Apathy Inc, and Blizzard Customer Service

A very nice post over on Apathy Incs’ blog about all the reasons why Blizzard SHOULD hate you… and why we should all just shut the hell up.

I pretty much agree with most of the points made about why we should all stop complaining about game based mechanics that annoy us or drive us crazy.

The only things that tend to get me really worked up in the game aren’t those things that Blizzard has any control over, but rather the personal behaviors of some other players, especially behaviors that tend to either waste the time of others, or cause emotional distress.

Granted, there are always exceptions. But I know that I remain eternally amazed at the massive depth of gameplay that World of Warcraft has to offer, and how incredibly smooth it runs networked over the internet with millions of other people to interact with.

One of the biggest things that amazes me, that I have discussed with my wife many times, is how remarkable it is to log into any application that allows me instant communication with friends from all over the world. I live in the central United States, and many of my best friends in the game happen to live in Singapore. Friends that I met, and got to know, within the World of Warcraft. Instant worldwide communication… and grouping up to squish monsters together. It’s just remarkable. As the novel Snowcrash addresses, the potential of the Internet to bring strangers from all over the world face to face to conduct business or get to know each other is simply phenomenal.

I will, however, have to personally disagree with the concept that Blizzard as a company is working hard all the time to improve the play experience of their customers, and make them as happy as possible, as a group.

The following is a true story, and hopefully will serve as a reminder and a warning to anyone that is lax about their security.

Last Christmas, the evening of December 24th as a matter of fact, at around 11:35 PM, my WoW account was hacked by person or persons unknown. I was online at the time it happened, in Ventrilo conversation with others in my guild, in the middle of a Scholomance run. I was booted out of the game, and while trying to log back in got told by my friends that I had just D/Ced for a second… and then they asked me why I hearthed to Ironforge. I told them that I didn’t hearth anywhere… and they said “Well, your character is back online and sharding your stuff as we speak.”

I will never forget those moments of confusion… that quickly grew into panic as my friends, who were still grouped with my character, gave me a running commentary of my purples that were being sharded, the shards’ announcements popping up in party chat as any D/E does.

At one point they said that it must be something else, some kind of bug, as they saw well over 14 shards being created… and then I quietly reminded them that as a druid, I had two full sets of epic gear in my bags that the person was sharding, not just one. Wonderful that I was a max level Enchanter, that the hacker had an easy time of sharding my epics, eh?

My friends actually went to Ironforge, surrounded my character, and screenshotted continuously as he ran from the bank to the mailbox to the vendor and back again repeatedly. All the while, I was flipping through pages of Blizzards’ account management website trying to figure out what to do.

I acted fast, saw advice that I should log into account management, change my password, and then try to log back in using the new password. It worked, and I booted the thief in mid-rape of my main character, before he could go after any other alts.

But not before every item I had was sharded, including my bank stuff… and all but about 50 gold and 8 shards were gone, mailed off to places unknown.

As you might imagine, I was upset that my Christmas present was a hacked main character. But I was thankful that I was online at the time, that I had friends that had screenshotted the entire process, and that I had seized my account back before any of my other characters were also looted. Surely, I said to myself, with the smoking gun held in my hand, with the shards, with the screenshots mailed to me by my friends, with an instant report on an open ticket, with an instant post in the customer support forums, surely my case will be addressed, my gear would be returned, and all would be made right. The accomplishments of an entire solid year of playing would be restored to me.

If you think that way also, you would be very wrong.

In the open ticket, I was infomed that Blizzard had a department that would investigate the matter, and I would be notified in email to my listed account contact info the results, and I was to refrain from making any other contact concerning this matter. I was to remain patient, and await an email response.

In the customer support forum, I had a blue response saying I was to open a ticket ni game to address the problem, and that they could not address my issue in any other way. I also had a number of players comment in my post that it was my fault for sharing my account info, and many others calling me a noob and saying flat out that if my account was hacked it was 100% my fault. This despite the fact that I have never shared my account info with anyone, ever. After doing a LOT of research, I found evidence that my wifes’ work computer, with which she works from home as a website design consultant and project manager, had been infected with a keylogger that my active McAfee virus-scan and Spybot S&D had not caught. I finally found it with Yahoo Toolbar’s built in Spyware checker, sad to say. I had sometimes played WoW from there, and of course checked the many websites for WoW info. Did I pick up the keylogger from Curse Gaming, as was rumoured to be happening at the time? Who knows? Since then, of course, I have taken extreme security measures which I have recommended to my friends… measures that you also can read more about here.

Regardless of the players that seemed to take great joy in my account being hacked, and posting that it served me right, and who made a great many assumptions as to my internet usage and habits, I fully expected Blizzard to patiently investigate my character data, and come to a just result.

As the weeks passed, I posted a few times in the customer service forums asking for any information as to how long such an investigation may take. After all, I gave them the ‘smoking gun’, the exact time and day of the hack, and what activities were performed. I had a ticket generated within minutes of the hack, and was very precise as to what items were gone, since my ItemRack addon had every item name listed in it’s inventory. EVERY ITEM that I regularly equipped.

To my shock, my posts in the forums were not simply ignored… they were removed as if they had never existed. As I began to watch the customer support forums and refresh the post list on a continuous basis, what I found was that I was FAR from being alone. MANY MANY others were posting that their accounts had been hacked… and their posts were also removed within seconds. Not angry or abusive posts, but posts that honestly were pleading for help.

The conclusion I came to at the time was pretty simple; someone within Blizzards’ customer support office had decided to remove any trace of unhappy customers due to account security issues. I do not know why. Thinking about it now, I could speculate that maybe someone was worried that the issue, if widely reported, might affect the sales of the upcoming Expansion. That sounds like a stupid idea, but who am I to guess at the reason for what I saw happening? The facts were straightforward; anyone that posted requesting help because their account had been hacked had their post removed within seconds. For over two weeks, until I finally moved on and stopped checking the forums. For all I know, it’s still done to this day. The only posts that were left behind were concerning extremely minor issues that only affected single persons and did not represent large scale issues.

Now, this angered me a great deal. But I also continued to have faith that, no matter what one department of Blizzard may be doing on their forums, the department that was investigating my issue would still come through.

I was 100% wrong.

What I received was an email from Blizzard, a form letter, stating that they were unable to verify that anything that I said was true concerning my account or any items I claimed to have lost. Therefore, they were sending me generic items to replace what I claimed was lost to enable me to get back to playing, and I could look forward to improving my gear when the new Burning Crusade expansion went on sale and increased the level cap, introducing exciting new equipment for all classes. I’m almost positive that I saved the letter. I say almost, cause I honestly haven’t had cause to worry about it for most of a year now, so i ahven’t gone looking for the letter.

How long did I wait before receiving that email? Over 1 month. That’s right my friends, it took Blizzard over a month to get that response to me. I got an email telling me they didn’t have any proof I ever had anything (including a Carrot on a Stick or other quest rewards, BTW), but they were gonna send me some stuff, and I should suck it up until Burning Crusade was launched.

I logged in and checked my bags… and not in the mail, but placed in my empty bagspace, and not only on my main, the only character that was affected, but on EVERY other character I had on the server no matter what level, were new items of gear. What gear? Why 100% random underleveled greens, of course. At least they were all the right armor type for the characters. No blues, no purples, no special items at all, and all of it what I consider vendor trash.

Now, this made me very incredibly angry… because this was a customer service slap in the face. I waited for over a month, and I received a form letter. no personal caring, even in denial of my claims. My personal pleas on the forums were deleted unanswered. All in all, it was made as clear to me as humanly possible that my concerns were unworthy of the personal attention of anyone within Blizzards’ customer service department, and that I should shut up and soldier on. Or quit.

My gear was gone, and while I’m not a loot whore, it gets REAL old trying to explain that, yes I know the Mark of Tyranny is an awesome Bear Tanking trinket, and yes, I WAS smart enough to choose it as a quest reward the first time, and NO I never sold it to a vendor, but NO I don’t have it anymore. Nor did I have any of my enchanting rods, which at the time you needed every rod in your inventory to be able to do every level of enchant. The hacker had sold them all. And had thrown out things he apparently had no need of, such as my epic land mount. You know, those things Blizzard said they could never prove I had.

I went out on the internet, and what I found was that other World of Warcraft news websites were reporting that there was an epidemic of hacked accounts… and that instead of actually trying to return the lost items, Blizzard had sent that same form letter to many others that were hacked on or after Christmas. It wasn’t personal, it was apparently just business. But with information controlled so tightly that it was nearly impossible to spread the word on the forums, how do you gather any kind of data on numbers? Whether it is true that many others received that form letter, I couldn’t tell you. I know I saw at least three other people report on the issue that week at other sites, including at one of the gaming news sites. But it’s been a while, and I can’t find raw data on numbers, so if you do not believe me, I won’t hold it against you :).

So you see… I agree with anyone that wants to talk about what a wonderful game World of Warcraft is. I love this game, and I am always impressed by the brilliance of the designers and artists that are responsible for it. I enjoy playing it, and can’t wait to see what the new patch may bring, or the new expansion. And I still love playing my main, and making alts, and playing with my friends.

But at the same time, I never mistake Blizzard ‘as a business’ as being worthy of the same respect and admiration as the folks that design and program the games. Because I have never experienced personal customer service that has been as truly horrible as the impersonal service I received at what was arguably one of the worst gaming moments of my life. And the utterly pathetic way they chose to handle one of the worst things that can ever happen to any faithful subscriber, and completely control and rigidly remove any mention that customers were even experiencing this issue for weeks at a time, is contemptible.

When you accept the agreements on login, you can’t call this kind of behavior criminal… but I suspect that it is highly unethical. And it certainly removed any respect I might have ever had about Blizzards business practises.

Maybe the experience is one of the reasons I don’t get too excited by ‘chasing the loot drops’. It’s loot. It’s nice to have gear that helps you help your friends and it’s exciting to see something new, or to attain a new symbol of progression. But at the same time… tomorrow, it could be gone. Poof. Or a patch or expansion could come out that truly replaces all that you stressed over. In the end, if someone else wins a drop… or even wants it bad… why not give it to them? Take pleasure in their pleasure over gaining new loot.

Unless, of course, it’s the Iron Band of the Unbreakable. Someday, that bastard ring WILL be mine!

Oh, and if this story saddens you, please don’t be sad on my account. It’s all been a LONG time ago at this point, and I am quite happy with my gear and I have tons of fun playing. Do I miss some of the stuff? Well, there were certainly some Molten Core drops that I would have kept for old times sake, but in the end… nah. It’s all good. It’s the fun playing with friends, not collecting gear like they’re Pokemon, that keeps me coming back for more.

9 thoughts on “Apathy Inc, and Blizzard Customer Service

  1. Pingback: Warcraft, security, and reality « Dechion's Place

  2. Pingback: Warcraft, security, and reality « Be Nameless

  3. That was one depressing story, B3. Kudos to you for being able to move on. I think I might have been one to “wallow in self pity” and quit the game if that had happened to me. Well … at least until Burning Crusade … or player housing … or Sims 2 got boring (again). =)


  4. I had a friend that had his account hacked the same time as yours. He had a little more luck working with Blizzard. Instead of just relying the e-mail system, he went ahead and used some of our firms letter-head to mail the letter to Blizzard. As the firm is an IP litigation law firm, they must have taken his a little more seriously. He had his stuff back within a weeks time (minus the 18 mooncloth they stated he could not prove having had)Sorry for the loss, but way to step up and be a grown-up about the whole thing. It is stumbling blocks like the situation you discribed that seperates the truely great human beings from those that wallow in self pity.Keep up the great Blog.


  5. @Alien… here’s hoping none of us ever ahve cause to need to find out if Blizzard has improved or not.@Ferocious… You know, it’s funny, but that is exactly what ALL of my guildies and I expected to have happen… and it is one reason why I cut them so much slack when I thought that they were actually investigating, as opposed to, oh I dunno… coming up with a legally ironclad response that passed their legal department? Or whatever it was they finally decided to do instead of investigating.Such is life… but it’s worth the warning.


  6. Wow, it amazes me that they didn’t pull logs or backups to see what you had prior to the hacking. You are their customer and they should do what they reasonably can to keep you happy. Checking history seems reasonable to me…It says a lot about you as an individual that you’ve been able to let it go and continue playing without resentment and grudges. Not many people can do that and I applaud you!


  7. They have changed to at least some degree recently. A friend of mine logged in on Friday a week or so ago to see his account had been hacked, his valuables were all gone and so forth. He opened a ticket, emailed the account admin people like the web site suggested…and before the weekend was over he had all his stuff back.Maybe they’ve developed better tools for dealing with this sort of thing since then? In any case, their rapid response, on a weekend no less, caused him to declare unending loyalty to them.So…maybe they learned something.


  8. Wow. I got tradehacked out of a single Stone of Jordan when I was playing Diablo II and that was enough to make me quit the game for several months. (I must have wanted to quit anyway.) I entered group play in WoW very cautiously.I admire how well you handled the situation (especially given how Blizzard seemed to brush off the situation), and the way you’ve kept perspective on the game. Every time my blood pressure begins to rise (because I just got killed, because the person in my PUG is driving me crazy, because I go to turn in my quest and realize the item I need is in the bank), I remind myself it is only a Game. The longer I play, the less it seems I have to remind myself, so I’ll call that progress…


  9. After reading the forums as a whole for 2 odd years, I couldn’t agree more with his stance. The forum community broke Tseric, Caydiem, and who knows who else lurking behind the curtain. It’s a veritable war of attrition.


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