Thursday, January 1, 2015

Square Enix - A failure of customer service

I've been a die hard Final Fantasy fan for a long time.  I started with FF2 and fell in love.  Moved on to FF3 and was amazed.  Then PS1 came out with FF7 and the earth stopped as many people have agreed.  I still play FF7 every now and again.  FF8, 9, 10 were all decent as well but I didnt really like FF Tactics.

Once I finally got a decent computer to handle an MMORPG, I bought Final Fantasy 11 (FFXI) without question.  I did love the game at first but even then I knew it had some drawbacks.   But I still enjoyed the story line and got into the game so much I went to the FFXI Festival of 2007 held in Anaheim, CA.   I actually met quite a few people in person of whom I knew well in the game, one of which is still a good friend to this day.

Over time I noticed quite a few problems with the way Square Enix handled it's public relations and customer service issues.   I listened closely for comments of praise hoping that the constant barrage of negative comments were just the exception and not the rule.  Turns out...Square Enix has quite a reputation.

Horrible Response

Before the days of computer security, compromised accounts were a rare occurrence seen less than Bigfoot or UFOs.  Eventually, hackers realized there is money to be made in stealing FFXI accounts.

When the accounts first started to get compromised, Square Enix literally told people there was nothing they could do.  Many people lost all of their gil (the game's currency), and all of their precious and valuable items that took them years to acquire.

Some game items are marked as "Ex" which means un-EXchangeable and thus the item cannot be sold or even given to other players. Because of the hacked accounts, all non-Ex (or normal items) were stolen from players.  Because of this issue, I asked square enix to add an in-game option for players to mark their items as Ex on demand even if such an option was a irreversible.  It made sense to me to let players decide which items they want to protect from fraudulent activity.

Why was this so important?  Because Square Enix (SE) refused to return any of the stolen items or in-game money to the players.   No matter the reason, SE told players "there's nothing we can do."   They said this a lot because, let's face it, that is the easy and cheap response.

But SE eventually did start to "do something" about the hacked accounts.   They really didn't want to, but suddenly they had no choice.   Soon, the hacked accounts became far less of a myth and quickly became a common occurrence like cars on a highway.

The high majority of FFXI accounts were played on Windows systems and we all know how secure windows was and still is to this day.   On top of that, almost ALL of those users had no idea how to protect themselves against online threats.

It was only when they stood to lose money did they bother to make an effort.  

The previous "tough crap" attitude wasn't going to work now because  most people in this position chose NOT to continue their accounts and thus they cancelled their monthly service payment.  A few accounts here and there is no big deal.  But the thousands of accounts that were quickly getting compromised was now going to eat a very large hole into SE's profit margin.    So as you can imagine, SE took action and suddenly changed it's policy on responding to hacked accounts. It was only when they stood to lose money did they bother to make an effort.

Square Enix then formed the Special Task Force Unit to investigate breached accounts and also ban accounts that were being used for illegal purposes.   Basically, hackers were getting into players' accounts and transferring all the items and gil to their own account(s).  Then they would sell all the items and make as much game money (gil) as possible.  Then that online currency was sold for real-life money via the internet.   So a million gil would go for $20 (I have no idea what the prices are nowadays).

Once the gil was purchased via their website(s), the hacker or group would meet the player in the game and then give them the gil for which they paid.   So the accounts the hackers were using to distribute the gil were hunted after by the Special Task Force Unit.   Every 3 months, they would ban a large number of accounts they found performing illegal activity.  Other MMORPG providers do the same thing.

The compromised accounts were those in which paying customers wanted un-banned and restored in full.   SE first wanted proof you are not committing fraud so they told their customers they had to file an official police report.   Once the police report number is provided to SE, the Special Task Force Unit would investigate the issue.   Given the massive rush of cases, an investigation typically took a while.  From what I hear lately, this has not changed.

SE did NOT tell people to suspend their accounts while the investigation took place.  People were patiently waiting for a bus that wasn't coming but still continued to pay their monthly service fee.   When SE finally restored the account, they informed the user that they will not refund or even credit the unused play time spent while waiting for the investigation to complete.

If the Special Task Force Unit found evidence the account was deliberately used for illegal activity, the account was not recovered.  Otherwise, the account was recovered by restoring a backup of the account on the server side.  While this did not happen to me, I heard from other people that some game items were restored, but gil (in-game money) was not restored.   SE informed players that if their account was compromised, the recovery and investigation would not incur any additional fees.   But, if it happened again, then SE would then charge a fee.

Over time, the Special Task Force Unit became more known for ending accounts than they were for assisting in the recovery of stolen accounts.   Another big reason SE banned accounts was for using 3rd party software.     Third party software is just another program made to interact with FFXI while the main FFXI application is running.  This software is designed to assist the player in some way while playing the game.

The most commonly used 3rd party software was the Windower.  Back in those days, software game vendors  often forced the game clients to run the game in full screen mode.  Placing the game in a separate window was not even an option as this was exactly the case for FFXI.   SE forbade windower applications because they assumed running FFXI in a window will allow cheating applications to run much easier.

While this is technically true, most people did NOT use a windower to cheat.   Most people, including myself, would use a windower just to break the monotony the game creates.  While many of us enjoyed the game, it had some major drawbacks.  One prominent issue was the pace at which the average person progressed in the game.   Gaining levels in FFXI was very, very difficult.  Once you reached level 10, you simply could not gain enough experience points in a short enough period of time to make your time worthwhile.

This forced us all to seek out a "party."  A party is just a group of other players all fighting monsters together.  If the monster is higher level than your character, then you get more experience for that fight.  So a party allows players to take on harder mobs for more experience.   Experience gained by solo fighting was about one fifteenth or less the experience received while fighting in a party.   So parties were the only way to get ahead in the game all the way through level 75 (they have since increased the level cap to 99).

Don't believe me?  Ask someone who played FFXI as Beastmaster.

Even WITH a party, it still took a very long time to gain a level.   Also, in seeking out a party, most people would just wait in nearby party zones to be added to a party.  In some cases, especially Qufim, people would simply not get added to a party after waiting hours on end.   So playing the game gets rather tedious.  And most people in those days had only one monitor as dual monitors were not popular yet and video card manufacturers were not yet making cards with dual output...well, the affordable cards at least.

So the average player was forced to play in full screen mode on only one monitor for hours, days, weeks, and months.   anyone who played the game knows how annoying the in-game music became over time.  Just imagine how annoying Christmas music is at the end of December.  But then you still have to listen to it well into the next holiday season.   Players could only turn off the music, but then they have annoying silence which also gets old.   Because the game is in full screen mode only, players cannot (easily) run a music application in the background such as VLC player (or in those days, Winamp).  To be fair, you could run a player in the background, but you could not touch it once you started FFXI.  As soon as you ALT-TAB to the application, the connection to FFXI was terminated.

This is the main reason players used a Windower application.  With the game in windowed mode, we could run an mp3 player or even watch a movie while we drained hours of our time on a game that technically never ended.   But the windower developers also allowed other developers to create plugins.  These plugins did certain things to make game play easier.   Some of these plugins were very simple and helpful features like organization of items or the latest version now records video (an option that previously required yet another application to run in the background).    Other plugins did a little too much where some people would argue the plugin is a form of cheating. 

The problem was, Square Enix felt anything not approved and provided by Square Enix was cheating.   So the Special Task Force Unit went after accounts they found were using the windower.   Because of this extremist view of account bans, the Special Task Force Unit quickly became known as S.T.F.U.  If you know what that anagram typically stands for and combine it with the views enforced by SE, you will realize that the anagram was incredibly accurate. 

Avoiding Responsibility

Everyone knows how most companies handle bad Pubic Relations.   They typically just glide over the incident and do whatever they can to shove it under the rug and pretend it never happened.  They never admit fault because doing so would create obligation to make reparations.  Square Enix was no different.

As described above, playing the game was slow and tedious in general, but it had other time consuming issues.   The game also has monsters called "Notorious Monsters" which are rare or incredibly rare monsters that are seldom seen.   The more rare and difficult to fight, the better the reward received when defeating the monster.

Some monsters are known as "Historical Notorious Monsters" (the H was loosely defined as some people said it meant High Notorious Monster).   These HNMs are not only as rare as they come, but they also require an alliance of three parties to defeat.    Some HNMs are called to fight by presenting a particular item called a spawn item.

One example of this procedure was the fight for a monster named Absolute Virtue (AV).   This mob could be manually spawned at a particular location by trading a specific item at a specific location.   The item was basically pieced together over time by fighting a lot of previous monsters and gathering other items to eventually obtain the spawn item.  In most cases, it takes weeks if not months of teamwork and fighting to obtain this item.

The problem in this case, was (originally) AV was not a guaranteed spawn.  The item traded would actually spawn the Jailer of Love (JoL) monster which at that time took at least an hour to kill.  After killing JoL, there was a percentage chance that AV would spawn.  So in some cases, all that work just to get the item to needed spawn AV was for absolutely nothing because AV didn't spawn after killing JoL.

But in those other cases, AV did spawn and let me assure you....he was a very difficult foe to defeat.    There were a lot of questions about how to defeat this guy.  No one really knew anything concrete so a lot of people begged SE for clues.   Eventually SE responded with a video of a group that did defeat AV.  During the video, it zoomed in on certain parts to emphasize important details intended to be clues.  But still nothing was certain about how to defeat AV. 

So people who tried and kept trying discussed via the FFXI community forums.   Eventually, new information made it's way into those forums.   SE hosted events every so often and the game developers would show up and answer questions.  The topic of AV came up and a very important response was taken from one of the game developers....a response which since it was made has been refuted as rumor and the post deleted from the online discussion board.  

The developer specifically stated that AV was meant to last around 18 earth hours of fighting so any group attempting to fight him needs to be well prepared.   This little piece of information blew people away.

Confirmed with this post:

...a SE (developer) said that while it's theoretically possible to kill it in 2-4 hours, the average is somewhere around 18 hours, so 18 hours doesn't stick out as unusual for those sadistic bastards.

The fact that SE would an enemy that requires so much real-life time was rather confusing.   Before a player connects to the server, SE forces all of its players to read the following "warning" message:

An 18 hour fight is a very long time to reserve just for playing a game let alone most anything else.   Keep in mind, the 18 hours is non-stop fighting so there is no pause button, and no food or bathroom breaks.   People continued to try and fail at killing AV and life went on.  In this interview with SE, they clearly had no idea just how powerful AV was to the average player.  Granted if you designed the monster and know every little thing about this foe, it would sure make things a lot easier.  But the players didn't have the advantage the developers had and testing the multiple theories was incredibly difficult because obtaining the spawn item took weeks of work. named this the #4 biggest "dick" move in online gaming history.

Later in 2008, a new super boss named Pandamonium Warden (PW) emerged with the Aht Urghan expansion pack.     Similar to AV, word got around that this boss was going to be a very long fight.   Eventually, a group decided to go for the glory and they took on PW.  When it was over, some of them documented the experience of such a long fight.   The news was not good.  

There were reports of people passing out and/or vomiting and apparently after 18 hours of fighting, the group leader called the whole thing off.   News of this reached the rest of the community and people were outraged.  A lot of people were angry with SE for making such a difficult boss to fight.    SE eventually responded to the public outcry with a statement saying that they never intended for players to go to such measures to defeat a single enemy.

Soon after the public response, another group tried to defeat AV and reported amazing success....too amazing.  This first group apparently was able to defeat AV in less than one hour.   A week later, another group posted video of AV being killed in less than one minute.  

Not only did SE refuse to take any responsibility for their own actions, they also weakened AV and PW so much, it took the all the fun and challenge completely out of the fight.   Many discussion boards covered this topic well and the consensus pointed some at the group being too stupid to keep fighting for that long without realizing their strategy is flawed.

But others agree that SE was also to blame for making an enemy so difficult and never testing those limits.   Yes SE never expected anyone to fight that long, but it doesn't mean no one will ever try.  And if you have developers and other SE employees confirming the fight was intended to last that long, you should know what comes next.  That's generally the main flaw in computer security these days.  Anyone that thinks "why would anyone ever do that" is just waiting to get exploited.

Failed Customer Service

The last straw for my Tour of Duty was the Wings of the Goddess expansion pack.   This was the 4th expansion pack for the FFXI platform.  Many people were anxious to see the new features the expansion would bring.

For the most part, the expansion did bring some new and entertaining features most people found enjoyable.  The time-travel element allow players to journey into the past which answered a lot of questions about what happened in previous areas.  It completed the story of Garliage Citadel, Batillia Downs, and Rolenberry Fields.

But there was one major problem....the expansion pack was not complete.

Each expansion brings overall game changes, but it also offers each player to complete the "missions" which were basically a series of quests completed in a specific order.  Given that this expansion pack had a total of 54 missions in the end, one would think the expansion pack would start with more than just 2 missions...but that's all we got.   SE sold the expansion pack long before if was ever completed simply to make sales promising their customers that more missions are on the way.

But this was not the first time SE had pulled this nonsense.  The same exact thing happened with the previous expansion packs "The Treasures of Aht Urghan" and the one before that "The Chains of Promathia."   It took over a full year before the final missions for those expansions were released.   It became clear that SE feels it's ok to sell an incomplete product to it's customers.   I disagree.

Promising more missions are coming is, to me, like selling a car without the tires....but promising the tires are in the mail.   Selling an incomplete expansion is a very deceitful act for one major reason...reliability.   With most everything in this world, a lot of us consumers will look for reviews about a product to see what good and bad others have experienced with the product.  If the previous expansions have succeeded in delivering all the desired qualities to this point, it would be a good idea to verify those same qualities are included in the next expansion pack before investing money on a purchase.

But if the story line is not yet complete, then you have no way to compare it to the previous releases.   So you could end up paying for a game you hate just because there was no one to warn you how bad the game was from the start.  And previous experience has taught me to be cautious.

in 2007, the Aht Urghan expansion pack had just been released and I was attending the Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival that year.    During the Q&A sessions, the developers made a specific promise to the players that more Summoner Avatars were coming soon.   Years went by and nothing happened.  The new avatars eventually did come around, but not until after the next expansion "Wings of the Goddess"...and then even longer.  Because the expansion was not yet complete, the avatars weren't available until the required missions were released.  

SE seems to enjoy it's lack of accountability in game development.  Keeping its paying customers on the line with empty promises and no guarantees or deadlines seems to be a standard practice.   And they really don't like my preference to save my money for something worth buying.   The latest example was my very recent trial period of Final Fantasy 14 (FFXIV). 

My friends had been telling me how much the game had improved since FFXI.  I brushed off those comments for years because I still didn't feel SE was a trustworthy company given all the previous contemptible incidents of the past.   But finally, I decided to see what my friends had been saying.

I downloaded the trial game and signed up for the 14-day trial account.  Compared to FFXI, I was definitely impressed with the game overall.  It was much easier to level up and much easier to acquire money to buy needed items.    The graphics were also superior to FFXI as the rendered shapes were much more modern catering to the high quality graphics cards.  

However I wasn't able to create my account on the server where my friends had their accounts.  I wanted to be able to play with my friends on occasion as they were my friends from FFXI.   So after the first 7 days, I emailed Square Enix with a request to move my account to the desired server.   I told them that I was pleased with the game and if they were willing to move my character to my desired server, I would then invest in buying the game and starting a monthly subscription.

Sent: Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:17 AM

Dear Customer,

Regarding your request for account support. Please find your answer below.

Unfortunately that service is not available at this time.  Suggestions from our customers are always valued.  While we cannot guarantee implementation we will surely pass this on to the developers. 

Any Worlds that have reached their maximum population cap cannot be selected.

It?s also not possible to transfer more characters than can be created on a single World.  Since players with an entry level subscription may only create 1 character on 1 World, it?s not possible to transfer to a World where they already have a character.  Finally, standard level subscribers cannot transfer to a World if they already have 8 characters on that World.

For further details about our World Transfer service, please click here.

Thank you for contacting the SQUARE ENIX Support Center.

Like all previous inquiries sent to SE support, all I got back was a Level I, no-brainer, scripted response.   The underpaid support staff just follows the rules and responds accordingly, not taking into account any unique circumstances.

I replied one last time telling them I have not yet purchased the game and I am not going to give them my money if I cannot play on the same server as my friends.   I told SE that I am willing to buy the game and start my account now as long as I get a written guarantee to place my account on the desired server within a reasonable amount of time.

An mentioned above, SE bans accounts all the time, typically every 3 months.  So it's very possible that SE will have room for my account to be transferred in a few months.  But SE has not responded.  Probably because they don't like seeing a customer being prudent and insistent.   SE generally acts like a casino where the money just keeps flowing in without a please or thank you.   They don't do anything for their customers unless they know it's going to severely eat into their profits or cause a public relations nightmare.

So that's where it stops for me.  SE has not replied and I doubt they ever will.  I've never seen a company that doesn't do whatever it takes to make the sale...but SE has it's issues.  I hope someday this article is read by some of the shareholders so they see that SE support is not performing in the best interest of the company.  

Because I received no response, I gave my money to Blizzard once more and played some more World of Warcraft.   I don't love that game as much as most players, but it's a nice time killer for vacation or holiday periods.   But that's capitalism for ya.  If company A doesn't make the customer happy, then company B will step up. 

Read the reviews from to see how people are finding another company.

In January, I decided to give Square Enix one more chance before I went ahead and invested in another MMO.  I wrote this letter to customer service...

I have been thinking about buying the latest expansion pack for World of Warcraft and continuing service with Blizzard.  But before I make the investment, I would first like to give Square Enix one last opportunity to do the right thing. 

Let me first be clear that my initial intent for this email thread was not to avoid paying for a service.  I am willing to pay for a service (such as world transfer) if the service is, in fact, worth the investment.  A simple transfer without having begun the game would not be a worthwhile purchase.  But Square Enix support somehow finding a way to make room for my account on a full server would be a service worth the money. 

Please note that I am willing to be quite flexible in this matter.  I am willing to wait a reasonable amount of time (perhaps ~6 months) for you to find a space for my account on the desired server. The only reason I am requesting these efforts is because I wish to be on the same server where my friends are also playing.   Frankly, I am quite surprised you don't have any standard process to deal with these requests given FFXIV and FFXI are both massive multiplayer games and I suspect these social requests are quite common.   If a process has not yet been developed, this could be a good opportunity for Square Enix to begin development of a new process.  I would even be willing to help with this in any way I could, so feel free to contact me later if desired.   

But if Square Enix can find a way to make room for my account on the desired server, I would be willing to pay for that service because I will know that Square Enix has put forth the extra effort.   If Square Enix support can guarantee my account will be eligible for transfer to my desired server in a reasonable but specific time frame, then I will be happy to purchase the game now and begin a monthly service account while patiently waiting for an update on this request.  I will also be willing to pay the wold transfer fee in advance (if possible) to show my willingness to cooperate. 

So please take this into consideration and let me know your thoughts.   I am truly hoping Square Enix can step up and find a way to make things happen.   You can reply directly to this gmail address or to the registered address.   thank you. 

...Square Enix did not respond with any real human effort.  They just took the first two paragraphs (or sentences) from the original response included above and pasted that into their response.  That's all you get from SE...cut and paste scripted answers.

A week later I was talking to my friend who told me her other friend managed to transfer to her server, which is exactly what I was trying to do but SE told me no.   She eventually probed the other friend who said he just went to the SE account store and did it all himself.  Apparently, the whole process is automated and does all the checks required to ensure transfer is possible.  So i went ahead and did that same thing, paying the transfer fee at the end of the process.  Five minutes later, I was transferred to that server.   Just goes to show you that SE customer support is completely worthless.  After all this effort and begging SE to grow a brain, all they had to do was direct me to the transfer page.

Additional customer service complaints found on amazon...

1.            Horrible customer service. Couldn't run this game on computer with minimum requirements. Purchased a new machine and they have no option to extend game time for people with issues. How are you going to have an online only game where you cant credit game time or game money to customers....

2.            I entered in incorrect security information and was never able to play the game in the free one month timetable. I tried contacting customer service but they have not responded. Basically I am not getting what I paid for and its unfortunate. I used a weird password that I don't normally use and its very difficult to retrieve it if you also used wrong birth date! I mean cmon, why does it have to be so hard...this is ridiculous.

3.            Save your money and go get world of Warcraft. The game is buggy, laggy and has almost no support

4.            The company does not care if your phone gets stolen and you can't access your account any longer. I played for a few months and fell in love with the game. Then my phone was stolen. The company blamed me and they were RUDE when I tried to remove my phone from the account and denied me access to my account and locked it permanently. I was banished for getting robbed. I will never buy another Square-Enix game

5.            I purchased this before reading the reviews and it wouldn't even download the updates during the initial installation there is no fix for it and little to no customer service from Square Enix

6.            Today I contacted customer service and asked for my 30 days back, stating that if they looked at my account they would be able to see that I never logged into my account. They acknowledged that they could see I never logged into my account but would not give me my 30 days back.

Quite unfortunate that they lack clear account messaging regarding the 30 days and their customer service lacks the power/will to problem solve situations rather than parroting customer service guidelines...

7.        Banned for nothing and Squares useless support never helped. Nice game otherwise, but this extra copy i bought my brother was banned day one, so i cancelled my subscription and went on with my life. I hope ESO enjoys my business.

8.            Within 1 day it said my account had been hacked. It was an impossible customer service mountain to climb to get it reinstated

9.            Good game with the worst support of all time
...I received an email that my account was suspended permanently - with no real details beyond this. My account LOOKED fine, it was not hacked, the password was correct, etc. but I was never really able to get any more details out of the company. I tried email support, and they did not handle suspended accounts, so they referred me to phone or chat. I tried phone three times - staying on hold for 2+ hours each time and gave up. I tried the chat option several times, I had to open a whole NEW ticket just to find out WHERE I could chat with someone. Eventually I DID get to talk to someone, and explained the whole situation - not to mention that I purchased $50 worth of Crysta (in-game store currency) right from the beginning with the intention playing the game on through. They took everything down, said they would open a support case and they would get back to me. That was almost 1 MONTH ago. Seriously, stay away from this game at all costs....

10.         Square-Enix is the worst company I've ever had to deal with. Customer support is non-existent. The security for this game is abysmal. My account was compromised in less than a week after signing up. Trying to recover the account has been a nightmare and is still unresolved.

I may be in the minority, but this is the first time that any of my gaming accounts have been compromised and unfortunately, it is with the company that has the worst customer service.

- No phone support
- Email support responds once every 24 hours.

I've since given up and decided to cut my losses. I'm sure square will not miss me as an individual. I hope for their sake that what happened to me is an isolated incident or they'll be losing a lot more customers.

11.          If you like giving money away then go for it. This company clearly doesn't give a poo about any of their customers. Horrible customer service, paid subscription, few servers that work. Maybe one day it will be worth it but for now I would rather spend my money elsewhere. I returned this game.

and my favorite.....

12.          I will never buy another Square Enix game. Ever. The level of contempt they have shown their customers goes beyond anything I've ever seen before. There was no, "oh gosh, we totally screwed that up and we want to make it right" response. At all. Their response has been consistently inappropriate for a completely unacceptable situation caused by their own failure to properly resource their data centers. Choosing to lock their customers out of the systems instead of building in the ability to expand capacity on-the-fly (like every other MMO I've played has been able to do) shows that Square Enix as a company does not value their customers.