Earlier in January I wrote a blog piece giving an outline of my experience of SM and how coming to be in Top100 has stopped me throwing the towel in on the game completely. I alluded in that piece that I would write again giving my two pennies worth on the on going SM PR disaster surrounding the introduction of the new interface and my thoughts on how I think the SM experience could be improved.
Whilst initially I had intended to write it all as one post I have found that it would result in a very lengthy piece and as such have decided to separate the two and will post my thoughts on game improvements at a later date.
Before moving on any further I would like to make one thing clear, whilst at times it may come across as such this is not intended to be a rant, I am not hating on SM or grinding an axe against any individuals at SM, indeed until recently I had no idea who the people behind SM are, this is solely intended to be a thought out and reasoned expression of my personal views with the hope that others will feel free to add their thoughts on any issues raised.
Another thing I should state is that I have no inside knowledge of SM’s business model or strategy, any assumptions I make that allude to these are based upon interpretation of my observations and my personal experience of business and customer service.
Why bother may be your first thought, SM has a forum where ideas and suggestions can be aired. This of course is quite correct, though one is tempted to think that the SM Forum is something to be kept secret judging by the total lack of promotion there is to its existence and purpose. On the new interface it took me going on for 5 minutes to find the link to it, in fact I had given up looking and wrote how there wasn’t a link to it at all before subsequently finding it and editing my what I had written.
The forum at present is in fact a prime example of a fundamental failing that SM has in communicating with its customers. Other than an initial email confirming my registration I have never received any form of communication informing me of anything relating to my custom at SM Worlds, whether this be to inform me of any planned or implementation of changes, asking for my opinion on any such changes or any other matter that may effect me as a customer.
Note that I use the word customer for that is what we are, whether we pay by way of Gold membership or not, we are customers of the service.
As with any business communication is a key and fundamental tool in keeping your customers informed and engaged. Using the existence of a forum as an excuse for not communicating with your customers is as flawed as your bank expecting you to ring them up every week to find out if there have been any changes to the terms of your bank account.
This is emphasised by the fact that you have to register separately to be a member of the forum, this in itself makes it stand individually and exclusive to being a member of SM and as such the two are distinct and not naturally related.
Taking that aside and accepting if we must the premise that the forum is THE only medium by which customers may receive information shouldn’t we expect that this fact in itself be communicated to customers and that access to the forum be more readily available and front and centre on the interface.
It struck me from the days of joining SM that there appeared to be a concerted effort by SM to avoid any form of direct communication with its customers, whether it be the fact there was and never has been to my knowledge a general “Contact Us” option anywhere on the interface to the fact that support is a Q&A system, if the system has no A then tough. Even in the days when I used to think reporting cheats was worth the time and effort it was a remote system with no option for following up my submission or questioning a decision to take no action.
To this day the only direct communication I have ever received from a human at SM was a PM at the beginning of December from someone called Kym asking if I could assist with translating some text from English into German.
How strange that a game that’s’ success depends upon its participants interacting is administered in a manner that appears to avoid interaction at all costs.
I personally found the forum by accident not long after joining SM via Google whilst trying to resolve an issue that the remote Q&A couldn’t answer, whilst the forum didn’t provide the answer either, I did at least became aware of its existence.
That was the last time I visited it until December 2015 and the introduction of the new interface and game engine in an attempt to try to find out what had just happened as I had received no direct communication informing me of any changes.
It was evident that a similar air of confusion was prevailing amongst the “informed” within the forum.
It can be put down to oversight for customers not to be consulted on proposed changes or for them not being informed of the planned implementation of changes, but to have those changes imposed without, as is evident, them having been thoroughly Beta tested is a failure of customers of the highest order.
The fact that we are now entering February, some 2 months after the “big switch” and there are still major bugs with the new interface only exemplifies the lack of rigorous testing that went on before its introduction.
Again what direct communication has there been from SM with its customers regarding the on going problems relating to the on going problems surrounding the introduction of the new interface?
The ensuing clamour that I observed in the forum did appear to lead to the virtual immediate introduction of the option to use the old interface, which like myself I believe a lot of members of Top100 are using, I personally am dreading its final demise when SM deem to remove it.
With very few exceptions I have read only non-complimentary opinions on the new interface and it continues to be a source of annoyance and ridicule, so why have SM persisted with its implementation in the face of its lack of popularity and the evident shortcomings in its fitness for purpose?
The only conceivable answer I can conclude is to attract a new generation of membership. A new “jazzy” interface and the fact that it transfers more readily as a mobile phone application is surely targeted to appeal to a more youthful demographic.
Logically increased membership equates to increased web or application traffic thus increasing potential advertising revenue. I would argue that this logic has potential flaws.
Primarily a great risk of losing or alienating a large proportion of the existing customer base has been taken in implementing the changes, will the potential number trade off of new members for old warrant such a gamble?
The observable increase in managers resigning immediately after the changes would indicate that there has indeed been “collateral damage” as a result of the changes. Also I have noted a not inconsiderable number of managers voicing that they will not be renewing Gold Membership, will advertising income replace this loss of revenue?
I would argue that the SM format is not one that actually appeals to a young demographic, not enough action and immediate gratification as opposed to playing FIFA or the like. I for one have tried to get my three sons to join, all football nuts, none have been attracted despite my best efforts.
It can also be said that the continuing glitch filled and painfully slow nature of the new interface is not ideal in encouraging any new managers attracted to actually stay with the game.
We all know that the mobile phone is a primary tool for the youth of today and making the SM APP more functional is logical, however did this necessarily mean sacrificing the user friendliness of the old internet interface for the clunky and illogical new one?
I have been trialling the new mobile app and whilst I do find it far better than the old one, which admittedly I used rarely, it is as glitch filled as its internet based counterpart. Having to re-boot your phone on nearly every occasion you want to use the APP is not my idea of user friendly.
No matter how functional the APP is developed I would wager that the primary access for the vast majority of managers will be via the internet platform. I for one can never see myself spending the hours I currently dedicate to SM management on a mobile phone rather than on my PC.
It is apparent by the fact that I can use the old interface for my internet based management whilst also trialling the new APP that the two can be exclusive and mutually co-exist and as such the introduction of the new interface could be abandoned if desired.
I am under no illusion that there is not even the slightest likelihood of this happening, it may be that new developments such as the 2D match visualisation require the platform of the new interface to be able to function.
This leads me into questions as to what benefit or real improvement to the game is the introduction of 2D match visualisation or the like? Mere bows and ribbons rather than substantive changes that actually improve the game itself?
Those questions however can wait for another day.