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Why customer service at video game companies seems so bad

Every industry has its critics, but few are quite as vocal as an enraged video gamer whose game has just inexplicably stopped working—especially when a new console or game is involved.

With consumer expectations set high, and the demand for instant gratification pressing, irritating problems—like new games going on the fritz, or screens blacking out—can be magnified, and consumers' tempers can be short. Customer service wait times can feel epic, and some problems never seem to get fixed.

Add the echo chamber of social media, and one can get the impression that video game companies are uniquely bad when it comes to customer service. But is that true?

They might be bad, say several experts, but they're probably no worse than any other industry.

"By and large, most companies across most industries do a pretty poor job," said Erika James, president of the Institute for Crisis Management and senior associate dean at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. "The issue is universal, and there will always be a problem. Our human nature is to deny a problem or not assume blame or responsibility. I don't think any one company or industry is any less susceptible to that."

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Microsoft has had to deal with this more than most console companies in the past several years. The launch of the Xbox 360 was marred by technical problems that made some early units unusable. And some Xbox One users have faced issues with black screens or unplayable saved games. (The company refused to comment for this story.)

Microsoft isn't the only company that has had issues early in a console generation. Last year, one of the highest profile software launches from Electronic Arts (EA) hit a wall when elements of "Battlefield 4" proved virtually unplayable.

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Gamers complained quickly and loudly, and EA went into damage control mode, announcing in early July that it would not work on any planned expansions to the game until the core product was running smoothly, and setting up a page listing the known problems and their repair status. (EA didn't respond to a request for comment.)

Few companies in any industry are proactive about addressing a problem once it surfaces, said James. Most industries tend to wait until the problem becomes public (that is talked about on social media or via news outlets). From there, the response window becomes very short before there are lasting negative ramifications, said James.

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