Inside Pulse 12

Retrograding 03.14.03

Okay, I’ve been quiet for two weeks thanks to the British Home Office not only LOSING my passport, but also rescinding my work permit because the company marked one box “yes” where they were supposed to put “no.” Or so the Home Office says even though we have triplicate copies of the document showing it was filled out correctly. But that’s Socialist Government at work for you. So it’s been two weeks of trying to get it back, and I’ve been getting help from practically every publishing company I’ve ever written for, and getting a lot of support from 411games staff. It appears everything is in order after I sat down and went through the home office’s official book on work permits and dissected the thing line by line and finally sent off over a pound of paperwork to them. And in the next week or so, I’ll know what’s happening or if I’ll be forced to leave the country and come back and do the whole visa thing all over again. Of course, that does still involve them finding my passport. They give THAT little bit another 8 weeks or so…

I swear, anyone who tells you getting into America as a legal immigrant is a problem has never tried being an American or Japanese citizen attempting to enter England. The laws are basically structured to keep them out, and over the past two weeks I’ve heard horror stories from over 2 dozen people from the US and Japan who have been put in the same situation I am. This is a country that lets Al-Quieda members into the country on Asylum pleas and then gives them free homes and money. I swear, I never had this problem in Japan, Canada, or even France. Of course back home, we’ve stupidly elected people who are about to approve oil drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuges, have managed to make American become the most hated country on the planet, and other acts of stupidity that could only occur when a world has a leader containing one of two words: Bush or Quayle, so don’t think I’m unaware of the fact every country on the planet pretty much is controlled by idiots.

But instead of being bitter towards the world, I’m channeling my hatred of the UK Home Office right now into something Video Game Related. How’s that for therapy?

Often times we see video gamers talking about just the technical aspect of things. The graphics, gameplay, innovation and the like. And that makes sense. The average video game fan doesn’t care about business aspects and wants only to play games. Which is why there were a lot of people surprised that Sega mismanaged the Saturn back when it’s competition was an untested Sony Playstation. Remember the cries of “Sony doesn’t know anything about Video Games!” It was true. Look at the crap Sony released on the Genesis and Sega CD. Those games were horrible. Bram Stoker’s Dracula anyone? And Sega had done exceptionally well in terms of the 16 bit console wars. So the end result was a massive surprise to all the onlookers, in almost the same fashion that we saw and are seeing with the X-Box. Man, history does tend to repeat itself.

But then there’s that much maligned aspect we only talk about when we’re pissed at companies, be they developers, publishers, or the like. That’s Customer Service/Consumer Relations. You’ll usually see someone write about how crappy they were treated by a company. Either their email wasn’t answered, or the question/problem was sidestepped in favour of a form letter, or some other problem that made a person bitch about the company on some message board, to their friends, or in a column. Great examples of this are Sony’s lack of customer care and denying problems with the PS1 and PS2 hardware. Remember people placing their PS1’s vertically in order to get them to work? Or the buggy first run of the PS2 hardware. Who didn’t complain about that. And yet Sony denies most of their original hardware problems even to this day. The Xbox was the same way. Remember people complaining about the Xbox scratching and eating their game discs? And how the MS denied it but at the same time agreed to replace/fix games and discs? What kind of twisted message was that. “We deny there is a problem but just in case…” Bad consumer relations.

Yes, no one wants to admit when they screw up. Humans in general have a very hard time admitting when they are wrong or screwed up. It’s a combination of pride, ego, stupidity and stubbornness. It’s a basic flaw most of us sadly have. But what makes it worse is that we never seem to learn from it after being caught, called out and publicly mocked.

It also seems most video gamers like to dwell on the negative instead of babble about the positive. It’s always “Nintendo SUX” or bashing of a game and company. It’s as if it’s cooler to bash a game than praise it or even be neutral about it. Rarely do you see someone logically state both the good and bad about games. Video games opinions seem to have become as extreme as American Politics, with most people being in the middle, but only the crackpots are speaking.

So what I have done over the past few weeks is simply email/write and call half a dozen companies with fictional problems or questions that I already knew the answer to in order to see how good these companies were at handling customer inquires, and the level of service they provided as well. I’ve included the emails, but for the phone calls and letters you’re gonna have to rely on my ability to account stories back to you. But instead of just bitches, we’ll be able to see what companies care (or at least pretend to) about their fanbase, and which ones ignore them.

SUBJECT 1: NINTENDO

Scenario: (note: This email was sent to BOTH Nintendo of America and Europe, with amazingly different results)

ORIGINAL MESSAGE:

Hi. I’ve emailed three times about this to your UK sister site, but they
never respond.. I’ve moved to the UK, and my fiancee plugged in my US region
1 Gamecube into a UK power outlet. Needless to say it got fried. Is there
a place in the UK where I can get mine fixed. I don’t want a region 2
Gamecube as I have 20+ region 1 games and I don’t want a mod chipped console
as it destroys the warranty. Please let me know if it can be fixed, where
and how much, or if I should just buy a new one. PLEASE
-Alex Lucard

Now, the correct answer is, this wouldn’t hurt the GC at all. But it WOULD blow up the battery pack/AC Adapter/PSU/whatever you want to call it. It’s the cord that plugs into the wall with the big black box. That part would be toast. Totally toast. It would smoke and possibly catch on fire because of the massive power difference in the UK and US outlets. However, what very few people know is that every Game Cube has an internal step-down transformer. So all you need is the correct region battery pack and it will play without any chance of blowing up and dying. It’s a 20$ or 20£ part depending on location that Nintendo can easily replace for you without mailing the Game Cube to them. So you can literally bring your Game Cube anywhere. Now, as for the PS2 and Xbox, I don’t believe they have an internal Step Down transformer, as I know my friends at M$ warned me to use an External one for my US Xbox while over here and I’m woefully ignorant of whether the PS2 has one and I don’t suggest any readers testing theirs!

Anyway, let’s compare the responses. First, the US one:

Message(#6851-000105-2273\1052273)

Hello,

Thank you for your e-mail. We’re sorry to hear of the problem you are experiencing with your U.S. version of the Nintendo GameCube. It is unlikely that anyone in the U.K. will be able to assist you with this version of the Nintendo GameCube. We may be able to repair it here, but only if you have a U.S. address that you can use for us to return it to. For complete repair information, please visit the Customer Service section of our web site at www.nintendo.com. Below is the direct address to our Customer Service area:

http://www.nintendo.com/consumer/

Once you’re on our Customer Service page, select your system, then select the appropriate category and follow the directions.

If you have already visited the Customer Service section of our web site and did not find what you are looking for, or if you need additional assistance, please contact our Consumer Service Department by calling 1-800-255-3700. Since you are in the U.K., you’ll need to have someone in the U.S. call this number on your behalf. Our representatives are available between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Saturday, or 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday.

Please note that Nintendo hardware and software is to be used only in the country in which it was intended to be sold. Nintendo products have notices printed on the box letting you know in which country the product is designed to be sold and used. For example, Nintendo products that are sold in the United States have “FOR SALE, RENTAL AND USE ONLY IN USA, CANADA, MEXICO AND LATIN AMERICA” printed on their packaging.

If you do decide to use your North American system in another country, there are some things to keep in mind. First, as you’ve experienced, the voltage is different from the voltage in the United States and Canada, so you will need a step-down transformer capable of converting the power source to 120v.

In addition to the difference in voltage, the cycles per second (Hz) vary by country as well. Systems designed for use in North America are designed to operate at 60Hz. If you use your system at a cycle level other than 60Hz, the image on the screen may vibrate. The vibration can affect picture quality or game play, depending on the game being played.

The United States and Canada use a broadcast system called NTSC. Elsewhere in the world are two competing systems, SECAM and PAL, which are not compatible with each other or with the NTSC system. Because U.S. systems are designed to operate on the NTSC system, they will not work with televisions built for PAL or SECAM systems. We are not able to make North American systems compatible with other television or electrical requirements.

Additionally, game paks/discs manufactured for foreign systems will not operate with a system made for use in North America. Likewise, game paks/discs made for use in North America will not operate in a foreign system.

I’m not sure who you tried to contact earlier, but for future assistance in the United Kingdom, please contact the following:

Big Ben Interactive
Parham Drive
Boyatt Wood
Eastleigh
Hamps, SO50 4NU

Consumer Service – 02380 623 200
Fax Number – 02380 652 993
Game Play Counseling – 02380 623 172

E-mail: service@bbigroup.co.uk

Sincerely,

Nintendo of America Inc.
John Elsberry

Nintendo’s home page: http://www.nintendo.com/
Power Line (Automated Product Info): (425) 885-7529

Nice long letter, eh? The good is that they responded in hours. I wrote it at the end of work (4:30pm UK time) and when I came back at 8:30am the next day, I had this response waiting for me.

I’m happy they responded so quickly. Most of the letter appeared to be a form letter but with the end tailored specifically to me. A bit surprised they chastised me with the NTSC/PAL thing when I mentioned I understood the region and outlet differences, but they probably legally have to. But the whole letter did read like a parent scolding a child.

What upset me was them telling me to buy a step down transformer or to that I would have to mail my GC all the way back to the US to have it repaired and that the UK was incapable of doing so. Which is a blatant lie. As well, this is what bothered me the most: “In addition to the difference in voltage, the cycles per second (Hz) vary by country as well. Systems designed for use in North America are designed to operate at 60Hz. If you use your system at a cycle level other than 60Hz, the image on the screen may vibrate. The vibration can affect picture quality or game play, depending on the game being played.” Two Words: SCART Cable. That’s all you need.

So we have quick responses and an attempt to help, but they didn’t answer the question truthfully. Maybe the guy was unaware, or maybe he was told to avoid the correct answer. Who knows? But I have to say Nintendo of America disappointed me. Which is sad because right now the GC is my preference over the XboX and PS2. But Luckily, I got much different responses from Nintendo UK.

The first was their MUCH different response to the email I sent.

Are you sure that it fried your Cube and not just the PSU? If it is just the PSU at fault then a UK PSU will work for you. If you know anyone with a GC and ask to use their PSU to try on yours you will know which way to jump. Please contact the service centre on 0870 6060247 if you want any more information.

WOW! A quick, and totally honest answer! Rock on Nintendo UK! What’s more I called the number they included and the one Nintendo of America provided, and in 5 minutes, they came to the same conclusion this CS Rep did. It was just the Battery pack. The fee for a replacement 20£, which included shipping. That’s Approx 30 USD, or twice the cost for a US one, but all things electronic are insanely expensive in the UK so it’s a fair price. Remember a Game Boy Advance in the UK costs as much as a whole Gamecube in the US.

So we see England gets one thing right that the US doesn’t, and that’s efficient customer service. Seriously, just email them instead of the US branch.

Subject 2: SEGA

Scenario: I called Sega of America with the following problem: I moved from Minnesota to New Jersey and the movers damaged my Sega Genesis Shining Force 2 cart, putting a large crack in the case. I said it wasn’t playing in either of my Genesis systems and I understood how it was an old and out of date system, and was really just looking for advice on the best way to save my game without buying an uber expensive one off ebay. And yes, I actually did put a big crack in my second copy of SF2, but the battery had died in it so it was okay. But never let it be said I don’t do some incredibly stupid things for you the readers.

The response? Sega shocked the hell out of me by telling me to send it in! They said it was probably just the crack in the case with air and dust getting on the inside and making it unplayable. For $5 plus shipping I got a new case for my cart and they replaced the battery to boot, including a letter saying that the battery had died and that could have been part of the problem as corrosion can affect the game as well. How sweet it that? Sega, although they aren’t the smartest guys in the world when it comes to business sense, sure are willing to help their fan base. But a small pack of rabidly loyal fanatics aren’t enough to support a company, even in software for only. Hopefully Sega won’t have to sacrifice quality for profit.

Subject 3: Konami

SCENARIO:
ORIGINAL MESSAGE (Sent to Konami US and Konami UK):

Hi. I was wondering if you could help me. I was on a business trip in Japan last month and picked up Castlevania Chronicles from a store while there. The problem it, it does not seem to load properly on my PSX. I tested it in the store before I bought it to ensure the game works, and there was no problem. Could you tell me why it’s not playing?

Now I used my email, which has usa.net in the address, which should be a good sign I’m NOT Japanese. As well, I tried to make it pretty damn obvious the problem was simply It was the wrong region to play in. Cut and dry question for anyone with even the slightest inkling of Video game knowledge.

Their response?

NONE. That’s right. I emailed this question three times to both Konami US and UK. I have yet to receive a response for a question it could take a 13 year old to answer. I was very, VERY disappointed in Konami here.

Subject 4: Microsoft

SCENARIO
ORIGINAL MESSAGE (Sent to XBOX UK)

Hi. I have an odd problem. I’m An American living in the United Kingdom. My Dad, as a nice gesture bought me the US XboX live package and mailed it to me. Now obviously this is a bit of a problem as I believe each XboX Live starter kit is region specific. I have a UK Xbox which I bought while over here, so I’m wondering what is the best way to deal with this situation. I don’t want to have to mail it all the way back to the US so my dad can get a refund as the cost of shipping will probably equal the amount he paid for it in the first place. Any suggestions?

Truthfully, I don’t own a UK XboX, nor do I have XboX live. This was a bs question I did off the top of my head that was actually in the realm of the possible. And here’s the response I got.

That’s a very odd question. As you may know XboX Live is not available to the general public in the UK until the middle of March. You are correct that each XboX live package is region specific and thus you would need a US Xbox to use the US XboX live. However, if you have not activated the subscription code, which is most likely the case as it’s not compatible with your XboX, we will allow you to mail it to the address below and we will then send you a UK version of XboX Live once it is available to the general public. This way you can take part in one of the fastest growing phenomenon’s in video game history without having to send your current XboX live back to America, and also be spared any possible tariffs that could be incurred.

Next time you may wish to warn your father or any friends who plan to get you an XboX game or accessory that North American games and accessories are not compatible with UK XboX’s. This will save any future dilemmas like the one you are currently facing. If they do wish to purchase you electrical items of any sort, try referring them to a UK or Europe based web page so that the compatibility and exchange will no longer be an issue.

God did I feel like a jerk after getting that email. I know M$ is hugely trying to push XboX live on every living thing, but the fact they’d exchange a wrong region one for only the cost of me shipping the one I had’ to them was incredible. It made me want to go buy an XboX Live from the US just to do it. They’re probably sitting in whatever returns/repairs/exchange division they have awaiting a US XboX live at this very moment. Ah well…

Subject 5: Sony

SCENARIO

I called both Sony’s PSX customer service numbers in the US and UK. Thank god for “America Now” phone cards… Anyways, the problem I related to Sony’s fine Customer Service reps was this: My Pocketstation appears to be damaged. It’s won’t turn on even after replacing the CR2032 battery. The problem appears to have occurred after playing Chocobo World (A hidden game for your pocketstation on FFVIII).

Now, the correct answer for this is rather tricky. And let it be known before I give you Sony’s answers that unless you have working knowledge of how the Pocketstation works, you probably wouldn’t know the following: Basically there are some nasty bugs with the Pocketstation, mainly involving something called interrupts. I’ll spare you the jargon, but if an interrupt is left active while you quit the game you are playing, it will continue to generate interrupts into the game, which is no longer playing. Interrupts are caused by pressing the game buttons, allowing you to interact with the game. But this bug makes the Pocketstation keep trying to interrupt a game no longer in the system and/or being played thus effectively shutting it down. It’s rare and usually happens only with games with global arrays of 8 bit quantities, signed quantities, or non-constant variables. Most of this happens with bad programming, so it’s rarely the gamer’s fault. The problem is easily fixed by sending a Pocketstation to a licensed repair person and it should take them less than five minutes if you know what the problem if, under half an hour if they have to figure it out on their own.

Like I said, this was a super hard, almost unfair question to ask, especially since the Pocketstation never officially made it to the US shores, but the responses I got were interesting. The UK CSR was confused at first and said the Playstation doesn’t run on batteries. Then when I explained it was the PocketStation, she informed me that I was probably ripped’ off by a fake Sony product as Sony does not have a portable video game system.’ When I explained it came from Japan, she then proceeded to add that Japan and Hong Kong sell a lot of fake and bootlegged electronics and reiterated the Pocketstation was not a Sony product.

The American was a little more helpful, but not much more. He knew of the Pocketstation’s existence, but told me they had a very short life span and that was the reason it died so quickly. He pointed out the Pocketstation’s warranty wouldn’t be covered in the US as it was never released there, but if I sent it to Japan I might be able to get them to fix it, but he didn’t want to make any promises. He did suggest to look online for perhaps someone in the US who would be willing to fix it, but as they wouldn’t be Sony approved, it would be a risk. Friendly guy at least.

Subject Six: ATLUS

SCENARIO:

ORIGINAL MESSAGE:

Is Shin Megami Tensei 3 or the GBA version of SMT coming stateside???

Hey, what did you expect from me! I want some Devil Summoner in English baby!

Their response?

Possibly.

BOO! How lame was that? I trust Atlus to do it though. And if you’re curious my fellow DDS/SMT/Persona maniacs, here’s some URL’s from Atlus Japan.

http://www.atlus.co.jp/cs/game/pstation2/dds3/index.html

http://www.atlus.co.jp/cs/game/pstation/shinmegami/if/index.html

http://www.atlus.co.jp/cs/game/gbadvance/shinmegami/index.html

Yeah, I know, the last was a letdown. Hence the links to all things I’m drooling over from Japan.

I thought this would be a neat way to kick things back off after being gone for a couple weeks. Coming out over the next few days are my review of Shining Soul, a brief history of all the games in the Shining Series, and a few other half-done articles. Yep, it’s back to overloading 411 with my babble and jargon. Hope you enjoy.