Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Before I launch headlong into Rantsville, my latest piece just went up on GameCritics... it's running about ten weeks later than I intended it to go up, but some things are out of our hands.

Anyway, check out Portable Project 12.

And on to the main event...

Tonight I spent about 74 minutes on the phone with Microsoft customer support, and of those 74 minutes, probably about four of that was me not being pissed. Why was I calling?

Three issues.

1> Like many of my fellow 360 owners, I make a habit of logging in to Live on Wednesdays to see what new content is available to download. I eagerly await new Arcade titles, but I’m always up for a good trailer or a few demos that tell me I don’t need to waste my time with some title I’ve had my eye on. (Elements of Might and Magic? That’s now a pass.)

Anyway, I log in like I usually do and when I get to the demo for The Club, I see that it has a little message stating that this demo is “only for Gold members”. I recall reading that Microsoft had recently spit in the eye of Silver (i.e. - non-paying) members by making them wait a week before being able to download any of the good demos and trailers. I thought it was pretty lame, but I’ve been a Gold member since Ive owned my 360 and I do believe that eight dollars a month is a very reasonable price for the service they offer, so it didn’t bother me that much.

I couldn’t figure out what happened, so I went to my status and saw that I had been downgraded to Silver. It made no sense. Microsoft has had my credit card on file since the day I bought my 360, and they’ve been charging me every month like clockwork. I know for a fact there is money in the account, and I haven’t made any changes to my membership. WTF?

2> Microsoft completely screwed up their DRM (Digital Rights Management) for Live Arcade games when they were doing repairs on consoles with the Red Ring of Death. For some reason, apparently Microsoft matches downloadable game purchases with GamerTags AND specific 360 machines. Prior to catching the RROD, any Arcade game I downloaded under my Tag was fully accessible to my wife under her own Tag. After my 360 died, got repaired, and then was sent back, every single Arcade game I bought prior to this repair was now only accessible to me, completely locking my wife out and prompting her to pay full price if she wanted the privilege of enjoying the games she had full access to prior to RROD.

3> This past holiday season, apparently tons of people had issues getting onto Live and getting it to function properly. Personally, I only had about two hours of problematic service total, but I guess the problem was more widespread in other parts of the country.

To remedy the situation (and probably to head off any more talk of class-action lawsuit) Microsoft was kind enough to announce that they’d be giving away a free Arcade game as a way of saying sorry. Unfortunately, that game was Undertow. It’s a great game, but I and many right-thinking people like myself bought the game long ago. For us, we were instructed to call in to customer service and be compensated in another way.

After dialing 800-4-MYXBOX (so clever, that) I was connected to quasi-English speaker “Aren” who offered to listen to my issues in between telling me to “please hold, I need to check my resources” approximately every 15 seconds.

What were the resolutions?

Item 1, the mysterious downgrade: “Aren” was absolutely convinced that I had not been paying for my Live account with my credit card, despite the fact that my numbers were entered into their data banks, I have bank statements going back a year proving otherwise, and I had the card in my hand. After further investigation, she explained that my pre-paid membership card had expired.

What membership card, you may ask?

When I received my 360 back from the service Center, they included a note of apology and a prepaid card for a one month’s worth of Live service. I redeemed the card thinking that I would skip the eight dollar fee for a month and everything would be back to business as usual, but that was not the case. By redeeming the card that MS had sent, it had actually cancelled the credit card I had on file and my account did not revert to its original billing status once that free month had run out.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, use this card and we’ll inconvenience you some more.”

Item 2, the games lock-out: after explaining this issue to “Aren” several times and not having her grasp it, she insisted that all I needed to do was re-download the games and that would solve everything. I did it while I was on the phone with her at least three or four times, insisting each time that the issue was still there.

I literally must have went over the problem for over half the time I was on the phone and we kept going around and around in the same non-comprehensible circle. She eventually just gave up and tried to pull the wool over my eyes by giving me a reference number and telling me to re-download every single game that I had an issue with (about twenty, in all) and to call back if it didn’t work. Since I had confirmed with her in real-time that it damn well did not work, she wasn’t going to go any further with this.

Customer satisfaction: zero.

Item 3, I already have Undertow: This is the only one that Microsoft got right. Although “Aren” was well and truly sick of talking to me by this point, she credited me 800 Live points on the spot after I had to read her my 360 ID and Serial numbers and repeated them more times than should be necessary. I don’t quite understand why she had to have me hold three separate times to do this transaction, but I did verify that the points were added and I was just about ready to get off the phone whether I got my points or not.

All told, only one issue out of three was solved to my satisfaction and Item 2 is still enough of a pain in the ass that I’m going to need to call back again and probably waste another hour or two trying to explain it to another rep who won't understand before passing me off to a supervisor who probably won’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my 360 and of the current consoles, it’s my favorite by far… However, that’s not to say that I’m all right with getting dicked around when I’m paying cash money for a Live membership and downloadable content. Microsoft dodged a bullet the size of an oil tanker when they started the repairs for every console that had Red Ringed and found that amazingly, people weren’t really that pissed.

Do they really want to push their luck and see if their audience will be just as passive when they start getting nickel and dimed on Arcade games and have to call in for wonky membership problems? If anything, I would have guessed that the online aspects of the 360’s management would be Microsoft’s strength, but tonight’s wasted hour suggests otherwise.

What next?

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