What we’ve learned from Paymate-gate

We’ve been meaning to get out an update on the Paymate situation for about a day now, but have all been too busy/exhausted to get around to it. We’ve moved into our new office, and we’ve been planning for the future and working out a bunch of contract and other business stuff. And that’s besides releasing and publicising the game and dealing with the payment issues. For those interested in reading about what happened, here’s my original blog post, the RPS article, and also stories on Kotaku Australia (including quotes from Paymate’s CEO) and on MCV Pacific.

Meanwhile, our boss-man Paul has just jumped on a plane to San Francisco for GDC, so he’ll be a little pre-occupied for the next week or so. He did bash out some thoughts in the early hours of the morning, however, and asked me if I could get them into some kind of presentable shape. I think that they’re actually a lot more coherent than he imagines, so I’m going to post the bulk of what he wrote, and then just add some final thoughts of my own at the end:

Today has been the most stressful day of my life, and it’s got nothing to do with the crazy deadline I had on my last day of work.

I’ve been feeling physically sick because I knew that out there somewhere was another CEO whose day may have been ruined by See Through Studios.

I’m not proud of what we posted yesterday upon finding out what happened to our Paymate account. I’m not saying we should have kept quiet, and at the time I was happy with what was said (which was, it has to be said, rather measured). But over the last day a few details have trickled through, and I’ve had a chance to think about the situation afresh.

Because, as mentioned above, I’m now a business owner, albeit an extremely inexperienced one, which means that when I look at these things I wonder how they could have happened, and how we can prevent ourselves from becoming Paymate in the future.

And when I look at it from that perspective, I can clearly see that they only failed in two key areas, and that it’s the sort of mistake that any growing company might make. Hell, we’re only 3 weeks in, and we’ve made some pretty bad mistakes of our own (you can add yesterday’s blog post to the list). The important thing is to learn from those mistakes, and from that perspective I’m going to outline as best I can where I think the process broke down, both from their end and from ours. While we’ve brought attention to the fact that there was a problem here, the coverage has largely been unconstructive and polarised, which brings me back to the original point: we’ve ruined someone’s day because they made a couple of mistakes.

First and foremost, on the topic of online games and them not accepting them: big whoop. Companies can, and do exist that don’t serve games. Just because they’re the centre of our universe doesn’t mean they have to be the centre of theirs. From everything I’ve seen and heard today, they’ve got a pretty good business case not to service games, and if they can survive and grow without them, that’s their own business.

Which brings us to the first of their two mistakes: interface design. When I applied for the paymate account, I was asked to categorise our business, and (as you might guess), games wasn’t a category. And while alarm bells possibly should have rung off in my head, there were broader terms like “entertainment” that worked for us, and I was in a lot of a hurry (96 hour clock ticking down and all).

Now, let’s pause for a second, and think about the sort of people a service like Paymate are likely to attract. They are likely to be small, inexperienced, and possibly (like us) too busy trying to get something out there to think about all the details properly. As much as their Terms of Service didn’t say that our business wasn’t welcome, I freely admit I didn’t read it in the rush (look – something else we’ve learnt from the experience!).

So assuming that you’re Paymate, and you want to avoid this sort of situation given these sorts of people, how do you do it? The easy solution (and I kinda hope you’re reading this Paymate, as implementing this wouldn’t be that hard). You put a RED link under the textbox where you’re sposed to enter the business category code that says “Having trouble finding your category?”, which then links to the list (complete with online games) of disallowed categories, with a short explanation of why each is disallowed.

And voila, you’ve prevented a number of pissed-off almost customers.

Why didn’t Paymate do this? Why don’t growing companies do any of the million little things that they need to do? Why didn’t we do better research on payment schemes that other indie devs used? Because a) we don’t have time; and b) we never imagine it will be a problem.

This brings me to mistake number two. It’s 2:30pm, and I’ve just received the email saying our account is being closed. I immediately ring Paymate. It’s a short conversation: I ask why our account has been closed and whether we’ve done anything wrong, they say that it was because of the goods we were selling, I ask why, they give the reasons we’ve discussed before, I ask if there’s anything we can do about it, they say no, there’s a goodbye, we both hang up.

I’m fairly sure the guy on the other end was reading the reasons from a script, which I’ve got no problems with (if they didn’t do that, they’d have no idea what was being said by their staff and it could be much, much worse). I think the script falls short, however: it fails to understand that you’ve just closed someone’s account, that they’re possibly just launching a business and that their hopes and dreams might be partially in your safekeeping.

This, I feel, is the greater of the two mistakes: that their customer support was happy leaving us with an explanation that required knowledge of their field to fully understand (for those wondering, each chargeback costs them on the order of $30, which is a lot considering that their cut could be as low as $0.50 per sale of our game. Because of this, their banking partners won’t let them deal with online games). Even worse is the fact that the email they sent us told us almost nothing. Unless we did some research (and between conducting interviews, planning for future development and dealing with the fact that people suddenly couldn’t pay for our game, we didn’t really have time for research), we wouldn’t have known this fact that could have so easily been explained to us, ideally before we had signed up.

So that’s what happened on their end. Now its our turn. We could have:

  • had a backup payment service (we knew they were problematic, and could have at least prevented downtime while we got another up and running)
  • done more research and found this
  • Asked more questions on the phone
  • done some research after it happened, rather than assuming that chargebacks were the same as refunds
  • posted about it more constructively

Sure, our list seems thinner than theirs, but to be honest we were lucky that our inexperience only set us back a little this time.

Well put, Sir.

While I agree with most of what Paul says – we certainly made some mistakes, and have learned a lot from the experience – I definitely lost a lot less sleep than he did over our reaction to the situation. Paymate’s lack of respect for us as a customer, demonstrated by their extremely poor communication with us (combined with some dubious policies), definitely both caused us stress and lost us money. It’s an situation that, in my view, needed attention drawn to it, both as a warning to other start-ups, and as a slap on the wrist which may hopefully cause Paymate to reconsider some of their operating practices. Overall, I don’t think it’s going to hurt them – the only people this affair has really alienated are ones they apparently don’t want to deal with. On the other hand – if they’ve been paying attention, they may actually learn something from all this, just like we did.

In terms of getting payments set up – we’re still not quite there yet, but we’re working on it. Jump on our mailing list if you’d like to keep updated on the situation.

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