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Kabam! Facebook gamers fume after script deletes fake stuff

Anatomy of a social snafu

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On August 4, Kabam turned up in The Los Angeles Times, lauded as a small social gaming company "quietly gaining momentum" in an arena dominated by giants like Zynga, Electronic Arts, and Disney. But that same day, engineers pushed out an update to one of its massively multiplayer Facebook games that would challenge the tiny startup's ability to cope with its own success.

With its update to Kingdoms of Camelot – a Facebook game that has 2 million active users – Kabam inadvertently introduced a bug that allowed players to gift each other virtual goods for which they would ordinarily have to pay (real) dollars. The following morning, the company realized that tens of thousands of players were creating an "astronomical" number of these digital game pieces, causing a kind of power imbalance across its virtual world. So, Kabam's engineers wrote a script to remove these illegitimate items.

The trouble is that the script also removed legitimate paid-for items from the accounts of an estimated 70,000 players, and the company is still struggling to appease an army of angry customers.

The snafu led to hundreds of complaints on the company's discussions forums, and nearly 3,500 people have joined a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the game.

Speaking with The Register, a Kabam spokesman acknowledged that the company made a mistake when its script removed legitimate items from accounts, but he said that this happened in error and that Kabam has spent the last six days working to restore the items in question – and then some. "We made a mistake and we're trying to rectify that," he said. "It's been tricky, but we're doing our best.'

According to the spokesman, in addition to the script removing legitimate items from the accounts of about 70,000 players, a "separate but related" problem involving a backup system affected additional players. He said that the company is working to restore the inventory of all these players, but also to compensate others who were playing the game at the time and thus were affected by the imbalance in play caused by the original update. This involves providing them a "high value" virtual item.

The spokesman says that the company pushed out an update to restore inventories and that it's also responding to emails, voicemails, and forum posts from individual users complaining about the state of their accounts. He estimates that the accounts of 95 per cent of the affected users have been restored, but he acknowledges that "some people are still unhappy".

Indeed they are. Rob Shepherd, a longtime Kings of Camelot player based in the UK, tells The Register that although Kabam has responded to his support ticket to say that his inventory has been restored, his missing items are still missing, and others continue to complain in the public forums. Shepherd and two other longtime players – Karin Franklin and Lise Broer – tell us that the Kings of Camelot community had already built up an ample amount of resentment for Kabam's engineering and customer support practices.

"My own inventory was restored correctly, but there are people on my team who are still missing paid inventory. These are people who went pretty deep into their pockets during a recession," Broer tells us.

"Kabam has cultivated the top of the gaming market at a social networking site," he said. "And the company did a lot of smart things with this game, but they have also delivered a buggy product whose customer support is consistently below industry norms...Basically, a lot of people resent this company for continually escalating the cost of competitive play at a flawed product. The dam burst when Kabam confiscated inventories."

In recent weeks, Kabam has also received heat from a competitor, Kixeye, which accuses the company of blatantly copying one its social games and threatens a lawsuit. Kabam denies the accusation, and it just released the game in question, Edgeworld, on both Facebook and the brand new Google+ gaming platform. After attracting 2 million users to Kingdoms of Camelot, the company launched three other massively multi-player Facebook games, and Edgeworld makes a fourth.

Indeed, momentum can build quite quickly for a small company building games atop Facebook. But for at least some playing Kingdoms of Camelot, it can build too quickly. ®

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