My Communications with Xbox Live Support - Son's Banned Account
My son, aged 12, is a big fan of Xbox. Or maybe I should say was a fan of Xbox. He especially liked chatting and playing games with his friends using Xbox Live - until last week, that is, when he went to log on only to find that his account had been permanently banned. There was no prior warning. Needless to say, Microsoft are not his favourite company right now. And the more dealings I have - or try to have - with the supposed support staff, it must be said that neither am I.
I am not the kind of parent who believes that my child is a saint who can do no wrong. In fact, my first reaction, when he shared the news with me, was to ask him what on earth he had done that was bad enough to incur a lifetime ban. Actually, Xbox don't like referring to their bans as 'lifetime' - instead, they declare that a gamer is banned until 31st December 9999. What is the point of this? Is it for those who decide to have their bodies frozen and brought back to life at some point, ready and waiting to claim back their elusive Xbox Live account? Or might advances in medical science allow these young gamers to actually live that long?
Anyway, when my son first announced that he was banned, I initially believed that he must have committed a serious online misdemeanor and I was keen to get to the bottom of it. I was on the side of Xbox and assumed that the action taken must have been deserved. Now, however, I am extremely angry at a company who appear to have one of the worst customer care services I have ever encountered. It seems to me that Xbox are very happy to accept as much money as possible from gamers (my son has spent at least £200 on passes, points and games for this banned account) and not at all willing to discuss the matter when there is an issue. I will also point out that the money spent is lost when an account is permanently banned - and Xbox Support will refuse to give it back to you.
So What Crime Had My Son Committed?
The message that my son received informing him of the ban did not specify at all as to what had caused this action to be taken. He told me that he thought he knew what he'd done - the day before he had invited other people to join his team, telling them that he could 'get them to the highest level' if they did so. Apparently, this is called 'modifying' the game - my son refers to it as 'modding'. Modifying the game is obviously cheating - you can be banned for it and rightly so. It is against Xbox Live's Code of Conduct.
My son, however, is a 12 year old child who has no knowledge of how to modify a game and had no intention of doing so. Basically, he was joking - in a rather childish, pointless kind of way. He did not attempt to modify the game. He did not help anyone reach a higher level, and did not even try to. He did not attempt to extract personal information from other players, nor did he ask for any kind of payment, in Xbox points or otherwise. He did not threaten them. What he did do was act, for a brief moment, in an immature manner without properly thinking - and how many children have done that? Just to make it clear, all that actually did happen was that my son said something silly, and some people that he didn't know ended up playing a game alongside him. That was it.
I decided I wanted to hear from Xbox Live themselves as to what had caused my son to lose his account. I feel that it is a reasonable course of action, bearing in mind that they now have, in my eyes, at least £200 of our money (probably more). Calling Xbox Support, however, is a joke - especially when you want to talk about banned accounts. After waiting an extremely long time for someone to answer the phone, the person on the other end informed me that they have absolutely no connection with the admin staff who deal with the banning of accounts. Can I have another number then, so that I can discuss it with the right person? No, these people don't have phones. That is ridiculous, of course - the truth is that want to remain as distanced as possible from irate people who have lost all their money.
I was directed, by the polite but helpless call centre staff member, to the Xbox Live Support Forum. This was after a very long and drawn out procedure accessing my son's banned account, mainly caused by me not knowing the credit card number that had once been associated with it when I bought my son Minecraft over a year ago. The staff member wanted me to recite the last four numbers on the card. I explained that I couldn't, because I had lost that card long ago and had to cancel it and apply for a new one from the bank. Eventually, he managed to overlook the issue and move on.
Back to the Support Forum. Once on the forum, if you scroll down to 15, you will arrive at the Live Accounts Suspended thread. People who have had their accounts banned, whether permanently or temporarily, can post questions in this thread asking for the reason why to be revealed to them. Personally, I can't understand why this information shouldn't be offered within the initial email. But anyway, we posted in the forum on the advice of the support staff member. Then we had to wait for a reply - which took a few days. The reply indicated that the ban might be related to 'modifying' or 'cheating'. Just as my son had assumed. Except that he did not actually modify anything - he only talked about it.
Anyone who expects to receive a decent answer on the Suspended Accounts Thread is going to be sorely disappointed. The replies are supposed to a genuine human response - but in fact they read like a vague and general automated message. I think it is possible that a real live human does reply, but it is a human with no real freedom of communication and one who reveals as little real information as possible. So, we got a vague answer but there was no discussion. And considering this company still had £200 of our money, I wasn't very happy with such a robotic response.
Unhappy with the response, I called Xbox Support again. The more I thought about the situation, the more I felt that Xbox could not justify banning an account and keeping £200 of other people's money just because a 12 year old said 'join my team and I will make you the highest level' without realising the consequences. This money was not even my son's, of course, but given to him by family members - myself and his Dad, and caring grandparents who are not rich but like to treat the children. It is money down the drain now. They might as well have just flushed it away.
Xbox Support were no more helpful than the first time I had contacted them. They tried to point me back towards the forum, with the explanation that they were unconnected to these elusive people with the almighty powers. Talking on the phone gets you absolutely nowhere with Xbox, unless you are looking to discuss something other than banned accounts. The advice this time was to go back on the forum, post a detailed explanation of the reasons why I was not happy and include my own email address (because I had logged in with my son's alternate, inactive account before) so that I could build a parent/staff dialogue. I decided that it was a suitable way forward, so I agreed to do that.
I spent a period of time outlining my queries in the Support Forum. Posts are not made public until they are moderated, and even then replies are often privately emailed rather than accessible on the forum. I was polite but concise in the thread, explaining that my son might have said something stupid, but that he had not actually attempted to modify any games and that there was no evidence of this, or intention to do so. I indicated that I either wanted the account reinstated, a refund of the money spent, or a transfer of all of the data lost onto my son's alternate account. I requested that if this was not possible then I would like to be put in touch with someone who could help, or given details of the official complaints procedure so that I could take the matter further.
My long forum post was in vain. All I received was a response (emailed to my son, not to myself as requested) explaining that the forum thread did not deal with people who wanted to discuss any details of banned accounts. Neither was my request for details of the complaints procedure taken notice of. I was given no further advice on how to communicate with Xbox regarding the issue. The only information given was that the ban would still stand. It did not even provide details of his exact offence, we only had our own conclusions to go on. By this point in time, I was absolutely fuming, since I have never before encountered an organisation who seek to withdraw facilities or think that they can forfeit your money without properly explaining why. Even if you acquire a parking ticket, a photo of your car is provided showing that you parked incorrectly. Xbox, however, seem to be content to keep your money whilst offering no such explanation or proof of wrong-doing.
I think it is the lack of communication and willingness to provide details backing up the permanent suspension that angers me the most. Part of me wonders whether this is even a legal procedure. After being referred to the Xbox Live Code of Conduct, I read through it and it clearly does state that cheating/modifying the game is a breach of the terms of condition. Yet, it does not indicate that merely talking about it breaches the rules. If there is no actual evidence of an attempt to modify the game, can money legally be forfeited? This is something that I would like to discuss with the unattainable Gods of Xbox, should I ever be given the chance.
I am not an impolite person on the phone, even when I am angered. I am perfectly capable of speaking calmly and in an adult manner, even to Xbox Live staff. I am also willing to discuss any other wrong-doing that my son may have participated in, just in case I do not have the complete story. When a company holds onto £200 of my family's money and yet will not enter a discussion as to exactly why, I am inclined to view this as unacceptable. I feel that it is my right as a customer to be able to talk with the appropriate person. If Xbox is such a large company that it cannot cope with the influx of calls and issues presented, then perhaps it should not be so keen to persuade gamers (including children) to part with money in exchange for Xbox Live Points - in addition to the £40+ price tag for most of their games.
Following my failed final forum post, I had no choice but to call the useless Support Team again. I explained that I was not happy with their response so far and that I wanted to be given the phone number or email address of the appropriate person with whom I can discuss the matter. I was informed that this is not possible and that no such person exists. I indicated that there must be a manager or someone who can be contacted, but was again told that no, actually there isn't. The staff member on the phone kept reiterating that they (the Support Staff) were not connected to the moderators who deal with banned accounts. Who is, then, I wanted to know. There is only the forum, was my reply. I hinted that it is not possible that a business can have no contactable people with which to discuss problems. No, there is no way to contact them other than the forum, I was told yet again. I asked the staff member whether he thought that it was justifiable to hold onto £200 of our money because my 12 year old child said one silly thing. He said he thought it was, but understood where I was coming from. 'We get this sort of thing all the time,' was all he offered. I then asked for details of the official complaints procedure and was told there wasn't one. My reply was that there must be one, every large company has a complaints procedure. 'You will have to write a letter to Xbox Microsoft Reading,' I was advised. Apparently I can't phone or email. I must write a good, old fashioned letter. Finally, after two forum posts (plus an unanswered one that my son sent) and three phone calls, I finally have the information that I must write a letter and that it will definitely be replied to. Judging by Xbox's response so far, I do not hold out much hope of a positive reply.
Strangely, despite my son's terrible crime, it is quite acceptable for him to hold alternative Xbox Live accounts. He already has two, it is just that all of his gameplay (and everything that we spent money on) is only accessible via the banned account. Surely, if he was such a danger to the Xbox community, he would not be welcome at all? Or are Xbox secretly happy for him (and the thousands of others that surely end up banned) to spend obscene amounts of money starting up again? My son has already asked me to purchase Xbox Live for one of his other accounts. Strangely, I said 'no'.