29/09/2015

Farewell to the Customer Service Forum

I was just wondering which of my drafts to flesh out into a proper post tonight, when I found out about some breaking news via Massively: Bioware is shutting down SWTOR's customer service forum in a week! Instead people will be directed to a generic EA help page in the future.

Reduced customer support? Does that mean more staff lay-offs? And that during a time when the game should be growing and getting hyped up... dooooom!

Well, not quite, though I'm sure that a lot of casual readers will interpret it that way, because people love to see bad news everywhere. As a SWTOR player since launch however, I can't help but take a different view.

Fact is, the name "customer service forum" has been a misnomer pretty much since launch, because 99% of the time no actual customer service took place in any of the threads there. Personally I suspect that Bioware may well have had plans for this forum to serve as a genuine customer service channel once upon a time, but when launch came with its two million players and oodles of bugs, they were clearly overwhelmed by the response. Given limited resources it must have made sense to focus on the more "urgent" channels such as phone support and the in-game ticket system, while letting the forums fall by the wayside. While the launch hype eventually died down, customer services suffered further cuts instead of receiving increased support, so they probably never had the manpower to actually revive the idea of providing proper help on the forums.

What the customer services forum has been for the last four years is an online support group for players who had technical trouble with the game. Whenever I had issues launching the game or logging in, my first instinct was to go to the customer services forum and check if anyone else was having problems, because if they were, there was bound to be a thread about it. When it came to certain gameplay issues, people were sometimes even able to offer useful advice: Back in 2012 I had issues with my game crashing all the time after a certain patch, and it was the customer service forum where I eventually found my solution, buried on page 55 of an even longer thread. I still don't know if Bioware ever bothered to apply an official fix for that problem.

So, what does this mean for SWTOR players? Well, we're certainly not losing any official customer support, because the forums weren't providing it in the first place. I'm confident that nobody at Bioware lost their job over this, because most of the time nobody responded to all the issues that people posted about anyway. I have no idea how good those official EA help pages are - EA's customer support doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation - but even bad customer support can't be any worse than not getting any at all. Dare I say that it might even be an improvement?

I'm not sure how well people will take to it, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who happily plays Bioware games while still avoiding their "evil overlord" EA whenever possible. To me as an MMO player it also won't feel nearly as natural to go to an EA page as it is to simply go to my game's official forums when I have a problem. (Even if I don't expect to receive support there, talking to other players about it can still be valuable.) I can easily see threads about various tech issues or "Is the server down?" type questions making an appearance in places like the general discussion forum in the future. If that happens, will Bioware be hardline enough to keep closing those threads down or will discussions like this simply continue in other sub-forums? We shall see.

The only potential downside I see is that a complete deletion of the old forum would result in the loss of a lot of accumulated knowledge and user-created fixes for a variety of problems. So I second the suggestion that they should be allowed to remain on the site as a read-only archive, at least for now.

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