This last weekend, I enjoyed a few rounds of beer along with a few rounds of one of my favorite games, “Unexploded Cow,” by Cheepass Games. It’s a great game, especially for anyone well into their cups. The game is just predictable enough to lend itself to a little strategy, but not so predictable that victory will always go to the better player. You can try, but you can’t really count on winning, so the important point is to sneak a bad cow into the herd of someone you love, have another brew, and enjoy talking trash to literally everyone at the table.
I love this game!
I mean, I love the game itself.
But the game itself also reminds me of a panel presentation I attended long ago featuring one of its designers, James Earnest. He shared all sorts of wonderful ideas about game design and the gaming business, but what I remember most was brief exchange that took place during the question and answer period. Earnest had described the conditions under which he might reduce the price of a game, and an audience member asked if he ever had customers angry because they had paid for a game shortly before he lowered the price of a product. His response was to say that if anyone ever complained about that, he would gladly refund the difference. This lead to one more question; “Aren’t you afraid someone will claim the refund fraudulently?” Suffice to say that the answer was ‘no’. In fact, Earnest told us, nobody had ever claimed the partial refund at all, fraudulent or otherwise, and he certainly wasn’t worried about the expense if someone did.
Mind you, this was well over a decade ago, so I have no idea if Cheapass Games ever suffered a wave of frivolous requests for small rebates, but at the time, Earnest seemed quite willing to accept the possibility that someone might somehow get such a con past him. Preventing that just wasn’t all that high on his list of priorities.
…which struck me as pretty cool.
Note: Another company, Greater Than Games, purchased Cheapass Games sometime back and Katie, their customer service manager, assures me that they would make such a refund now.
Whenever I remember this exchange, I am immediately reminded of a very different story, one involving a very different gaming company. It was a fantasy miniature-manufacturing company that had already gained a reputation for obnoxious treatment of others in the business when someone popped into a hobby forum to gripe about them. He had bought one of their larger miniatures for a price somewhere between ten and twenty dollars and when he got the miniature home, he discovered one part was defective. He asked for a refund or a replacement part.
Their customer service rep immediately told him that he should go back to the game store where he had bought the miniature and ask for a refund or a replacement. The store would refund him or replace the product and they would refund the store. This was how they preferred to do business, and no, that wasn’t all that unusual.
The customer then told them that the store had gone out of business (there was a lot of that going around at the time), and so this wasn’t an option. So they asked for proof that he had bought the mini and that the product was defective. He responded by sending them pictures. They then told him that if he mailed the product back to them, they would send a replacement.
It was at this point that the customer gave up. Mailing the product back would have cost a fair chunk of the value of the mini and he had already put more time into the efforts to get a replacement than it was worth. He wouldn’t be buying any more of their miniatures, and venting about it on the forum was pretty much the end of it as far as he was concerned.
The post appearing as it did on a popular website for miniature painters couldn’t have helped their sales much. This was a very niche market and a fair chunk of that niche had just been given a reason to think twice about doing business with them.
I’m not sure that I could pinpoint a specific moment at which this miniature company’s approach became unreasonable, and I never did hear their account of the exchange, but on taking the story at face value, I certainly understand the customer’s frustration. I can also think of numerous instances in which other companies in the business sent replacement parts to myself and my friends without so much as a request for anything but our mailing address or the name of a store in the area where we could pick them up. This might have incurred an extra cost to the companies in question, but I’m pretty sure it inspired a few extra sales from me at any rate.
The moral of the story?
Sometimes people can get so focused on watching the bottom line that they hurt themselves in the end. What a business gains or loses in currency may not be worth the cost in goodwill. Conversely, the goodwill of a customer can be well worth an extra expense, even a questionable expense. Mileage varies of course and there is a point at which people obviously need to draw the line. Still, I can’t help thinking a lot of folks draw that line far too early.
They do so at their own expense.