Q&A: Testronic’s Tudor Costea on why player support is not the same as customer service

Tudor Costea is the player support delivery manager at Testronic. MCV sat down with him to ask about the key differences between traditional customer service and player support – and how studios can improve their player support strategies …

How different is customer service – or player support – to that in other industries?

I would use the analogy of comparing a utility to a hobby or passion. If I am calling about a consumer electronic device, then I just need the product to work. If I am calling my bank, I just need them to process a transaction. With gaming I will be passionate about the game I am playing and so the interaction is entirely different.

Players are a lot more passionate about their game than customers calling about a broken vacuum cleaner! There is a big difference between a player calling for support and an e-commerce customer calling to find why their package has not been delivered.

Because of this passion, does it help for a company like Testronic to hire gamers to work on player support?

I’ll give you a great example. I bought a LEGO set recently. I haven’t played with any LEGO bricks since I was a child, but it was still a fantastic experience and made me remember my childhood adventures.

If I worked as an agent supporting LEGO customers, then I’d be passionate and just as excited about the product as the customer. It’s the exact same analogy. Players can support other players far better than someone who just had a short training session on common problems in the game.

So, for any customer support strategy, does it make more sense to find people who are passionate about the industry or products and then train them to talk to the customer, rather than finding people who have worked in customer service and training them on a game?

Exactly, it does. And I have had my own experience on the opposite side of this argument. I once had a job supporting customers of a golf GPS device – the devices that act like an electronic caddy, telling the player how far they are from the hole and so on. I knew nothing about golf other than my training on the product, but I still had to support customers who were enthusiastic about the sport. I did my best, but I can’t say I was ever passionate about the device or the game.

What advice would you give to a small studio regarding player support?

The typical first step is to get as many people as possible working on player support – and hiring more if you can afford it. But the problem with this ad-hoc approach is that you are diverting everyone from their regular job – the developers want to be developing new features, not just supporting players who are locked out of the game, and so on. This can also kill your schedules as your teams can end up fighting fires as the support tickets keep arriving.

Obviously, from a Testronic point of view, I’d suggest outsourcing to a specialist player support company. It means you can avoid this fire-fighting and allow people to focus on their main tasks. You can also get a more complete and structured player support programme in place, with a budget. And it’s more focused than just trying to do ad-hoc support internally.

Most specialists like Testronic offer flexible support plans, so this is a realistic option, even for small games companies. Support requirements can be quite volatile for smaller studios – you don’t know how your new game will be received, but if it does take off then you will need more structured support, and fast!

What are the most common problems that players face, and how can you prepare for these?

Maintenance frequently causes problems if a communication plan is not in place. Tell the players that the game will be down for a few hours in the evening because the server is being upgraded and they will understand. If you don’t inform them why their game doesn’t work, you will get flooded with support requests.

This also applies to bugs. Once you know about a bug and you are working on it, make sure the players know – tell your community. If not, you will see the same bug being reported over and over again. Obviously, player communication on multiple channels is really important – talk to them where they hang out, whether that’s a dedicated community, Discord, or Twitter. A lot of these problems and support issues can be reduced just through regular communication.

With frequent issues, you can also have some standard responses prepared in advance using macros. Of course you don’t want the player to feel like you are just sending an answer to their question by cutting and pasting a response – some personalisation is needed. But if it’s a common problem then you can have most of the explanation prepared.

If there was just one thing that you’d suggest to a small studio regarding player support, what would it be?

Find a partner and outsource! But seriously, we know this from our own personal life even outside of business. I used to be a freelancer and it was always difficult to file my taxes correctly. In the end I just hired an accountant because that is their specialty – that’s what they’ve trained for over many years.

When a tap starts leaking in your home you call a plumber. We see this idea of hiring specialist services in so many aspects of our daily life – and it’s exactly the same in business. If you are launching a game and have no player support strategy in place, then ask a player support specialist if they can help you to make the launch a success.

There are experts in QA and testing, there are experts in localisation to different languages, and there are experts in player support. Whatever area of support you need for your game, it makes more sense to work with a company that understands games – rather than general customer service for other industries.

As we said right at the start, players are not calling to renew an insurance policy. They love your game. Offer them a great player support experience and they will keep returning.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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