The Daily Grind: When should MMO studios compensate players for downtime?

    
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The Daily Grind: When should MMO studios compensate players for downtime?

Been playing Lord of the Rings Online lately? That’s a little gallows humor for you, right there; logging into LOTRO has been a well-documented nightmare at the best of times for far too long now. No one is happy about this fact, and it seemed like an almost foregone conclusion that Standing Stone Games should really offer players something by way of recompense (and it did so yesterday). But the fact is that this is hardly the first time a game has been down for loner than intended… and how to compensate players for that has always been an open question.

Obviously, if a game is unplayable for more than a week, that requires compensation to paying customers. But what about times when maintenance goes on for longer than it’s scheduled to last? What about when the maintenance lasts exactly as long as it was planned, but it’s one of Final Fantasy XIV‘s extended maintenance sessions that lasts a full 24 hours? When should MMO studios compensate players for downtime? Does it matter if it’s unexpected or planned, and how much does duration factor in?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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starbuck1771

It depends if it was due to a faulty patch or not. If it was due to server issues like that which happened to LOTRO a minimal gift should suffice. However it it is due to faulty coding in a patch then the community should get more.

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Dug From The Earth

First, there should be tiers of compensation. Lower tiers should be for minimal downtime, higher for much longer downtime.

Second, subscription based games should be 100% compensated because customers are paying for ability TO play, and if they cant, then they arent getting what they paid for.

Third, any game, even F2P, should consider compensation simply because its good PR. It shows that the company cares about its customer/players.

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Bryan Correll

For significant downtime on a subscription game? Absolutely. But the compensation really only needs to be an extension of the subscription so that the players gets all the uptime they are paying for plus a bit more by way of apology.

That said, it’s always a good PR move to go beyond what is strictly necessary.

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Ironwu

Keep your mostly worthless ‘compensation’ and use the resources to fix and improve the dang game, please!

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laelgon

I think more than a day or two of unplanned downtime should be compensated in some way for subscribers, though I don’t include launch day problems in that. Longer than that, and I think some kind of small token I think is warranted for people not actively paying.

At the same time, people need to chill. I’m a software developer at a small company, and sometimes stuff goes wrong. Call it incompetence or negligence, or whatever makes you feel better from an armchair. No one writes bug-free code. No one knows every possible failure point of a system. You just do the best you can with the time, personnel, and resources available. Sometimes there’s just a blind spot in your knowledge. When something explodes in new and interesting ways, you get a pass from me, just so long as it’s a learning experience and doesn’t keep happening.

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Schmidt.Capela

For subscribers (including people who have active paid-for in-game boosts whose duration is measured in real time)? Any and every instance where the game was unavailable outside of scheduled downtime, as well as any time the game requires significantly longer scheduled downtime than usual (as often happens when fixing widespread but non-game-breaking bugs or making upgrades). At a minimum, any day when there were more than a couple hours of non-scheduled downtime should result in an extra day of subscription added to all subscribers.

Of note, though, for a competently run online service, with proper funding for infrastructure and maintenance, such outage should be rare enough this kind of guarantee shouldn’t impact the bottom line even if you disregard the positive effect making those guarantees can have on customer confidence.

For non-subscribers, or for outages measured in minutes affecting subscribers? not really needed, though a goodwill gesture — such as an in-game boost to be used at the player’s convenience — can go a long way in soothing the affected players.

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Robert Mann

I believe that the answer is highly subjective. It depends upon the reasons why the game is not available, as much as payment models. People get over-eager for stuff, imo., and it just becomes something that highlights how pervasive advantage of some sort has become in cash shops.

I do believe that compensation in various forms is a decent touch for prolonged downtime. I do not believe that should always be in game boosts. I do believe it should always cover lost subscription time. An example would be an extended outage due to a server fire at a third party that takes 2 days to fix. An alternative to the normal in game boosts might be special in-game appearances by the team, where they hand out a ‘server egg’ that hatches to become a blazing server, with various flame colors. Players would always know they had come back after the server fire due to their new cosmetic pet. XD

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angrakhan

The problem with your example is a server fire resulting in an outage is still incompetence, poor planning, or negligence on the part of the studio. Any online service that is for profit can and should be set up for redundancy and fail over. When the server fire started and power was cut the server stack can in part or in whole fail over to a backup set of servers in a physically separate data center. This can happen fast enough that the user barely notices an interruption in service. However setting this kind of fail over requires planning, testing, time and money.

The fact it’s not done falls into these categories:
Incompetence: the studio doesn’t know it can be done or doesn’t know how to do it.
Poor planning: the studio knows it can be done but thinks it will never happen to them
Negligence: they know how to do it and think it’s a possibility, but it’s expensive and they want to save money.

Yes I expect compensation for the server fire, tornado, flood, Godzilla attack, etc.

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Nordavind

Someone does not work with IT architecture and it shows.

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angrakhan

Referring to yourself I see.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Throwing a dart at the map, I’m going to go with the server farm being in the United States, which right now is in the middle of the worst national health crises in a century.

I’m further going to guess that the SSG folks, their vendors and their server farm’s vendors, their pets and lawn furniture have all been impacted by the pandemic in some way. It’s virtually impossible for this not to have happened.

There’s no way SSG is going to say, sorry the guy in charge of that is in the hospital dying, or just got off a ventilator and can’t talk or walk. Or, there’s no way the key person can get there because he’s under a shelter in place. Public transportation is shut down where he lives and he doesn’t have a car.

For goodness sake, use your imagination. Something terrible happened. It is a fair assumption that the pandemic screwed them over just like everyone else. In essence, it was Godzilla.

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quark1020

If a game requires an active subscription to play, they most certainly should compensate players for especially long downtime.

Its one thing if maintenance takes a couple of hours longer than intended. Things happen after all. Its a whole other matter if downtime is measured in days.

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angrakhan

If it’s due to the studios incompetence, poor planning, or lack of testing (yes, deployment can be tested) and the above causes 24 or more hours of down time then compensation is owed. In my opinion, of course.

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Tanek

Obviously the LOTRO situation is an extreme example, but I think some manner of compensation should be considered when the downtime is

  • unplanned
  • long enough to significantly impact a limited time event
  • something that results in loss of progress
  • communicated so poorly that a twitter bot might seem more responsive

What that compensation is can vary depending on the situation. Maybe it is just an extension of an event, maybe it is a package like LOTRO’s that tries to boost progress.