2014 is unlikely to be remembered as a year of technically stable games. Critical post-release patches and humble apologies from developers have become all too common, and increasingly it's generating a damaging backlash from customers and the games press.
At the same time, games are more and more becoming an ongoing service, rather than a single purchase product. The growing free-to-play market especially requires a sustained commitment to the player base, often across multiple platforms. For many studios that's a level of engagement they're unused to, and customers may be let down as a result.
QA specialists Testronic believe that developers and publishers are hurting their businesses by not investing in high quality, ongoing customer support.
"Inadequate services have been shown to ruin a company's market," they commented. "Slow response to issues, lack of support channels and insufficient resources have, on countless occasions, promoted negative reviews and discussions across a range of media, reflecting poorly on all those associated with the game."
"For too long in the video games business, customer support has been seen as a boring, costly, necessary evil. Testronic is changing that"
They hope to be able to help companies avoid these issues with their new Smart Support system. As user experience becomes more and more vital to the market, they believe a new, custom approach is needed. Their bespoke customer support aims to improve customer retention and boost the profitability of a client's games.
"For too long in the video games business, customer support has been seen as a boring, costly, necessary evil. Testronic is changing that," said Dominic Wheatley, CEO of Testronic's parent company Catalis Group.
Jamie McLellan, Head of Smart Support, added: "After years of frustration it's great to concentrate on providing a solution which is tailored to the requirements of the industry, our clients and most importantly the gaming community."
What makes Testronic's approach unusual is their focus on utilising the knowledge and experience of a game's original QA staff in their customer support.
McLellan explained: "Not every QA tester wants to or is capable of providing customer service. But led by the right people, we will move them into the team after launch to ensure we can provide by-gamers, for-gamers support." It represents a greater investment in QA staff, who would usually only be hired on a temporary basis, to retain experience that would otherwise be lost.
"These people can have another string to their bow, draw on their knowledge of testing the game and work during Q1/Q2 to provide that live service support for the same game"
Jamie McLellan, Testronic
"What you get is a lot of contracted staff, who are around until the big launch in Q3/Q4," said McLellan. "After, the requirement for the number of staff goes down until the next Q3/Q4. These people can have another string to their bow, draw on their knowledge of testing the game and work during Q1/Q2 to provide that live service support for the same game.
"Publishers have been asking for this. To fill that demand we came up with an offering that we feel is unique and much-needed in the gaming industry. There are companies that do outsource, and they get a level of quality, but that comes at a price, and it's generic support, not by keen gamers who potentially bug-tested the game. It's hard to know the intricacies of a game without being a bug tester."
Those interested in finding out more about Smart Support can contact Jamie McLellan at Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 20 7042 1745. Other enquiries can be handled by Ann Hurley, Head of Games Business Development, at Ann.email@example.com or on +44 20 7042 1707.