Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Electronic Consumer Association Potentially Scamming Gamers?

I haven't read anything about this on the major blogs - maybe we can break a story, for once! (Inasmuch as breaking stories involve reading threads on NeoGAF anyway.)

The Electronic Consumer Association (or ECA) was started a few years back as a non-profit lobbying group for gamers. It's a good intention, although I balked when I saw their membership cost $20. I'd prefer to spend my money on places that do stuff as opposed to talking about doing stuff, and I'm guessing most people did the same. Maybe the ECA is actually useful? I'm not really sure. Some quick googling states that they bought Game Politics and stood up for BioWare for that stupid Mass Effect sex scandal debacle, as well as urging gamers to e-mail Obama after that whole remark about spending more time outside rather than playing video games, but nothing else extraordinarily solid.

There have been small, additional parks for membership, and a few months ago, they added a 10% coupon off games at Amazon. Considering that deals on new games are pretty rare, and Amazon already has the best prices around, this made for an outstanding deal. Not long after, Hal Halpin, President of the ECA, offered free one year membership via an editorial in Game Informer magazine. Naturally, the code for this membership spread through gaming forums like wild fire, and thousands of people were enraptured in this discounts. The catch was, in order to sign up, you needed to give your credit card info for some kind of verification. You wouldn't be charged, they claimed, but your account was set to auto-renew, so you would get charged the next year. This was where I balked, because I've run into too many magazine subscription grifts to find this trustworthy.

As expected, Amazon cut off this discount shortly thereafter, especially since people found a loophole that allowed customers to stack coupon codes and get even bigger discounts. Since the main benefit was gone, many people wanted to cancel their membership so they could avoid the hassle of being charged next year. Except, the option to cancel was mysteriously removed from the site around the time Amazon pulled support. Naturally, folks got pissed. Here's the official word on this, posted on their forums by one Gypsyfly PMS, the liason between the ECA and their forums, found here:

Was there a button for auto-renewing?

Yes, for some browsers, but it wasn’t intended to be there, wasn’t a working option and was removed as soon as we became aware

Why can’t we terminate via email?

Because the org has grown too large to handle the volume and requiring a mailed piece separates those who are serious from those who are lazy or finicky – joining and leaving repeatedly – and it gives us written documentation, a paper trail to reconcile against

Why don’t staffers stop doing their respective jobs to take the time to respond to my hateful and sometimes very disrespectful email?

You can probably figure this one out. After we have already answered a question we rather exhaust our energies on working with partners on benefits and our government affairs, and advocacy issues rather than answer the same question over and over again.

And remember the fastest way to get a direct response from ECA during working hours is through the feedback function on the site, calling, or writing an old fashioned letter (yes, people still do those).

Undoubtedly their exasperated by all of the angry people, but something about this sounds pretty shifty, doesn't it? Requiring that you send a piece of mail to actually cancel? People have been e-mailing and calling them with no avail.

Now, some are already labeling the ECA as a huge scam to get credit card numbers. I don't really think that's the case. I think it's more that they were far too naive about the whole coupon code things - it's the internet, of course people are going to abuse it, if you let them - and they lacked the foresight to implement the proper systems or draft the proper manpower to deal with the fallout. Of course, they've also handled the situation terribly, if the above message board post is anything to go by. Hopefully they'll come to a better resolution - I'm not affected by it personally, but folks have every reason to get paranoid about their credit card numbers on the internet, especially with an organization that's not acting in particularly good faith.


Not really worth writing a whole new entry for, but not long after this was posted, Kotaku, Joystiq, and most importantly, The Consumerist, picked up this story. The president responded to The Consumerist (here, and basically said, well, you guys are all bunch of criminals so we'll do what we want. The outcry was even more disastrous, their sponsors (including Penny Arcade) are pulling out, and the negative PR keeps piling up. Great job to all involved! And yes, many people have pointed out the irony of a consumer organization acting in an anti-consumer manner.


  1. Thanks for this article. Very interesting. I had never heard of this association until today. Honestly, this sounds like some kind of scam. I'm always wary of giving out my credit card number for "verification". Always sounds hokey.

  2. I got an Xbox Live Gold account temporarily a few months back in order to download some bonus levels for some games on my original Xbox harddrive before they were gone forever. While I know an XBox Live Gold account actually offers tangible things and services and not some vague political promise to fight for you, I was sort of seduced to join at $1, after which my credit card would be charged the full year if I did not cancel before then.

    While I knew what to do and that's fair enough, you couldn't go into your account settings and switch your Gold account to a Silver account even though it looked like you could at some point. (The option was there, just not selectable.) Turns out I had to call Microsoft's customer service in order to get myself back to the Silver account before the month was up in order to properly cancel. I guess that's not as bad as the ECA here, but somewhat annoying.

    And besides, would having a button in your account settings be less work than having to go by e-mail requests or phone calls? And even then, I would think snail mail is more work than all of those options combined, because it requires someone to open a ton of envelopes and look up names on the database, an out dated system. Also there's the trouble of the letter maybe never arriving without a registered mail service. Sort of the same problem I have with paying bills through the mail compared to just doing it quickly through a web interface.

  3. Of course it's a scam! Look at those pictures, girls don't play video games!

    Kidding... :P

    But their logo seriously looks like a penis, treat the white E and a like they blend with the background. BAM. RED PENIS. Logo FAIL.

    And besides, what do these guys do that the EFF doesn't?