Recovering from a Disaster

I love to play a simple, yet addictive game called Bejeweled on my Palm Treo.  Recently, Pop Cap Games – maker of Bejeweled – released it on Facebook, too.  It’s free to play and hey, they even award prizes based on collective team scores earned every week.  So not only would I normally play because I love the game, I play to perhaps win a prize, too.  What’s important to note, though, is that I don’t pay anything to play.  I don’t pay to access Facebook (at least not yet) and I don’t pay to play Bejeweled.

Yesterday, there was a fire at the Seattle-based hosting facility which Pop Cap uses to host their games.  It apparently brought several organizations to their collective knees – hopefully no one was hurt in the blaze.  Bejeweled, though, was down.  Pop Cap owed no explanation to anyone – there were no paid users, no SLAs, no force majeure.  But their response to the user community was exactly what I would expect from large corporate vendors, yet never receive.

First, Pop Cap posted a notice on the Bejeweled page stating: 1) an apology for the outage! (remember, they didn’t cause it); 2) what happened to cause the outage; 3) reassurance that each users’ data was safely backed up and would be restored when the servers were back online; and 4) an estimated time when the game would be available again.  Second, today the game is back online.  You still see a notice about what happened and why things will look a little funny with your friends’ scores for a little while.  And they apologized again.

Generally speaking, discussion of force majeure in the commercial contracting world (the suspension of contractual obligations as a result of an unforeseeable event) is usually fairly quick and pretty painless once you know the basics.  Both sides usually only spend a maximum of 30 seconds discussing this section of the contract and thus if anything actually does happen that would require invocation of the provision, many are flummoxed about how to handle it.  In fact, some even forget to invoke – they simply look to Service Level Agreements to see if there’s anything that can be done to recover from the other side.

Part of this could be easily solved if enterprise software vendors would follow Pop Cap’s lead in terms of how they handled downtime.  But again, generally speaking, they don’t.  They want the customer to have to report a problem; the customer to have to call in for status updates on fixes; and almost never explain why there was a problem in the first place.  Oh, and I’ve never heard a vendor apologize, either – which, as any psychologist will tell you, is really easy and goes a long way to assuaging feelings.

So, take it from Pop Cap – who with millions of probable users (I don’t have an exact count, of course) and none of them paying a cent, managed to just make me want to go buy something from them simply because of how they handled a problem with a free game and without having any contract tell them how to behave, either.

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