In two separate blog posts released a day after each other, Valve has announced major changes to their customer support protocols and gifting items through Steam, both of which have been made worse over time. Valve rarely talks about systematic issues that affect Steam’s performance publicly, though they’ve always acknowledged that issues exist and that things could be better. The changes to customer support include a lot of behind-the-scenes work at Valve to service customer service requests quicker, and the new gifting protocols now allow users to buy gifts for people in other countries, but with caveats.
Valve’s customer support has always worked for me whenever I’ve needed to use it, but it’s always taken a long time to resolve requests. While Steam’s refund policy has been implemented really well, issues surrounding bugs, missing games in libraries, hacked accounts and the like can take time because other issues took precedence, and this led to large backlogs. Says Valve:
“We hope that most of you never need to contact support because your experience with Steam is issue free to begin with. However, we know that there are times when something just goes wrong and when you need to get help from an actual person. Improving Steam Support to make that experience as smooth as possible has been a big focus for us over the last couple years. We overhauled our support site, we’ve built better integrated tools, we no longer require a separate account to contact support, and we’ve increased our support staffing. We’ve also fixed as many bugs as possible and have provided new self-service options where they make sense.”
This is quite a big change to customer service. In the past, tracking service queries required that customers use another portal within Steam that required an account tied to your email address, and the back-and-forth that took place in it was done separately from Steam’s services. Submitting supporting documents and talking to the service rep addressing your query saw longer delays than it would take to have a Skype session with someone on Mars, and this seems to have been remedied. We’ll have to keep an eye on how this all works to gauge how successful these changes are.
To help track their customer support performance, Valve also has launched a separate Steam Stats page that tracks the performance of their customer support department in terms of how many requests they get each day, along with how many are actually fulfilled. With all the changes made behind the scenes, Valve now fields around 75,000 support requests per day (which amounts to 4.4% of their total customer base), with an average of 8,000 requests left outstanding at the end of the work day.
Compared to an average of 50,000 left outstanding just a few months ago, this is orders of magnitude better than it was in the past. In theory, you can now expect to have your support ticket assigned and resolved by someone at Valve in the same day that you submitted it, or two days at the most.
Changes to Steam Gifting
Valve’s second blog post for the week dealt with changes the company has made to Steam Gifts, the method in place to gift games to your friends across the border or in the same country. In early 2016, Valve made changes to the service that stopped gifting of games to people in other countries even if they were in your friends list, in a bid to stem the tide of games that were being bought in cheap countries by people with fake accounts in those regions, and then gifting it to themselves using their personal accounts in countries where the games were more expensive. Valve has slightly reneged on these plans with new changes to gifting, but there’s still a policy that would block international gifting under specific conditions.
The first change is that gifting games is now a more direct, hands-off process. Gifts do not place themselves in your inventory anymore, and you can no longer send a gift to an email recipient. This makes the process of rejecting gifts a little more frustrating. If the receiver chooses to decline the gift, it does not return into your inventory, but instead the value of your purchase is returned as credit to your account. This means that you cannot then re-gift a game to someone else who might desire it, nor can you use that gift in an exchange for something else like cards or booster packs. You also can no longer buy a game and send it into your inventory – it is added directly to your account instead. Thankfully, preexisting gifts sitting in your inventory will not be affected by this change.
Valve’s changes do benefit them somewhat in a financial sense as well. Because you can only send gifts to friends, it is no longer possible to set up an account just to buy games for cheap in another country and gift it to yourself via email. You would now have to spend $5 in the store first before adding yourself as a friend and sending the gift.
The second change to gifting is that gifts can now be scheduled for a future date, which means that you can have it delivered by Valve at that time and not forget to give the gift to your friend manually. This, says Valve, is a way to schedule a gift of a game you might have bought on sale for a friend’s birthday or other special occasion.
The third major change is that gifts can now be sent across countries and continents once more. Because gifts are always sent to the receiver’s account, this resolves a long-standing issue with credit card fraud because there is now no option of reselling that gift to someone else and delivering it to them via email. When gifting a game to a friend in another country, Valve will check the game’s current value against the value in the country you’re sending it to. If there is a large difference in pricing between the two countries, the gifting option is locked out when checking out your shopping cart, and an error message will display telling you why its been declined.
Valve doesn’t say how much of a difference will raise the flag, but surely anything more than a 25% difference in a game’s value will trigger the lockout. It is also not clear what the procedure is for games that have a price on Steam in one country, but lack a price or even a listing in another. I have reached out to Valve for clarification in this regard, and will report back if I receive a response.