Microsoft: Border Control and Appalling Customer Service

November 7, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan

The world is shrinking isn’t it? That’s what we’re lead to believe, thanks to the rise of the Internet and our reliance on it over the last decade. We take for granted that we can be anywhere in the world, move between countries and continents and still have our most important information right there at our fingertips. Some companies are obviously ahead of others when it comes to supporting these types of services worldwide, and one I expected to be the best, was Microsoft.

As some of you who follow me on Twitter or have had dealings with me personally will know, my life has undergone some pretty big changes over the least two years, which has culminated in me moving to Australia to be with my awesome wife.

As a keen and loyal Xbox 360 user, I obviously brought over my hard-drive, packed with all my content and my Xbox Live profile. To my delight, upon trying to log in, it worked! Success! For months I have been gaming quite happily, until recently when I decided to pick up some Microsoft Points after a local shop in town had a deal that was too good to turn down.

To my dismay, the code wouldn’t work. We tried it on my wife’s profile, and we met with success. It turned out that my profile was still tied to the UK region, regardless of where I logged in from. Try as I might to find where to change my Xbox Live region on the console or on my Microsoft passport, I was unable to do so. I have done this successfully with most other services I subscribe to, iTunes, Steam, etc, why not here?

Bemused, I hit Twitter. The @XboxSupport boys are usually pretty helpful. After enquiring, I was sent a link to this page. After a few seconds of thinking I’d had the answer to all of my prayers, I discovered that the handful of regions I could move my account to were quite obscure. I mean, do Microsoft really believe that more British folk move from the UK to Brazil or Magyarorszag (?) than Australia?

Of course, I was straight back on Twitter, to which I was advised that account migration was not possible and that I should start a new account in the new region. This is where the irony of the Xbox Live accounts being tied to Microsoft ‘Passports’ really hit home…

Okay, so what about the money I’ve spent on Xbox Live, DLC and Arcade games over the past six years? My online passes that came with games? What about the achievements? Some might think I’m shallow mentioning that last one considering the situation, but I see the Xbox Live subscription as an investment, an online persona that you constantly contribute to. It’s part of what you pay for.

I dread to work out how much I’ve spent on Xbox Live over those six long years (I have over 100GB of XBLA/GoD games and DLC, not to mention 40GBP a year on my Gold Subscription), and for them to tell me to forget every piece of content I’ve ever paid to own, and just start afresh is appalling customer service. I don’t remember ever agreeing to being tied to one continent for life in exchange for using Xbox Live.

I tried to get more answers out of the Twitter support team, who claimed to understand the frustration, but only kept sending me the same link. It was obvious that I was banging my head against a brick wall.

I was set to let things lie. My account at least worked, I could still play online, I’d just have to make good use of my English bank accounts. I then found out that a Bioware employee managed to get their account migrated successfully when they moved from the UK to Canada. I won’t name them, but at least I knew it was possible.

Annoyed again, this time I emailed Xbox support pleading my case in the hope that I wouldn’t get someone just following a script. I made the best case I possibly could. I’m a freelance games writer after all; I need this account to be fully functioning in the region I’m in. I pleaded that I can’t rely on English bank accounts forever to maintain my account. I pointed out that Microsoft is apparently a global company and that I’d wager that Microsoft Employees, who I imagine a fair amount of will move freely around the world for work, wouldn’t ever have this issue.

I even asked specifically for a reasonable explanation, and not a scripted cookie-cutter response. What I got? A scripted cookie-cutter response. This was from ‘Rafal’ advising me once again that to use Xbox Live to its fullest in my region, I would have to create a new account and lose all the content I’d paid for.

Supported countries for Xbox Live. Just don't move between them.

I responded once again, asking for something resembling a reasonable answer. I said I’d be happy to start a new account if they’d like to refund me for all the content that’s linked to my profile so that I can repurchase it. It was here I started pointing out that I know for a fact that someone at Bioware had this sorted for them, and demanded to know why Microsoft, a global company, feel that ‘let’s make sure that all the money you spent with us over six years is totally wasted’ is an acceptable answer.

This time, I didn’t get a cookie-cutter response from Rafal. I was informed that it was because of ‘licensing terms’ in different regions, and that changing my region from the UK to Australia will probably never be possible…

Now, let me put a few things in perspective here, and these are the points I made in my last email to them, to which I’ve had no response.

Australia is a PAL region. Same as the UK. I fail to see how moving an account from the UK to Canada, a non-PAL region, has less licensing issues that moving it to Australia. I know for a fact this was done, I know that it’s possible, something that they’re intent on glossing over when I question them on it.

Further more, if I was to switch my account to Magyarorszag (?), for example, the disclaimer advises that licensing laws applicable to that region means that some of my content might not be available on that Marketplace, so if I was to delete something under those conditions or my HDD decided to conk out, I would never be able to redownload those specific items again. I would be entirely happy to agree to these conditions.

Even then, the entire licensing question falls flat on its face when you consider that I’m in Australia now. I can still access all my existing content as we speak, so if that’s the case, what the chuff does it matter what region my account is set to if I can access it anyway? It’s not like I’ve moved to a country where Xbox Live isn’t supported at all; it’s a simple change for them to make.

I left that last email by asking what would happen if it was a Microsoft employee, what if it was his account? As I said, I’ve had no further response from Rafal, and it’s been a good few weeks later. I told them that I was going to write this article, and I’ll be sending them a link to it too.

Now, this isn’t a widespread issue that will affect many, I understand that. You may never have plans to leave the country you’re in (I never did), but sometimes life, with its changeable nature and ability to provide new opportunities, makes those decisions for you. Wouldn’t you like to know that if you wanted to move countries for whatever reason and wanted to take your Xbox Live profile with you, you could?

Now, I can totally understand why they wouldn’t want people doing this willy-nilly and at a moment’s notice, but I see absolutely no reason why, like with the functionality to move all your software licenses to a different console, it couldn’t be restricted to annual usage.

As it is, gaming is a global entertainment. Microsoft will beat their chests and tell us that they are a global company selling Xbox Live all over the world, yet they haven’t grasped that people in this day and age move around the world more than they ever have before. They need to learn this fact.

Telling someone who has moved to simply forget the hundreds of pounds they’ve spent over the years is not an acceptable answer, nor is it good customer service.