49 minutes ago
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Barriers to MMO Entry, Part 1: Account Management and Subscription
Recent events and developments have impressed upon me the need to write about something that isn't normally talked about when it comes to MMO games. That is, defining some barriers to entry in the MMO world.
This is the first in a short series of articles that aims to discuss certain aspects of MMOs that would, unfortunately, keep people from being a part of that game they want to be in.
The first barrier to entry in an MMO must certainly come not from the game itself, but from the means by which one enters the game they wish to play. That is, the account management and subscription page, or its equivalent.
Basically, I see two potential barriers to entry here: one is when you can't sign up for or subscribe to the game you want to play, and the other is when you have to jump through technical hoops to make the system work for you in the first place.
The first is easy to describe, as my previous entries on LOTRO may have shown. Essentially, when one is unable to create even a trial account for a game, or is unable to subscribe to it, that places undue stress on the person who wants to play.
Now, downtimes for account registration and subscription are not uncommon. Even the giant we call World of Warcraft must have issues at times. When the only way to find out, however, is to attempt to create an account, then we have an issue that needs rectifying.
First off, a means by which the company in charge of account creation and subscription can test the system should be implemented in order to keep a close watch on it. This is doubly important when you're offering free trials, as you turn away potential revenue when someone who wants to try your game can't do so.
Second, making sure that any issues are visibly seen by the public would be much appreciated. It might annoy some people, but knowing that the system is down and that the company is acknowledging the issue on the main site rather than in some obscure part of the forums would be useful as well because, at the very least, subscribers and non-subscribers would immediately know that the issue is there, it is being addressed and there is an estimated time for a fix. Besides, most sites won't even let non-subscribers post in their forums to ask if the account management page is down to begin with.
Now we come to what I feel is the more daunting barrier to entry when it comes to account management and subscription: jumping through technical hoops to get the job done.
We're not done yet. Imagine that you checked those settings and already set them to the appropriate levels to allow for the game to initiate the account setup process. Yes, this is still the part where you register for an account.
Imagine it still doesn't work, and you contact their support center for assistance, and a day and a half after sending your email, you get a response from them telling you to update your service packs as well and basically bring everything, including their specific browser of choice (let's say Internet Explorer for kicks), to the latest upgrades.
And it still doesn't work.
And you have to send them an email again explaining the issue in detail once again so that there's no miscommunication.
Are you annoyed yet?
Unfortunately, this second one doesn't have any clear-cut answers to alleviate it, other than additional tweaking of the most basic of systems to ensure it doesn't happen to people. Heck, I'd even recommend additional further training of support folk or the creation of special technical templates so they can explain their answers fully and in detail to help the customer, but that's just a suggestion and not a flat-out solution to a glaring issue.
All in all, these two barriers to entry are the most fundamental, for they are barriers that keep one from even experiencing the game to begin with. They definitely need solutions, but at the very least, someone needs to be paying attention to these issues so that they can be remedied to begin with.