Dave the Customer, I feel you! (Ocean Marketting/Stratagy)
So today I went on facebook to find a link to Penny Arcade shared by my brother. Penny Arcade is a webcomic that I used to read a long time ago. I have not kept up with it however, but apparently the creators run one of the biggest video game trade fairs in the US. Their website is pretty popular in the gaming community and this particular blog post that my brother shared still has me laughing Read it. It certainly is entertaining.
But why am I talking about it in this blog?
I’ll tell you why. First of all, even though I don’t know anything about Dave, I’ve been in his exact situation, where I ordered something from a game company and didn’t get it in a timely fashion. Unfortunately this was before the proliferation of e-mail, so all of my correspondence happened over the phone or by fax. (This was the early 1990s. Yes, I know e-mail was around then, but I don’t think I got my first e-mail address until 1994 or 1995. I also didn’t use e-mail on a regular basis until late 1996, when I got a University of Maryland e-mail account.)
I wanted a game for the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy II (actually IV, but in the U.S. we didn’t get 2 or 3, so the US title was II. Probably every other blog that ever mentions the FF series mentions this. If you don’t get it, don’t worry.) Well, this was some time after the game had actually been released. I had even played through it once when I borrowed it from my friend. I got so addicted to it, but as with all borrowed things, you must return them. So I decided to buy my own copy. After being driven to all the local toy stores by my mother (yes, I was not old enough to drive yet!) to look for it, we were unable to locate even one copy.
In retrospect it probably would have been smarter to call them all first, but that wasn’t how I rolled back then, because I was really shy. People who work at stores who would ask if they could help me.. that intimidated me. In fact, I didn’t realize this until now, I used to hate meeting or talking to people I didn’t already know… because we’d have to figure out stuff to talk about even if neither of us wanted to. I remember considering it a success once when I initiated small talk with a person on the train when I was 16, and had a whole 30 minute conversation. Man.. do I still feel like this? Who knows.. Anyway…
Distraught that I could not find my game, I was pleased to find that in one of my brother’s Electronic Gaming Monthly magazines was an ad for a small mail-order company that listed Final Fantasy II as one of the games it had for sale. I called them up to make sure they had it in stock, and they said that they did. So I handed several months worth of saved allowance to Mom, who wrote a check for the game, and I sent it off in the mail.
I’d bought stuff by mail-order before, so I knew that sometimes delivery can take a while. At the time it was standard to have to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery. I don’t think any company would ever be able to get away with that now, but back then, someone had to personally open and read all the order mail and file paper work with someone else who would personally take it somewhere else… and they probably wouldn’t process anything until the check cleared, etc… But I am a patient guy… so I waited. Within one or two weeks, the check was cleared, cashed, and sent back to my mom. I thought my game would be on the way in no time.
Well after what must have been longer than 12 weeks (I’m guessing I gave them an extra month, because I am a nice guy). I called the company again asking for any information relating to my game. The person who answered the phone was nice, and understood my problem, and told me that my game had been sent by the U.S. postal service, and that I should be getting it soon.
So I waited 2 more weeks, and nothing.
I decided to send a hand written letter with a photocopy of the check that they had cashed, the ad that I had used, which showed that they claimed to have the game, and a request to either refund my money or send me the game.
I got no response.
My genius older brother then had the genius idea of sending a fax to them. You see, back then, fax was the best way to get something important and time sensitive to someone. And usually people did not have fax machines in their houses. Only businesses had faxes. So if you had an important message to send, fax would get someone’s attention.
So I typed out a letter on my old apple II that “respectfully demanded” that the situation be resolved. I tried to be as polite as possible saying that I was willing to forgive everything if the game or a check for a refund was delivered to my house no later than 2 weeks from the date of the fax. I didn’t have anything to threaten the company with, but I did imply that I wouldn’t just go away. In retrospect, there really wasn’t anything I could do other than “call the Better Business Bureau” whatever that means.. Yes, I know what the Better Business Bureau is, but I don’t think I have ever seen any BBB blacklist or anything, nor have I ever heard of a case where someone went to the BBB because of their customer service complaint and had a swift resolution.
Well, after receiving the fax, the owner of the company took it upon himself to call my home and shout at me, telling me he was FURIOUS that I was “threatening him in the mail.” As a kid who had just entered my teens, and a shy one at that, his yelling and screaming actually did scare me. I told him that I was sorry (which I shouldn’t have) but I asked him when I could expect my game to arrive. He told me that it had been sent by “the USPS.” So I said, “So it’s coming by UPS?” and he said
“NO, SIR” (“Sir” said in a condescending and sarcastic way.) “The USPS, United States Postal Service.”
When I explained that another person had told me that weeks earlier and it hadn’t arrived, he checked his records which said that it had. I maintained that I hadn’t received it.
Here’s a funny part. He asked my name. I told him Eugene Whong, W-H-O-N-G. And he goes “oh, are you sure it’s not W-O-N-G?”
I know how to spell my name guy, come on! I was angry and frustrated at this point, but he puts me on hold.
Later, he is talking to me again, and he says that he had me confused with another customer, and now he sees who I am, and he assured me that I would get the game in a timely manner.
So this means that there was also a Eugene Wong who bought the same game from this company. Hey stranger mix-ups have happened.
He explained that it was a rare game because after the first release it sold quickly and they didn’t have any more in stock, so I would have to wait until they got their next shipment from the distributor.
At this point my mom decided to talk to the guy for me. She explained that the reason we had decided to use his company was because we had called in advance to make sure they had it in stock before placing the order. He was a lot nicer to my mom, and said he’d take care of the situation.
A month passed. At this point I had given up. My mom was really nice about it though, and agreed to buy me the game from another company from an ad placed in Nintendo Power… Nintendo of America themselves. Sometimes when there was excess product companies would sell it for a discount with special offers in Nintendo Power. I didn’t have to pay her twice for the game, even though she would be paying for it twice. We called Nintendo and ordered the game. Mom paid with a credit card, and the game came a week later. I quickly forgot about this other company.
In the end it turns out that that company went out of business, and I was listed as one of its creditors in its bankruptcy proceedings. I’m not sure, but there was a lot of paperwork and personal travel that might have had to occur in order to recoup the $60 or whatever I paid. I also interpreted the legalese to mean that I wouldn’t be able to get all $60, but an equivalent percentage of the cash after liquidation of the company’s assets. This was too much of a hassle, so I just decided to ignore the whole thing. I am sure that many other kids who they had ripped off probably also forgot about it. Which means this company was allowed to get away with it.
I don’t even remember the name of the company, but it was located in Schenectady, New York.
As you can tell, I never forgot what happened to me back then… so when I read the exchange between customer Dave, Ocean Marketting/Stratagy Prsident Paul, and Penny Arcade’s Gabe… I am laughing. I feel vindicated, even though I’m not Dave, and Paul isn’t the person who screwed me over so many years ago. But I still feel vindicated because…
There is a little bit if that guy in a lot of us. Now, this might not even be what Dave is really like, but he’s a gamer. And yes, many gamers are nerds. Those who aren’t are closet nerds. Admit it! And even people who aren’t gamers probably feel like they are nerds if they know something about anything more than the average person does. If that thing just happens to be sports, then you’re a sports nerd, although for some reason, sports nerds get to shake off the nerd label somehow… even so, there’s a little nerd in all of us… and nerds were always bullied in our younger days.
So when we see one of our own trampled on by a bully, we love to see the bully get his comeuppance. We all somehow readily identify with the bullied nerd, that’s why characters like that are so popular. Hell, I’ll bet even bullies themselves felt like nerds when they were younger. Teenage years are awkward for everyone.
So.. as of this writing, I would like to say to Dave, you are a personal hero of mine, and to Gabe (Mike K, whatever) from Penny Arcade, thank you for taking action. To Paul of Ocean Stratagy, you’ve got my sympathy now, but you’ve got to change your ways. You’ve got to do the right thing BEFORE someone big and powerful compels you to. I hope you end up okay after all of this, and that you can find employment SOMEWHERE.