Second to making great games I think that customer care and user communication are among the most important parts of running a game design studio. From what I’ve seen some game designers seem to be under the impression that the more creative of a product that you’re offering, the more leeway you can give yourself.
However, I think that the creative nature of games and the wide array of opinions among its userbase is only going to put an even greater emphasis on listening and responding to dissatisifed users in a manner that make them feel heard and appreciated. Especially if we’re talking commercial games.
Two years ago I wrote a short entry about how Obsidian Entertainment immediately took action and created a new section on their website over a question I sent them. I made note of it because I thought it showed a willingness to take accountability for user problems.
Recently I had a similar positive experience, this time with the company Startup Vitamins (they make motivational products for startup companies), and I figured I should share it.
A Series of Unfortunate Poster Deliveries Where They Maybe Got Stolen by One or More Sneaky Swedish Customs Workers
Back in late 2013 when my studio was about to really get serious about developing Buck & Miles, I set out to buy some motivational posters to put up in my office since I realized that I’d be spending the coming year confined to my computer chair, coding for about 18 hours per day (yeah, wouldn’t recommend 18 hours per day in hindsight).
I stumbled upon the Startup Vitamins website, and at first I thought that the posters were too expensive so I filled out some feedback form before leaving the page, indicating that I wouldn’t buy on account of the pricing. Surprisingly enough they immediately responded via e-mail, and offered to solve my problem with a discount.
I can only assure you that our products are top quality, and we do everything on our side to make sure everything went well with your order. All I can offer is an extra discount code, it will get you 15% off on your order.
I was pretty impressed, and after browsing their site for a while I actually ended up ordering a few hundos worth of posters.
After one month of waiting however, I followed up on the package, and it turned out that it’d disappeared after reaching Swedish customs (I guess customs workers need motviational posters too). I got a bit annoyed, so being the dumb and immature baby that I was, I blatantly asked Startup Vitamins to just sort it out for me. They were kind enough to apologize and immediately resent it.
I’m so sorry about this! Sometimes this happens with International orders. We’ll resend the posters, for sure. Again, I’m really sorry about the inconveniences that this must have been causing you!
A few weeks later I got all the posters – all packed up in a neat roll – but here’s the kicker: it arrived when I was in the middle of moving so I never got a chance to unpack my posters, and none of the subsequent apartments that I lived in after that had room for any of them.
It wasn’t until early 2016 that I found a spot for them, but when I rummaged through my closet it turned out that I’d lost the posters in one of the moves, because I’m a big stinking idiot.
Since I didn’t want my Startup Vitamins Poster Saga to end on such an existentially depressing note, I sent them an e-mail explaining the situation and asked if there was any possibility to get the original discount again, so that I could place a new order.
Their response was more than accomodating:
You know, I lived in Sweden as well. Within the 2 years time, I moved about 10 times and lost half of my stuff. Totally understand you. Therefore, just for you – here’s a discount code that you can use at the checkout. By the way, it sums with our volume discounts, which means you can get up to 50% off your order.
So yeah, here’s the takeaway for me
I ended up once again ordering a few hundos worth of posters, all because Startup Vitamins have been consistently generous and accomodating, seemingly doing everything they can to resolve every issue I’ve had – whether my fault or not -immediately responding to every question I’ve had with attention to detail and a good measure of humor (I didn’t include all of their e-mails here, so you’ll have to take my word for it).
I could definitely see how another company would’ve written these issues off when in the legal clear to do so (in fact this seems to be the modus operandi of an alarmingly big chunk of the software industry), and I think that the way Startup Vitamins conducted their customer care is the key defining factor that determines whether customers actually enjoy interacting with a company, rather than unwillingly doing so out of need for some proprietary software or product.
So how can this lesson be applied to a game design studio?
- Jump on every opportunity to solve a user issue.
- Take full accountability and place none on the user.
- Refund if it makes your user happy.
- Be kind and sociable.
- Compensate your user before they get a chance to ask for it.
- Appreciate the fact that someone went out of their way to try your game.
Not saying that this is a definitive plan, but I’m definitely going to think about this a whole lot more moving forward.
A gold star to Startup Vitamins for showing how customer care is done.