As promised, here's the text of my letter-complaint discussing the unscrupulous practices of certain online game proprietors. I have promptly sent copies of this letter to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
Now if only they stop sitting on their asses and see the letter for what it represents, that is, uncharted legal territory, as far as consumer rights is concerned.
The undersigned would like to respectfully bring to your attention certain possible abuses and violations of consumer rights as well as possible abuses in the use of an information and communication infrastructure in a commercial field which does not seem to be regulated much if at all. I am referring to MMORPGs, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.
A MMORPG is basically an online video game, a game played over the internet where the players are represented in a virtual world as characters of their own design and choosing.
The typical scenario for these online games is that the players’ characters go on various quests in the said virtual world, killing monsters, etc. in order to earn experience (measured in points) and in-game gold. The additional experience makes it possible for the character to raise its level, therefore improving its characteristics, making it stronger, more resistant to damage, more skillful, etc. The in-game gold is then used to purchase weapons and armor within the game itself.
As you may well imagine, the highly customizable characters and open-ended quests make the game potentially very addictive, especially for kids and even adults.
Technically, MMORPGs require the proprietor to set up a server with internet access, running a server version of the game. The players download and install client versions of the game to their own PCs, create an account, and log-in to the servers via the internet, and proceed to play. Proprietors earn money in a variety of ways, primarily by charging playing times, or by offering the game and gameplay for free (Free-to-Play in industry terminology), and making money by selling virtual items that can be used in the game itself, such as weapons, costumes, etc.
In this regard, I would like to bring to your knowledge this locally available MMORPG which was introduced to me by my son late last year entitled RAN Online (http://www.ranonline.com.ph) which is owned and operated domestically by IP e-Games (http://www.e-games.com.ph)
I found the game quite interesting and entertaining, and I have been playing the game on a regular basis since then. Apparently many others find the game entertaining as well, and informal estimates put the number of players at more than 40,000, probably more. RAN Online follows the Free-to-Play model, and primarily earns its revenue via the sale of in-game items in exchange for ePoints (eP) prepaid-style load cards which are bought in 20, 50, 100, 300 and even 1000 eP denominations, at a price of P1 per eP (e.g. 100 eP is worth P100).
Unfortunately, as of late, the gaming experience offered by RAN Online has seriously deteriorated with frequent server downtimes, account log-in problems, network outages, network lag, frequent disconnections, and various other technical issues. To further exacerbate decline in the quality of their services, their customer service hasn’t been very helpful as well, often unsure of how to reply to queries, or passing the buck to in-game administrators known as Game Masters (or GMs). The GMs don’t always reply to support concerns, and for the most part players are relegated to posting their issues on e-Games forum site.
The problem is that most players purchase various in-game items via their item shop in order to enhance the gameplay, the most popular items of which are training rosaries, which double or even triple the experience earned by the character for a period of time ranging from 1 hour to 1 day, depending on the price paid for the rosary. Other than that, other items, such as weapons, costumes, and accessories such as hats or rings are also sold at the item shop, with durations ranging from 1 day to 30 days. With frequent disconnections, log-in problems and the like, the end result is that most players who purchase these in-game items are not able to maximize their use due to problems with the servers and networks connections.
For example, a player would buy a 1 day 3x rosary for 150 eP (P150) and being able to use it for only a couple of hours because the system won’t let you log in. Multiply these by the number of players purchasing in-game items (a significant portion of the estimated more than 30,000 players), and you’re basically talking about fraud on a large scale.
It would be fine if the e-Games would at least reinstate the item after the technical issue has been resolved, but items being returned are rare and selective at best.
I was recently informed by a customer service representative only yesterday that despite numerous complaints of this nature, its not necessarily the policy of the company to return said items, instead they offer as compensation for server downtime various in-game events, instead of reinstating sold in-game items. These in-game events are enjoyed by everyone who plays the game, not only those who purchased in-game items, so it seems that e-Games has a policy of shortchanging players who actually make purchases. Quite ironic if you stop to think that the items being sold are only virtual, that is, they do not physically exist except only in the game.
Even the terms of service of the game which is posted everytime a player logs in seems to bear this out, and appears to be biased against the player as far as liabilities are concerned.
To further add insult to injury, the vast majority of RAN’s players are minors, who typically do not complain to authorities due to their lack of assertiveness, their being unaware of their rights as consumers, or lack of eloquence in expressing their sentiments regarding the poor service.
To summarize, e-Games primarily sources its income from revenue generated from the sales of in-game items. Unfortunately, due to many technical issues, most, if not all, on the server side of the connection, a lot of players are unable make the most of the in-game purchases and e-Games does not have a clear replacement policy even if the problem is with their own infrastructure and system.
In evidence I offer the URL of e-Games’ forum site which contains literally hundreds of complaints:
Here's the page for the technical concerns page of their forum site which contains hundreds of complaints as well:
A cursory examination of the various posts in these forum pages indicate the large number of dissatisfied customers.
Here is a more specific forum thread, some of the participants of which tend to be a bit more more unsavory in their remarks and allegations:
Here is the forum page for most of the complaints against e-Games:
These violations, particularly those which take away the money of the players for virtual items which are rendered unusable because of server problems constitute fraud to my mind, and I believe this ought to be worthy of investigation as likely violations of consumer rights, and an abuse of information technology infrastructure, perhaps even ripe for government regulation.
This letter is not meant to single out IP e-Games. All other locally operated MMORPGs should be investigated for possible violations as well. Being a player of one of their games, it just turns out that I have personal knowledge of IP e-Games’ activities, hence my personal interest in this issue.
Your attention with regard to this matter is most appreciated. Please feel free to contact me if there are any additional details or information regarding this matter your office may be interested in.
Thank you very much.