Friday, February 17, 2012

Frustration, Frenzy, And Failure.

Have you ever found something while cleaning out an old bag that initially brings a wave of joy like unearthing some forgotten treasure, only for it to lead to complete and utter disappointment? Yeah. That. While digging through an old piece of carry-on luggage that was home to my collection of magic cards I found a 9th edition core set box. If your not familiar with them, they were a little box set you could buy that was designed to introduce you to the new core set, complete with rulebook and all sorts of little incentives. For me at the time it seemed like a great way to cheaply get my hands on a good variety of newer cards and see the sort of state of the things. One such little bonus was a copy of this 'Magic Online' that Wizards of the Coast was touting  as a great additional method for players to play without having to meet up. Located inside my box was a activation code for a free account that promised digital copies of all the cards in the box.

Curious I decided to investigate, figuring surely after about 7 years the code was no longer valid. Much to my surprise, it was - and my eventual torment. Now, before you get ahead of me here and start thinking that this Magic Online might be perfect for you, allowing you to play online when your bored or what not let me just warn you. For starters, unlike some of the older Magic computer games, your not going to be playing this alone or playing for endless hours for the cost of the game alone, oh no. Magic Online allows you to activate an account for a fee, which does provide you with some starter card kits, avatars and the like. But these, you have to bear in mind, are virtual cards that you neither own or have on hand. Nor can you take a physical card you own and use it in the game. No, you must purchase cards for your account just like the real counterparts or trade for them. There are ways to collect special sets you can then redeem to get real copies mailed to you - for another fee. Do you see a patter emerging here? You pay for the account, pay for digital cards existing only in the aether of cyberspace, and if you manage to spend enough time and money to collect a special set; then you get the luxury of paying more money to get the real cards sent to you. And for all this you find yourself still only able to play other people when they happen to be available to do so.

But, all it's faults aside(and this software is riddled with them, including extremely poor graphics, not disclosing required disk space- something that is way larger than it ever should of been, and very poorly thought out interface to say the least) the worst part of my experience was in getting to even experience it. Upon learning that I could still redeem my code I set about following all the directions to do so. Unfortunately, due to a trivial flaw in screen resolution and poor design in my opinion my computer couldn't even render the login screen appropriately and thus denied me the ability to even access the part of the program to begin setting up my new account.

Now, this should have only been a very minor setback, but when contacted; tech support proved to be a monumental hurdle instead of a helping hand. Over the course of 2-3 days I routinely had to not only repeat my problem and even went so far as to submit a screen cap to demonstrate exactly what I was seeing, only to keep getting the answer; "please follow the instructions to start your new account." On the third day I had become so irritated that I set about to solve the issue myself, and ironically enough after some research do you know what I discovered? Not only was this a common problem, but one that the company had step by step solutions documented for. It was such a trivial matter that the first thing the support staff should have done, even without any tech savvy whatsoever, was to have simply asked me to verify the software requirements and that my screen resolution was set appropriately. But did they do this, or even bother to listen to me much less actually look at my visual proof? No. Not until after I had submitted my own solution to the problem(doing their job for them) did I receive a email from a different member of the staff who not only apologized but also provided me *gasp* actual documents to troubleshoot the issue as well as acknowledging that my issue was indeed what I described.

Even without getting into the frustrations that ironically enough many technicians deal with when having to seek tech support themselves(a topic for another time) the entire experience devastated my faith in any form of software and/or online service from WotC. My screen's resolution was literally only off what it needed to be by a miniscule amount. We're not talking about the difference of running something at 640x480 when it requires 1280x800 or something. When you design a program you design it to operate within reason in a given range, to be flexible enough that the user can make use of the software within reason and in a number of different visual options. For example, some users with poor eyesight might not be able to read small text, so you generally want to design something that is easy to read even for people with less than perfect vision. What Magic Online has done is tailor sub-par quality design with zero flexibility and flawed execution.

I may not have paid for my account, but I do now regret ever having purchased the box with the code, and if I had paid for this service I would feel even more cheated than I already do. As it stands I will more than likely be removing the software from my machine immediately(I should note I have already tried once only to be greeted with it trying to install itself again instead of remove) and never run it again, it just has no value or appeal to me whatsoever now. Plus, after everything I have gone through to even get to try it out culminating in my own hard work for them I cannot justify spending any more money to pay them for this terrible excuse of a game. Not to mention the erroneous logic of paying to use cards that you don't actually have nor being able to use the one's you do. I don't know what they were thinking, you may not agree with me but I wouldn't recommend anyone pay for this failure towards fun.

I think instead I'll just fall back to my old plan b; and break out some decks to play against myself. That way I can play all I want, with cards I own for free and anytime I like. Think me sad if you want, but paying for this nightmare would be the real tragedy in my eyes.