I can't even remember when I last bought a game in a box from a shop, but I do miss sometimes the customer service offered by real people with real faces. I do wish Valve, the digital daddy, had customer support half as useful as underpaid teenagers in Electronics Boutique.
The Better Business Bureau, a US-focused nonprofit (not a government body) which rates businesses, has drawn a long list of complaints against Valve and Steam from broken games to refused refunds, and currently awards them the rubbish grade of 'F'. All of which prompted Valve last week to say that improving customer service support will be "a big focus" for them this year.
"The more important thing is that we don't feel like our customer service support is where it needs to be right now," Valve business chap Erik Johnson told Kotaku. He dismissed the BBB as "a far less useful proxy for customer issues" than, say, Reddit or Twitter, but admits Steam has problems.
"We think customers are right. When they say our support's bad, our initial reaction isn't to say, 'No, it's actually good. Look at all of this.' It's to say that, no, they're probably right, because they usually are when it comes to this kind of thing. We hear those complaints, and that's gonna be a big focus for us throughout the year. We have a lot of work to do there. We have to do better."
Which they do.
"We need to do a variety of things," Johnson continued. "We need to build customer support directly into Steam. We need to understand what's the most efficient way to solve customer problems. Right now we're in a state where we're doing a bunch of technical work on thinking through how does a support issue get raised, who has to see it, how do refunds get issued within Steam - we've done a poor job on all of that up to this date. We think it's something we really need to focus on."
The most effective way to solve big problems with Steam accounts often seems to be catching the eye of Valve high-ups with a popular Reddit post or backchannel e-mail, rather than going through customer service. Their refunds policy of only allowing one refund per account - ever - is a load of rot too. I fondly recall game shops giving me refunds on games that turned out to be pants or simply broken. Valve do have the data to be relatively sure, if they want, that someone's not simply returning a game after finishing it. Given that they sell a number of games known to have major problems, it's not good enough.
It's always seemed to me that Steam grew faster than Valve's customer support could cope with, and they never made it enough of a priority. A bit like the process of adding new games to Steam, really, and oh no what if they roll out the support equivalent of Greenlight oh no Alice don't let your jet lagged little head think of terrors like that.