Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Customer Service: Two Personal Anecdotes Which Have Shaped My Spending Habits

I know I've talked several times in the past about game companies and customer service.

Let me give you two quick anecdotes that should give you an idea of how customer service has affected my spending habits.

To do this, you need to rewind time fifteen years or so.  At the time, I was spending an average of about $100 per month on game books.  And this is when hardcovers were around $30.  The bulk of my purchases were for White Wolf's World of Darkness setting (the old one, not the new one).

But I was also buying every single Star Trek RPG book I could get my hands on from Last Unicorn Games.

I was (and continue to be) an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, as well.  And, like many others, I have favorite settings from fiction.  One of my favorites is a classic no matter how you cut it.  Dune.  I have worn out enough copies of the various Frank Herbert books that they were among the first books I bought for my Kindle a few years back.  But that's beside the point.

The point is I love Dune.  The Frank Herbert vision of it, at any rate.

In 1999 or so, Last Unicorn announced that they had secured the RPG rights to the setting.  I ... I about exploded.  I wasn't terribly active online, yet, at that point, but I started monitoring the forums on and watching Last Unicorn's website religiously for any information they were willing to dole out.

They eventually announced that a Limited Edition of the core book would be available at GenCon 2000.  Nine hundred copies had been ordered from the printer!  I was ecstatic! The book was due soon!

Then Wizards of the Coast bought Last Unicorn Games, and the future of the line was thrown into doubt.  It was clear that WotC was going to turn all of Last Unicorn's properties into d20 games, because d20 was their big moneymaker.

A few weeks before GenCon, I e-mailed Wizards of the Coast's online store support to inquire about the Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium book that was reportedly going to be at GenCon.  Was there any way for non-attendees to get one?  I received an autoresponse followed a few hours later by a personal note from one of their reps saying, essentially, "We don't know."

A short time after GenCon (where, miraculously, the book hadn't sold out), I received an e-mail from taht same rep.  It said, essentially, that they did, indeed, have a few leftover copies that would be up for sale on their website, and she gave me a date and time.

I took a vacation day from work, and managed to get my hands on a copy of the book.  At cover price.

Because of that one incident from fifteen years ago, I have not spoken ill of Wizards' customer service, and I have supported them with my money.  Because their customer service was good, I have continued to buy their product (which is one reason why their limited GenCon book is frustrating to me this year).

Contrast that with White Wolf from about the same time:

I had the five core books that had originally been planned.  I had most of the splatbooks and a significant number of the various setting books.  I was running a crossover game - and had been for several years.  I had the politics of Tacoma/Seattle/Puyallup/Olympia mapped out for all of the major factions, I knew the history and I knew what the villains were up to.

Enter Demon: The Fallen.  I was (and still am) not comfortable with allowing demonic PCs in my games, for a number of reasons. And at the time, when a new core book came out, releases for the other games tended to lean towards that core book in some way to create a new gap for that book to fill. Then, a book or two later, they'd refocus on their core pre-existing conflicts and it'd be as if the new core had been there all along.  When Wraith: The Oblivion came out, for example, we got Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, which had vampires who lived in the Wraith realms (whose names escape me).  With Changeling, we got Vampires who could interact with the Fae, and so on.

So I sent White Wolf a polite e-mail.  I explained that I'd been a loyal customer since 1994, and I'd bought most of their books to date.  I thanked them for their time, and then let them know that I was not comfortable bringing Demon into my game, and so I would be taking some time off from their game to let things settle down and normalize again.

The response I got was ... it was really rude.  It implied that I wasn't the sort of customer they wanted anyhow and clearly I wasn't prepared for "true" darkness in my games and don't let the door hit me in the ass on the way out.

So I never knowingly bought another White Wolf book again.  And I told all of my friends. I stopped running the game, which means that there were already half a dozen folks not buying.

I eventually got some of their d20 stuff, because I didn't know at the time it was White Wolf.  I also got Pendragon and the Great Pendragon Campaign - again, not knowing they were White Wolf products at the time (they're not anymore, BTW).

Now, I'm only one consumer.  And, even at $200 a month, I wasn't a major consumer. But I doubt I was the only gamer who was uncomfortable with Demon.  And I further doubt I was the only consumer to contact them.

Did I make a significant impact in White Wolf's finances?  Probably not alone.  Long-term?  Maybe.  There's no way of knowing.

So to recap the paragraphs preceding this: A good customer service experience has kept me coming back to a company which produces mediocre games with occasional flashes of greatness, and a bad customer service experience has kept me away from a company that produces mediocre games with occasional flashes of greatness.


  1. White Wolf had something of a legendarily poor online customer service representative at the time, as I recall.

    1. Tyler,

      That is entirely possible. Given my experience, it would not surprise me in the slightest.