Halo 3 as Meta4 Redux

Less than a week after the launch, Halo 3 might be becoming a cautionary tale for product manufacturers. Microsoft reported 170 million in sales shortly after launch. If each game were 60 bucks a pop (some versions cost more), that means roughly 2.8 million players are out there “finishing the fight.”

Small problem. In a sad follow up to my Halo 3 launch column last week, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of gamers have reported having issues with the proper functioning of their Xboxes as it relates to Halo 3, exclusively. As of writing this column, no official response has been offered to the outraged game buyers.

As in other times of strife, where do gamers go when there is a problem? To the message boards (provided by the manufacturer and others) and of course, to the search box. Users look for potential solutions and a sense of community in commiserating with other victims. Search marketing is a great way to help with damage control in times of strife, but you need a plan.

Daddy, What’s a DRE?

A Disk Read Error, or DRE seems to be providing (at the very least) an indication that a problem exists. Initially, the problem was thought to be restricted to Limited Edition (read: supped up version of the same game), and the latest theory seems to be with the hard drives.

Of course, all of my information is coming from the Microsoft-owned Xbox Forum in a discussion string called, “Post here if u having the Disc Read Error.” The string began on September 25th in the early hours of the Halo 3 launch. Over the next few days, the discussion grew rapidly.

As of Sunday, October 30, there were 1,992 posts in 67 pages. As of Tuesday, October 2, the discussion had grown to 83 pages and 2,463 posts. One of the gamers on the discussion board is keeping track of the users experiencing the DRE problem. As of Tuesday afternoon, the number was pushing 500 gamers.

Sizing Up the Problem

Searching and the subsequent finding of information is the central focus of unhappy customers. News results aren’t much help in this instance because the mainstream press has yet to pick up the story. Blog search is a horse of a different color, however.

The problem for most companies (if they are even reading their own blogs) lies in clearly identifying the size of the problem. Certainly, 500 gamers with the same issue is nothing to sneeze at, but with millions of copies of Halo 3 in the consuming public’s hands, 500 gamers is not so bad.

Then again, we are only talking about one discussion string on one Web site. Some of the gamers are reporting an issue only after playing the game for several hours in one game mode. What about the ones not posting to forums? Many gamers skip the story or “campaign” mode (the online mode seems to be functioning for some) of play and head right for the online head-to-head action.

If the latter scenario is the case, perhaps we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. If the noisy few represent a small portion of a much larger issue, it would seem an action plan would work well here.

Controlling Perception

Searching for the errors are driving gamers up a wall. Judging by the posts, calling tech support only seems to enrage customers further. Have you ever spent any time in an industry-specific social media site or discussion board? Terms like DRE, HDD and a hundred other abbreviations can make reading and participating in a discussion completely ineffective.

Wading through the cacophony created by angry customers using specific and common language can be disheartening, but further analysis of this language provides insight into the hearts and minds of your customer base.

Their terms can become your terms, and if I were Microsoft, I would be using these discussions, not only to help solve the problem, but to help guide users in the right direction. In other words, these terms can make a very useful search engine advertising keyword list.

Use this list combined with the appropriate announcements to facilitate communication with the audience and the right information. For every ten posts to a discussion board, one might have something useful in it. Ask yourself the following question: would you rather have users finding out about the problem from you, or hundreds of angry customers?

In another sad follow up to last week’s heretical creative (text listing ad) example, may I suggest something in the vein of the following:

“Halo 3: We’re Sorry
We are working on the problem
Read the latest on repairs”

We Will Not Go Quietly

Sadly, I wasn’t able to “finish the fight.” I am so upset, I started blogging. After swearing to myself on all that is good and informed that I would never blog, this incident has driven me to it. Upon receiving advice from Microsoft telephone tech support (and since I was babysitting my sick dog all weekend), I exchanged the game at my retailer seven times.

Really, that’s what they told me to do, and I got the disk read error all seven times.

Discussion groups and communities can be a good thing. On both small and large scales, product disasters happen; it is inevitable. Thanks to the fast-acting Internet community, how you react to them can mean the difference between keeping customers and losing them en masse.

As for me, I will simply sign off this week as user number 431 on the list of people that got the shaft on Halo 3, followed by a mountain of misinformation a week later. I’d also like to quote my favorite posting signature from the discussion group, “How do i Finish the Fight when i can’t read the Disk.”

More Information

Join the “other” fight here.

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