Saturday, March 29, 2014

WildStar Beta: Testing Customer Service

Beta testing is not a free ride into a video game. There is a social responsibility as the gaming pioneer to report back to your peers, and to the company producing the game, with news of your discoveries. It is not about glory and privilege, but service to the community and to future customers. Streaming has made it relatively easy to satisfy community curiosity about the performance and features of a product, but an important part of any product deployment is the infrastructure to handle customer feedback on a mass scale, which can not be so easily streamed. I am going to do my best to illustrate my experience with NCSoft, the creators of WildStar, and their customer service department.

Welcome to the exciting world of WildStar Customer Service

Yesterday, I received an email.
Awesome! I had been waiting for months to get my hands on this game. The rumor mill from the closed beta was that it was a "decent WoW clone" with some action elements, like SWTOR was at launch. NCSoft was trying to keep people from getting that idea in there head, because being called a WoW clone can kill an MMO before launch. Personally, I was excited to get a chance to find out the truth. Is WildStar really another "WoW clone", or is there hidden depth under that cartoony exterior?

Before going into a game, especially a beta, it is important to know the history of the developer. NCSoft has been around for a while. City of Heroes was made by Paragon Studios and NCSoft in 2005, around the same time as their other famous franchise, Guild Wars. City of Heroes had a relatively long run for an MMO. Shortly after the release of Guild Wars 2, City of Heroes was shut down. NCSoft closed the servers and basically told one of their oldest fan communities to deal with it. While I only played a week or two of that game, keep their story in mind while reading the rest of this article.

Following the instructions in the email, I went to login to my NCSoft account. It took me a little while to remember the password, but I was finally greeted with this message:

Huh... Well that is interesting, since the last game I remembered playing an NCSoft game was Guild Wars 2 and I had two step verification set up for it. There was the possibility that I had another account with NCSoft, but why would any of them be permanently blocked? Was I hacked? Where was an email about this? I found an email asking me to fill out a survey about NCSoft customer service dealing with this exact issue around 2010. I decide to contact customer service.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

The North American Support page is composed of banners of their still active North American games with links to their individual support pages. However, my issue was an NCSoft Account issue, not a game related issue, so going to a specific database would not make sense, right? Wrong. But we will get to that. Poking around the page, looking for a phone number, I discovered something amazing:

NCSoft does not have a North American customer support line.

There is a customer support line for Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan, but America only gets a link back to the support page. Wow. I persisted and found the fraud line, but that also did not make sense for my type of problem. What about a customer support email? They do not mention one on their site, but I tried at the request of a friend on Twitch.

At that point, I started streaming on my Twitch channel. In the chat, a very helpful person (I'm sorry, but I forgot your username, was it woke_up_sleepy?) tried to brainstorm with me. They gave me links to the WildStar twitter and NCSoft Support Twitter, which I tweeted to twy and get help. WildStar Twitter replied before NCSoft Support did (I am still waiting for an NCSoft Support reply):
Note to self, update twitter picture.

Anyway, that link was specifically the support page for WildStar. At this point, I have given up on logic and believe there is no way I can fix the problem. I start ranting about it to people on my stream that came from > MFW, in mid rant, I stumbled upon the solution

Want to remove the permanent block on your NCSoft Account?

Step 1: Discover you have a problem. Accepting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it, since you are not going to receive an email from NCSoft about it.
Step 2: Are you a North American resident just trying to play Guild Wars 2 and don't care about WildStar? It doesn't matter. Since NCSoft does not have a centralized support page for North American account support, you will need to go to WildStar Support. In theory, this might work in one of the other support pages, but that would be logical, and we now know logic has no power here.
Step 3: Notice that the main page says that you need to login to send a ticket to ask them why you can't login. Lose part of your brain cells. Go to the bottom of the page and select Login Support.
Step 4: Search for "Account permanently blocked". Your results should look like this:
Step 5: Click "I'm having trouble logging in to my NC Account". I suppose that is one way of saying, my account has been permanently blocked. Shouldn't there be an article specifically about that? Logic.
Step 6: First it asks you to try resetting your password. Another dead end. Nope! The next sentence has a link to a page specifically for submitting tickets without being logged in! This must be the solution!

EDIT: If you have Guild Wars 2, their support page has access to ticket submission at the top. However, you will need a lot more information. They may even ask for the serial key you used to activate Guild Wars 2.

Or is it?

Depending on how you view automated replies, I am about four to five emails deep into the investigation of what NCSoft did to my account. First, one GM said that my account was blocked back in 2010, and had City of Heroes on it, but not Guild Wars 2. I asked if it could be under any of my other emails and gave them a list. This is the latest email:
In case you were wondering, both of those links redirect to the NA Support page that asks which game you want support for.

Good news is, I can join the beta. The bad news is that my account no longer has Guild Wars 2, possibly losing it during account transitions to the new system. I am going to keep trying to find out what exactly has happened and sort out this mess, but this is all of the information I have after one day. If it all gets sorted out, I will update, but there are some main points here that I feel are important to get out to people.

NCSoft is about to launch another brand new massively multiplayer game in North America and they do not have the customer service aspect worked out. You can submit tickets, if you find the proper link in their knowledge base, but there is no phone number for customer support. Although I did not go into depth about this, I did try to call the fraud line to see if I could get redirected to a hidden customer support number. It went straight to voicemail with directions for reporting fraudulent activity. If your account gets hacked you leave a message with your account info and spoken email address and they will call you back during the week, or you can send them an email. According to several forums that I found while searching for a solution to my issue, the fraud line used to have a different number that was also for account support, not just billing. Those forums also had their own stories of trying to sort out similar situations with NCSoft: Example 1 Example 2 Example 3

As far as beta testing goes, I have not even been able to try out WildStar, but I have already found some major glitches in the system. All it would take is a server outage on day one, or even more people finding out their accounts were messed up during the June transition, to completely ruin the game. Unless NCSoft sorts the problems with their North American customer support, they could be in for a very rocky launch.

UPDATE March 29th 12:56 PM

Using the Guild Wars 2 support ticket system mentioned in an edit above, they were able to find my Guild Wars 2 account. I still don't know what is going on with my SaikoGekido account. Sounds like most of the problem is solved, right? Not even close! My GW2 account does not count as an NCSoft account. I still need to get the SaikoGekido account back up and running.

UPDATE March 29th 3:06 PM

I heard back from Guild Wars 2 support:
One mystery solved, but we still do not have a clear answer on how to restore my NCSOFT account. Waiting for a reply from my latest message to WildStar support, but I am also going to try sending another message back to Guild Wars 2 support, since they have been more helpful.

UPDATE March 29th 8:19 PM

Still no word from WildStar support, but I have another email from Guild Wars 2 support:
Quick recap: Guild Wars 2 just helped me reset the password on my Guild Wars 2 account, but they can't help me get my SaikoGekido NCSOFT master account because there are no games associated with it. Because I can't log in to my NCSOFT master account I can not add any games to it and upgrade it to the new master account format. The simple, obvious, solution to this mess would be to add my Guild Wars 2 account to SaikoGekido and have it unblocked, but it sounds like it needs to be unblocked before anything can be added to it, but it can't be unblocked because it can't be accessed because it is in the old format of the account system. This is the eighth email, and not the first time that NCSOFT support has said that exact top paragraph. I sent a reply to see if I could at least get the name from my old master account. Again, no word from WildStar support and no word from the tweet at NCSOFT Support's twitter.

FINAL UPDATE March 30th 3:05 PM

WildStar Support replied to my email:

In the end, trying to get my SaikoGekido account unblocked and upgraded to the new system means creating a new account and then migrating the information from the old account to the new one. I still do not know if that is even possible, since previous emails said that I would need active games associated with an NCSOFT Account in order to make the account eligible for upgrade to a NC Account. Even though Guild Wars 2 is an NCSOFT game, it does not use the NC Account or NCSOFT Master Account system, so it can not be linked to the NCSOFT Master Account to give that account an active game to make it eligible for upgrade to the new system. Keep in mind, the changes from NCSOFT Master Account to NC Account just happened in June, without any major releases from NCSOFT. People unaware of these changes that had old NCSOFT Master Accounts with issues like mine are going to run into the same problems I did. Because NCSOFT's customer support system is maze of mirrors, I am going to make sense of all of this and create a followup post to help anyone that has the same problem. That should not be necessary.