Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Ocean Marketing/Paul Christoforo and Penny Arcade: Why Customer Service Matters on the "real internet."
It has been a while since I've had a bona fide gaming industry scandal to write about, but man are they interesting. I think that these sorts of stories hit the same spots in the brain that are activated when a high school girl hears the newest gossip or when a bit of drama hits guildchat in WoW. I am, of course, talking about Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing, a supposed SEO/Internet Marketing "Professional" who decided to be rude and condescending to a customer over a legitimate consumer complaint, and then Penny Arcade got involved... and things got weird. The entire text of the exchange can be found here, but I'll summarize as this frenzy has exploded over Reddit, Twitter and now even 4chan has gotten into the act, gleefully trying to destroy someone (and for once, it is a person who appears to really, really deserve it.
This all started with a few questions about a third-party controller, the Avenger, purchased in November, advertised as shipping in early December and a customer's questions about a shipment that was clearly going to miss a target for Christmas. These things happen, and Dave, the customer wanted an update, and noticed that new orders were eligible for a $10 off coupon and expressed his frustration that he wouldn't get the controller when he needed it, so he'd be best off canceling his order and placing a new one to save the ten bucks. This is a clear expression of a customer with a legit complaint that anyone who has been in any sort of sales knows is best handled with an apology and a $10 credit (toward a future order, if that ten dollars is really that important to you.) Instead, Paul Christoforo decided to respond in a condescending fashion, threatening to cancel the entire order of anyone who tried to save $10 stating "you can buy it at retail somewhere else." And in closing, he calls Dave "Dan."
This is where things get heated. Dave explains, using strong language (but no profanity) why this response to a customer is unacceptable, affirms that the product is so good that he intends to buy it anyway, but calls out Ocean Marketing on several failures to provide a minimal level of service. To be fair, he ends this e-mail with a bit of a snarky comment that could be construed as a personal attack. Mr. Christoforo then proves that he has not yet hit rock bottom in terms of a complete lack of business acumen or professionalism, and fires back. He starts name dropping, calling names and in general pulling the "do you know who I am, you little nobody?" routine. In this attack on both a customer and spelling/grammar, we have gems like "Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet when you were a sperm in your daddys balls and before it was the internet" and "You just got told bitch ... welcome to the real internet." He closes by bragging about all the trade shows he'll be at, including PAX East.
This last bit is where thing take a turn for the surreal. The e-mail exchange is forwarded to Mike Krahulik, of Penny Arcade and co-owner of the PAX shows. Enraged, Mike steps in and calmly states that if this is how customers are treated, Ocean Marketing and Paul Christoforo will no longer be welcome at those shows. In a stunning display of ignorance, Paul responds with "I guarantee I can get a booth if I want one money buys a lot and connections go even further" and "who are you again?" The game is on. Penny Arcade is one of the most influential websites in all of video gamins, and Mike flexes a little bit to someone who clearly doesn't know who he is talking to. Paul Christoforo makes this clear when he starts throwing insults and telling someone with a LOT more pull than he has to "watch the way you talk to people" because "it's a small industry and everyone knows everyone," not appreciating the irony in his statements. He follows up with more name dropping, including the Mayor of Boston, Sean Buckley at Engadget and Scott Lowe at IGN. For a finishing touch, he insults and threatens the Penny Arcade site, saying that he'll put his "125 employees" on a smear campaign, insisting that Mike doesn't know who he is messing with.
The exchange is put up on Penny Arcade, which in his arrogance and ignorance Mr. Christoforo believes is a good thing, free publicity... and it goes viral within hours. Reddit, Kotaku, IGN and other sites all go bonkers at this little man with the mind-blowing ego and instantly he is the most hated man of the moment for many, many gamers worldwide. On Twitter, Scott Lowe takes issue with his name being dropped in support of this insufferable twit, and says so, calling him "completely unprofessional" given their past working relationship. Staying the course, Paul responds by calling Scott a "douchebag" and claiming that "You were the unprofessional one" in the same tweet, still oblivious to the concept of irony. Kevin Kelly of G4TV stands by Scott Lowe in his assessment, and the manufacturers of the Avenger controller become aware of what their "professional" marketing guy is doing to their brand online. At the moment (as of 11:30 AM, 12/27) Frank Shephard tweeted an apology to any customer treated poorly and said that there is no official statement yet, but "more to come soon."
Aside from the prurient entertainment factor of online drama, what does all this tell us about online marketing and the gaming industry? If you mess with an online institution over something petty, asking them "Do you know who I am?" soon, everyone will know who you are, and that isn't a good thing. Bad publicity is no longer the same as "good publicity," something I'm sure Mr. Christoforo will learn, much to his dismay. We also can see how careers and names can be ruined over something that could have been fixed with a ten dollar coupon. In general, as people become more connected, it is better to be decent and forthright with people, as word really does get around, and you DO have to be careful who you talk to and how. That's what we on the "real internet" call karma, bitch.Blog Gadgets
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I haven't been blogging lately. Anyone who checks this site, and the regular readers I've lost in the last few weeks already know this. I've underestimated the impact of three nights spent working out, three nights spent raiding Dragon Soul in World of Warcraft and normal full-time job and holiday madness. My limited free time has also meant I've had little new to blog about. I've been focused on losing some of the extra 130+ pounds I've been carrying around these last few years and playing mostly Minecraft and WoW, with the occasional new Indie Game on Steam (Humble Bundles ahoy!) But I've done these topics several times now, and haven't felt inspired to tread the same paths in my writing during my limited free time. Now, I'm on Christmas Break from work, and what does inspire me is a topic some might call controversial. Let me blunt some of this by saying that despite my criticisms, I don't think Weight Watchers is a bad thing, and I've seen it work for some people. Like any program, it is up to the individual whether fitness changes are permanent or if there is some rebound, and any structure is better than no structure at all when it comes to being healthy.
Enough qualifying my opinion, let's get down to the Nitty Gritty.
Weight Watchers is, Essentially, a For-Profit Enterprise
Nothing is wrong with making a profit, but when there are elements of a program that seem to be more concerned with continued or repeat business than the best possible results, I get suspicious. Rather than focusing on building healthy habits that result in a permanent lifestyle change that would make the program no longer necessary, the program is structured with no "I'm done now" in mind. I frequently hear about folks who are "going back on Weight Watchers" after time off, making me think that repeat business is a major part of their revenue. For those who do stick with it, you are committing to a lifetime of group therapy with the meetings, with no goal other than maintenance. I know that after a certain amount of weight loss, your membership becomes free, but this doesn't allay my concerns, as WW is buying something with the money lost from your dues. Someone who has lost a ton of weight using their system and gets a free membership is a great marketing tool. I don't like the idea of making a commitment of paying a fee for therapy and a nutrition program for life, or until I become a walking, talking billboard for a for-profit corporation.
The Points System
Oh, God. This is the big one. I've heard that "Weight Watchers is the only program backed by research,"which isn't true, and hasn't been for several years. My main issue with the flex-point system is that it is entirely possible (for many people, I'd say easy even) to create a diet that the Laws of Thermodynamics prove will make you gain weight. Any research that says a magic combination of fats, proteins and fiber, or servings of fruits and vegetables will make you lose weight if you consume more calories than you burn is wrong. Calories consumed must be less than calories burned if you wish to lose weight. Period. Now, portion control and the fact that calories are a major part of how points are determined blunts the effect of this somewhat. However, fat content is weighted too heavily in accordance with the last twenty years of dietary research, and free fruits and vegetables are an issue. When eggs and nuts, excellent sources of protein and healthy fats are point-heavy, but I can load up on hundreds of calories of sugar-laden fruit, something is wrong. Small portions of high-calorie food supplemented by bowls of fruit because the calorie-dense food took up all the points and left hunger will make a person fat. Dietary fat is calorie-dense, but if the calories are kept in check and protein, fat and carbs are kept in healthy proportions, worrying about the fat in eggs, nuts or meat is counterproductive. Helping build healthy habits that control or eliminate food cravings instead of merely managing them is a better idea.
No Emphasis on Exercise
Now, I know that most weight loss is done in the kitchen, not the gym. However, we're back to the immutable Laws of Thermodynamics here, where there is the "calories burned" side of the equation. A plan that puts all of its focus on the eating part is nearly as bad as the gym rats who workout like mad and then undo all their hard work in ten minutes at McDonald's. Building muscle mass for increased efficiency of burnt calories and doing aerobic exercise to burn off a few more calories makes the journey easier. In addition, the mental and emotional benefits of "feeling better" as opposed to "feeling hungry" help set people up for success rather than failure. Is it easier to do something that makes you feel good, or something that makes you feel bad, even if you know your discomfort is good for you in the long run? In addition, people with a lot of weight to lose may experience sagging "loose skin," and filling that skin with muscle will make that easier to deal with as well.
These criticisms, I understand, are tantamount to an assault on principles nearly as deeply-held as those leveled at any religion. Weight Watchers can make a person lose weight. I have observed, however, for each person I've encountered who has lost a ton of weight on this program and kept it off, there are ten who gained it all back or couldn't stick with it. The program reminds me in some ways more like a crutch than physical therapy, once it is removed, most people aren't strong enough on their own to continue normally without it. As someone who has lost and then regained over 100 pounds, I'm focusing on programs that have their own obsolescence in mind, where once I've lost the weight, I've found my own motivation for keeping it off. Does this mean that I'd try to discourage anyone from being on Weight Watchers? No. I'm not remotely qualified to make that decision for someone as an individual. I would recommend research and a lot of thought about what sort of program fits each person taking this journey best. Calorie tracking, online motivation and strength training are working for me, as I've lost over 20 pounds since mid-November, but your mileage may vary.Blog Gadgets