I Would Love to Love Spore

Let me start by saying I’ve rarely been as disappointed with an online experience and customer service as I currently am with those of Electronic Arts. Frankly, I’m pissed off. If you’re rant-squemish, look away. Update: see below.

I was at dConstruct last week, and one of the speakers I enjoyed the most was Aleks Kotoski. She shined a light on the chasm between the games and web industries, showed what we can learn from one another, and suggested ways to encourage bridge building. When you think about it, game designers have everything anyone needs to totally rock interactive design. Think of the stunning skills that game designers can be proud of:

  • A track record of creating interfaces that are simple to use despite mind-boggling functional complexity.
  • Masterful guidance through experiences that not only makes sure you’ll advance, but also keeps you motivated to see and do more.
  • A sense of aesthetics that can make a fanciful world believable and consistent, not to mention wondrous and beautiful.

So why does Electronic Arts, a company that earns its money from the sweat of game designers’ brows, have a site (especially the store) which fails to even be usable, let alone rock? Couldn’t someone in the company with these skills take a minute to look at their web site?

A world of fun, or so I've heard.My problems with Electronic Arts started back in 2006 when Will Wright, best known as the guy who created The Sims, gave the first demo of Spore. Back then, my problem was only that I wanted to play Spore, and it didn’t exist yet. It took two years for it to be released, and when it finally came out last weekend the more irritating problems started.

Keep in mind that as soon as I saw that demo I said to myself, “I must play that.” I was a fan before the game even existed. I’m the proverbial choir. There should be nothing in the world easier than selling me a copy of Spore. So why haven’t I got it yet?

Buying Spore: Round 1

  1. On the day it came out, I eagerly pounced on the German Spore site, and clicked on “Hol dir Spore” (Get Spore).
  2. I landed on a page with all the different versions of Spore, and seeing no “Buy Now” button, clicked on the “EA Store” teaser in the right column.
  3. The big fat text on the next page said “Jetzt Herunterladen” (Download Now) and I grinned. Getting close! Click!
  4. A green button “In den Warenkorb” (Add to shopping Cart) on the next page promised to lead me the right way. Click! Gimme!
  5. Typical shopping process, click type type click click. Once finished (hahahah, it’s mine!) I clicked on the download link, which led to… an exe.
  6. Realising I’d just bought a PC download, I slapped my forehead, and started searching for a way to get to Electronic Arts’ customer service.

Jetzt herunterladen! Not.That’s what most of us do first when something goes wrong online: blame ourselves. I had indeed made two critical mistakes, but both were unavoidable. I hadn’t screwed up, Electronic Arts had. But more on that later.

Electronic Arts (dis)Service

After many more clicks and quite a bit of backtracking, I’d managed to write a mail to Electronics Arts support: “I screwed up, blah blah blah, please change my download to the Mac version blah blah, thanks!” An automated email reply promised an answer within 24 hours.

After 60 hours without an answer, I tried again. Another 24 hour promise. 48 answer-free hours later, although I was pretty annoyed with Electronic Arts and their service vacuum, I was still ultra-keen to play Spore. I’m not known for patience, so I figured I could work out a refund for my PC version mistake later, and went back to their site to buy the Mac download.

Buying Spore: Round 2

  1. I returned, full of suspicious caution this time, to the “Hol dir Spore” page mentioned above.
  2. Being suspicious, I noticed the tiny “More Info About the Mac Version” link I’d failed to notice before (first critical mistake above). Hmmm. Click.
  3. The Mac info page had links to two vendors: amazon.de and weltbild.de. Doesn’t Electronic Arts sell the Mac version themselves? Hmmm. Anyway, Amazon’s my friend. Click.
  4. Boxed CD version only, delivery by the 15th. Erm, no thanks. Back. Click weltbild.de.
  5. Same thing. Boxed version, delivery days away. I want to play now, and it can’t be that there’s no download for Mac. C’mon, this is software! Back.
  6. Down at the bottom of the Electronic Arts’ Spore Mac info page, I find another teaser for the EA Store. That’s better! Download here I come! Click!
  7. Hunh? I’m on the same “Jetzt Herunterladen” page from before. By now I’m downright mistrustful, so I notice the tiny grey text: “Platform PC” I’d missed earlier (second critical mistake). Could Electronic Arts be actively trying to piss me off? Is someone at EA laughing right now?

No Joy

So, Electronic Arts has managed to turn an excited future Spore fan into a disappointed and frustrated ex-customer in three easy steps.

Very different animalsFirst, by making their website as misleading as possible. As I said above, they have hundreds of people who are interaction masters. Games and websites are quite different animals, but the principals of clear and simple interface design, user guidance and expectation fulfillment work for both. Note to EA: get your designers to help with your site. You need it. Urgently. If they’re too busy, let’s talk. I’m looking for a challenge.

Second, by hiding behind a “service” wall which pushes customers away. No one who’s spent money on a product should have to explore, research and fight their way to getting help with that product. The best single way to get a customer to love a brand is to turn a moment of confusion and helplessness into a feeling of relief and satisfaction. Note to EA: without your customers, your products are worthless and you can pack up shop. Make happy customers priority number one and change your service strategy to reflect it.

Third, by insisting on selling bits packaged in atoms. Games are bits. Boxes and CDs are atoms. Bits travel well through the internet, take up no space on the shelf, and don’t require me to leave my keyboard, which is where I play my games. This should be obvious to anyone who’s been selling bits as long as Electronic Arts. But I’ve got a Mac, and there is no Mac download. That doesn’t mean there’s no Mac version of the game. There is. There’s just no download. Their games have taken very creative advantage of the internet for years now, so why are their distribution methods (at least for Mac versions) stuck in 1998? Note to EA: Apple’s US home computer market share seems to be around 8%. Do you really want to inconvenience and irritate that many potential customers? All you’d have to do is upload the Mac version to your server. Why haven’t you?

What Now?

I’ve just written Electronic Arts again, and simply asked for a refund. Another promise of an answer in 24 hours. We’ll see.

As much as I wish I could claim that Electronic Arts will collapse in on itself due to its confusing web sites, poor service and outdated sales methods, I doubt they will any time soon. They sell some pretty cool games, and people want them. I’d like to say this experience has so turned me off Electronic Arts that I’ll never buy from them again, but I still want to play Spore and will buy it somewhere, somehow. So in this case, getting the experience right is probably not a matter of corporate survival.

But think of how much better EA could be if they not only had killer games, but also a site that encouraged instead of hindered sales, and service that left customers loving the brand? Sounds like a pipe-dream from where I’m standing, but it should be CEO John Riccitiello’s dream. Anyone got his email address?

Update: today I got an answer from Electronic Arts! Only five days late, but who’s counting? Bad news is, they say:

Spore in Macintosh platform is not available to download. We recommend you to purchase physical copy for Mac Platform.

The good news is, they’re idiots! Spore is actually available as a Mac download from GameTree. A friend (thanks captkevman!) saw my complaints, read this article, and made me aware of GameTree via Twitter. Funnily enough, the info about where to buy a Mac download of Spore is buried in Electronic Arts’ own support site. Maybe the support staff should also read it? Either way, I’m off to download Spore. Hold my calls!

Comments

  1. Philipp says:

    When you get it please tell me how you like it (find me in the game by my usual nickname 🙂 and add me as buddy so we can share our creatures)
    i ordered it on amazon as a preorder and it araived directliy on Sept. 4th. I am in Civilisation Stage now and cant wait to reach the space stage and build my own space-ships 🙂
    see ya

  2. Hmmm… YMMV… the purchase and download were pretty easy, but registering in the game results in an error. The response from gametreeonline (the store part of transgaming) is yet to arrive in my mailbox. They must be a subsidiary of EA or something 😉

  3. Matt Balara says:

    I finally got Spore, and after downloading I’ve had no problems at all (other than staying up too late playing it). I’d heard about the EA signup servers being down regularly, but so far I’ve had smooth sailing. And after God only knows how many emails to EA support, my first purchase has apparently been refunded, too.

  4. Ugh.. I wish I read this before I made the same mistake. Thanks for the link to the FAQ entry — I’ve requested my refund, and will instead buy it in a store.