they asked if I wanted to do a survey about why I was leaving. I agreed, and the survey window promptly crashed….

    Now they’ll never know!

  10. Iakimo said,

    August 10, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    LOL… I was going to say the same thing Numtini said, only about Star Wars Galaxies. In that game, even the bugs have bugs.

    For my part, my Lord of the Rings install went smooth as silk. Ditto D&D Online when I sampled that game last year.

  11. Dartwick said,

    August 11, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Turbine has real issues with their account system. If everything is right it can be simple. If anything is off then its a mess that spirals out of control. I think it stems from having 4 different levels of account managment which all related to varying degrees.
    -over all account
    -account for paticular game

    I have tryed to play more than 10 different MMOs that I can think of(I tried one that I never could get an actually account made after trying for 3 days – yet they some how still sent me email adds to come back.). Mythic handles it the best, I assume in part because they dont mess with forums.

  12. sam said,

    August 14, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I’m gonna guess it was NCSOFT. Had the same issue last night trying to buy thier presell of Tabula Rasa online. I have a Visa from a Major US bank and it couldn’t be processed.

    I’ve researched online and apparantly thiere is a problem becuase the company that processes the transactions in Europe and has been associated with major credit card Scammers in the past.

    Bought it at best buy today but if I have to buy game cards to play the game, I’m not sure I’ll hang around. They need to suck it up and find a reputable company to do this for them.

  13. Phaltran said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    You missed an error: “I purchased a mass market MMO…”
    See THERE’S your problem. 🙂

    I’ve been through similar experiences, mostly with EA when they borged Origin. Only issue I’ve had with Blizzard was a very long hold time in getting to customer service. I was one of 4 million (at the time), so I could understand.
    I pre-purchased and activated LotRO right when it came out. By your description, I’d guess this is the MMO you purchased. I had no issues. I wonder if they actually have a large enough customer base now that they’re experiencing growth issues.

    Regardless, you’re point is well taken and should be shouted from the rooftops of all development studios around the world. If you’re going to sell something, be sure you have all the supporting parts running.

  14. Tipa said,

    August 15, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Had to be LotRO. I signed up, entered my information, then when my free month ran out, they said there was a problem with my perfectly valid credit card and to go through some hoops or something to figure out what it was, but upshot was, they weren’t going to let me play their game.

    So, that was that for LotRO.

  15. MattF said,

    August 20, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    That’s painful. While I’ll admit I’m pretty stubborn about getting software to work I don’t think I’ve had quite that many problems setting up an account. And I’ve played some pretty obscure games.

    Have you considered rebooting your computer? 😀

  16. Vanity said,

    August 24, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Quote MattF:
    “Have you considered rebooting your computer?”

    LOL That made me think of the Foamy Tech Support cartoons! God, I love Foamy!

  17. someone said,

    March 31, 2008 at 2:33 am

    i’m guessing this is lotro and i had no trouble activating this untill i decided to start playing it againt today…typed in all my info (paying with credit) press submit and it brings me to the myaccount.turbine.com page saying some error…can’t find the error on there account support,that chat line is down on weekends,and the phone lines arent’t up on weekends either for them…so very pissed off right now…

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