NCSoft, Guild Wars and poor user experience

It always amazes me how businesses on the web can make such basic mistakes.

Take a store, an old-fashioned shop selling products – let’s say, a computer game shop. It has nice display setups with all the latest games on display, lots of choices, and prices shown on each. You can make your choice, take your pick and pay for it.

If, by any chance, you have a problem or need to ask a question, there’s a member of staff there somewhere. If you’re lucky they’re right there, if you’re not then it might take you a few moments to hunt one down – but either way, you can find out what you need and make your choice, and take your game home within minutes.

This week I’ve been trying to purchase a copy of a game called Guild Wars, from the NCSoft website. I know the game can (in theory) be purchased from stores, but since it’s pretty old it rarely puts in an appearance, so I decided to go straight to the people who make it and buy it from them.

A quick web hunt found their site, and allowed me to get started. There was a shop, which quickly showed me the game I wanted. I could click Buy, and I was away. I had to create an account – which always annoys the hell out of me – but apart from that, I reached the pay point within minutes.

That’s the point where it went wrong.
I entered my credit card details, the site thought for a moment or two, then told me that it couldn’t complete my purchase at this time. Specifically, it said “We’re sorry, but we are unable to accept your order at this time. Please try again later or tomorrow. If you continue to have problems, you may wish to visit one of our retail partners.”

Hmm, I thought. Maybe their website was having some kind of an issue. So, I tried again, only to get the same result. I tried a different card, just in case it was a credit card issue, but again saw the same message. Okay, I reasoned, it must be their site.

So I left it a day, then tried again. Again, the same message. I left it one more day, just in case, and again the same message. Right, so definitely the site going wrong, then.
Part of the problem here was the message. ‘We are unable to accept your order at this time”. What does that mean? Am I trying at the wrong time of day? From the wrong country? With the wrong card?

Finally, I figured I’d contact them and let them know that their site was broken. And here’s where the old fashioned shop wins out every time…
Of course, the site has no link to contact us – only to ‘Support’. Click into the support area, and immediately you see a link telling you how to get in touch with support – which is good. But click on the link, and the first thing it offers you is a link to go back to the previous page. The second thing it tells you is that you need to register to get a support account. The third thing it tells you is that you need to complete an ‘Ask a question’ form – which, when you view it, asks for your username, question, product, department, your NCSoft account, game account (which I don’t yet have) and operating system – all of which are mandatory.

Now, imagine you walk into a store, pick up a product, and go to pay. Only nobody will talk to you or take your money. The staff there completely ignore you, and point rudely to a sign instead. The sign says:

“If you want to buy from our store or talk to our staff, then please complete this application form for an account to become a customer. Then, complete this second application form for an account to be a person-we-will-communicate-with. Then, wait a day or two, and one of our friendly staff will call you back. Maybe”

You’d probably walk straight out the door. Which is (in a virtual sense at least) exactly what I had to do, too. Well done, NCSoft!

Gary Bunker

the Fore