I do realize this is an e-book blog, not a video gaming blog, but digital media do share a lot of commonalities—and Valve just keeps doing things that prompt me to draw direct comparisons to things e-book stores and publishers should be doing, but aren’t.

Our sister blog Gamertell, which is a video gaming blog, has the details. Over the last two weeks, Valve’s game distribution platform Steam’s anti-cheating system mistakenly banned about 12,000 Steam accounts from playing Modern Warfare 2, for cheating. Steam’s system is simplistic, usually accurate, and there is no appeal—the only way to start playing a game on policed multiplayer servers again after being banned is usually to buy a whole new copy of the game.

After the controversy erupted, Valve founder Gabe Newell stepped forward to explain and apologize for the technical error. Not only were the 12,000 ban victims reinstated, but each of them was gifted with two copies of Valve’s $29.99 Left 4 Dead 2 zombie shooter—one to keep, one to give away—to make up for it.

Not only did Newell apologize and fix the mistake, but he gave out nearly three quarters of a million dollar’s worth of game product to make it right. Now that’s customer service!

Of course, just as with the Doctors Without Borders DriveThruRPG Haiti e-book fundraiser, Newell could afford to do this because (as with e-books) there are no marginal production costs for digital downloads—he didn’t have to pay the pressing and packaging costs for 24,000 copies of a game. But it’s still foregoing the profits from those copies, which would be about $360,000 if profit is considered to equal 1/2 retail price. Probably more in the case of these games due to that lack of marginal cost.

This partly reminds me of the controversy over Amazon’s removal of an illicit Orwell novel from readers’ Kindles, and Jeff Bezos’s subsequent apology. I seem to recall the book was eventually reinstated on users’ Kindles, some time after the apology, but I can’t find exactly when, or whether Bezos gave out any bonus freebies as Valve did. (My suspicion is he did not.) (Update: Further research, prompted by a comment below, reveals that Bezos eventually offered either a $30 gift certificate or the return of 1984 to the devices of affected users…in September, two months after the incident. Kudos to Bezos for doing the right thing, but did he really have to wait two months?)

But what it really brings to mind is the complete lack of any sort of customer service coming out of e-book companies Fictionwise or eReader, or the publishers who are ultimately responsible, regarding the e-books we purchased in good faith but can no longer download at the moment due to the Agency Pricing mess.

It was brought home to me just how many of my books I can no longer read when I did a mass download of my eReader and Fictionwise libraries into the new iPad version of eReader (which I plan to review soon) and got errors on at least a dozen titles. And people who have asked about the books’ lack have essentially been stonewalled. We haven’t gotten explanations, apologies, or reinstatement of the missing content yet, let alone any make-up gifts. There haven’t been any explanations forthcoming from the publishers, either, who are thoe ones who pulled the pricing strings that led to the books falling out of view.

Judging by their relative customer service records, it certainly makes sense that almost half of all video games are now being sold as digital downloads—and the majority of those via Steam—while still only a tiny fraction of books are e-books.


  1. I don’t think the book was returned – it was an illegal copy that shouldn’t have been available for sale in the US – but the purchase price of the book was refunded to everyone who bought it and Amazon gave everyone affected a $30 gift certificate to boot. Sounds like pretty good customer service to me.

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