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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
TURN BACK, ADVENTURER - Beta Lessons from Bethesda
By Robert Basler on 2014-03-01 15:16:21
Homepage: onemanmmo.com email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I'm feeling a bit snarky this weekend since I haven't been able to try The Elder Scrolls(R) Online beta. The up-side is that I've learned a whole bunch of things about how to run an MMO Beta program that will be really helpful for Miranda.

After all the time I spent playing Skyrim, I was really excited when I saw PC Gamer was giving away beta keys on Thursday, so I hurried over, signed up for a PC Gamer account and lucky, lucky -- I got a key in the email a few minutes later. Hooray!

The instructions said to go create an The Elder Scrolls(R) Online account so I did that, entered in some personal information I rather wouldn't have (given all the companies suffering security breaches lately,) and I was set, account created. It said I should expect an account activation email shortly. So I waited. After an hour, nothing. So I went back to the account site and had it resend me the activation email. This was the result:

fail.jpg


Lesson learned: Error messages should give players at least some idea what the problem is. Too heavy load? Internal error of some sort? Give them something they can work with. And make the error screen really pretty.

So I logged back in and requested the activation email again, and again, and again, and again until at last the website said it had been resent. So I waited. And I waited. Still no activation email.

So I thought maybe it doesn't like my email address, so I created a new account using a gmail address. Nope, no better. Still no activation email.

Finally, several hours later, the activation email appeared in my inbox. I eagerly clicked on the link to activate my account, and the site told me: Activation code invalid. Awesome. Over the next hour, six more activation emails rolled in, all with the exact same activation code as the first, until the last appeared with a new code. I tried that one and it worked! My account was at long last activated.

Lesson learned: If you're going to require an activation email for accounts, the website sending it shouldn't error out constantly, the email should arrive promptly, and the link should work.

I eagerly entered the beta access code I got from PC Gamer into my freshly activated account. Invalid Code. Huh? I checked I hadn't mis-cut-pasted it. Nope. I tried typing it by hand. Invalid Code. I tried entering it in the second account I'd created. Invalid Code. I tried another browser. Invalid Code. I Googled, apparently this wasn't an uncommon problem.

Lesson learned: Account creation needs to be bulletproof before you let anyone touch it. And Bethesda is completely incompetent.

Eventually I found the link to contact support. So I sent them a request for help, including the email from PC Gamer. I was astonished to receive back a response from an actual person after only a couple of hours: "Helping you is our passion!" They told me to go look at the page I'd originally found the link to support on. So I replied that I'd already done that. Next morning I got another email saying they needed my email (the one I sent the first response from) the account (also in the first response) and my birthday to help me.

That was the last I heard from support. I guess their "passion" doesn't extend to beta weekends.

Lesson learned: Support personnel and a public issue tracking system are a must. In the past I've avoided customer support almost entirely by making better software, but the reality of my current project is that eventually someone is going to need help and to know that I'm doing the best I can to help them.

Lesson learned: Support needs to be smart and authorized to act on their own. From the first contact, support should have been able to figure out that I was someone who wanted beta access, and just have given me it. They don't need to verify my account (although the email came from the account registered to the account) to add beta access to a game to it. And if they needed to verify it was me they were talking to, that should have been in the first contact, not the second.

With the beta weekend fast running out, I tried to figure out the problem on my own. I requested a total of 4 beta keys from three sites. I created 3 different accounts. I tried Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. The end result:

Invalid Code.

I should also mention that I originally signed up for The Elder Scrolls(R) Online beta the moment it was announced. Since then I've received just a single email from them to let me know they got my email address. Nothing about the beta. Nothing about the game. No invitation. Nada.

This isn't a lesson. I know developers need to make an effort to cultivate the relationship with interested players. I'm really surprised Bethesda doesn't.

Lesson learned: TURN BACK, ADVENTURER

By Robert Basler on 2014-03-11 12:26:28
Homepage: www.onemanmmo.com email:one at onemanmmo dot com
We have not heard from you concerning your request for support in the 120 hours since we sent you a response. Consequently, we have changed the status of your question to Solved.

That's comedy gold right there.
By Robert Basler on 2014-03-11 15:08:10
Homepage: www.onemanmmo.com email:one at onemanmmo dot com
Well wow. Tried their support again and they've fixed it. It turns out PC Gamer gave the wrong URL for account creation.
By Retron on 2014-04-05 11:33:30
Homepage: www.retron.sk email:
Most companies don't care customer support, which is important to keep audience. Just quickly release a game, get payment and let's jump to another title...

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