Hey, cool, my article got picked up by Resolution-Magazine!

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Check it out here.

Already they’ve been some interesting comments.

Some suggest Enslaved was just not as good as Borderlands, which I’m not really qualified to talk about. From what I’ve played from the demo, I wouldn’t say it comes across as “revolutionary” either, but neither was Borderlands imo. Still, it’s possible the critics got it wrong.

One commenter stated it was because there was too much competition for Enslaved to prevail, mentioning Fable III and Fallout: New Vegas. Quite plausibly a factor, I think.

Another thing that surprised was how much vitriol there was targeted at Ninja Theory, specifically at the way they publicly handled the poor sales they received for their previous game, Heavenly Sword. Was this an influencing purchasing factor? Well, no, I don’t so, because Enslaved sold almost equally as badly on the 360, whose users may not have played Heavenly Sword or felt aggrieved by Ninja Theory’s comments. However, one astute commenter made the point that Ninja Theory’s reputation with its community may have soured any chance of a grass-roots campaign to spread buzz before the game launched, and when launching a new and unusual IP, that certainly could have been a major factor.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I predicted in the article that Enslaved may become a cult classic in the same bracket Psychnauts is now regarded. On that point, I fully admit, I overreached. Whoops. 😛

Anyway, it’s good to see something I wrote get hits and responses. I obviously hit a nerve.

Addendum: Last thing. Someone said that the demo for Enslaved was weak. I actually quite enjoyed the demo, and that’s what got me interested in the game. Makes me wonder, though, whether a bad demo can have a negative impact on sales – or, to be more precise, can a poorly designed demo, not representative of the full game experience, dissuade people from buying? My impulse says that’s a yes.

Addendum to the addendum: although, I’ve also played demos of games, of which previously I had zero interest in, and then decided to buy them at some point based off my experience. So, in that way, a demo may solidify a purchasing decision within the consumer’s mind, but it can easily work both ways.

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Arriva M-ticket Review

November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Nah, I'm good.

Speaking of disappointing customer experiences, I recently tried the Arriva m-ticket app on my HTC Desire (running Froyo 2.2). I remember being super excited over the prospect of never having to worry about exact change again. I told my brother just this, actually, and he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it needs work. I did not know it at the time, but he was so right.

The problems with m-ticket on smartphones can be broken up into one of two broad categories:

  1. issues surrounding the app specifically, such as UI, functionality and performance; and
  2. general problems around using your smartphone as a digital ticket.

Starting with the first category, the UI looks good but it takes way too many button presses to get your ticket visible on the screen to show to the bus driver. It also isn’t very user-friendly. Combine this with a lengthy boot time for the app, and this can turn into a pretty embarrassing situation as the user struggles to find the ticket on their phone while an exasperated driver and annoyed line of commuters wait for them to finish. A more minor issue, but still a salient omission, is that it doesn’t include live timetables for bus journeys, which really is a feature one would expect to find.

However, the most major problem I encountered was that when I decided to send feedback via the app it hung on a loading screen. This effectively barred me from accessing my £18 weekly ticket. Rebooting the app didn’t help, as the loading screen would once again pop up and prevent me from doing anything. This, in the QA business, is called game-breaker, ladies and gentleman. It is simply unacceptable to have a bug of this magnitude in a public software release.

This leads me onto an associated issue, further compounding the seriousness of the bug. Account information is stored in the app installation, meaning that if you uninstall it or attempt to clear the cache, that information is now irretrievable. Any outstanding valid tickets you may have had are now gone forever. I did not know this, of course, and so in an attempt to reset the app and work around the glitch I had encountered, I cleared the cache.

Shit.

What followed in the next few days were frantic calls to Arriva’s customer support in order to get a refund on the weekly ticket I had shelled out for, but which was now totally inaccessible. Thankfully, after several attempts, I did get through to someone and they refunded my ticket with no hassle; they also apologised and tried to troubleshoot what had happened. Unfortunately, it was a bit too little, too late. There is now no way I’d consider going near buying an m-ticket through Arriva again in its current state. For me to change my mind, they would have to alter the way account information is stored at the very least, so that it can be recovered if the app is has to be reinstalled or that person is changing handsets.

That’s all my major gripes with category one covered, but what of the second category?

Well, despite my misgivings over the m-ticket, they are probably going to become the way to pay in a future coming to you soon. The problem is that existing smartphone handsets aren’t quite there. Battery life is still a major issue. They crash sometimes, because of how sophisticated the OSs are now. They are at risk to spyware and trojans, which will be on the lookout for the confidential data you input, and people are still way too ignorant over this. Lastly, they’re multitasking devices, but sometimes they don’t multitask so well, leading to significant UI and performance issues. Consider you’re in line with m-ticket in hand, but you’re also listening to a music, and then you receive a phone call, and now you’re right in front of the bus driver trying to figure out how to shut down all those programs and notifications in order to bring the ticket up on-screen. Nightmare.

With all that out there, I can deliver to you my final score: 2 out of 5. Conceptually, it’s a good idea, but Arriva and handset manufacturers have a ways to go before the mainstream should consider buying into mobile tickets.

LOVEFiLM Slam Dunks The Rebound – Boom-Shakalaka!

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Within twenty-four hours of my last post, LOVEFiLM has responded and done pretty much everything I could have hoped for. Here’s what they said:

So, this is very good. They got back to me, apologised and offered to help, and they responded to my responses swiftly. Next thing, they got into contact with me via DM (good standard practice, since they were going to ask me about account information):

And they’ve now given me an extra disc credit. Fantastic, a perfect follow-through!

Conclusion: all-in-all, LOVEFiLM did a great job. They turned a negative experience into a positive one, and I am now sharing that with you guys reading this; hence, they have shown integrity, and because of that, they garnered positive awareness around their service.

There is one last thing I want to mention, and this isn’t a criticism I levy at LOVEFiLM in particular: it’s a shame that more companies don’t have staff working on the weekends to deal with these sorts of customer complaints quicker. Take a look at this research conducted by Sysomos in 2009:

Now, while these statistics are a year old (a long time in social media), if we take them at face value we can see that 25.26% tweets sent out during the week occur during the weekend. That’s a quarter of all total tweets, and yet a lot of companies choose not to have staff working around this time. I think it’s not only a missed opportunity, but on the rarest of occasions it can make a company more susceptible to a PR crisis that could have been prevented. A customer complaint unanswered on a Friday can snowball into a fiasco come Monday – though, as I mentioned before, it’s not the norm.

Not to get too negative, though. LOVEFiLM deserve plaudits for acting as quickly as they did in making their customers feel valued and respected.

I am dissapoint, LOVEFiLM

October 31, 2010 § 2 Comments

You’ve all probably heard of the common idea that a bad customer experience sticks out far more than good one. Well, it’s true, and I’m going to prove it to you right here and now.

A few minutes ago I sent out two fairly irate tweets directed towards @LOVEFiLM on Twitter. I was pissed off. My DVD rental copy of Redbelt had gotten stuck around two-third’s of the way through, rendering an entire scene in the movie unplayable. Sure, to some people it might not be a big deal to miss a scene or two, but to me it’s unacceptable. That one scene could have been key to the motivations of a central character or been the focus of a major plot point. In my mind, it’s ruinous to the whole experience of watching a film.

"Why, LOVEFiLM?! Wherest art thou's CRM strategy? 😥

So, anyway, I started tweeting and got to thinking about just how many unplayable DVDs I’d sent back to LOVEFiLM over the years I’d been with them for. Turns out, they make this rather easy. They archive your history of rentals, and they send out an e-mail every time you report a faulty disc. Now, over time, I’d got to feeling that I must be receiving faulty discs about, oh, a quarter of the time; although, my point is that it had felt like this was happening more and more – like, way too often for comfort.

What did I actually find when I looked through my history and bank of e-mails, though?

Well, first off, I found out that I’ve been a subscriber since around late July 2008.

From that time I have received 211 discs through from LOVEFiLM, which includes mostly film DVDs but also Xbox 360 DVDs, and doesn’t include replacement discs.

I have reported only 11 cases of a DVD being faulty or unplayable.

While I’m no fancy mathematician, even I can work out that that’s a fault rate of around 5% over two years and roughly three months.

While it has to be said that that 5% doesn’t include the times I didn’t bother to report a faulty disc for whatever reason, that statistic is actually much lower than what I had expected it to be. I had the firm belief in my head, beyond almost all doubt, that it would be something closer to at least 25% – but no, I had only been receiving faulty discs close to, and probably just over, one-twentieth of the time. Yet, I was sure – so sure – that it was higher. And not only that, I was very ready and willing to spread that false belief all over the Internet. Inevitably, in my agitation, that’s exactly what I started to do.

Was LOVEFiLM listening to what was being said about them? No, apparently not, because I still haven’t heard from them. Perhaps I wouldn’t have even bothered writing this if they had. They could have apologised, offered me some compensation for the inconvenience, while also providing statistics demonstrating the low frequency of faulty disc reports. That would have been a great bit of customer service, and I may even have ended up relaying that information across to my friends and followers. They could have turned a negative customer experience into a positive one. Did they do that? No, they didn’t.

I guess this is the lesson to learn for businesses, one which they probably all know but that nonetheless bears repeating: your customer is irrational, impatient, quick to anger and, potentially, a risk to your reputation in this ever connected, digital world. That is not to say be afraid of your customer, but at the very least they need to be placated, and they need to feel heard when they’re not happy. When you’re offering a service, your perceived reputation is the difference between adoption and dismissal, between advocating and discouraging. Get your customers onside, keep them happy, and get them working for you, not against you.

(On a side note: from the fifty-five minutes I saw of Redbelt, I think it’s really good. Chiwetel is a criminally under appreciated actor, again delivering a charismatic, subtle performance. And if you’re one of those guys who really digs the nobility of a warrior/samurai code, this is absolutely going to rock your boat.)

‘Halo Reach’ Impressions

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

[Author’s note: this was actually written as a forum post and has simply been copied over, but I felt it so nicely encapsulated my feelings about the game.]

As far as Halo goes, this is the pinnacle of the series. It is still Halo, though, so if you’ve never cared for it before, this isn’t going to change your mind. The architecture and landscape still have that weird artificial, contrived feel (unlike Half-Life 2’s City 17, for example, or BioShock’s Rapture). Likewise, the characters, while they have a smidge more depth to them here, still don’t amount too much. Also, as someone who has played through Halo 1, 3 and ODST, the plot is relentlessly unforgiving in assuming the audience’s foreknowledge of the fictional universe. To anyone who hasn’t played those games, the story is nigh on incomprehensible, as it was to me in certain segments.

On a special note: I think the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal and one of the best I’ve ever heard. Without it, Reach wouldn’t have anything near the amount of emotional pull and gravitas it ends up with. As I said, I didn’t quite get the story sometimes, but Halo has always been about painting themes in broad, bombastic strokes, and to that end the soundtrack succeeded in being the metaphorical brush. It takes the best parts of ODST, the bitter-sweet sorrow of sacrifice and hope in the face of insurmountable odds, and incorporates it to fit in a grander scale. It’s an appropriate theme, too, and a poignant one, considering this is Bungie’s last foray into the Halo universe. It is truly their love letter to the series and the fans – their beautiful swan song before they depart for adventures new.

Community Shitstorm at the Giant Bomb

September 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

There’s a troubling PR crisis brewing over at Giant Bomb at the moment, one of my favourite gaming websites.

They’ve just revealed a new subscriber option, where for $5 a month or $50 a year you get access to a series of premium features they’re offering, including stuff like HD video, mobile versions for any websites hosted on Whisky Media, some avatar bling and possibly a live Friday show.

The other thing they’re doing, unfortunately, is splitting the Bombcast (their weekly podcast) into two one-hour portions, with the first half being filled with time-sensitive discussion, while the second half is only accessible a week after broadcast for free members. Premium members get access to both halves of the podcast at the time of release; and hence, they don’t have to wait.

The big sticking point here is that the two-hour podcast has been and currently is free to everyone. Now, some form it is being taken away and held ransom until a week passes.

The real issue, however, is that it was heavily implied, if not outright stated, that features weren’t going to be taken away, only added, and that they don’t want to split the community. The reality is, though, that people are now being asked to pay for a feature that was previously free, and considering how the Bombcast is one of main features of the site, there will be a community divide between those who have listened to it, and so can discuss the content, and those don’t have access and turn up a week late to the party when everybody’s moved one.

In straight forward terms: they made promises and didn’t keep them, and now some parts of the community feel betrayed; hence, shitstorm.

Personally, I think content creators absolutely have the right to charge consumers for what they produce. I’m hovering over the idea of paying for the monthly subscription, myself, since I visit the site an awful lot, value the content and opinions of the creators and want a decent browsing experience while navigating on my smartphone. I also quite like Tested, one of their sister sites, for the same reasons.

No, I think this is more about broken promises rather than straight-up Internet-user entitlement syndrome.

So, what I’m really interesting in is their response to this. They’re going to be doing their Big Live Live Show: Live! sometime this afternoon, where I expect they’ll address some of these concerns. The questions is: how? The very worst thing they could do is go into victimisation mode and start calling people cheapskates. The very best thing they could do is to drop the splitting up of the podcast idea and reduce the subscription (maybe to $3 per month and $30 per year), but I think this is idealistic. What they’re going to do – what I would do – and what they should do is this: listen to the fans, don’t persecute them, respond to their accusations and be as honest as possible why you’re doing this and what the business realities are. Ryan, Jeff and Dave actually did a pretty good job of justifying the changes in a podcast they did very recently.  It’s a good start, but this is a message they’re going to have to continually repeat, and they’re still going to need to listen and respond to the concerns of the community on this if they are to maintain their good guy image.

I will be watching eagerly to see how this all unfolds.

My problem with Shutter Island…

August 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

… is best explained with this quote from a review of another movie:

First it’s hard to connect with a movie when it tries so hard to ‘fool’ you or to keep you guessing; is this a dream, is it not, is it a dream within a dream? Who cares? Just commit to something and get on with it.

That said, I guess my issue is more to do with the film presenting the blindingly obvious twist (it’s all in his head) without actually saying it, and then proceeding to lead the audience down the garden path for the rest of the film until it says “STOP! Now, here’s the real answer.”

Here’s the kicker, though: the above quote is from a review of Inception by Michelle Alexandria, of Eclipse Magazine. And yet, I really loved Inception; couldn’t shut up about it, in fact. So I don’t know why I feel that the criticism applies so strongly here and not there, when they are quite similar movies – both dealing with shifting and unreliable realities, from the perspectives of troubled and traumatised narrators, and both coincidentally starring DiCaprio in the leading role. I really need to see Inception again, just to see if it holds up a second time round, and maybe so I can figure this paradox out.

WE NEED TO GO DEEPER!

Also, I couldn’t resist – from the same review:

The last 30 minutes was a complete mess, featuring three or four dreams all happening at once. I did think Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would make a pretty cool movie since one of the dreams was a blatant rip off of the game. I kept thinking, man I wish I was home playing some Spec Ops and not stuck here watching this movie. [My bold – ed.]

I’m glad I wasn’t the only person thinking this. Further, I think she’s right: the third layer (or as I like to call it, “The Snow Level”) is where I got bored, where it suddenly turns into a mindless action scene from a James Bond movie that drags on, and on, and on, and on, and– well, you get the gist.

As I said, I loved Inception, but I also think this review raises some interesting criticisms of the film.