I don’t know if you’re a gamer (in the video game sense, not the hockey sense) but even if you’re not you might be aware that the latest installment in the Mass Effect video game series is out. It’s going to be one of the biggest releases of the year and the buzz has been good. More importantly to Electronic Arts and Bioware (the developer), pre-sales were big. It’s the third game in a series that has many passionate users who’ve been immersed in it for five years.
So why would I call this post “mess effect?” Because despite all the success to date, EA and Bioware have created a release that’s precipitating a mess that has already alienated a substantial potion of their most loyal customers. It serves as a reminder to us all.
In Mass Effect 1, gamers were given the option to create their own customized version of the main character, Commander Shepard. Obviously, if a gamer made Shepard in their own image, they felt a bit closer to character. At the end of the game, they could bring the character forward into Mass Effect 2, continuing the close attachment. One might expect the folks who took the time to modify the character as well as to carry it forward to be hard-core. Another name for that is “best customers” or “brand advocates.”
So here is ME3 (as it’s known) and although it’s a few months late, it’s met with great anticipation by those folks who’ve seen Shepard through many tough times, have helped save the Earth and have done so with an avatar that’s near and dear to them. Except ME3 won’t import the previously created Shepard. That’s right: for folks who are just entering the series now, it’s not an issue but for the folks who have been most loyal and brought their character with them, perhaps for five years, they have to start over. Apparently, it’s almost impossible to replicate your existing Shepard on the new system, even from scratch.
Bioware says they’re working on a fix but will this take days? Weeks? Months? Meanwhile, the gamer message boards are filling up with complaints about a peripheral issue and not with praise for the meat of the game play. It’s a mess. I know it probably won’t impact the overall success of the game, especially once it’s patched, but why would a company not take into consideration their best customers first? Some of the folks who played ME1 and 2 used the defaults; others made tiny mods that are easy to replicate. But the people who spent hours tweaking Shepard, the customers most immersed in your product, are screwed, at least for now.
As we’re implementing new versions of existing products – web sites, apps, new recipes, whatever – we need to start with those who’ve blessed us with their patronage before we worry a lot about attracting new customers. After all, if the hard-core is happy, they’ll help spread the word. If they’re not, no amount of marketing can totally overcome it.